The new F800GS Adventure from BMW offers true adventure in an accessible package.
Chasing Far Horizons
Eighty per cent, give or take a few points, is the number floating around. That’s how many owners of adventure-class motorcycles apparently never venture off paved public roads and for whom this adventure thing is more a life style than an actual riding style. They buy Ténérés and GSs and Explorers because of how they look and—one would hope—of how amazingly well they work in everyday use. Posers, then? Nah, they’re all right, certainly no worse than sportbike owners who never set wheels on a track. And just like the latter, they probably have no idea what they are missing. But as any of the remaining 20 per cent will tell you, they certainly are missing. And what they’re missing is nothing short of a communion with nature.
Adventure motorcycles allow their riders to not just look at scenery, but to get up close and personal with it. The flip side of the whole thing is that to do so on machines tipping the scale at well over 225 kg definitely requires a very advanced skill set. One solution is the relatively recent middleweight ADV class, inaugurated by BMW in 2008 with the F800GS, then expanded by Triumph in 2011 with the Tiger 800XC. For 2014, those with an even more intimate relation with nature are in luck, as BMW has now unveiled an Adventure version of the lightly revised 2013 F800GS.
The F800GS Adventure is only the second Adventure variant ever offered by BMW—the first being the bigger R1150/1200GS. As is the case with the larger displacement model, the 800 GSA’s goal is to let adventure riders take things a bit farther than the regular model would have allowed.
How the 800 GSA achieves this is pretty straightforward: starting with a standard 800GS, a bigger fuel tank is installed for added range, a larger windscreen for better wind protection, a thicker seat for better long-term comfort—along with about a half-dozen relatively minor mods— and voilà, instant middleweight GSA.
The net result of these modifications is predictable: longer destinations are now accessible with a higher degree of comfort, thanks mainly to a seat with thicker padding than the slim F800GS’ perch (which is also 10mm higher at 890mm) and to better wind protection. The 50 per cent longer range allowed by the larger 24-litre fuel tank (vs. 16 for the standard 800GS) doesn’t just extend trips to the gas station, it also permits much deeper treks into the wilderness with peace of mind regarding fuel. Protection bars for the bulging plastic tank are located under the seat, where they also serve as mounting points for the optional aluminum side luggage, just one of BMW’s extensive accessory range for that model. BMW says the bars were designed to be as big as possible without interfering with rider and passenger leg movements.
As for the other differences between the F800GS and the new Adventure version, some are standard—like the reinforced rear subframe, the wide enduro footpegs and the engine protection bar—while others are factory installed options such as ASC (BMW’s traction control) with Enduro mode and electronic suspension adjustment. As these options add only a few hundred dollars each to the Adventure’s $14,950 pricetag ($1,500 more than the regular 800GS), they should be seriously considered.
Unfortunately missing from the 800GSA packageis the Enduro Pro brake mode introduced on the 2013 R1200GS and which allows ABS to act solely on the front wheel. During off-road riding, with Enduro Pro activated, the rider gets the best of both worlds as he benefits from the latest ABS system’s excellent stopping performance while maintaining the ability to lock the rear wheel as he chooses to. In my view, the average rider—not the “pro” implied by the mode—is better served with this sort of setup than with any other and every ABS-equipped adventure model should offer the feature. On the F800GS Adventure, it is lacking.
Because of the name, the bike’s positioning and looks, one could easily perceive the F800GS Adventure as a better off-road motorcycle than the standard F800GS, but it’s not. Heavier by 9.07 kg (20 lbs.) without fuel and by 14 kg topped off, the 800GSA requires a bit more attention and effort in really tough areas, like the miles of deep, super-fine sand we encountered during the model’s press introduction in Moab, Utah.
On normal hard-packed surfaces, however, the mass of the F800GS Adventure feels only marginally higher than the base version, and can basically be considered as good an off-road machine. And since the regular 800GS is a pretty good one, BMW was absolutely right to keep additions to a minimum on the Adventure.
But if the Adventure isn’t a better off-road machine, what, then, is its exact purpose? Well, the new version isn’t a better “off-road motorcycle,” but it is a better “adventure motorcycle” than the regular F800GS.
Thanks to its improved range and better comfort, it will take you further both on and off road, but—and this is the key part of the equation—it will do so with basically no penalty during off-road riding. Actually, as far as true ADV motorcycles are concerned, the new 800GS variant may very well be as competent a package as they come. Sure, it’s powered by an engine that is more buzzy and neither as noble nor as powerful and torquey as the 1200GS, but the 800 is also a much lighter, maneuverable and forgiving motorcycle than the 1200, all priceless qualities when you get up close and personal with nature. The key thing about the Adventure is that it gives more without sabotaging these precious qualities.
– Bertrand Gahel (2013)