BMW F850GS – First impressions review
These comments are based on a short (1hour) ride of the BMW 850gs, on on the road. I happened to be cruising by the dealer so I thought why not…
The entirely new inline twin unit in the F series BMW adventure bikes is the headliner of the show. The BMW 850gs has a real cracker of an engine. The previous generation f700/f800 series engine, made by the Austrian Rotax was an exceptional unit for its time. Bullet-proof, low maintenance, great low-end torque, efficient and decent power output. However, anyone that says that this unit is not much of an upgrade better get their pulse checked.
Arguably the only thing the previous gen engine was lacking in was excitement. It did the job but in its various tunes, sounded like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, or a motor in a wooden box – depending on the given silencing system.
In short, the previous gen f800 was reliable but on the boring side. Don’t get me wrong I have a soft spot for the older f800 and (at the time of writing, still have a BMW f800st in the garage).
The new F850GS engine has a redefined character and provides loads more zing.
BMW 850gs Powerplant
Not so much in numbers on paper but as an experience this engine stomp all over the previous Gen. While the power didn’t come on quite so low as on the old unit, once it did (which was around 4,000rpm, it pulled hard all the way to the redline without losing puff.
The character of the new F850GS parallel twin is significantly racier and more entertaining.
The new 2-cylinder in-line engine has two counterbalance shafts and a changed firing which has a new crank and firing order – its now 270/450 degrees firing order interval for a smoother ride. It also sounds excellent, even with the standard silencer. Not loud but it has a nice vibe and thrum when getting on the gas. Sounds a little bit like a Ducati, but softer and not quite so raw.
Typically bikes never feel quite as strong as the number suggest – quite the opposite here for both the f850 & 750gs. They both feel a lot stronger than the specsheet would tell. They both feel proper spritely and a blast in the twisties which was not expected to be quite so much fun.
Whatever it sounds like, one thing is for sure, it’s bucketloads more fun than the old f800.
Esthetics of the BMW 850gs.
Much like anything GS, the 850’s looks are utility-based, combined with a good deal of ostentatious technology. The aesthetics are thoroughly modern and rugged but hardly beautiful like a Panigale or perhaps a BMW R nine T, but that’s not what the GS is about. BMW GS adventure bikes are robust, handsome, modern. I’d also add that the materials and overall finish are great. Way better than the often cheap-looking f800 engined model of the previous generation. The LED headlights are a work of art, and still very BMW. While the old series looked a bit geeky, BMW Motorrad has managed to keep the BMW look and make it look cool at the same time. On a functional note, the night-time illumination of the road is as good as I’ve seen. The cross-spoked wheels on the 850gs look the part too – though I’ve noted the gold colouring is a point of contention with some people.
Given I didn’t notice the regular gear change, it must be good as it just worked.
The quick-shifter is a bit stubborn, typical of units connected to twin cylinder bikes. Perhaps it will soften up with a few more miles in the saddle. Still a lot of fun. I think with more practice and correct technique it would be fine. Felt quite similar to the quick-shifting gizmo on the liquid cooled r1200r, which could also be a little bit abrupt if you didn’t get it quite right. For most twin-mounted quick shifts its important to be quite deliberate, not hesitate and be swift about it. Obviously (not to some) it won’t work well if you are not accelerating adequately, or decelerating with ample revs and throttle rolled off. I’d put part of the function down to getting acquainted and run-in.
It appears that quick-shifters on 4-pot engines are easier to get right.
How does the new mid-weight GS handle?
Being half dirt focussed with the 21-inch front tyre and soft-ish suspension you would expect the BMW F850GS to be outstanding in the bends. Surprisingly enough it’s quite good and confidence inspiring for a good flogging in the twisties. The non-adjustable forks do dive quite a bit on hard braking but lean the 850gs over in a curve, and it’s very stable. The mid-corner soft suspension wallow didn’t materialise.
The electronic suspension adjustment adjusts only the rear shock although it works pretty well. With Dynamic and Road setting the options are discernible with the road setting eating up anything, you run over without feeling overly mushy. The dynamic mode provides a bit more support for faster riding although not outright sports-stiff.
Overall the bike feels very light and flickable, hiding its considerable weight remarkably. Supremely controllable and agile despite the off-roadish setup. A very easy bike to ride slow or fast.
If your BMW f850 gs is barely going to leave the road, you might want to consider the 750gs which is not only cheaper but feel better on road with it’s shorter suspension and smaller wheels.
Dash & cockpit of the BMW F850GS
Easily the best dashboard I’ve seen on a motorcycle. No other motorcycle display come close (at the time of writing). It’s not pretty in the nostalgic sense of gauges and needles, but many other TFT displays are terrible. Ducati I’m talking about you, same with Yamaha, and most others I won’t go on to name. Funny enough this is an area which even car companies can’t get right. User Interface design, it seems, the Achilles heel of any auto TFT attempt. Only the Germans seem to get this stuff right. Mercedes, Audi, VW, BMW fine. Japan and Korea, not so much – Despite making excellent cars.
I didn’t have time to fiddle with all the settings but believe me; there are numerous. However, despite the many sections and options, I’m charmed to say that its all very intuitive, even if like me, you’ve never used it before.
This dash, menu and interface is very much the benchmark at the moment.
While I didn’t have the opportunity for a long ride, I could tell this machine will go a long way on one tank. I was riding the pants off it, and it was still showing a 4.9l average which is very impressive in my book. Punters were already moaning that the tank is too small, but I predict a pretty good rang on this machine.
Regrettably, I didn’t do any off-road on the 850gs on this occasion. Being a short ride and a demo bike, there just wasn’t an opportunity. I’d did, however, stand up on the pegs which were in a great position and provided a broad pedal platform for an enduro stance. Very easy to stand and ride.
From the numerous reviews I’ve read, it confirms what most of you would suspect, that the BMW F850GS is a capable offroader and very easy to ride – with its limits. It is an adventure bike after all, not a motorcross machine.
Option on seat height:
The standard seat heights of the F 850 GS has been reduced by 20 mm to 860 mm. With a combination of lowered suspension and lowe seat, it is possible to achieve a minimal seat height of 815 mm on the F850 GS.
By comparison, the BMW f750 standard height is already a lower 815mm, which also can be lower even further.
- cracking engine, much more exciting than the previous gen
- As the leader in high-tech bikes, the new GSs offer everything you could need: ABS, dynamic traction control, heated grips, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, Dynamic ESA electronic suspension adjustment, rider modes, enduro pro, abs pro, rider modes: rain and road mode, dynamic, enduro, enduro pro…
- looks awesome, sounds awesome for a stock euro4 bike
- Super comfortable ride. Great suspension.
- more gizmos that you know what to do with
- controls very easy to use, well laid out, best in class.
- great performance yet fuel efficient
Hard to fault anything outright, as there was nothing obvious, but a few minor things I noted.
- The BMW F850GS doesn’t offer much wind protection. The screen seemed to unload it right into my face.
- Not necessarily a downer, but the engine starts to work a bit higher up than the old f-series. Nothing much happens below 4000 rpm, though it then has a much longer range in the upper end.
- the clutch action feels a bit odd when releasing, perhaps a peculiarity a but kind of slow release instead of springing out, almost like a dampening effect.
- The engine is made in China, which is more of a perception negative than reality. In my experience, if it’s designed, engineered and overlooked by the Germans it should be ok. That said, I would still prefer my BMW to be made in Germany… Time will tell.
As always, BMW offers host of optional equipment, so if the bike is not quite right, you should be able to get it that way.
First impressions Verdict of the BMW f850GS
Its been a long between complete f series updates, but it’s been well worth the wait. The new BMW F850GS is an outstanding all-rounder which is a hoot to fling around the bends and no doubt equally down a dirt road. For those who are familiar with the f700/ f800 gs, this bike will seem similar, just better in pretty much all departments.
Fit and finish also have vastly improved. Where the earlier models came across a bit cheap in some areas, the BMW F850GS looks and feel premium all over like its bigger boxer-lugging brother. It seems the midweight GS has come of age, where it’s no longer a stepping stone that is missing the good kit.
If I had to have only one bike, this could be it. People may say the 1200 GS, but I’ve always been an enthusiast of midweight motorcycles when it comes to usefulness. This bike in the right hands will get you further than the 1200, albeit at some expense of comfort on the highway.
The new F series is an easy bike to ride
I’ve read in various BMW motorcycle reviews that this series of bikes, the BMW F850GS and 750gs are the easiest BMW adventure bikes to ride yet and will introduce many more rides to the segment. I have to agree with that.
The only 750gs in particular makes a set of twisty mountain roads seem like child play. Not to say it’s a rocketship, but through the tight stuff it handles as good or better than any motorbike I’ve ridden. Thanks to the new chassis and geometry, the new f series bikes handle very sweetly indeed.
Some potential customers will be miffed that the fuel tank size has been reduced to 15 litres. The bike is pretty efficient, so you’ll still get a lot of kms out of one tank. And if that’s not enough, there is always the F850 GS adventure. How long can you sit on a motorcycle un-interrupted anyway!
I was so smitten with this bike I would be happy to buy it if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a tad too tall for me. F750 GS perhaps.
If you’re keen on trying one out, or buying, or both: talk to Fernando at Procycles Hornsby
Retro / Cafe Racer more your style? Check out our review on the BMW R Nine T owner review famous BMW r Nine T
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BMW F850GS competitors to consider:
- Triumph Tiger 800
- KTM 790 adventure
- Honda Africa Twin