Why the BMW F800R is the most disappointing bike I’ve ridden so far this year

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Reading glowing press reports from the launch in January and falling in love with the  F800GS in Labrador gave me some pretty high expectations for this new BMW F800R. Middleweight nakeds like this BMW or the Triumph Street Triple are some of my favorite motorcycles, combining comfort with light weight, good handling, an affordable price and just some simple, accessible fun. So it should have been perfect for spending a month in LA with, right? Well, let’s just say it spent most of the month in the back of the garage for a reason.

Photos: Grant Ray

Isn’t it just a naked F800S/ST?
The engine’s pretty much the same, but there’s a new double-sided swingarm and chain final drive instead of a belt (according to the hype, it’s there so Chris Pfeiffer can swap in granny gears). That probably makes a bigger difference than it sounds like it does as it adds two inches to the wheelbase.

The F800S is actually discontinued in the US now, leaving this as the sportier version of the ST.

But yeah, same beam frame, same underseat fuel tank, flat bars. Compared to the ST, the 798cc parallel-twin is up 2bhp to 87bhp at 8,000rpm while torque remains 63lb/ft at 6,000rpm.

So it’s the same engine as the F800GS?
Pretty much, but the R is geared quite a bit lower and, at 439lbs (wet) weighs 16lbs less than the BMW F800GS (and a lot less than the luggaged-up bike I rode to Labrador), so it feels a fair bit stronger. The pay off is that, where the adventure touring bike is happy cruising at 90mph all day long, the naked starts vibing your hands to sleep above 80mph, where it crosses the 5,000rpm threshold in top gear.

Is it a shorter, sportier F800GS?
The two bikes don’t actually feel that similar. It could be down to the different chassis (R uses an aluminum beam, GS a steel tube arrangement), but the R feels more compact, not just shorter. The riding positions are night and day, the GS is upright and spacious, the R is just cramped.

There are similarities though. I still forget to park on the left side of fuel pumps so the gas cap points towards the pump. The digital gauge still waits a long time before it starts ticking off gradations. But, on the R, it doesn’t wait all the way till half-tank before giving you any meaningful readings, more like 3/4.

Is it a naked sportbike?
Not really. The unadjustable forks and preload/rebound shock err on the soft side and while the engine is deceptively fast, it’s also transparently flat and unexciting. The flipside of the stability added by the increased wheelbase and non-adjustable steering damper is that, despite the flat bars, it’s slow to turn. You can hustle it, it’d just rather you didn’t.

So it’s a traditional practical-but-boring BMW then?
Sort of. This optioned-up model does have heated grips and ABS, the upright riding position does deliver good vision when you’re splitting lanes, it does have a reasonable 4.2-gallon fuel tank. But, it lacks the easy-going character of air-cooled, opposed-twin BMWs like the R1200R. Where those bikes feel like unstoppable, everlasting tanks, the F800R is a little more urgent, a little less refined, a lot less comfortable.

Wait, it’s not comfortable?
There’s three seat options at no cost. The stock item (on our bike) sits at 31.5 inches tall, the low and high options add or subtract an inch from that. With the standard seat and my 34-inch inseam, the pegs are just too high for a bike like this. It’s not a sportbike, so why are my feet up my ass crack? Sadly, it doesn’t feel like adding an inch to the seat height would be a huge help.

That’s the first part of a weird riding position, that has you totally upright, with a very short reach to the surprisingly narrow flat bars. The exhaust pipe also gets in the way of your left boot if you’re toes-on-peg hanging off. The end result is cramped legs, elbows tucked into your chest and, despite the optional fly screen, totally exposed to the wind. You could and probably should fix that with some flat Renthals. Bringing your torso forward a few degrees into the wind would help a lot.

You’re just hating on the F800R because you had fancier bikes in your garage.
It is true that we also had a BMW S1000RR and Aprilia RSV4 all month, plus an MV Agusta Brutale 990R and two Yamaha WR250Rs for a week or so, but we also had a big, heavy, soft, ugly Moto Guzzi Norge too. Know which bike we took out way more than the F800R? That Norge. Why? Well, for one it wasn’t bright yellow, but it was also seriously comfy and offered a surprisingly unique riding experience. More on that in a day or two.

Alright, alright, just tell us what else you didn’t like.
Well, there’s the looks. Bumblebee yellow and black just isn’t appealing to anyone over the age of five and the assymetric headlights that looks so distinctive on the beaked F800GS are just sort of left sitting there in the wind on top of the weedy forks. The engine looks like it belongs in a generator, the seat unit is clunky and the taillight looks like a baboon’s ass.

The optional ABS isn’t one of the unobtrusive, latest generation systems like that fitted to the S1000RR, instead it’s over-eager to take over, noticably pulsating the levers when it does. Braking over some tar snakes from very high speed into a very tight corner, I actually became worried that I was going to run straight ahead, over a cliff, because the brakes were skipping instead of working.

But it does some things well, right?
Totally, it’s not a bad motorcycle, just not of the level we’ve come to expect from BMWs like the S1000RR, R1200RT, F800GS and R1200GS, all of which are essentially perfect. It’d be a great commuter, if you’re short. But being a great commuter just isn’t terribly exciting and, for the price it just doesn’t make sense next to cheaper rivals.

So you’re saying I should buy a Triumph Street Triple instead?
Totally. The F800R starts at $9,950, going up to $11,395 if you option ABS, heated grips and the onboard computer. The basic Triumph Street Triple starts at $8,899 while the R and its fancy suspension and brakes goes for $9,599. The Triumph also has a European badge and is practical around town, but is a shit ton of fun once you’re taking some corners

I’ll put it this way: You could commute every week day on a Triumph Street Triple R, then tear up track days on weekends. The BMW only does one of the two. You know which one.

  • Sean Smith

    “The engine looks like it belongs in a generator.”

    And that right there is why I could never love this bike.

    • BMW11GS

      its always turned me off these bikes. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really like the f800 either. I want to in theory…but just cant bring myself to.

  • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

    Interesting take on the ergos. I’m 5’5″ and everything feels right where it should be on the stock seat. Interestingly, a friend that is 6’1″ also felt more comfortable on the F800R than on the Street Triple R.

    This is still toward the top on my next bike list.

    • Ben

      I have an ’07 f800s and test rode a new 800r. I feel very comfortable on mine, and still felt comfortable on the R. The seating position is a bit more upright due to the bars, but everything else is the same. It is a very solid engine that gets amazing gas mileage and my S, at least, is extremely fun in the twisties.

  • Ben

    Ah, HFL to the rescue again… I just bought myself a Street Trip and was wondering if I should have given this bike more thought. Guess not!

    • stephanie croc

      On one person’s opinion? It’s a very good bike….economical, very comfortable ( for my 180cm frame), agility that lets me ride near the front of the pack and reasonably brisk – just not particularly exciting.
      But my Triumph/BMW dealer, knowing what I like in a bike since I’ve bought several from him, steered me away from the Street Triple (which he loves) because he thought the Beemer would suit me better.
      That’s the thing – finding out which suits us. Best to ride as many testers as possible

  • Devin

    I love the bumblebee paint job – by far my favourite colour-scheme on a bike. I give it +1 for that, but I am surprised it comes in one colour only.

    The bike looks well equipped for short two-up runs with the offset hand-holds. Did you guys try any commuting two-up while you were testing it?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It comes in a couple of colors.

      We already had to live together for a whole month, riding two up would have been a step too far.

      • Alex

        Bumblebee is great color – a brake from your typical silvers and reds.

  • paul

    Did you accessorize with a bright yellow Barbour International ?

    • mb

      this

    • T Diver

      The green one brings out his eyes better.

  • RSassi

    I feel between my FZ1 and my eventual acquisition of the Speed Triple I can’t imagine what else I would need from a motorcycle that isn’t ridden on a track everyday or only on a track. Yeah the s1000rr is a beast but why would this company bother building a bike with such great inherent compromises? Are polite SoHo yuppies really a monster of a market?

    This is real journalism, btw.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    For other comparison’s sake, you can buy a new Kawasaki 650 inline twin naked for ~$6,500. Sure, its a fairly bland commuter bike, but…apparently so is this. For the additional 3 grand, I’d want a little inspiration with my fancy European bike, too. At least put a belly-faring on it, or something to distract from that engine.

    • Devin

      No thanks, enough with the belly fairing and half fairing bullshit. Keep my nakeds naked dammit.

      • Glenngineer

        Fuck yeah.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, that 650 ninja and this f800r are effectively the same bikes.

  • Tony

    I rode an F800s for a while before the numb arms and hands convinced me to turn it into something else.

  • Johndo

    This review almost sounds like paid advertisement by BMW. lol!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Damn, you caught us!

  • gregorbean

    “we also had a BMW S1000RR and Aprilia RSV4 all month, plus an MV Agusta Brutale 990R and two Yamaha WR250Rs”

    I hate you

    :^)

  • James Dean Meyer

    There is no other place to find this kid of honesty. I love you guys.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      We love you too.

  • gaudette

    On the bright side though, we are only two and a half months in.

  • Cajun58

    The insolent question and belligerent answer format is outstanding in that it is both informative and entertaining. Seriously I like it and look forward to seeing it again soon.

  • Glenngineer

    I also want to like this bike…I sat on one, and it really doesn’t work for me. I’d rather have an R1200R, which feels more tame than my strom with the windshield off, if I was getting a BMW.

    • Devin

      I really want to like this bike, because it is hard to find a naked that is comfortable for commuting two-up and then also fun solo.

      Haven’t sat on in yet as the nearest dealer is three hours away, but I am looking forward to the next time I pass through.

      • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

        The R oil/hex heads have always been quirky. Even with their faults I love ‘em. This seems to follow in the same direction, what is awkward for one might be perfect for another.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Check out the Kawasaki Versys.

        • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

          The Versys is a great bike. Very comfortable. Good power. CHEAP, especially used. A great bargain. Any of the ER-6x machines are really good bikes.

          The Versys was a close second in my last bike purchase. The price, performance, and commuting comfort were all there. However, it left me a little cold. I didn’t make any real connection to machine. It had no quirks, I like quirky machines. I ended up on a G650GS (another HFL fave (haha)) and have not regretted that decision.

          I do appreciate a more critical review though. All of the mainstream mags have been very favorable, which really is improbable in the real world. Different bikes appeal to different people in different ways.

          • Roman

            Actually Motorcyclist gave it a pretty poor review too. I remember really digging the F800ST when that came out. Basically a light-weight sport-tour, something that nobody really makes anymore. Figures it didn’t sell. The F800R doesn’t really do anything for me.

  • dux

    Maybe it needs a turbo?

  • DoctorNine

    Man, I’ve been saying this since the thing came out. But then again, I guess there is a always going to be a place for a bland poseur machine in the marketplace. I mean, look at all the Cayennes that people buy.

    • stephanie croc

      You may have been saying it – but opinions don’t mean knowledge on a subject. Bet you’re pleased an actual riding publication justifies your bias though.

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    It’s so obvious the manufacturers have you in their pokets. This read like a damn press release!

    (thanks hfl!)

  • Lawrences
    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Seen that, everyone seems to agree that its likely a one-off marketing vehicle or something along those lines.

  • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

    The “bokeh” effect looks hilarious with this subject – “german” design seems to look best with bleak backgrounds and harsh contrast.

    This bike reminds me of a two wheeled Ta152 – nothing pretty about it – just brutally effective, or at least it should have been.

  • ike6116

    I sat on this bike the other day just to see if I could gleam anything and damn.

    The pegs are in such an awkward place and the faux tank feels like it’s punching me in the gut.

  • Michael

    I don’t really get this review. You don’t like it because it’s “cramped”. And yellow. How do the brakes work? What’s the clutch action like? How’s the handling? The transmission?

    I’m not sure I agree that Motorcyclist gave this a bad review. “F800R’s six-speed is everything a good gearbox should be” & “Stuff it into your favorite twisty stretch and the chassis returns an encouraging mix of quick, relatively light steering and all the unflappable stability of Angela Merkel” don’t sound terribly negative.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan or HFL, but this is an unhelpful review from a known contrarian.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Read selectively much?

      The chassis is overly stable at the expense of steering speed, which isn’t typical with flat bars. The suspension is too soft, so it moves around a lot in a corner and is pretty vague.

      The brakes are brakes, except when the ABS kicks in, which it does all the freakin’ time, and then they don’t brake.

      Want some more metaphors or something?

      As my extreme bike mag journalistic riding skill crested a corner like surfing a wave at a speed mere mortals are not capable of, attempts to tighten my line were met with chassis response that was like Newt Gingrich responding to criticisms for extra-marital affairs despite campaigning on a family values platform, ie reluctant and badly handled. Using the extreme powers of riding ability endowed in me by my day glo leathers and huge beer gut, I managed to eventually stop the bike, but only after encountering the kind of reluctance usually reserved for Barack Obama’s decisions to intervene in the Libyan revolution.

      On second thought, that is much clearer. I’ll write like that from here on out.

      • Michael

        That was awesome. You’ve channeled your inner Charlie Sheen. Duh! Winning!

        • Kirill

          This is the last place I expected to find a Charlie Sheen reference. For shame.

          And the F800R looks stupid. Whoever at BMW thought that it would be a good idea to let that headlight let it all hang out probably had one stein too many at the Hofbrauhaus.

      • Restless Lip Syndrome

        +1 Love it.

      • Michael

        Listen, I’m not trying to be a smart-ass. So few dealers allow you to do anything other than sit on their bikes (and some don’t even allow that). Buyers rely heavily on reviews and road tests from the journalist community. Obviously we are (and should be) wary of the big publications due to their overly close relationships with the manufacturers. We rely on you for real, honest feedback. Flowery metaphors notwithstanding.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Ha, it’s no problem. Just remember that part of HFL is being able to talk to us. Instead of bitching, just ask for more info if you want to know more about a specific area.

        • Devin

          Is this a new trend? I’ve never been denied a test ride at a dealer – ever. I was looking at some used listing down in Toronto, and I saw a lot of adds with “no test pilots”. Is buying a bike when the seller won’t let you try it out common?

          It seems odd to me, because my money is staying in my pocket if I don’t get a test ride.

  • Iain

    I test rode an F800 in August last year. Nice enough but I had a Hornet at the time and compared to that the F800 did lack urgency and excitement and as a few people have pointed out is a bit more vibey under acceleration. Shame because the 800cc range is going to become more important I feel in the next few years and the Monster and Triumph Speed seem a bit more set up. I’m sure BMW will get there though, I have a K1300r and it’s mega and I’m sure given the quality of the GS they can, if their heart’s in it, make a great middleweight sub-litre naked.