RideApart Review: 2014 BMW F 800 GS Adventure

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Take one of the most popular middleweight adventure bikes on the market and maximize its long distance comfort, dirt safety and crashability. Voila, you have the 2014 BMW F 800 GS Adventure. We just rode it through the Colorado and Utah backcountry.

Photos: Jonathan Beck and Kevin Wing

What’s New
To the current BMW F 800 GS, BMW has added a host of accessories and upgrades, but hasn’t altered the basic package. The 85bhp, 61lb-ft, 798cc parallel-twin is unaltered, as are the unadjustable, 43mm, upside down forks and the fully-adjustable monoshock. Suspension travel remains 9.1 inches (front) and 8.5 (rear).

The biggest upgrade is probably the new fuel tank, which increases capacity from 4.2 to 6.3 gallons, thereby improving the range from around 248 to 347 miles. Riders who like covering big miles in as little time as possible, or who simply enjoy exploring a long way from the nearest gas station will find that 40 percent improvement incredibly useful.

Complimenting that increased distance between fuel stops is a new, much larger windscreen that totally shields the rider’s upper body from wind and a taller, more comfortable seat that increases in height to 35 inches.

Off-road comfort is boosted by wider, Enduro-style foot pegs with removable rubber inserts and a clever little fold-down “pad” that increases rear brake lever height to suit stand-up ergonomics.

Larger plastic bodywork around the radiator serves double duty, shielding the rider’s legs from weather while also protecting the radiator from damage in off-road tumbles.

There’s also beefy engine protection bars at the front and a standard luggage rack at the rear which is also designed to protect the fuel tank. The subframe is made stronger to accommodate the additional weight of the larger fuel tank and to better resist crash damage. A standard luggage rack is mounted to the rear.

Hand guards round out the package. They’re strong and provide excellent protection from weather, but are made from plastic without aluminum or steel reinforcement.

ABS is included as standard and can be switched off, but upgrade to the optional “Enduro” package and you gain an “Enduro” mode which is designed to work in the dirt as well as traction control with the same setting.

You can also add heated grips, a trip computer, a center stand, LED fog lights and electronic suspension adjustment designed to make adding a pillion or luggage simply a case of hitting a couple buttons.
The bike we rode was equipped with all the above, with the exception of ESA.

The Ride
Departing Moab, Utah, we embarked on a 175-mile loop through the desert and mountains, crossing into Colorado where we exceeded 10,000 feet in elevation.

Roughly two-thirds of that was on dirt fire roads and trails which varied from hard-pack to sections of deep, loose sand with large rocks thrown in for some added fun.

On road, we cruised down deserted desert highways, dragged peg up smooth mountain switchbacks and spent a fair amount of time on crumbled, poorly maintained roads of the kind you’d expect to find in the middle of nowhere.

The first half of the day was the most challenging as we climbed out of the Colorado River valley and up into the mountains through all that deep sand. I’d put myself into “Enduro” mode for both the ABS and Traction Control (which BMW calls “ESC”), which is simply a case of hitting a “mode” button on the handlebars. That backs off intervention levels for both systems, allowing a little bit of slide under power or when hitting the brakes.

The bikes were fitted with Continental TKC80 tires, our choice when taking big, heavy bikes like these off-road, and a tire we have a ton of experience with.

The first problem with ABS occurred while entering a tight, 1st gear, downhill hairpin. I approached it with a fair amount of speed, figuring I’d lean on the brakes to shed speed at the last minute. When I did, the steepness of the descent combined with the loose surface to leave the ABS cutting brake power rather than delivering the controlled slide I’d been hoping for. No big deal, there was run off area which I was able to use.

The first problem with ESC occurred while tackling a steep, uphill, 1st gear corner covered in the aforementioned deep sand strewn with large rocks. I’d had to come to a stop on the uphill approach while another journalist struggled with a downed bike, then tackle the climb from a standing start. With TC in Enduro mode, the engine was cutting power and stalling as the bike and I tried to plug through the difficult terrain at a walking pace. Turning it off allowed wheel spin, but this is precisely the kind of situation in which ESC could have been a big help, delivering drive rather than just showering those behind me in sand and rocks.

Both ESC and ABS can be switched off very easily, at the push of a button.

That stalling was compounded by a too-tall 1st gear and an absence of torque in the parallel-twin’s very low rev range. Plenty of clutch slip was necessary anytime you dipped below 15mph. Combined with the F800GS’s high center of gravity and 505lbs (wet) weight, this made negotiating low-speed obstacles very challenging. Most of the journalists, BMW staff and even the experienced guides along for the ride dumped the bike at some point; many through low speed stuff like the corner described above.

I managed the very slow stuff without a topple, largely thanks to my atypical 34-inch inseam. The 35-inch seat height was about as tall as I could still manage to dab a foot or even paddle the bike over some terrain. Shorter riders, or those in a lower state of physical fitness weren’t so lucky.

My crash came not while trying to nurse the GS up a steep hill or over a difficult obstacle, but while negotiating a section of deep, loose sand in first gear. With ESC switched off from the previous climb, the rear wheel stepped out through a rut and the subsequent bar turn caused me to twist the throttle unintentionally. I hit the ground at about 25mph with no damage to myself and only a bent shift lever on the bike.

If anything, the difficult conditions highlighted how crash-worthy the Adventure’s upgrades make the bike. With virtually every one of the machines hitting the ground at some point, including a 30mph-ish slide off a small cliff for one of them, the only damage to any of them amounted to not much more than scuffed plastics. The guy that went over the cliff did have to spend the rest of the day riding with bent handlebars though.

My biggest problem wasn’t with electronic intervention though. It was with the problem those rider aids were tasked to help with. Throughout the day I was unable to find much confidence — or grip — from the front end. I chalked that up to a couple reasons: Like most other ADV bikes, the GS is equipped with a road-style seat that doesn’t allow you to put your weight terribly far forward. Those 6.2 gallons of gas (and we rode with full tanks all day, even topping up at lunch) aren’t carried above the engine either, but under the seat, very far to the rear. That decision was made to lower the GS’s center of gravity, but while it does to that, it also puts 38lbs that could have been useful for planting the front wheel over the rear wheel instead. The 800’s fairly limited, unadjustable forks probably also have something to do with it, as does the engine’s position, which places the radiator between wheel and motor. The Yamaha SuperTenere, which uses side-mount radiators to bring the engine as close to the front wheel as possible, has a hugely confidence-inspiring front end, which is saying something on a bike that weighs 636lbs (wet).

Disappointed by this, I asked other journalists along on the launch if they were experiencing the same thing. Half of those I asked said “yes” and half “no.” Later, following the day’s riding, one of them thought to check the tire pressures. We’d been told the BMW-prepped bikes were aired down to suit the terrain, but he found his front pressure set at 36psi instead of the 17 or 18 range I’d have thought more appropriate. By then, I’d lost track of my bike and was unable to check the settings.

It’s possible some of the bikes we rode that day were improperly set up, including mine, so we’ll reserve criticism for when we’re able to spend more time on the bike.

Throughout the afternoon’s less challenging terrain and on the road, the GS did a much better job of living up to its reputation as one of the more capable adventure bikes. Compared to the slightly-heavier R 1200 GS, it remains easier and faster off-road and nearly as comfortable on it.

The new, taller screen does an excellent job of deflecting the wind; the airflow cleared my shoulders completely while leaving my helmet in a buffet-free zone of undisturbed air. The taller seat proved comfortable on our longest on-road section (35 miles or so) and the wider footpegs (with rubber inserts removed) do an excellent job of gripping your boots, but could be made wider still to make standing for hours at a time more comfortable.

At 6’ 2” tall, the stock ergonomics were just slightly too short for totally comfortable standing, but that could be fixed very easily, with moderately taller bars.

All in, the Adventure upgrades are very useful and expand the capability of the bike.

What’s Good
Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Nearly every one of the 25 or so bikes along for the ride took a spill, yet none experienced any significant damage.

Nearly 350 miles out of a tank (on the road), is hugely useful, particularly when riding in out of the way places, as ADV bikes are designed to do.

The new seat is all-day comfortable, if a little tall for some riders.

The clutch is light, linear and feelful. Good, because you’ll be using it a lot off-road.

The tall screen does an excellent job of redirecting the wind without buffeting the rider.

The little pad that folds down to effectively raise the brake pedal is extremely clever and useful, indicative of BMW’s rider-centric approach to designing these motorcycles.

Lighter and faster off-road than its R 1200 GS stablemate.

What’s Bad
Even in “Enduro” mode the ABS intervenes too soon.

Even in “Enduro” mode, ESC hampers more than it helps.

The front end could possibly lack feel and grip, something we’ll take a deeper look at soon.

Stock ergonomics are somewhat limited for the very tall.

The motor lacks low-end torque and is geared too tall for off-road use. Fitting a smaller front sprocket would resolve that problem, but make the 800 buzzy at highway speeds. The change should really be made in the gearbox, by BMW.

Stock tires aren’t off-road capable.

Remains heavy, with an high center of gravity, despite BMW’s efforts to address this.

The Price
The F 800 GS Adventure isn’t cheap. Theoretically, you can buy a base model from dealers for $13,550. You’ll need to custom order that bike however, because all models destined for US dealers are fitted with the “Premium” package, taking MSRP up to $14,350. If you want the LED fog lights and Electronic Suspension Adjustment, the “Fully Loaded” packaged takes the price up to $14,995.

The Triumph Tiger 800 XC is smoother and faster on the road and costs just $11,999. The much more capable (and lighter) KTM 990 Adventure costs nearly the same as a fully-loaded F 800 GS at $14,999. BMW’s own R 1200 GS starts at $15,800.

The lighter and less powerful Honda NC700X is just $7,500, but has a better front end, much lower center of gravity and extremely useful low-end torque. It’d be our choice if we were looking to get into ADV riding for the first time and would have been easier to ride and more confidence inspiring than the F 800 GS in these conditions, when fitted with the same TKC80 tires.

The Verdict
The upgrades from “regular” F 800 GS to this Adventure model are genuinely useful, expanding the bike’s capability, comfort and crashability. Unfortunately for what’s supposed to be the most dirt-capable bike in BMW’s lineup, it’s limited off-road by its lack of low-down torque and, potentially, by a vague front end.

RideApart Rating: 7/10

Helmet: AGV AX-8 Dual Evo Tour ($450, Highly Recommended)
Jacket: Dainese Teren ($600, Highly Recommended)
Pants: Dainese Teren ($400, Highly Recommended)
Boots: Dainese Carroarmoto ($360, Highly Recommended)
Gloves: Racer Mickey ($116, Highly Recommended)
Armor Shorts: Dainese Norsorex ($100, Highly Recommended)
Armor Vest: Dainese Norsorex ($120, Highly Recommended)
Back Protector: Alpinestars Bionic Air ($140, Highly Recommended)
The bag that fit all the above, plus laptop and clothes in carry-on: Maxpedition Fliegerduffel ($170, Highly Recommended)

  • Gabriel Torres

    Wes, would you take this or the NC700X next time you did another trip like this?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      NC700X, hands down. To me, it’s a better bike, not just a cheaper one.

      • stephen

        How does something like the KTM 690 enduro or husky Terra compare?

      • Eric

        i guess the difference is that the BMW would handle those trips better on the long run in terms of durability:
        spoked wheels are more flexible versus cast ones when hitting rocks at speed and it comes with good overall protection.
        As for crashbars, fork gaiters and bellypans, maybe the NC700X can be fitted with aftermarket parts.

      • Piglet2010

        Have you had a chance to try the DCT version of the NC700X off-road? Seems that it might be able to fulfill the roles of maxi-scooter, touring bike, and AT bike all in one. And even something one could take to a track day (don’t laugh – the last time I was at a track school, one of the riders was on a BMW G650 Xcountry).

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Motorcycle transmissions are pretty easy to shift without making them all complicated like. Having a clutch is pretty nice off-road too…

          • Piglet2010

            Having a clutch off-road is not an advantage for those less fortunate in the genetic lottery – one less control to deal with and not having to worry about stalling the bike during low speed work makes things a lot easier for some of us.

            • C.Stevens

              Have you ever driven a DCT box in a car? They are terrible at low speeds. I cannot imagine it being useable at all in a bike under any situation.

              • Piglet2010

                It would be interesting for someone* to try the DCT NC700X off road.

                Heck, I have ridden my Honda NHX110 on dirt roads, but the tires really lack grip in mud, and the small wheels tend to get trapped by ruts. The TW200** of course just eats these conditions up, but it “complains” about pushed over 50 mph.

                *Such as a moto-journalist, since Honda will not lend out press fleet bikes to just anyone.
                **Purchased for much less than a new CRF250L, and before that bike came on the market.

      • dingo

        Saw one on the 405 the other day, nice looking bike. Would be perfect if you could get the ABS without the DCT.

      • atgatthd

        NC700X Vs. Vstrom 650… thoughts?

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          that’s a debate i’ve been having with myself for months

          • atgatthd

            You guys helped me make the decision to trade the Harley 3 months ago and the bike I chose was a 650 vstrom (skinny version). While lane splitting isn’t legal in the Midwest, I like to keep my bike narrow in order to maintain as many exit routes as possible should trouble rear up behind me.
            Took it down to the dragon in deals gap 3 weeks after I got it. 5 runs later and following around some nice guys on supermotards and 600cc sports bikes, I was REALLY glad I got the vstrom before going down there and before I move to Colorado. No chicken strips after that day! (Of course they’re back now after commuting to work on the freeway the past 2 months.)
            It sounds like the Strom may have advantage on freeway power and two up over the NC700X, but the Honda has advantage everywhere else. Since I mostly commute via freeway on mine, and have modest off road expectations (and experience). I think I made the right choice. I’ve only been bold enough to run 1 fire road at around 30mph and have ramped a few curbs for various reasons… I’m already craving a true enduro but I think this will do until I can afford more than one bike.
            I stand by that it does everything well but nothing great…
            No I don’t…
            I THINK IT’S AMAZING!!! but that could be because it has a modern suspension etc. etc. etc. (Remember I’m coming from a Harley) But that’s what makes it so perfect and therefore great to me. Not to mention I can get a set of tires cheaper than the front tire cost on my Harley.

  • Beewill

    The KTM 990 is still king of the hill, even though it hasn’t changed much since 2004, other than FI. Its sad that this is the last year before the 1190 which seems to be more like the Multistrada as opposed to the old 950/990′s.

  • Joel Sparks

    Geeze, a $15,000 motorcycle, driven on manufacturer-chosen terrain, and crashed by almost every professional rider in a single day event… Seems like there’s something there for the “bad” column. I certainly wouldn’t trust resilience alone on a serious long-distance adventure. Were the test-pilots driving to crash, or does the weight/height make it that unrideable?

    • DaveDawsonAlaska

      Professional because they’re paid to write, or paid to ride… Big bikes and sand is a no-win situation for anyone except gravity.

    • Jim

      I was one of the professional guides. I rode over 500 miles in 3 days……..the 175 mile loop twice……and NEVER crashed.

  • Joseph42s

    How about this versus the Tiger 800xc? Your original high marks on the tiger originally turned me on to the bike as the one for me.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      The Tiger 800 XC has a smoother, faster motor and better on-road handling. I haven’t spent a ton of time off-road on it, but it should be of at least similar capability. One big Tiger caveat: they don’t crash well.

      • Joseph42s

        Hmm, could you explain? So what would be a good choice? Also I thought Rideapart was going to do a full tiger XC offroad/touring test.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          We’ve spent a ton of time on the bike. I’ve done big miles on-road on it (where it’s fucking perfect) and a little bit of riding on fire roads.

          The Tiger’s big problem in crashability comes from it’s frame/subframe/pillion pegs.

          Those passenger pegs are the widest part of the bike and are hard welded to the (very long) subframe, which is in turn welded to the main frame. Drop it at anything above a slow, walking pace and the passenger pegs touch down first, applying force at the very end of the long lever that is the subframe, which pops the welds to the main frame. Boom, totalled bike. Bad design.

          • Joseph42s

            I heard about that. I figured it would be changed immediately. That is very unfortunate. So that gets us back to the bmw f800gs as the middleweight bike. Is there another option. KTM 990? To me it always seemed like the tiger was the way to go.

            • Joseph42s

              It seems like there is no perfect bike. It would be great to see you guys take the Tiger, Ktm, bmw all out at the same time. Ktm seems a bit dated, and unreliable. Tiger seems like the cool new kid on the block. Bmw seems boring, but you cant fault finding them everywhere, thus finding clubs, mechanics etc.

          • Blixa

            Is there no way to remove the passenger pegs? I’ve been looking into the non-XC Tiger 800 and the F800GS to do some mild off-road stuff.

  • VagrantCoyote

    Would you go with the R 1200 GS or F 800 GS, Wes?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      If it was my money, I’d spend it on an NC700X if I was just getting into ADV riding or a 990 ADV if I was more experienced.

  • markbvt

    Interesting that despite the many complaints I’ve heard over the years about the F800GS’s undersprung forks (and saw for myself when one of my friends augured in his front end in a mud patch on the Trans-Lab), BMW has not seen fit to bump up the spring rate. Especially with the Tiger 800 XC’s forks being excellent right off the showroom floor.

    I’ll be very curious to hear how the KTM 1190 Adventure R compares to all of these.

  • Piglet2010

    Unlike the 650cc thumper class dual-sports from the Japanese manufacturers, the Husqy Terra is not an ancient design using a carburated lump for an engine, and it costs significantly less than a BMW G650GS Sertão.

  • stephen

    reason I ask is because they are not bringing the NC700X to Australia (SOBs). Got a need to fill! Maybe ill just buy a scrambler and turn it into the Jack Pine

  • ColoradoS14

    I love these big adventure bikes but part of me always cringes at the price… Here in Colorado I could go buy two one year old sub-4000 mile KLR650s, fit them with full crash protection, heated grips, luggage and GPS on one of the bikes for the same price as one of these stock. That provides tons of fun for me and the wife for the price of just one of these.

    • mulderdog

      Could not agree more.I have an older 800GS and like it fine. I ran a KLR for 5 years before I “upgraded”.
      The 800 is nowhere close to being twice the bike (maybe 20 % better ?!) Its all about money, what you can afford/justify etc. I think the KLR is a little better than it got rated around here. As far as the “adventure” model I hate wasting time at gas stations so the larger tank is the only appeal it has for me..

  • Bones Over Metal

    Also the Husky is a breath of fresh air compared to the ol’ KLR.
    but similar price.

    The enduro sector is growing, and people are interested in reliable, fun inexpensive “do it all” bikes, as either a first bike or a second bike.
    Maybe you should do a review or comparison of it since people keep asking about it. I’d like to know what you guys think of it.

    PS. Keep up the good work.

  • Ben Bodie

    Wes, that is a gorgeous shot on the cliff overlooking the canyon! are you going to share where this secret spot is so I can get my own photo shoot on my bike!?

    • jake

      its on the utah backcountry discovery route (UTBDR)

  • Travis

    I just ordered on, hopefully, it will be in next week. I can’t wait to pick it up… unfortunately, living in Colorado, my riding season may be very short.