BMW F 850 GS 2019 Review – Mid-Weight Wonder



Is this the best mid-weight adventure bike available now? BMW’s F 850 GS steps out of its big brother’s shadow with a gigantic level-up in ability

Photos: Leow Ju-Len, Derryn Wong

SINGAPORE

I admit I’ve never liked big motorcycles, being a not-very-large person. That also meant failing to understand the appeal of the best-selling adventure bike of all time, the BMW R 1200 GS, until I actually rode one.

READ MORE: An F 800 R can do mad things if you’re an insanely-talented (and hard-working) motorcycle stunt god…

The R 1200 GS’s smaller brother, the F 800 GS, was always more up my alley. At 214kg it’s 30kg lighter, an instant plus in my book, but it was only through experience that I found out it’s not so much the total weight, but how it hangs that really counts.

The R 1200 GS (above) is a very deceptive beast. It looks huge, but is actually easy to ride, maneuver, and even push around because the low-mounted boxer engine gives it a low centre of gravity and wonderfully comforting stability.

The F 800 GS was a competent machine, but ironically not quite as effortless as its big brother partly because it had a high-mounted fuel tank sticking out behind the seat. By turning that, and everything else, on its head its replacement, the F 850 GS, becomes a much better motorcycle for it.

Not that you’d notice up front, though. Styling is a key point for adventure bikes, and the F 850 GS continues BMW’s strong visual DNA here, with the classic asymmetrical headlight (a full LED unit,  with new integrated running light) beak-morphs-into-shoulders look seen on the smaller G 310 GS as well as on the new R 1250 GS.

It’s a bit like watching the BMW X3 go from old to new, the overall look is the same, but the details become more confident, and a little more intricate. Of course that’s where the comparisons end, as the GS bikes are far more capable offroad than X cars are, with the exception of the baby G 310 GS.

We mentioned the F 800 concept’s been turned on its head – the frame goes from a tubular steel to a steel bridge frame, but more importantly, the fuel tank is now in the conventional place behind the steering head and in front of the seat. It’s also mounted lower, so the bike isn’t as hard to push off the side stand as it once was.

Presumably it’s also easier to pick up if you drop it , something we consider quite important having dropped the F 800 GS more than 10 times at BMW’s excellent but exhausting Enduro Park Thailand training ground.

While you can’t see the difference, you surely can hear it. Firing up the F 850 GS delivers a hard bark and thumpy idle that tells you immediately here’s something new to pay attention to.

The engine is all-new with a modest capacity increase from 798cc to 853cc. On paper, it doesn’t seem much different – the same parallel twin layout with only a 10hp increase. But like the other things you can’t see, you only have to ride the 850 down the street to realise how different it is.

The sound it makes it more aggressive, bassy and characterful. Transplant it into something red and Italian and it wouldn’t sound out of place at all. That’s because the firing order and crankshaft angle have been changed. Instead of a zero degree crankshaft angle, its now 90 degrees.

What that means is that combustion (the ‘bang’ of suck, squeeze, bang, blow) happens every 270 and 450 degree interval rather than once every 360 degrees, and closer to the firing order of a V-twin. It’s a trick used by other bikes too, including Yamaha’s old TRX.

The other payoff is that the bike now runs much smoother across the whole rev range. With the old firing order, both pistons would be moving up and down at the same time – one igniting and one intaking.  

Imagine swinging both your arms up and down at the same time, then do the same except with slightly offset swings – your body moves much less. It’s the same idea, just done at a much faster speed.

Whereas the old F engine would make the whole bike buzz at higher speeds, the new engine retains the characterful vibes but doesn’t turn the entire machine into a Hitachi Magic Wand.

The extra power and torque don’t sound like much on paper, but the F 850 leaps forward with a punch it entirely lacked before. That, in combination with the rorty soundtrack, makes riding the bike aggressively not just feasible, but enjoyable.

 

Switchable ride modes also emphasise that – Rain, Road, Dynamic, Enduro Pro – with a full complement of modern safety aids such as the latest traction control, ABS Pro (with cornering ABS), anti-wheelie and anti-hop, and more.

Enduro Pro lets you twiddle the settings to your liking too, so if you’re running down a fire trail, you can set it for no TC an ABS, or with just a little to keep things reigned in.

We didn’t have the chance to test the F 850 GS off-road, but it runs the gamut of slow and boring commutes to fast road rides not just with ease, but with a joyful competence that wasn’t as obvious before.

The tall adaptive suspension (ESA, electronic suspension adjustment) smoothes away the worst the road can offer. Construction near new MRT stations can feel like a Dakar stage sometimes, but the F 850 GS just soaks it all up and roars along merrily, even in the stiffer Dynamic setting.

An up-down-quickshifter (now one of our modern bike must-haves), light clutch and throttle, and classic tall adventure-bike stance makes urban navigation easy, the weight shift means it’s easier to manage even too.

The standard 860mm seat height may be a tad tall for riders standing less than 1.7-metres tall, but an 835mm low seat is optional. Lowered suspension at 815mm can be ordered too, but it means foregoing the adaptive ESA suspension.

Another feature that gives you the feeling of being on top of everything is the cockpit, which comes with the 6.5-inch TFT display and ‘iDrive’ controller on the left handlebar. Not only can you navigate with it via the BMW Connected Ride app, you can also check your bike’s status on the app, hook up your (and co-rider’s) device and headset to it as well.  


In other words, the F 850 GS is pretty much the complete deal when it comes to a mid-weight adventure bike now. We still had to tiptoe a little, and would have appreciated a taller screen, but the ruthless elimination of the old model’s shortcomings, and vast increase in capabilities, features makes the F 850 GS very convincing.

In fact it gives you the same feeling of being able to do almost anything when you’re riding it, just like the R 1200 GS does. No big GS envy here, the F 850 GS proves the middle is a great place to be.

BMW F 850 GS

Engine

853cc, 8V, parallel twin

Power

95hp at 8250rpm

Torque

92Nm at 6250rpm

Gearbox

6-speed manual with up-down quickshifter

0-100km/h

> 200km/h

Top Speed

3.8 seconds

Wet Weight 

229kg

Seat Height

860mm (835mm, 815mm optional)

Agent

Performance Motors Limited

Price (OTR)

S$39,800 (machine only)

Availability

Now

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.