The entirely new in-line twin unit in the f series Beemer is the headliner of the show. A real cracker of an engine. The previous generation f700/f800 series engine, made by Rotax was an exceptional unit for its time.
Bullet-proof, low maintenance, excellent low-end torque, efficient and decent power output. Arguably the only thing the previous-gen engine was lacking in was excitement.
It did the job but in its various tunes, sounded like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, or a motor in a wooden box - depending on the given silencing system. In short, reliable but boring. Don't get me wrong I have a soft spot for the older f800 and (at the time of writing, still have an f800st in the garage).
The new 850 GS engine has a redefined character and provides loads more zing. Not just in sheer numbers on paper but as an experience. While the power didn't come on quite so low as on the old unit, once it did (which was around 4,000rpm, it pulled hard all the way to the redline without losing puff.
The character of new f850 is significantly racier, which also meant you had to take a bit more care to keep it in the revs. As opposed to the old engine you could lug around in almost any gear at any rpm.
The new 2-cylinder in-line engine has two counterbalance shafts and a changed firing order interval for a smoother ride. It also sounds excellent, even with the standard silencer. Not loud, but it has a sweet vibe and thrum when getting on the gas. To the ears, it's a little bit 'Ducati', but smoother - not quite so raw. Whatever it sounds like, one thing is for sure, it's bucketloads more fun than the old f800.
Much like anything GS, the looks are utility-based, combined with a good deal of ostentatious technology. The aesthetics are thoroughly modern and rugged but hardly beautiful like a Panigale or perhaps a BMW R nine T, but that's not what the GS is about nevertheless. Robust, handsome, modern.
Gearbox & Quickshifter
Given I didn't notice the regular gear change, it must be good as it just worked.
The quick-shifter is a bit stubborn, typical of units connected to twin-cylinder bikes. Perhaps it will soften up with a few more miles in the saddle. Still a lot of fun. I think with more practice and correct technique, it would be fine. Felt quite similar to the quick-shifting gizmo on the liquid-cooled r1200r, which could also be a little bit abrupt if you didn't get it quite right. For most twin-mounted quick shifts its essential to be quite deliberate, not hesitate and be swift about it. Obviously (not to some) it won't work well if you are not accelerating adequately, or decelerating with ample revs and throttle rolled off.
It appears that quick-shifters on 4-pot engines are easier to get right.
Being half dirt focussed with the 21-inch front tyre and soft-ish suspension you would expect the f850 to be outstanding in the bends. Surprisingly enough, it's quite good and confidence-inspiring for a good flogging in the twisties. The non-adjustable forks do dive quite a bit on hard braking but lean the 850gs over in a curve, and it's very stable. The mid-corner soft suspension wallow didn't materialise.
The electronic suspension adjustment adjusts only the rear shock although it works pretty well. With Dynamic and Road setting the options are discernible with the road setting eating up anything, you run over without feeling overly mushy. The 'dynamic mode provides a bit more support for faster riding, 'although not outright sports-stiff.
Overall the bike feels very light and flickable, hiding its considerable weight remarkably. Supremely controllable and agile despite the off-roadish setup.
Dash & Controls
By far, the best TFT Dash I've seen on a motorcycle. It's not pretty in the traditional sense of gauges and needles, but most of the other TFT displays are terrible. Ducati I'm talking about you, same with Yamaha, and most other I won't go on to name. Funny enough, this is an area which even car companies can't get right. User Interface design, it seems, the Achilles heel of any auto TFT attempt. Only the Germans seem to get this stuff right. Mercedes, Audi, VW, BMW fine. Japan and Korea, not so much. Despite making excellent cars.
I didn't have time to fiddle with all the settings but believe me; there are numerous. Despite the myriad of options, it's all very intuitive, even if like me, you've never used it before. This Dash, menu and interface is very likely the benchmark at the moment.
While I didn't have the opportunity for a long ride, I could tell this machine will go a long way on one tank. I was riding the pants off it, and it was still showing a 4.9l average, which is very impressive in my book. Punters were already moaning that the tank is too small, but I predict a pretty good range on this machine.
Regrettably, I didn't do any off-road on the 850gs on this occasion. Being a short ride and a demo bike, there just wasn't an opportunity. I'd did, however, stand up on the pegs which were in a great position and provided a broad pedal platform for an enduro stance. Very easy to stand and ride.
- cracking engine, much more exciting than the previous-gen
- looks awesome, sounds awesome
- Super comfortable ride. Great suspension.
- more gizmos that you know what to do with
- controls very easy to use, well laid out, best in class.
What's not to like:
Some of this may be knit-picking but as good as bikes are today, every model needs higher standards than the past - and has a lot of competition.
- Not much wind protection. The screen seemed to unload it right into my face.
- The engine starts to work (meaningfully) a bit higher up than the old f-series. Nothing much happens below 4000 rpm, though it then has a much longer range in the upper end.
- the clutch action feels a bit odd when releasing, perhaps a peculiarity a but kind of slow-release instead of springing out, almost like a dampening effect.
- Quickshifter is a bit stiff and knotchy
Its been a long between complete f series updates, but it's been well worth the wait. The new BMW f850 gs is an outstanding all-rounder which is a hoot to fling around the bend and no doubt equally down a dirt road. For those who are familiar with the f700/ f800 gs, this bike will seem similar, just better in pretty much all departments.
Fit and finish also have vastly improved. Where the earlier models came across a bit cheap in some areas, the 850gs looks and feel premium all over like its bigger boxer-lugging brother. It seems the midweight GS has come of age, where it's no longer a stepping stone that is missing the excellent kit.
If I had to have only one bike, this could be it. People may say the GS1200, but I've always been an enthusiast of midweight motorcycles when it comes to usefulness.