Consider the 2018 BMW F850GS and F750GS. Here we have Middleweight Adventure done right.
Let The Adventure Continue
The middleweight adventure segment is interesting in that it chases an elusive compromise between power and weight, between features and price. BMW took its first stab at the riddle about a decade ago with the first F800GS/F650GS combo and for 2018 is offering the first true makeover of the pair, which has grown into the F850GS and F750GS.
Before we get in the weeds, an important distinction is needed regarding the new BMW F850GS and F750GS. Despite names hinting at one being an 850 and the other a 750, both in fact share the same new 853cc vertical Twin, albeit with a different tune, meaning the 750 is actually an 850. The original models had the same quirkiness as the 650 was actually an 800, even when it became a 700…
For those wondering, BMW’s justification for this practice unique in all of motorcycling apparently comes from the car side where a model name doesn’t always match its engine displacement. To this I respectfully submit a couple of profound thoughts: bikes aren’t cars and car people should stay away from bikes. But I digress.
Both the 750 and 850 are mechanically new from the ground up. Their parallel Twins are completely new as are their frames and just about every attached part including elegantly styled new bodywork.
That being said, each model’s specific mission hasn’t changed. The taller, more powerful 95-horsepower 850, equipped with a 21-inch front wheel, is still aimed at the relatively experienced adventure rider while the lower, less powerful (77-hp) 19-inch front wheel-equipped 750 can still be considered as an entry level or as a step-up bike.
One thing did change, though: while each continues to offer its own personality, one has evolved enough to become somewhat of a surprise. More on that later.
It had rained heavily for days when I arrived in Malaga, Spain for the global launch of the middleweight GSs, our group got lucky. On the first day, we rode the 850 in mostly dry conditions and on the second, the 750 under clear blue skies. Other journalists weren’t as fortunate and instead spent their test days completely drenched.
Because of the heavy rains, BMW decided that a partial cancelation of the off-road portion of the F850GS route was necessary. Some sections apparently got so muddy there was a risk we wouldn’t come out of the woods.
I was disappointed at first, but it was probably a wise decision as the stock Metzelers Karoo 3 (a no-cost option) didn’t do so well with mud. No matter how aggressive their tread appears to be they quickly got packed, offered little traction and were always the limiting factor in slimey terrain. There is no doubt an 850 shod with more aggressive rubber would offer much higher capabilities off-road.
Still, the Metzelers were more than decent on anything relatively dry or rocky and allowed the 850 to prove it’s still a remarkably good mid-range adventure model.
It is heavier by about 15 kilos for 2018, which is significant and not ideal, but it also has more torque everywhere and an additional 10 horsepower. Visually, it’s bigger too, and with more aggressive styling, all of which makes it appear bigger than an 850.
At the launch there were a few R1200GSs used by staff and whenever all the bikes were parked together, by no means did they stand out by their size. However, the bulk of the 1200 isn’t felt at all on the 850, especially off-road where the BMW F850GS still feels narrow, nimble, light and easy to control. Its weight and displacement have crept up, but it very much remains a middleweight in terms of feel and the added torque actually makes it easier to ride off-road, as do the new modes and rider assist technology like traction control.
While riding off-road, I mostly stayed in Enduro Pro, which disables ABS at the rear wheel and sets the TC to allow more wheel spin, a combination that felt natural and fun without ever giving the impression electronics came between the bike and my riding. Deactivating it all is possible and always interesting as it reveals both the real power of the engine and the efficiency of the electronics. Other than for some photos, I preferred assists activated and set at Enduro Pro.
On the road and shod with the stock street tires, the new 850 feels more like a streetbike than the old 800. Its long-travel suspension is much better controlled and doesn’t compress as much during acceleration and braking, which results in a more normal ride. The inertia of the big 21-inch front wheel is still felt in the slowish way the 850 changes direction on a winding road, but otherwise does not feel out of place on the street. Actually, add the (also optional) all-digital display and you wirelessly get access to your phone, music and even navigation, all pleasant features on long rides.
Step from the 850 to the 750 and the feel is clearly a more street-oriented motorcycle with a seat height now more or less normal than very high. The combination of street tires, 19-inch front wheel, taut chassis and shorter travel suspension all make attacking a twisty road as easy as it is fun on the agile and light feeling 750. Of the two, it is the most surprising. This model used to be underpowered and equipped with the bare minimum to justify not only its lower cost, but also the significant price gap between it and the old 800GS. The price gap is still very much there (the 750 is $10,950 versus $14,550 for the 850) but in no way does the F750GS feel like a lesser motorcycle. Less capable off-road, sure, but as an all-rounder, as an adventure model occasionally used on non-paved roads and light trails, it’s actually very good.
Power F750GS vs F850GS
As for its significantly lower horsepower figure (77 vs 95 hp), on the road, it really doesn’t feel like that much less. After all, the F750GS is an 850, and a rather torquey one at that, which produces more than enough oomph to keep even an experienced rider quite satisfied, especially one conscious and appreciative of the many grand saved by that choice.
In a nutshell, performance-wise, the 750 feels very close to the 850 right until about the last quarter of the rev range where the 850 keeps pulling and the 750’s power flattens out. In real world riding, not a big deal at all.
Both the new BMW F850GS and F750GS achieve about the same goals as their predecessors, but they do it by adding a fair bit of refinement, fun and features to the previous packages. They are middleweights, so, compromised by definition and far from perfect. For example, they—still— deserve much better seats. And while they can be equipped with a ton of cool stuff, much of it is optional and can quickly ramp up the bill.
Our very well equipped test bikes probably had at least three grand worth of options, some of which was trick, like the digital display, and some of which, like the quick shifter, was working only just okay.
So, buyers need to be wise or they could easily end up with an F850GS costing almost as much as a 1200. But they could also acquire a middleweight adventure model for less than 11 grand in a class where $15,000 is now the starting point. In case I’m not clear enough here: don’t overlook the 750.
That would be a mistake.
by Bertrand Gahel