2011 BMW F800R | First Ride

Bargain Beemer

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by BMW

Maybe you’ve seen four-time world stunt champion Christian Pfeiffer wheelie an F800R through BMW’s corporate headquarters in Munich. Maybe you’ve seen him turn a defenseless Metzeler into a cloud of smoke … whilst sitting serenely on the handlebar ... backwards. Maybe all that has you thinking the naked successor to BMW’s F800S is some radical, sociopathic detour from unswerving Bavarian pragmatism? Pfeiffer’s input was part of the R’s development process. But fear not: Pfeiffer’s hyperkinetic showmanship notwithstanding, the actual motorcycle is more solid citizen than tire-smoking sociopath.

Think price-point Teutonic demi-sport and you’re right on the money. Beneath our testbike’s snazzy red/white/blue Motorsport livery you’ll find most of the innate strengths and few of the weaknesses such things are heir to. Minimalist styling emphasizes the latest version of a 798cc parallel-twin that surfaced in 2006, hanging in the twin-spar aluminum frame. It makes an alleged 87 horsepower at 8000 rpm—2 bhp more than an F800GS makes at 7500 rpm. As in previous iterations, twin 82mm pistons rise and fall together, while a clever hinge-and-lever-controlled counterweight in between does its best to neutralize offensive vibration. A proprietary variable-pressure fuel pump feeds the 46mm throttle bodies, making the R more responsive—and stingier with every gallon of mid-grade unleaded—than comparable twins. Housing 4.2 gallons of the stuff in a plastic tank under the seat leaves plenty of room between the frame rails for an airbox and intake snorkel.

A 31.5-inch seat height makes the Roadster ergonomically pleasing to compact humans, but too cramped to those who aren’t. Shorter riders should opt for BMW’s optional low seat while 6-footers should go with the tall seat. The nicely angled aluminum handlebar enforces a comfortably sporty forward lean, but high footpegs favor cornering clearance over legroom. That flyscreen is better at keeping bugs off the speedo and tach than wind off the rider. Relatively conventional MID switchgear—Molded Interconnect Devices for blatant geeks and acronym aficionados—will be more familiar to the conquest buyers BMW hopes to pry away from other brands with this one.

Ignore the actuality of pistons that move up and down in lockstep instead of in and out for a few seconds. The Roadster’s 360-degree crank makes it sound and feel like 68 percent of an R1200R Boxer. Revs build more urgently than that iconic 1170cc lump, and the catalyzed exhaust system allows a raspy bark that’s more tenor than baritone, but the dead-flat delivery is a dead ringer for BMW’s inimitable horizontally opposed torque pump. Did somebody say torque? The corporate PowerPoint presentation alleges 63 lb.-ft. of the stuff at 6000 rpm, and there’s an admirable amount of steam on line from 2000 to the 8500-rpm redline. Unfortunately, there’s also a fair bit of buzz above 5000 rpm, which is where this engine lives when you’re in any sort of hurry.

Aside from a first gear that can feel a twinge tall around town, the F800R’s six-speed is everything a good gearbox should be. Shifting is light and precise, even in mach schnell mode. The tiny red light at the bottom of the tach face that comes on just ahead of the rev limiter is nice but largely superfluous; there’s more noise than useful propulsion above 7000 rpm. The aforementioned high-frequency vibes get annoying up there, but there’s not a lot else to whine about. At that rate, handling is quick enough to keep experts entertained without intimidating rookies. Stuff it into your favorite twisty stretch and the chassis returns an encouraging mix of quick, relatively light steering and all the unflappable stability of Angela Merkel. Aside from some harshness over brutally rough pavement, the Showa suspension bits do a respectable job at either end. An adjustable fork would be nice at this price, but at least you can dial-in spring preload and rebound damping on the horizontally mounted shock without breaking out the (disappointing for a BMW) tool kit.

The 320mm rotors and four-pot Brembo calipers add up to a serious amount of linear, fade-free stopping power. And thanks to an improved ABS sensor originally developed for the HP2 Sport über Boxer, R-spec brakes slow things down seamlessly over bumps. Suspension is more than adequate for the genre. And despite various concessions to the almighty bottom line—chain final-drive on a conventional swingarm in place of the now-discontinued F800S model’s belt and single-sided setup—the R somehow manages to come off feeling feisty instead of cheap, which it isn’t.

At $9950, the basic F800R is $2251 dearer than Kawasaki’s 649cc Versys. With ABS, heated grips, tire-pressure monitor, sport windshield, electric accessory socket and an alarm—what BMW calls the Premium Package—the model we tested will set you back nearly $4000 more for a total of $11,395. Whether it’s worth that kind of dough depends on your perspective: You can buy a lot more motorcycle—Kawasaki’s $10,999 Ninja 1000 comes to mind—for less. On the other hand, that’s still $3500 less than a comparably equipped R1200R, making the F800R a real bargain for a BMW.

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