2019 BMW F 750 GS & F 850 GS : On- or Off-road, Adventure is the Word!

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Kevin Wing

BMW’s approach to updating its middle-class machine is an interesting one—they’ve introduced two models very close in displacement, yet quite different in terms of temperament. The all-new F 750 GS and F 850 GS bikes possess the essential rugged good looks and dual-purpose functionality of the established GS machines, while each manages to retain a sense of individuality.

WHAT’S NEW? EVERYTHING!

The 750 and 850 GS represent a true “ground-up” redesign for 2019. The aesthetics of the new machines are typified by a new asymmetrical LED headlight and the characteristic GS bodywork design flow. Yet the wheels are the most telling feature. The 750 sports cast wheels in a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear configuration, whereas the 850 has a more serious off-road profile with a 21-inch front and 17-inch rear, laced up in an endurocross-spoke pattern. All tires are tubeless.

An all-new, bridge-type steel chassis replaces the trellis frame, becoming a support element with dual-aluminum swingarm. The fuel cell, previously situated under the seat, has been moved to a more traditional placement to achieve a renewed weight-bias distribution of 49-percent front/51-percent rear and narrower mid-section. 

To reinforce the off-road intent of the new GS, the exhaust pipe now sits on the right. Thus in instances of having to push the bike in mud or sand, or to take off from a stop on a steep hillside, the heat radiating off the pipe and muffler is kept away from the rider, who typically operates on the left.

A welcome aspect of the middle-class GS machines is BMW’s focus on providing a wide range of seats and lowered suspension options—for the 750, seat heights range from 30.3 to 32.7 inches, while the 850 offers 32.1 to 35 inches. 

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

Interestingly enough the 750 and 850 share the same in-line, water-cooled parallel twin cylinder engine with identical bore and stroke and displacement. Individual engine mapping alters horsepower and delivery, with the 750 producing a mild but perfectly adequate 77 hp, while the 850 is emboldened with a more lively 90 hp. Torque numbers are less disparate with the 750 delivering 61 lb-ft and the 850 producing 63 lb-ft. The new engine fires on a 270/450-degree interval, imbuing both of the new GS machines with a very distinctive and alluring exhaust note.

Both middle-class GS machines have Rain and Road modes along with ABS and automatic stability control (ASC) for enhanced controllability. Other factory options include Dynamic, Enduro and, for the 850 only, Enduro Pro ride modes, as well as dynamic traction control (DTC) and banking-capable ABS Pro. Additionally, BMW’s optional Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) is available. These rider aides represent exceptional technical advancements that lend themselves to new degrees of rider safety. 

HANDLING AND RIDEABILITY

The power of both bikes comes on with a smooth predictability, as engine response can easily be managed with nuanced throttle inputs. The six-speed transmission is well-spaced, providing plenty of top-end in sixth gear for highway rambling without over-revving the engine. Conversely, first gear has been lowered to accommodate low-speed off-road riding, reducing the need to feather the clutch and delivering an ease of launch from dead stop. The new (and highly effective) anti-hop clutch has a reduced pull force, which translates to less hand fatigue.

New twin counter-rotating balance shafts keep the vibration of the twin to a minimum, with their smoothing effect being most evident at highway speeds. The middle-class GS bikes are impressively free of the type of chattering vibration that is often the bane of smaller displacement twins in a parallel configuration.

 

Both motorcycles are true GS brethren in terms of rideability, with excellent handling traits on pavement, yet equally maneuverable and responsive off-road. The rigidity of the new chassis greatly reduces frame flex, granting stability under hard braking. The 850’s slightly longer wheelbase (7/10ths of an inch over earlier models) contributes to stability.

 

The F 750 GS is intended for all-around riding, serving as a solid base machine for commuting and general road use, as well as some mellow off-road riding—primarily graded fire-road type terrain and light trails. The bike affords plenty of capability, especially for those new to off-road. 

On the other side is the 850, which flaunts a much more robust attitude off-road. Though it mirrors its little brother in many aspects, the F 850 GS has beefier, upside down 43mm forks (compared to 41mm telescopic units on the 750) with increased travel (8.0 inches front and 8.6 inches rear as compared to 5.9 inches front and 6.9 inches rear on the 750). Factory settings on the un-adjustable forks proved extremely compliant for both road and dirt, delivering a smooth ride and soaking up the invariable potholes and ruts encountered. The increased engine performance and suspension of the 850 makes it much more adept at tackling challenging terrain. 

The difference in suspension between the two bikes is most present in how it affects ground clearance. The 750 has 7.5 inches, as compared to the 850’s more forgiving 9.78 inches with a lower standard seat height of 33.9 inches, compared to the earlier 34.6 inches. 

Both BMWs deliver comfortable ergonomics while seated or standing, with the bend and height of the bars rendering a straight-backed stance when up on the pegs, on my 5-foot-11-inch frame (the 750’s are slightly narrower). With the extra-wide Enduro pegs, these bikes allow for long periods of standing with minimal fatigue. Rubber peg inserts cushion against vibration on the road and can be easily pulled out to give the peg teeth plenty of grip against boots. Getting the rubber inserts back into the pegs is a bit of a challenge. 

Both machines are fitted with hydraulically operated brakes comprised of dual 305mm rotors mated to 2-piston floating calipers on the front and a single 265mm disc on the rear gripped by a 1-piston caliper. BMW Motorrad ABS comes standard (which can be disengaged). If you plan to do a lot of off-road riding, consider including the optional Pro with Dynamic and Enduro ride modes and ABS Pro. The ABS Pro version allows the rider to lock up the rear wheel, while resulting in a decent effect on the front without the spongy feel—or worse, lack of feel, that used to accompany ABS during off-road riding. The only criticism in terms of braking has to do with the rear brake pedal. In the standing position it requires an unnatural extension of the foot to activate the brake. 

The bikes tested were fitted with the optional multi-function instrument cluster augmented with a dynamic 6.5-inch color TFT display. The system works extremely well and is highly visible in virtually all conditions.

THE EXPANDING GS STABLE

To put it simply, BMW has created two middle-class machines that, although being relatively close in displacement and overall design, fulfill two dramatically different applications. The 750 is tailored more toward newer riders, offering a capable machine that could effectively be viewed as an introductory bike that can be grown into. The 850, on the other hand, is more robust in terms of capabilities and will keep even the most skilled of riders entertained and happy.