BMW has officially entered the midrange motorcycle fray with the all-new F800 series, featuring the sporting S and the touring-oriented ST. The Bavarians invited us to test both in an exotic and very demanding setting: The Big Island of Hawaii.
For many two-wheel enthusiasts, it is heartwarming to know that the venerable producer of premium and powerful cars is willing to flex its motorcycle muscles, too. Sure, they're very proud of their long, two-wheeled tradition, but a different attitude is blowing the dust from the model range and opening the minds of those working in the R and D department. The results? A constantly widening range of new rides.
The changes started in 2003 - with the completely redesigned R1200GS - are continuing with more models straying from the strictly drawn Bavarian line of being "high and heavy, with moderate power." It also doesn't hurt that there's been an infusion of new personnel in the development stages, a bike-addicted group of experienced racers from the track and off-road realms. Now, it's no longer unusual to have high-power output, as evidenced by the current K-Series, or nimble, lightweight bikes like the 650 single-powered G-range.
While there's no arguing that BMW has a firm grasp on the big bike touring segment, their foray into smaller bike territory had been less impressive. Granted, the single-cylinder F650 models have been steady troopers, but they're heavy for their size.
BMW's exciting F800 offering is designed to fill the gap between the big R & K models and the smaller F-line, and it is quite a revolution. The 798cc parallel-twin power plant isn't the only uncharacteristic step the Bavarians took - not only is there is no trace of the usual tele- and paralever suspension systems, there's no shaft drive either. Instead of these BMW-typical components, the front suspension is a conventional telescopic fork, whereas the rear suspension is a single swing arm with a central spring. For the final drive BWM chose to go with a belt drive, a technical solution that has already proven its reliability, durability, and low maintenance on the former F650CS model.
Regarding the design of the F800, BMW kept the concept on the conservative side of the drawing board. The bike's solid upright stance cuts an unpretentious, Everyman figure. After all, it has to respond to the demands of a broad range of consumer types. But however modest the straight lines of the new Bavarian are, they belie a dynamic character. One element in particular that does jump out is the overly large exhaust pipe, necessitated by emission standards and, of course, decibel reduction.
The compact, very sporty body design is mated to an aluminum main frame that's slim but solid. The rear frame section is made of tubular steel bolted to the main frame. As on the F650, the tank is located close to the center of gravity, under the seat, to optimize the handling of the bike. The fuel tank filler cap is located on the right side.
The two-cylinder engine is an all-new development made by the Austrian manufacturer Rotax. The long-stroke designed parallel-twin features a swing-action balancing rod instead of two conventional balancer shafts to keep its size compact and to minimize vibrations effectively. It operates with semi-dry sump lubrication. The performance of the engine shows similar torque characteristics exhibited by the traditional "boxer" twin. Interestingly enough, it also sounds similar. The resultant riding style is relaxed, with a minimum of gear changes and no real need to rev the engine into the limiter to maintain a sporty pace. The engine's power is transmitted through a 6-speed gearbox. Easy to manage, this tranny offers the right ratios for nearly any situation, be it short trips in town or long distances on the back roads and freeways.
The hydraulic braking system is as up to date as the rest of the components. The front wheel sports floating double discs and fixed 4-piston calipers. The back binder is a fixed single disc with a floating twin-piston caliper. As is typical of BMW, ABS is available as an option.
Turning to the electronics of the F800, a major feature of note is the "BMW Motorrad Single Wire System" that uses CAN bus technology. This also includes an electronic immobilizer. And for other electronic goodies, like GPS or simply recharging your cellphone, there's also a convenient accessory plug.
The ergonomics of the two F800 models offer a good compromise for a wide range of body types, from short to tall. Due to the particularly slender waistline at the front, vertically challenged riders can still reach the ground with their feet. And they have the option of getting a lower seat directly from the factory.
The differences between the S and the ST include fairings, windscreen heights, and riding position. The handlebars on the sportier S are quite low, while those on the ST are distinctly higher, offering a more upright seating position and long-distance comfort. For the touring-minded rider, the manufacturer offers a broad range of options: side bags, a top case, tank bags, mounting systems for luggage, and a navigation system. Other special equipment includes heated grips, anti-theft warning system for extra security, easy-to-read on-board computer, white direction indicator, a center stand for the ST, and a tire pressure monitor.
BMW invited us to test the F800s on the exotic, Big Island of Hawaii. The roadbook offered a vast choice of road types ranging in condition from bumpy with lots of potholes to pavement that's almost perfectly smooth. Both bikes got a full workout under extreme conditions, really good and very bad, and passed with flying colors.
At the end of the test session, I found the bikes to be versatile, lightweight, easy to handle, and I would readily recommend either of them for newcomers. The easy manageability of these BMWs also guarantees that experienced riders will have a lot of fun riding them as well. And as for another distinction between the two, I did notice the heat coming up from the engine on the ST, due to the bigger fairing. But that's not necessarily a bad thing when the climate is cooler.
Fully equipped with luggage and navigation system, the F800ST has all of the necessary features for one- or two-up travel across the country. But don't count out the F800S. It also offers comfort, durability, and versatility for everyday use and long-distance jaunts.
2007 BMW F800S, F800ST
+ comfortable seating position, versatile, easy to handle
Distributor BMW Motorrad USA
MSRP S/ST$ 9,950/$ 10,950
Engine water-cooled twin cylinder,4 stroke
Bore x Stroke 82x75mm
Fuel System fuel injection
Power 85bhp@8000 rpm63ft/lbs@5800 rpm
Ignition BMW Engine Controller - BMS K
Transmission six speed
Frame aluminum bridge,engine partly load bearing
Front Suspension 43mm telescopic fork
Rear Suspension single cast aluminum swing arm, central spring
Front Brake dual 4-piston calipers,320mm rotors
Rear Brake single, 2-piston caliper,264mm rotor
Front Tire 120/70x17
Rear Tire 180/55x17
Dry Weight S/ST401lbs (182kg),412lbs (187kg)
Wheelbase 57.7in (1466mm)
Seat Height 32.3in (820mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.1gal (15.5 liters)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors S-models Flame red uni, Lahar graymetallic, Sunset yellow uni
Colors ST-models blue metallic,Graphitan metallic matte