Kona, Hawaii, sounds like a place where one would compare the load capacity of beach chairs, not swingarms. Yet there we were. BMW's decision to trot out the not-so-new F800S and its sport-touring ST spin-off in such an extravagant location (the bikes were floated all the way from Germany) raised as many eyebrows as it did Mai Tais among the U.S. media. Why all the fuss about bikes the rest of the world has been riding for almost a year? "We're very serious about these new middleweights," responded Roy Oliemuller, BMW USA's communications manager, "and want to make a big splash in the U.S market."
That splash wouldn't be the sound of moto-reporters playing in the surf. We rode the hell out of BMW's new parallel-twin models, ticking down the checklist of qualities American buyers might find attractive. Big power? Ah, check. It's not so much the sheer output of the Rotax-built mill that's satisfying, it's the engine's broad range. There's plenty of torque on the fly and a huge midrange to work it through the twistiest bits. Someone looking for superbike horsepower might be disappointed by the F800's claimed 85 bhp, but as we've already heard from Munich, that person is not the intended buyer for these new middleweights. This F800 series is designed to "recapture" riders-re-entries or folks already riding cruisers or entry-level bikes who are ready for a little more pizzazz. And in this scenario, the S and ST work brilliantly.
The roads BMW sent us down put the bikes' aluminum beam frame, traditional telescopic fork and single-sided swingarm combination through the paces, especially the torn-to-shreds Saddle Road that straddles the Big Island's 13,796-foot, volcanic Mauna Kea. Again, the F800 models score high for being mild-mannered-very stable yet compliant enough to keep us from skittering into the lava fields, with well-damped steering that's both precise and constant. The toothed rubber belt runs smoothly, while the six-speed gearbox offers quick, satisfying shifts save for the occasional, irritating false neutral. The S-model is said to weigh 401 pounds dry, and the stock accoutrements on the ST add only 11 pounds- totally manageable, especially with the under-seat fuel capsule lowering the bike's CG. Seat height is also friendly at 32.3 inches, with the saddle sculpted to be especially narrow in the front, which encourages a straighter leg and, therefore, more boot on the ground. Newbies or shorter riders can opt for a no-charge replacement saddle that drops seat height to 31.1 inches; or a replacement shock kit that further lowers it to 29.9 inches.
As a fan of BMW's new-generation dual-channel ABS, I was happy our demo units were so equipped, but buyers will have to shell out almost an extra grand for the package. F800S and ST prices have been set at $9475 and $10,475, respectively-pricey in an entry-level middleweight market that includes such players as the $6499 Suzuki SV650. Add ABS ($890), heated grips ($235), the cool multi-function computer and tire-pressure monitoring system ($510)-and, on the ST, the basic saddlebags ($742) and top case ($497)-and you're looking at typical BMW outlay.
After spending a full day on each new F800, I think I'd opt to have the saddlebags installed on the way-sexier S and save the grand BMW is charging for the ST's taller windshield, fairing lowers, more upright handlebar, luggage rack and unattractive mud-flap rear fender and spend it on the ABS option. The S riding position isn't so radical, and its small windshield does a fine job of shedding the elements. And did I mention it's sexier? Way-right down to the black wheels borrowed from the K1200S (the ST uses R1200ST hoops). The S is also available in hotter colors, including red and yellow, while the ST comes only in graphite or blue.
Come to think of it, those optional K1200S-inspired saddlebags are only available in drab colors, too, so maybe I'd just take a bare yellow S and bungee on the beach chair.
The F800 parallel-twin marks BMW's entry into a fourth category of engine production, filling the gap between its small singles and large flat-twins and multis. A GS enduro version is reportedly being tested in Germany.
Ducati's $8995 S2R 800 is the only comparably sized sporting twin on the market. Honda's V-four Interceptor offers quite a bit more bike for hardly any more cash: $10,599 base; $11,599 with ABS.
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 4v
Bore x stroke: 82.0 x 75.0mm
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Horsepower: 85 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Torque: claimed 63 lb.-ft. @ 5800 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar single-sided swingarm
Front suspension: 43mm fork
Rear suspension: Single shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual four-piston calipers, 12.6-inch discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 10.4-inch disc
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear tire: 180/55 ZR17
Rake/trail: 26.2o/3.7 in.
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 57.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal.
Dry weight: 401/412 lbs.
Colors: yellow, gray/graphite, blue
Warranty: 3 years, 36,000 mi.
Contact: BMW Motorrad USA
P.O. Box 1227
300 Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Westwood, NJ 07675
Very hot for a BMW. Sexy even. A well-rounded package that everyone from paddle-footed newbies to hairpin junkies can enjoy-provided they can afford one.