REVIEW: 2019 BMW Motorrad F 850 GS, RM79,500

Known for its massive adventure tourers, BMW Motorrad seems to have set the standard for such touring rigs which everyone else attempts to emulate and this now includes the 2019 BMW Motorrad F 850 GS, priced at RM79,500 in Malaysia, on-the-road excluding insurance. While some might say a 50 cc bump in displacement and some new graphics is all it is, there is more to the F 850 GS than meets the eye.

For many riders, the middleweight adventure touring segment is where the fun is, a balance between affordability and performance. After all, not many of us actually go chasing off across the deserts of North Africa and the author has seen one too many litre-plus adventure bikes with pristine engine bash plates whose riders never go any further into the dirt than to park by the side of the road for a drink of water.

In any case, the F 850 GS, first shown to the world as the F 800 GS a little over 10 years ago now, has stamped its mark in adventure touring, and there are many who have followed behind it. While we would hesitate to say that it has set the gold standard for the segment, unlike its bigger sibling the R 1200/1250 GS, it has proven to be a capable performer.

This performance has come at a cost, some say, with the 800 cc parallel-twin mill being inadequate to the task. In this particular case, the author would like to prove such nay-sayers wrong as adventure-touring, especially when the going gets rough, comes down more to the rider than the size of the bike.

The bike is just a tool and any good tool enhances the wielder’s performance, while a poor workman blames it. When BMW Motorrad handed us the key to the F 850 GS, we entertained thoughts of haring off into the countryside, which did not happen for a multitude of reasons but we did find out exactly what has changed.

Many motorcycle manufacturers are bumping up displacement a little for the next decade because of Euro 5 emissions regulations. With the tightening requirements, a little power is lost from the traditional displacements of 800, 1000, 1200, hence the addition of some 50 or so cubic centimeters to make up for it.

For the F 850 GS, the 853 cc parallel-twin mill puts out 95 hp at 8,250 rpm and 92 Nm of torque at 6,250 rpm. While the numbers give an idea of what’s in there, the twin now delivers its torque in an almost flat curve, making the F 850 GS feel almost immediate in response.

Power delivery is good, with the slow speed stumble of the previous generation F 800 gone, along with the breathless feeling when the rider winds the throttle open. This is achieved with a 90-degree crankpin offset along with a 270-degree firing order, something familiar to fans of Yamaha’s Crossplane engine configuration.

What the F 850 GS rider now gets is a torquier, more responsive machine, eliminating much of the high-speed vibration of the F 800. In real terms, the F 850 GS gives a notable increase in power from the 85 hp and 80 Nm of the F 800 GS and feels much better for it.

This gives a very useable spread of power in the middle range of the engine and there is ample torque for quick overtaking at highway speeds. While we neglected to test power delivery with the F 850 GS fully loaded with pillion and luggage, from our seat of the pants dyno, all that would be needed would either be a little judicious clutch slipping or dropping down a gear if more power is demanded.

In this respect, the two-cylinder mill provides smooth power delivery for true off-road work and there is a reason why proper dirt work tends to favour two-piston engines. While three- and four-cylinder power plants are good for road use, twins and singles provide the necessary low down grunt for powering out of the mud and sand.

Power gets to the ground via a six-speed gearbox, assist and slipper clutch and chain final drive. For the F 850 GS, first gear has been shortened a little for better take offs under load, while all ratios are lowered slightly for better fuel economy.

It has to be said the author was having too much fun in his too short time with the F 850 GS to conduct any proper fuel economy testing. There is a limit as to what can be done in the four days the bike was available to us but suffice it to say, we managed, with a heavy hand on the throttle, some 270 or so kilometres from the 15-litre tank before the little orange light came on.

Getting on the F 850 GS, the rider settles into the 860 mm seat quite comfortably, helped by the fuel tank tank being moved from below the seat to a more conventional above the engine position. There is a low seat option which brings the seat height down to a road bike like 835 mm as well as a comfort version at 875 mm and Rally seat at 890 mm.

There is also a factory supplied suspension lowering kit that drops the ride height by 50 mm, which is a lot. Our review unit came with the low seat, which, coupled with the narrower cut of the seat padding, allowed the 1.68-metre tall author to, while not quite flat-foot it, was enough to ensure a stable stance at stops.

Setting off, the F 850 GS makes a pleasant rumble from the pipe. This aural symphony might probably be helped with an aftermarket exhaust and catalytic convertor deletion but that is entirely the owner’s choice.

During our time with the F 850 GS, it made enough pleasant noise to remind us there was power on hand without it being raucous or intrusive. However, riders of a more sporty bent will want to do something about the tame nature of the engine and exhaust, not that we are advocating anti social behaviour, of course.

Riding around, we took the F 850 GS first on the open highway, letting the bike have its head. While the front windscreen is miniscule, it provided enough protection to stop the buffeting around the rider’s shoulders – taller riders may take exception to this – which will go a long way to reducing fatigue.

Control from the wide handlebars is good though rider’s with smaller shoulders might feel a little stretched out. At high speed, and we confirmed BMW Motorrad’s claim the F850 GS will clock above 200 km/h… well above… the rider needs to tuck down some to reduce wind resistance.

It should be noted we did all our runs without any sort of baggage save a back pack, and noted none of the weird handling quirks adventure touring bikes sometimes exhibit when loaded down with luggage. Handling for the F 850 GS is good at high speed and in traffic though we noted a tendency for the front end to dive excessively when under (very) hard braking.

The front forks, 43 mm diameter upside-down units, are non-adjustable, so there was little we could do to increase the compression damping and simply rode around the problem. The flip side is, of course, when we did take the F 850 GS for some mild off-roading, the 204 mm of suspension travel did an adequate job of soaking up the bumps and ruts on the trail without sacrificing any control.

At the back, the 219 of monoshock travel, adjustable for preload and rebound, behaved similarly but there was a tendency for the back to sag down a little when accelerating hard. We put it down to preload adjustment, left it alone and went on our merry way.

And therein lies the strength of the F 850 GS, with the 21-inch front and 17-inch rear spoked wheels, it will handle almost anything the rider can throw at it and continue on with aplomb. Fast cornering, slow speed traffic engagement, mild off-roading, nothing phased the composure of the F 850 GS, overall making this a better bike than the outgoing F 800 GS.

Braking is done with Brembo four-piston callipers in front, grabbing 305 mm diameter discs. We rode the brakes on the F 850 GS hard, and found nothing to complain about save a little fading when things got hot chasing sports bikes up the Ulu Yam road.

Composure of the F 850 GS under braking was good, as we have come to expect from BMW Motorrad products and there was little we could do to upset the bike. Off-road, the rear single, 265 mm disc with single-piston calliper was put to judicious use, locking up the rear wheel for corner entry, making the rider feel like a Dakar Rally hero.

In the rider aids stakes, you get BMW Motorrad ABS and Automatic Stability Control, along with two ride modes – Road and Rain. Our review unit came with the optional Riding Modes Pro which adds Dynamic and Enduro modes as well as cornering ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).

This allows for rear wheel ABS to be switched off for off-road work, letting the rear tyre spin out. We tried switching between all the ride modes and there was not a real difference in the amount of power available in Rain and Road, just a slight softer delivery before the engine got into the meat of the torque curve.

However, switching over to Dynamic mode allowed the F 850 GS to behave more like a dirt bike, as it were. On the road, Dynamic mode made little to no difference but in Enduro mode, with rear wheel ABS off, made the controllability of the F 850 GS in the dirt very apparent, the bike being very responsive to the throttle and braking, though we did wish for something rather than the standard fitment Dunlop Sportmax rubber.

All the electronics on the F 850 GS are controlled through buttons on the handlebar pod and the 6.5-inch TFT-LCD colour display which we found to be clear and legible with the matte-finish coating on the screen. We did not test it out, but our F 850 GS also came with BMW Motorrad’s Connectivity option, which connects to the rider’s smartphone for call management, navigation and music.

A rear luggage rack in aluminium alloy which doubles as the pillion grab handles is fitted, ready to accept a top box while there are mounting points for side panniers if you purchase the BMW Motorrad optional luggage. Aftermarket options such as Givi are available along with a host of accessories from the official Motorrad catalogue and alternatives.

So, who needs a middleweight adventure tourer like the 2019 BMW Motorrad F 850 GS at RM79,500? Other options in the Malaysia market include the Triumph XCX at RM73,900 which comes with adjustable WP front suspension, the Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L at RM74,198 and the KTM 790 Adventure R at RM84,800 with the Yamaha Tracer GT at RM58,888 not really a contender at this level, being a more road-biased machine and better compared to the BMW Motorrad F 750 GS.

For the rider who wants to munch the miles in comfort and control, the F 850 GS is a good choice, though the suspension will need a little looking into. In the author’s case, with next year’s motorcycle purchase looming, the choice is rapidly boiling down the Triumph’s revised Tiger, due out in 2020 with all-new engine, the Africa Twin and the F 850 GS.

While there was a German twin in the author’s stable for a while, the original R80 G/S, perhaps the time has come for a twin to return. We shall see.

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