BMW F800GS Rocks Moab - Stoned To The Bone

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jonathan Beck

Gas on, brains off, indeed.

My squawk list was short. The shock, innocent of linkage, could use more rebound damping. I wondered if Ohlins would be optional.

Curiously heavy, jutting rear peg risers are welded to the frame so you can't unbolt them.

Mid-morning, I experienced an odd fueling gurgle for about six minutes. Could have been a slurp of water in the gas or a panicky throttle hand. The subseat fuel tank's sticker demands high-test, but if you need to ride through Somalia (or Newark), the bike's gas-huffing computer sports oenophilic olfactory judgment, allowing the bike to drink Third World gas at the cost of a squib less horsepower.

Worst gripe: The 800's stock skid plate is a little plastic number by Frederick's of Hollywood. It would have a tough time supporting the bike and rider's full weight dropping onto a sharp rock. It also doesn't wrap up the front of the engine. One writer took a rock through his oil/water heat exchanger-an inch above the leading edge of his skid plate. For the record, that bike quit steaming and finished out the day in a feat of magical self-healing. I'd still upgrade to the optional aluminum armor.

As an aside, the swingarm is a pretty thing, made lighter than the Afrika Korps boxer R1200GS through the wonders of shaftectomy. Its countershaft sprocket aligns with the swingarm pivot. Perhaps BMW will be the outfit to successfully patent this notion.

What is good? The transmission is good. I've owned three German bikes and ridden dozens, and this is the first BMW that shifts like buttered silk even through my bolted-up kluge of an ankle. It felt Japanese enough to send shivers of Axis worry down my padded spine.

The riding position is variable and good. Better riders griped about the plastic wings forward of the seat, but when standing I was mostly too scared to notice them.

Spiffy pegs have rubber street tops that pop off, exposing useful croc teeth.

The engine is very, very good. An F800ST mill tipped up nearly vertical, it has a dummy piston to ensure that its agreeable snarl won't translate to Magic Fingers grip vibes. Torque and power claims of 61 lb.-ft. at 5750 rpm and 85 bhp at 7500 rpm make for a modestly exciting streetbike and a king-hell off-road snorter.

The best feature is BMW's heretofore-unannounced Autopilot Rider Replacement(tm) (you read it first in Motorcyclist), which trumps ABS and traction control as a robo-gestalt solution for rider safety.

Mid-afternoon, I overcooked a downhill, off-camber, decreasing-radius left-hander. Too sexy for my skill set, I was coming in hot when the surface transitioned inconveniently to moon dust and I apprehended for the 46th time that day that what you can see can hurt you. And was about to. Poking out a boot, I was levering at the handlebar like a pellet-crazed rat when I slid past the apex and straight across the bow of an onrushing Dodge Ram pickup.

Calmly opting for panic, I segued nimbly into a nasty high-side. By the time I finished wincing at imminent traumatic amputations, I was immersed in a bar-banging tankslapper and headed for the rocks.

What happened next is a mystery.

I came to my senses rolling gently along the ditch bottom. A little burp of throttle and off I went, shaking my head. Near as I can tell, I crashed two or three times right then and there, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bike just refused to cash the check.

If BMWs can do that, maybe they don't need skid plates at all.

Even on pavement, the GS felt as relentlessly unstoppable as a Special Forces expense claim. Tipping it into 90-mph paved sweepers resulted only in a tiny hunting sensation as the front knobby squirmed in protest. A short straight saw 115 very blustery mph indicated. Although there's a sit-up sweet spot of around 70 per, road wind made me want to sample the accessory touring windscreen. Stout brakes and modest weight would make a GS on knobless tires a fairly fierce road-assault weapon.

Factory reps gave no hint of supermoto wheels. That's not this bike's mission brief. A gender-bender bike with the 800's motorvation and an upgraded "650" chassis might star in the hack-and-squirt role, but this horse stands 16 hands high for gazing over the top of your commute, all the way to a distant horizon.

Is it the mount for me? I don't know. The GS was sumptuous through every dirty inch, but I paid for my fun on straight paved sections as my spine, momentarily undistracted by survival concerns, peevishly outlined my every episode of foolish living. Hard to say how that would play out in town and, let's face it, I won't spend much time haring around Moab. Besides, claimed wet weight is only 14 lbs. less than my R1200S streetbike!

But the F800GS is almost 50 lbs. lighter than its big dual-sport brother-and about 200 lbs. narrower. If the mid-F is a two-wheeled jeep, the R1200GS is a Land Rover station wagon-and the ginorphantine R1200GS Adventure is a Unimog.

Make no mistake, you can strap coffin-sized panniers to a used F650GS single-washing machine motor and all-and flog the thing to Prudhoe Bay and back. With a team of mules and a modest DoD grant, you could also wrestle an R1200GSA up the Rubicon Trail, although I'd hate to watch.

An F800GS would make those things fun.

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