03/04/2008 00:00 | By By Jane Omorogbe, contributor

Ridden: BMW F800GS and F650GS review



BMW F800GS (© image © PA)

The African countryside saw green hills stretched towards a steel-blue horizon. Round huts dotted the valleys and children waved frantically by the roadside, their eyes shining with pure excitement as I slowed down to high-five them as I rode past.

GALLERY: BMW F800GS and F650GS

BMW F650GS (© image © PA)

Money simply cannot buy this kind of experience. But it can buy you the kind of bike to explore it on. Two more globetrotting workhorses now reside in BMW's stable - the F800GS and F650GS. So now, alongside the R1200GS and Adventure, there really is a bike to suit everyone in the family, whether you're a Dakar-dreamer or a commuter with big plans. Both new GS bikes share the same spirit of adventure that runs through the family veins. The F800GS is more off-road focused than the F650GS and its styling matches those intentions.

Different bikes, same engine

BMW F800GS (© image © BMW)

Other differences between the bikes include an extra 15bhp for the F800, spoked wheels rather than the F650 cast metal ones, a double disc brake instead of a single, aluminium handlebars rather than steel and a taller seat height. Despite all that, it's not a bigger brother in every respect. Their names suggest a difference in engine size, but both bikes are powered by a modified version of the F800S/ST parallel-twin engine. But where the cylinders lean further forwards on the S and ST bikes, they're angled higher on the GS models to allow for the longer spring travel and wheel spacing an off-roader requires.

BMW F650GS (© image © PA)

Heading out onto the fast sweepers that stroke Durban's shoreline, the 800 felt instantly familiar. The easy GS nature and comfortable upright riding position is perfect for soaking up the surroundings. The handlebars are positioned for a relaxed reach forwards, the rubber coated footpegs favour an equally easy ride on your legs and the comprehensive instrument display was always a mere glance away from the stunning scenery that glistened in the warm African downpour. The high windscreen does a fair job of shielding you from the elements, but my cheeks were stinging from the rain. Hunching down behind the screen solved that problem instantly and the touring windscreen should be even more protective, especially for six footers like me.

Different delivery

BMW F800GS (© image © BMW)

Both bikes have a six-speed gearbox, but are chain drive rather than belt like the S and ST models. The 800 has slightly lower gearing than the 650. The 798cc engine is a predictable, revvy lump with a steady and forgiving character. Slicing through the gearbox, there's no sudden surge or dip in power, just a reliable build to release 84 bhp at 7,500rpm. The F800GS also makes 6ft/lb more torque 1,250rpm higher than the F650, so where the 650 has nothing left to offer beyond 7,000rpm, the 800 still packs plenty of punch.

BMW F650GS (© image © BMW)

Although the redline is set at 8,500rpm, the engine refuses to die until the needle's firmly buried within the red zone. There is a degree of vibration and although it's noticeable as the needle's swings past 6,000rpm in the lower gears, it's otherwise pretty unobtrusive. Power delivery in lower gears hints at being slightly abrupt, but is easy enough to manage smoothly. The 800 devours straight roads in the blink of an eye and although it's capable, it wavers when pushed too hard.

Smallest means best

BMW F800GS (© image © BMW)

The large 21-inch front wheel, soft suspension and long travel on the forks clearly favour the rough stuff. On tarmac, these factors combine to offer a flexible-front-end feel and a vagueness that's less confidence inspiring than the steadier 650. The brakes are generally pretty good and there's the option of ABS, which should be deactivated for off-road use. Although the F800GS is bound to be a successful addition to our ever expanding motorcycle world, to my mind it's outshone by the cheaper F650 for road riding.

Verdict

BMW F650GS (© image © BMW)

But, if you are a dirt-loving explorer, keen on carrying 10 weeks worth of clothes and the kitchen sink, add some knobblies and the F800 is a serious contender. The 16-litre tank is good for at least 150 miles but desert crossings would need some jerry cans. Should the inevitable spill happen, I have first-hand experience of the F800 being just as sturdy as its R1200 big brother in handling a knock or two with style. I'd say the F800GS is a middleweight enduro that's far more capable off-road than on, while the F650GS is a road bike that suits beginners and dabbling in the dirt perfectly. Considering the price difference, I expect many people to opt for the cheaper bike.

Need to know

Engine
798cc parallel-twin
F800
84bhp@7,500rpm and 61lb/ft@5,750rpm
F650
70bhp@7,000rpm and 55lb/ft@4,500rpm
Top speed (mph)
n/a
Transmission
six-speed, chain drive
Weight (kg)
179 & 185
Seat height (mm)
790-880
Fuel tank capacity (litres)
16

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