I’ve now been fortunate enough to ride and take notes on 475 motorcycles. As you might imagine with such a number, the list include pretty much all brands and models and types of street bikes, with a few dirt bikes here and there.
The 2013 BMW F 800 GT is the first motorcycle I’ve ridden this year, and if the rest of the year goes like this it’s going to be a VERY good year.
Background: The F 800GT is a new model for 2013 – sort of. For a number of years BMW made an F 800 ST, which had a ½ to ¾ length fairing and was sort of a gentleman’s (or woman’s) sport bike and sport tourer. It was marketed alongside other variants of the same basic engine architecture, including the F 800GS, the F 650GS (now F 700 GS) and the F 800R. The F 650GS and F 700GS, with the logic that makes sense to someone in an office in Germany, both displace the same 798cc at the “true” 800cc engines, the smaller numbers meant to imply the reality of a softer state of tune for the engine that makes it a bit easier to ride.
The 800 vertical twin has proven to be a remarkably flexible power plant for BMW, able to absorb several different levels of tune depending on the intent. For 2013, for example, the F 800GT is advertised at 90 horsepower, the F 800R at 87hp, the F 800GS at 85hp, and the F 700GS at 75hp. These differences are achieved by juggling fuel injection set-ups, compression ratios, and exhaust systems. If this seems a bit anal to you, welcome to the precision world of BMW, where the ambient temperature gauge on the dash reads to the tenth of a degree – which is a bit finer distinction than what I used for years – like “warm” or “cold.”
I rode an F 800R last year, which is differentiated primarily by being a “naked” bike with almost no bodywork other than a small “fly screen” above the headlight that provides more cosmetic appeal than protection.
Since I’ve long been a huge fan of naked bikes, I really liked the 2012 800R, and I will continue to use it with great pleasure until it sells.
To create the F 800 GT, BMW has gone in two or three directions at once. A return to the ¾ fairing style of the former ST, although I the windshield on the new model is perhaps a bit larger, a set of bars that are higher than on a more sporting machine (and far more comfortable), and finally and perhaps of the most significance, newly designed saddlebags (not on our demo yet) that look fabulous and should hold a lot of stuff without making the bike look or feel heavy.
Why build it? Here is where I think BMW has put in a lot of quality thought. The motorcycle demographic in this country is aging. BMW already offers very capable sport tourers in the K 1600 GT and the R 1200 GT. Having said that, some customers prefer something a bit lighter and shorter, with engine performance that is accessible rather than potentially alarming. Don’t scoff at me until you’ve accelerated a K 1600 GT in 3rd gear from 6,000 to 9,000 rpm. You are now about to go to jail…
An F 800 GT weighs 470 pounds, the R 1200 RT weighs 580 pounds, and the K1600 GT comes in at 732 pounds. If you’re shorter, or older, 260 pounds can be a lot, and that poundage is there every time you park the bike or move it around the garage or accidentally kill the engine at a light while turning. True, if you were accelerating up a steep hill to pass a truck, with a passenger, the K 1600GT will get the job done much faster.
Time to ride it! Our demo F 800 GT is in a dark smoked orange and “Light White” and “Dark Graphite Metallic” shades are also available.
First impressions when clambering aboard are comfort and logic. The seat is not too high or too dished, and the handlebar height is exactly where you would expect it to be, which is not always the case. Everything seems to be laid out exactly as you would want.
The next thing you notice are the mirrors. On the GT they’re on stalks mounted to the fairing, further forward and higher than on the 800R I’m used to. They’re also a different shape, being rounded-corner rectangles. The 800R mirrors are smaller trapezoids. The result is pretty much the best mirrors of my experience. You can really see what is going on behind, and they remain razor sharp at any rpm I was going to use with new tires and a brand new bike on wet roads.
Riding the bike is simple and pleasurable. There’s ample power for anything you want to do. You would only wish for more at the start of a straight at a track day. Not this bikes design brief, although actually it would be a great choice for such duty. The exhaust sound is pleasant, and the clutch pull is very light. Shifting is so easy that I shifted up without the clutch a couple of times with no trouble at all, which you cannot do on many bikes when brand new. Brakes almost go without saying these days, at least on BMWs. Triple discs and ABS allow you to stop anywhere you want as hard as you want with no drama. Feel is excellent.
Most of the BMW F 800GTs will be optioned with the “usual” array of BMW technology, which spoils the frequent BMW rider. An instrument cluster with a variety of displays you can scroll through, an outside temp gauge, a nice bike gear indicator, all those sorts of things.
A small feature than becomes significant when you own the bike is a center stand. The bike is light enough to be easy to put on the stand, and that will make it easier to clean. The silver wheels are attractive, and deserve to be kept looking fine. The belt drive, unlike the 800R which uses a chain, will keep the rear wheel looking pristine for a longer interval.
Overall, I think this is a brilliant design that will offer lucky owners a broad spectrum of delights, whether commuting to work, enjoying a weekend back roads jaunt, or taking off for a trip of weeks or months duration.
(For Mr. Preston’s inaugural first ride, he was wearing a helmet by Arai, jacket, boots, and pants by RevIt!, and gloves by BMW)
Copyright 2013 David Preston