BMW’s catchall moniker for dual-sport bikes is “GS,” which comes from gelande-strasse and when translated literally means “terrain-street.” Since BMW’s first GS in 1980, the now-famous nameplate has been applied to a lot of different motorcycles, each landing on a slightly different point along the dirt-street continuum.
What do you make of the new F700GS, then? It has stylistic elements of the famous R1200GS, including a split-fender beak, stubby windscreen, and asymmetric headlights. It trends toward being dirtbike tall yet has modest suspension travel—right around 7 inches front and rear—and cast wheels shod with street-oriented Bridgestone Battle Wings. It may seem a little conflicted, so can we just call it a dirt-styled streetbike and move on?
Confusing, too, is BMW’s nomenclature. The F700 replaces last year’s F650GS, which used the same 798cc parallel-twin engine that’s shared with the rest of the F800 line. BMW’s marketing wants to separate the F650/700 from the more dirt-oriented (and expensive) F800. It makes you wonder how thinly BMW can slice this category.
A wide-oval speedometer tops a comprehensive gauge package, but too bad that it’s hard to
In any case, this year BMW has reworked the F700GS with slightly more power (as in four extra horsepower) from the liquid-cooled, six-speed engine, given it shorter overall gearing, and generally moved it closer to the F800GS in terms of performance. As welcome as the power bump is, the greatest update for this year is the addition of a second disc up front; the previous bike’s single-disc stopper was borderline for even non-aggressive riders. Worry not, new riders: BMW has given the F700 solid braking power without even a hint of bite. And it’s backed up by standard ABS.
In the rework, BMW also gave the F700 some important options to help you pad the $9990 base price. Electronic suspension (ESA) is part of a $795 Safety Package that also includes tire-pressure monitoring and traction control that BMW calls ASC. Still have some room left on the Visa? You can add the Comfort Package ($505) that includes a trip computer, heated grips, a centerstand, and luggage racks for BMW Vario bags. The bags alone add nearly $900.
Shorter riders afraid of the F700’s standard, 32.3-inch-tall seat can opt for a 1.2-in. lower one at no cost; if that’s not enough, a $250 low suspension option will bring the seat height to a more manageable 30.1 in. In all, there are four seat options: stock shapes in high and low, a “rallye” seat (presumably for you serious dirt types), and a touring-oriented “comfort” seat, which was on our testbike. It’s nice and soft, but the butt bolster is a bit too far forward and restrictive, forcing the rider into a limited range of positions. Otherwise, the F700’s riding position is very neutral and comfortable, though you do feel like you’re sitting on rather than in the bike.
Hey, look! A second brake. Twin sliding-pin Brembos do the job with ABS assist. Newbies wi
You can option up your F700GS to $13K without trying too hard, which begs the question: Is the bike under all that fluff worth the effort? At its core, the F700GS is a solid, predictable performer. The added grunt from the electronic recalibration is evident on the road and at the dyno, where the GS puts down 61.6 bhp and 51.8 lb.-ft. of torque; the last full-strength F800 we tested put out 74.5 bhp and 50.9 lb.-ft. Because the torque curve is so broad, you tend to wait for an upper-mid or top-end rush that never arrives. The engine always has enough to do what you ask, but the combination of droning exhaust note and lack of high-rpm rush makes it feel a little dull.
Weather protection from the demi fairing and bikini windscreen is better than it should be, handling is light and predictable, and the suspension action is just about right for the mission. The three ESA settings—Comfort, Normal, Sport—affect only the shock’s rebound damping, so the changes are extremely subtle. We preferred Sport. The shock also has remote preload while the fork has no adjustments at all. Ridden hard, the F700GS pitches modestly on the brakes and with a quick shot of power, yet the suspension cannot completely filter out road imperfections. Not quite sporty, not quite supple.
It’s a narrow gap that BMW’s driven the F700GS into: Just above the single-cylinder G650GS twins— where the 700 is tremendously smoother and more sophisticated—but nipping at the F800GS, F800R and new F800GT models. Yet it stands out as the true all-arounder, a bike that could gain a set of knobbies and go off road, or that could grow luggage, a tall winscreen, and cushy seat to become a flexible, mid-distance traveler. Perhaps that’s what BMW meant with the GS name after all.