Product Review: 2013 BMW F 700 GS
There can be little argument that BMW invented the dual-sport genre of motorcycles. Many would go so far as to state that the dual-sport concept saved the company, as the R-based models sold well when introduced (at a time when nothing much else was) and have become a mainstay of the product line. For simplicity I will define a “dual sport” as a motorcycle that can be ridden off-road, but also licensed and ridden on public paved roads.
As access to off-road riding areas becomes more problematic, the BMW approach makes more sense each year. People with “pure” dirt bikes also have to own either a trailer or a pick-up truck to get the bike to the riding locale, and that locale is getting less local each year.
As anyone with such a successful product idea would, BMW has been expanding and refining their offerings for the past several years and now have an impressive array of dual sport bikes to meet virtually any need.
A review of the BMW dual sport bikes might help here, especially for those new to or casually interested in the off-road world. BMW no longer sells any motorcycles that are not street legal. Here’s a brief overview of their street bikes that are also designed with dirt capability. This not a comprehensive technical description – just a taste.
G 650 GS:
Single cylinder 652cc engine with cast wheels. Comes in a low
suspension model as well, which combined with relatively light
weight makes it the first BMW to be certified for use in rider
education and safety courses.
G 650 GS made more dirt-capable. Taller suspension and wire
wheels are the primary differences.
Vertical twin engine of 798cc (more on this later) with cast wheels.
Same vertical twin engine of 798cc with a more aggressive state of
tune, wire wheels, and taller suspension than the F 700.
R 1200 GS:
Classic opposed twin 1170cc engine in a durable off-road
package with cast wheels.
R 1200 GS Adventure:
R 1200GS with taller suspension, more crash protection, spoke
wheels, and a huge fuel tank.
R 1200 GS “water”
On the way, the R1200 GS with a new engine design that is partially
R 1200 GS Adventure “water”
Not even announced as a future model, but bet any amount of money you want – it will happen.
Why the different wheels?
Cast wheels are stronger up to a point, probably cheaper to manufacture, take tubeless tires, and are pretty much maintenance free. On the other hand, experts who’ve been there and done that (Helge Pedersen and many others) prefer spoke wheels and tubes for ease or even the possibility of repair when you’re in a goatherd’s lean-to shelter with a hammer and a pry bar and a pile of dung; 650 miles from modern civilization. For most design intents the cast wheels are probably better, but for extreme usage the spokes still rule.
What’s up with the displacement numbers?
Shall we guess together? BMW does not compete at a high level in major motocross, arenacross, or supercross series events, so they’re free to ignore racing class displacement limits. They can design engines to have the displacement, power, and weight they choose to meet design criteria. After that it gets a little murky…
The 650 model has an engine of 652cc. As someone who spends a fraction of each day on what can loosely be termed “marketing,” I would offer that “652” is a lot cooler number than 650. “See the new 652!” etc. They may stick with 650 for reasons of tradition or… I have no idea why.
The 700 and 800 GS twins drive salesmen to distraction as they try to explain things to a customer. BMW uses the same basic architecture for these, but alters the fuel-injection and other tuning variables to give a different rider experience. The 700 GS is listed as 75 hp at 7,300 rpm, while the 800 GS comes in at 85hp at 7,500 rpm. With modern electronic and computer controls you can alter the characteristics of a given engine size and displacement quite radically. That part is pretty easy to understand.
It is the naming that seems to be a challenge. The F 700 GS used to be called the F 650 GS – and had the same 798cc displacement. This caused customer confusion, so BMW changed the designation to… F 700. I see…
In any case, if you’re a street rider and want to venture to roads not traveled, and or not paved, and maybe not even roads, there’s a wealth of information out there, including seminars and classes and camps put on by Ride West (seminars), Puget Sound Safety and RawHyde (classes and camps) and many others. You’ll probably want to get some dual sport equipment, and then opt for a new or used motorcycle that best fits your particular needs.
Which gets us to (finally!) the 2013 BMW F 700 GS.
The BMW F 700GS is a utility work horse sort of motorcycle. You can use it as a street bike, a commuter bike, a back roads weapon, a touring mount, a dual sport adventure bike, or even take in a track day or two. Obviously, there are compromises here and there.
At 461 pounds, it is 31 pounds heavier than a G 650 GS, which is why I used a G 650 GS when I went to Adventure Camp. Not sure I would make that choice again, because I find the F 700 GS to be much more comfortable for my frame. One of the things you will have pounded into you at a dual-sport camp (possibly literally) is the wisdom of standing on the pegs to allow your legs to function as additional shock absorbers. I found the F 700 GS exceptionally easy to ride and pop up to a standing position, easier for me than on the G 650 GS which has a lower seat.
On the other side of the scale (a truly intentional and awful pun) the F 700 GS is 11 pounds lighter than the F 800GS, in addition to having a lower seat height. The F 800GS gets a bit tippy for me, depending on what tires have been mounted. Your results, of course, will differ.
Compare that to the 525 lbs of the R 1200 GS or the 580 lbs of the R 1200 GS Adventure and you begin to see that the total breadth of choices BMW has provided is – hefty. (2nd awful pun!)
What I most like about the F 700 GS is the personality. All motorcycles do have a personality, if you pay attention to them, and the F 700 GS’s is very friendly. It’s easy to live with, easy to climb on and easy to ride. The throttle action is smooth and so is the shifting. You can up shift without using the clutch if you like, even with a new bike. It’s down on total horsepower compared to the F 800GS, but when riding it in town it accelerates hard enough than you can pretty much shift gears as fast as you can think to do so, until you run out of gears or common sense tells you a humongous speeding ticket is next on the agenda. It has the center stand of the other 800GS models, and chain drive.
(In case you missed my correction, the 800 GT reviewed last week has BELT drive – my bad).
I also enjoy a motorcycle with pretty good off-road capability where I can still plant my feet at a stop.
The usual layer of BMW technology with heated grips, ABS brakes (standard on all BMW models in 2013), multiple instrument displays – all of it adds together to make the F 700 GS one of the very few motorcycles you could use for almost anything at all – except perhaps the sort of extreme off-road riding you probably do intend if you’re interested in this bike in the first place.
Colors for this year are “Glacier Silver Metallic,” “Ostra Grey Metallic” and “Red Apple Metallic,” which to me is more of a ruby red color. The Ostra Grey Metallic model has subtle orange graphics for the “F 700” letters that sounds like a bad idea in print but in the metal looks really cool.
The F 700 GS is a great bike for the person who wants a bike that can do everything, the person who is planning to add some off-road to his or her riding diet, or even the person who does not yet know exactly what they want a motorcycle to do and can use the F 700 GS to develop the appropriate appetite.
As you can tell, I really like it.
Copyright 2013 David Preston