Doin' Time Staffers' Rides

MC Garage

Photography by Drew Ruiz, Joe Neric, Tim Carrithers

2009 BMW F800GS
Ringleader: Tim Carrithers
MSRP: $12,175
Miles: 870-3257
Average Fuel Mileage: 53 mpg
Accessories & Modifications: Techmount handlebar mount, Touratech oil filter guard, engine guard and extensions

It's not so clean anymore. Especially after a few expeditions up San Francisquito Canyon to check out what's left of Bill Mulholland's St. Francis Dam. That failed at 11:57 p.m. on March 12, 1928, turning loose 12 billion gallons of water, killing upwards of 600 people and sending a wave of soggy debris all the way to the Pacific. Ace Hopewell, out for a little motorcycle ride, was the last man to see the 195-foot-tall concrete gravity arch standing. Now? I'm the only bipedal carbon-based life form for miles.

Bashing around in the underbrush is why I signed up for the BMW F800GS to begin with. Grip is relatively plentiful on the Forest Service roads skirting Red Mountain. This is a good thing, since the standard-issue Bridgestone Battle Wings are marginal on perfect dirt, and can't grab hold of the dry/dusty/slippery stuff at all. They're starting to square off in the center after 2000 or so mostly commuting miles, so I'm shopping for something that inspires confidence instead of abject horror in the dirt. One mid-sized bang for every revolution of the 360-degree crankshaft gives the rear a fighting chance at traction-a counterweight situated 180 degrees from the crankpins snuffs out excess vibration-but if there's mud or sand around the next corner, wait for the pavement-legal knobbies to show up.

Meanwhile, a Techmount clamped to the handlebar makes taking my GPS receiver along infinitely easier. It's proven quite stout so far, easy to install and reasonably priced ($69.95 from www.techmounts.com). Perfectly serviceable for travel on any sort of civilized surface, it bolts up to the cradle that came with my Garmin Zumo 550. But with no shock-absorbing capability, hard-core off-road work could be harder on the electronic entrails, so I may step up to something that can soak up some of the pounding. A little bolt-on aluminum insurance from Touratech (www.touratechusa.com) adds peace of mind and more actual protection from pointy desert rocks than the skimpy stock plastic snack tray. Though it hasn't taken a direct hit (yet), a new Touratech guard ($86.70) protects the previously defenseless oil filter/cooler zone from flying rubble. Just below that, a substantial, 4mm slab of aluminum ($125.20) does the same for the sump. An extension clamped to the centerstand ($65.50) makes it easier-and less expensive-to slide over any obstructions that exceed available ground clearance. It's all typically German: solid and well built, with predictably didactic instructions. The catalytic converter is still exposed, but so far, so good.

There's not much else to complain about. Astoundingly efficient BMS-KP engine management lets those 46mm throttle bodies squeeze 53 miles out of the average gallon of unleaded. At that rate, the plastic fuel tank under the seat lasts 200 miles and change. The stock fork suffers from a strange combination of soft springs and aggressive high-speed compression damping that makes mid-corner frost heaves more exciting than they should be. Otherwise, the lighter 800 goes faster with less effort on pavement that Caltrans maintenance crews have long forgotten than its 1170cc Boxer brother. Brakes are plenty strong for sporting street work, where the Bridgestones are more competent. Standing on the pegs to navigate between the rocks and rain ruts, there's not much GS for my knees to hold onto, and relatively low bars make assuming the position a pain. Put bar risers and a taller seat on the shopping list if you're tall. They're on mine, along with a set of real-deal hand guards. Staying ahead of the deadline police is tough with broken fingers. Don't ask how I know.

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