2019 BMW F 850 GS Review
Motorcycle Test by Wayne Vickers
I didn’t mind the F750GS I reviewed recently, but there were a couple of niggles that took the shine off it for me. The throttle feel was not quite right at part throttle, as was the quick shifter. In slow moving traffic it wasn’t the silky smooth bike it should have been. And the off road capability was certainly more ‘soft roader’ than ‘off roader. But aside from that there was real promise of something more…
The something more is (maybe a little unsurprisingly) the full fat, full sugar F850GS. Its a ripper of a bike. Dammit. So much for building suspense. What makes it so much better? Hah! You’d have to read on.
Quick recap of the spec sheet differences
- F 750 GS: 853cc, 77hp, 83Nm, 224kg, 15L tank, 815mm seat, Suspension travel 151mm F / 177mm R (My take on that is here)
- F 850 GS: 853cc, 93hp, 92Nm, 229kg, 15L tank, 860mm seat, Suspension travel 230mm F / 215mm R (this is what we’re looking at now)
- F 850 GS Adventure: 853cc, 90hp, 86Nm, 244kg, 23L tank, 875mm seat, Suspension travel 230mm F / 215mm R (Trev’s done a great writeup on this one here)
So, compared to the 750, this one has an extra 15 ponies, 5 extra kilos that arrives care of the 80 mm extra suspension travel up the front, and 38 mm extra up the back, which translates to a 45 mm increase in the seat height. Despite what they sometimes say, more is absolutely more in this case.
First thing I noticed when I threw the leg over was the seat height from the extra suspension travel and the switch to larger spoked wheels (full sized 21-inch front), over the 750.
What also caught me out the first few rides was how long the stand was compared to what I expected. It makes the bike sit closer to upright (it’s not leaning on the stand as much), so that when I rocked it off the stand it felt like it wanted to fall the other way – I had to catch it on the other side. I thought it felt a bit top heavy because of this initially, but on the go you don’t notice it at all. So if you’ve sat on one in a bike shop and its felt top heavy. Go for a ride on one because they aren’t. Maybe they’ve done that so it won’t push down into soft gravel all that much when going bush, which would be clever, although you don’t always have even ground when you stop the bike in the bush, so maybe not so much… Perhaps just a bigger foot on the stand would have sufficed. Either way, no biggie.
On the road it felt pretty familiar after having spent a couple of weeks on its little brother. I still love the dash and controls, kudos BMW.
The big difference was, to my surprise, the throttle feel and quickshifter on this bike by comparison. They seem to work just fine. Damn near perfectly in fact. There’s still the slightest hint of surge at part throttle but only at revs below 3,000rpm, however it’s night and day better. And the shifter seems spot on.
If I was a cynic, I’d say that both the injection and shifter were extensively mapped and calibrated to this engine output, not the lower 750 output. But that’d be me being a cynic… Could also be that the 850 was running the standard muffler whereas the 750 had a slip-on that perhaps wasn’t properly mapped for that muffler? Dunno. With those two working perfectly on the 850, I didn’t seem to find anything to fault. And this bike didn’t have any more kays on it (around a thousand when I picked it up), than the 750, so that aint it either.
The extra hump is noticeable. Not pull your arms out noticeable, but the feeling I often had on the 750 of wanting ‘more’ just didn’t seem to come into play on the 850. Gone are the days of the old lump being a bit insipid. This thing is nice, a deceptively grunty little number that builds power smoothly and without fuss. It’ll happily loft the front when you want it to in lower cogs and on gravel it’s just sublime.
Which brings me to the other big difference in that this puppy is running proper dual-sport tyres. Chunky looking Continental Twinduros. I’d not ridden on them previously and was itching to try them out in the dirt. And given that on sealed roads the 850 is just as good as the 750GS I’ve already covered (same lovely chassis that’s even better for having the aforementioned extra hump), let’s focus on the off road stuff in more detail here.
So when a brief window of clearish skies appeared I was out the door and headed for some local bush tracks to get a fix. I’m lucky enough that the tracks mentioned aren’t far from my doorstep. And a few kays up the road is where the 850 GS really started to shine.
The longer travel suspension made mincemeat of serious corrugation at speed and once you’ve selected Enduro Pro mode – which you can do on the move – it does all manner of magic that flatters even relative gumbies like myself. Ride height goes up, traction control algorithms are adjusted to allow for some controlled slip, and rear ABS is disconnected (when the enduro plug inserted).
This thing is proper awesome in the dirt. The traction control setting in this mode is mega, allowing you to get the tail out and steer it with the back with full confidence that you aren’t going to fling it around and end up halfway up a messmate. Its seriously good. Fourth gear slides good. I was quickly giggling inside my lid.
But it’s not just all about the traction control hijinx. It’s a true multi punch combo, as all the controls are so well dialled in. The throttle and traction control are ace, the quickshifter is also and doesn’t need any thought, just bang it up or down and it does its thing nicely – I didn’t miss a shift. So forward momentum is nailed.
Combine that with a really impressive Brembo ABS system that allows you to pitch it into corners pretty hard for a bike this size, you quickly forget about there being any electronic intervention at all and just revel in the grip and control and simply enjoy the ride.
So – my test loop. The first stretch of my ride was a downhill tight access track that I hit pretty regularly, fairly hard with a local group of mountain bike riders so I know it well. But I don’t hit it often with a motor. Plenty of whoops and ruts and wash outs and soft sandy runs in spots that really tested the suspension at both ends. Not once did I have a single thought about the forks or shock needing more or less of anything.
I stopped in amongst some of the smaller washouts halfway down the hill to take some pics of the bike while it was still clean, in a spot where the sun was coming through between the trees. This little spot was before a small creek ford crossing and I figured it wouldn’t stay nice and shiny for long! Even at that stage I was already impressed and feeling confident on the bike.
Despite having the tank bag in place to carry the camera, I could still move around quite freely, meaning that I could shift my weight around and easily place the bike exactly where I wanted it, going from one track edge to the other regularly to slide past some pretty serious near full track width puddles.
By the time I’d come out the other end of that run amongst some dirt bikers loading and unloading, I was already basically sold. A couple more quick shots then I headed out for another run up some tougher climbs. It was mostly first and second gear stuff on this section and it quickly showed me how good the traction control was, to the point where I was pretty much just keeping it pinned in a lot of sections.
One particular section was a long sandy climb of about 100 metres that had plenty of washouts and line changes. I specifically took that track with that climb in mind and the 850 GS just powered up without breaking a sweat. We’re talking sand soft enough to leave tracks a few inches deep on the flat. Impressive.
At times I forgot just how big the bike was to be honest and found myself launching it over the graded washout drains they have on these types of tracks like I would on a proper dirt bike or my mountain bike. Now I wasn’t exactly throwing it down Metal Mulisha style, but getting a good foot of two of air under us easily on the right lips, which when you’re carrying enough momentum is soaked up without fuss – it didn’t bottom out once at either end. It just took it all in its stride.
On some of the flatter of these sections that I found myself really finding a nice rhythm towards the top of second gear that worked well. Peeling the bike left and right with the rear to change lines around holes and ruts and washouts, unweighting the front over the whoops if they were the right size. It really was an awesome little ride. Lots of those moments where you feel fully at one with the bike. Brilliant.
I finished it all by charging back up the track that I’d first come down. It’s a bloody tough climb on the mountain bike but it was a blast on the 850 GS! Two-kilometeres with 180 metres of vertical climb but that climb is mostly done in the first half. It’s a sandy washed out slog in spots and I did have one moment in really, really deep sand where the front dug in and I had a bit of a slapper, nothing that a quick dab of the foot couldn’t correct, but that was my fault not the bikes as I didn’t exactly choose the best line. And the sand was about 15 cm deep… Probably should have had my strava turned on. I would have smashed out a PB…
So which spec are we looking at here? (cos there’s a few..) Well this one is an F 850 GS ‘Tour’ (also known as the Exclusive). It comes as standard with the Comfort Package and Touring packages (Keyless Ride, Navigation prep, heated grips, tyre pressure monitoring, centre stand, Dynamic ESA, Luggage grid with pannier fastenings) and Dynamic and Lights packages (Dynamic traction control, gear shift assist pro, riding modes pro, ABS Pro, LED Headlight, Daytime riding light, white LED indicators) and hand protectors. Basically, all the fruit.
That’s not going to give you much change from 25 big ones ride away. On top of that this one also had the $2650 full luggage set consisting of the two Vario expandable panniers, Vario expandable topcase with backrest, waterproof liners for panniers and topcase, tankbag and USB charging cable. The test bike also wore wide enduro pegs which are an additional $274.
So… How good is it? It’s good. Bloody good actually. Even better than I thought it would be. I reckon it looks ace in this colour too. The silver, gold forks and dark green is a nice combo.
Throw a nice louder slip-on at it and I reckon I’d have one over my own gen 1 Tiger 800XC, and I love that bike so that’s saying something. Maybe I need to ride the new Tiger Trev, to see if its stepped up to match it? And the new 790 Adventure? And maybe the Africa Twin while we’re at it? They’ll have to be good to match the F 850 GS. We’re spoilt for choice aren’t we – As motorbike riders we’ve never had it so good.