2014 BMW F 800 GS: Adventure Rockin’ the Red Rocks

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Kevin Wing, Jonathan Beck

BMW’s mid-size F 800 GS Adventure offers real, functional improvements over the regular F 800 GS, and that makes it even better suited to a long-distance adventure-touring role.

Foremost among the changes, the Adventure’s fuel capacity has been boosted by 50 percent to 6.3 gallons, bringing range up near 300 miles. As with the regular F 800 GS, the gas tank is beneath the seat; this keeps the center of gravity lower and makes for easier handling. Handguards, crash guards near the engine, and sturdy luggage mounts that shield the wider gas tank (even when luggage is not fitted) provide real protection in case of a tip over.

A taller windscreen offers better wind protection, and a thicker seat with more padding delivers greater riding comfort. Wider rider footpegs and a redesigned foot-brake pedal make it easier to stand up while riding off road. A sturdy luggage rack and a beak-type front fender complete the changes.

Our test-riding loop was in the ruggedly beautiful red rock canyons around Moab, UT, and nearby Colorado. The challenging ride was about 70 percent off pavement, and we tackled steep grades, sand, deep silt, loose gravel, and rocks, in addition to fording two dozen streams. Road sections included twisties and higher-speed rural straightaways.

Powertrain and Performance

BMW kept the 798cc fuel injected parallel-twin engine and drivetrain from the regular F 800 GS unchanged. The overhead cam powerplant is rated 85 horsepower at 7,500 rpm with a peak 61 lb-ft of torque at 5,750 revs. Throttle response is smooth and torquey with ample power on tap for highway cruising and passing. Owners who frequently carry passengers and luggage mostly on pavement may wish for more horsepower (especially at higher elevations), but it’s fine solo.

The clutch works well, and the six-speed transmission shifts smoothly and easily. One nit is engine vibration, which is noticeable at all speeds to some extent. However, it didn’t numb the hands, and some riders may not be bothered.

Chassis and Riding Impressions

BMW’s F 800 GS Adventure shares its tubular-steel space frame, fork, and swingarm with the regular GS but gets a beefier rear subframe. A 43mm inverted fork is fitted, and rear suspension consists of a double-sided aluminum swingarm with a single shock that has adjustable rebound damping and 
remotely adjustable spring preload. Suspension travel front and rear are 9.1 and 8.5 inches respectively. Although the Adventure’s suspension components are the same as a regular F 800 GS, settings are different to better suit off-road riding.

The test bikes were equipped with optional (at no cost) Continental TKC80 Twinduro street-legal knobbies, sized 90/90-21 front and 150/70-17 rear. They work well off pavement, but above 65 mph the Twinduros begin to squirm. Standard tires are Michelin Anakee llls, which would be a better choice if most of your riding will be on pavement.

Our test bike had all three option packages: Active, Comfort, and Enduro. Active adds LED fog lights and Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA). The Comfort option package includes heated grips, an onboard trip computer, and a centerstand. Enduro packages consist of traction control (ASC), and an off-road mode is added to the ABS.

The ASC traction control really works. Choose Enduro mode for dirt, and you can still make small power slides. Experts who want to slide the back more can shut off the ASC.

Dual Brembo front brakes halt the Adventure quickly (with confidence-inspiring control) as both off- and on-road ABS settings work well. In Enduro ABS mode, the front brake lets the tire achieve maximum grip by digging into the dirt or gravel and holding it at the limit instead of just limiting stopping force like some other motorcycles do. Braking hard on dirt in Enduro mode, the rear tire slides just a bit, delivering a normal feel with good stopping power. Expert dirt riders may prefer to turn the ABS off completely, but most of us mortals will find that ASC and ABS (particularly in Enduro mode off road) help and inspire confidence.

The optional ESA controls rear rebound damping and has Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings. As you might expect, the Normal setting seems ideal for most riding both on- and off-road. The Comfort setting is best suited for long rides on straight highways and bumpy roads; it’s too soft for off-road or sport riding. The Sport setting firms the ride noticeably, which works well on fast twisty roads, but it’s too stiff on dirt (particularly washboard sections).

The only other suspension adjustment is rear-spring preload, which can be readily set with a remote hydraulic knob on the right side. Feedback from both front and rear ends is excellent, and we found the suspension to be well tuned and comfortably compliant over most bumps.

Features and Ergonomics

Having a taller windscreen made highway riding much more enjoyable as it parts the air without helmet buffeting. The tall 35-inch stock seat is quite comfortable, although many potential buyers will find its height intimidating. A slightly lower saddle (33.9 inches) is available as a no-cost option, but that is still high for many folks.

Riding position is straight up, dirt-bike style. The wide handlebar provides good control and leverage, and all controls seem to be well placed for riding while standing up and when seated.

An aluminum topcase, panniers, and a tank bag are available as a dealer-installed accessory along with a GPS navigation system. All of the cases are large enough to hold a full-face helmet and more.

Final Thoughts

Base Adventure models come with only a luggage rack and 12-volt outlet for $ 13,550. The Premium Package with ASC, heated grips, and a centerstand lists for $ 14,350, while LED fog lights and ESA add $ 645 more. Luggage and other dealer accessories are additional.

In total, the changes made to the F 800 GS significantly enhance the comfort, ride, and utility of the Adventure with only modest gains in price and weight. The new F 800 GS Adventure is definitely easier to ride on dirt than the heavier R 1200 GS Adventure and strikes a good compromise between on-road power and off-road prowess.

2014 BMW F 800 GSA: Second Opinion

Text: Alfonse Palaima

Despite being the “little brother” to the R 1200 GS, the 800 dualie stands proudly on its own. Stout in the Adventure trim, the F 800 GSA sits higher in the saddle, has more ground clearance, and is lighter in total wet weight. The 6.3-gallon tank will take you farther than the asphalt will, but it’ll take an experienced rider to wrangle all that technology and weight off the pavement.

The towering 35-inch saddle height, heaviness, and long-reach clutch and brake levers are the first hurdles. The extended horizons, however, are slightly limited when it comes to fully loading the bike with luggage. Its sharp (yet light) front end is favored on the trail; but on the street (more specifically winding roads), the front end struggles to keep its tenuous grasp on the asphalt.

With Continental TKC 80 Twinduros and gen-one ESA set to the Enduro mode, the Adventure is ready to let riders slip and slide with complete control. Switchable ABS and ASC allow for a little (or a lot) of technical intervention by the rider’s choice.

Not if, but when the F 800 GSA tips over, its lighter weight (even fully loaded) is easier to upright than other bikes. With the saddlebags in place, it’s an easy rock back onto the rubber. Lower engine guards and handlebar guards take the rest of the touch-down points. The only damage I experienced in a parking lot tip-over was a loosened bar guard (easy fix) and a ding in the saddlebag. (That’s why they make stickers!) Sans the luggage, the (optional) bag mounts make for great fuel tank protection as well as pick up handles.

The upgraded saddle is now an all-day rider, by the way. But what I wish the 800 did have for those long slogs on the pavement is a place to stretch the legs. But then again, with a bike this capable, who’s sitting down all day? Get in the dirt and play!