$2000 Streetbike Surgery - BMW F800GS

The road to adventure starts here

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Nick Cedar

The occasional fire road is as far afield as most BMW GSs ever go. The Bayerische Motoren Werke recognizes this, and supplies these bikes with suspension, tires and other components more suitable for commuting than careening through cacti. That's not to suggest GSs don't belong off-road-thousands of hardcore adventure riders can attest otherwise-but you'd best beef up a few key components if you anticipate your off-road adventures extending much beyond your armchair.

BMW introduced the F800GS in 2008 as a half-step between its single-cylinder G650GS and all-conquering R1200GS twin. We responded by naming it Best Adventure Bike in our annual MOTY awards, applauding its impossible-to-stall, 798cc parallel-twin, the improved feedback from its conventional telescopic fork (as opposed to the R-model's single-shock Telelever), simple chain drive and light weight. If you want to build an adventure-tourer that will work as well off-road as on, the F800GS is the perfect place to start.

Chris "Teach" McNeil, a BMW-sponsored professional motorcycle stunt rider, has two F800GSs in his arsenal. One is set up specifically for stunt riding, and you can see examples of him abusing it six ways to Sunday on his website (www.teachtrix.com). The other was just gathering dust in his garage, until he received a last-minute invitation to participate in the L.A. to Barstow to Vegas round of the AMA National Adventure Riding Series. Faster than you can say achtung, Project Off-Road F800GS was on.

McNeil had just a few days and almost no budget to prepare his back-up bike for the two-day, 450-mile torture test. Since he had zero off-road riding experience, his first priority was crash protection. The F800's radiator is especially vulnerable, with the plastic brackets sometimes breaking off even in zero-mph tip-overs. Twisted Throttle, an adventure-bike outfitter based in Peacedale, Rhode Island, supplied a set of German-made SW-MOTECH crash bars. Made of heavy-duty, 27mm steel tubing, these mount securely to the frame and lower engine cases and protected McNeil's machine from "at least a half-dozen" high-speed get-offs without damage to the radiator or any other component.

The F800's stock skid plate is an in-effective plastic piece, so that was likewise replaced. Constructed from 3mm aluminum plate, SW-MOTECH's aftermarket version extends further upward to better protect the front-mounted oil filter, exhaust headers and engine block. McNeil made good use of this added protection, bottoming out on so many whoops that the stock centerstand was scraped clean of paint. The new skid plate was bent and battered, but remained intact.

Part of the belly-bashing was due to the non-adjustable suspension, which in stock trim is set soft for a smooth highway ride. For a quick and easy-and, at $200, cheap-fix, McNeil visited Aftershocks Suspension Experts in Livermore, California. There, lead shock doctor Phil Douglas added spacers to increase spring preload and drilled a few additional orifices to improve damping in the 45mm Marzocchi fork. While this made the handling noticeably better, helping the front tire bite and carve turns, the fork (and shock) still blows through the stroke too quickly and frequently bottoms out. A better solution-which admittedly would more than double our budget-would be to install cartridge inserts in the fork and replace the stock shock with a higher-quality one from Öhlins or Race Tech.

Engine modifications were limited to a slip-on exhaust. The LeoVince SBK Oval EVOII slip-on was selected as much for its 5-lb. weight reduction as for its modest, 5 percent power increase. "You're already looking at a 400-plus-pound motorcycle before you start loading it with spares, gear and tools," McNeil says, "so saving even 5 lbs. is very important." McNeil also appreciated LeoVince's optional quiet silencer insert that keeps decibels down-always a concern when riding in mixed-use outdoor areas.

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