$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.

The stock, road-biased Bridgestone Trail Wing tires were swapped for off-road-ready Metzeler Karoos, with massive knobs on the rear tire for improved forward motion and sharper side knobs up front for better penetration in soft surfaces. McNeil also installed heavy-duty, puncture-resistant tubes and ran higher-than-recommended 20-psi pressures. This prevented flats, but didn't protect from a badly dinged front rim caused by a particularly nasty square-edged bump.



Because the AMA/NARS events are multi-day and self-supported, luggage was a must. McNeil again turned to Twisted Throttle, which delivered a tank bag and tail pack designed specifically for adventure-touring. Made by Bags-Connection in Germany, the tail pack features an internal aluminum frame to hold its shape and all-metal mounting hardware for maximum security. The Enduro tank bag utilizes a strap-on base affixed with optional clips designed for anchoring to tubular frames like on the GS. "Both bags stayed on and stayed on good," McNeil reports.

Given the limitations with both time and budget, McNeil's quick-and-dirty off-road overhaul was an overwhelming success. The only major oversights were a headlight guard (the bike suffered a cracked lens) and shorter gearing (the stock gearing proved too tall for technical off-road riding). Turns out it doesn't take much time or money to transform the F800GS into a capable off-road companion.









"My instructions from BMW were to go out there, beat the snot out of this bike and show everyone what it can do," McNeil summarizes. "I gave it everything from 100-mph dirt roads to first-gear, 5-mph canyon descents, even some snow and sleet. In the end, the modded F800GS had an advantage over both the true dirtbikes and the big-bore adventure-tourers just about everywhere."

Take that to mean this project was an unqualified success.





Aftershocks Suspension Experts
952 N. Canyon Pkwy.
Livermore, CA 94551
925.583.3300
www.aftershocks-suspension.com
Fork service $200
Cycle Gear
22249 Mission Blvd.
Hayward, CA 94541
510.888.9100
www.cyclegear.com
Countdown roll-chart holder $28.95
LeoVince USA
1445 S. 50th St. #B
Richmond, CA 94804
510.232.4141
www.leovinceusa.com
SBK Oval EVOII slip-on muffler $399
Metzeler
100 Pirelli Dr.
Rome, GA 30161
877.202.4993
www.us.metzelermoto.com
90/90-21 Karoo front tire $89.95
150/70-17 Karoo rear tire $231.95
Twisted Throttle
1080 Kingstown Rd. #1
Peacedale, RI 02879
401.284.4200
www.twistedthrottle.com
Barkbusters VPS hand guards $159.99
SW-MOTECH crash bars $195
SW-MOTECH aluminum skid plate $209.99
Bags-Connection Enduro tank bag $129.99
Bags-Connection tail pack $175
TOTAL $1819.82

RESOURCES
www.f800riders.org
www.bmwmoa.org/forum
www.advrider.com

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