Thursday 19 September 2019

Motorbike review: BMW F850GS - Refined mid-sized trailie is all the bike most will ever need

Finn Gillespie

Finn Gillespie

BMW’s F800GS was always a consideration as a lighter, better-value proposition than its iconic and massive-selling R1200GS big brother.

I went to the world launch of the F800GS and F650GS back in 2008, spending a couple of days in South Africa on a mix of tarmac, light trails and dirt.

My verdict back then was that the 800 did most things the R1200GS did as well, if not better - the lighter chain-driven and 21-inch front wheeled 800 was far more nimble around town and more capable off-road - apart from big motorway slogs with a pillion and luggage.

Now BMW has given us the F850GS, with a host of changes that include a new steel bridge frame, a more powerful engine, two riding modes as standard, and revised styling and ergonomics.


Putting the new ‘baby’ GS through its paces in the Wicklow mountains on a cold but dry autumn morning, it’s immediately clear that the new powerplant is the F800GS’s ace in the pack.

The 853cc parallel twin now produces 95hp (up from 85hp on the F800GS) and 92 Nm of torque (up from 80Nm). The new engine has a firing interval of 270/450 degrees, so it now feels and sounds like the parallel twin that it is compared to the outgoing model’s 360/360 degrees that attempted to mimic the sound of the bigger boxer GS engine. Vibrations are dealt with by two new counterbalance shafts.

As with any BMW bike, there’s an options list as long as the receipt for your annual supermarket shop. But standard equipment is impressive on the €13,030 base machine, including ABS, traction control, Brembo brakes and two riding modes, Road and Rain.

The Sport model I tested had loads of additional goodies for the €17,190 price tag – Dynamic ESA, keyless ride, cruise control, Tyre Pressure Control, alarm, TFT Connectivity, three additional riding modes, Cornering ABS and Cornering Traction Control,  and Intelligent Emergency Call to name bit a few.

But gizmos aside, the way this bike rides would be enough to clinch the deal for me, extras or not. Despite its 21-inch front wheel and enduro riding style, the F850GS performs and handles sublimely on the tarmac. The petrol tank has been moved slightly more forward than the old model, and the centre of gravity feels spot on.

And because of the extra power and relatively light mass when compared to the bigger GS, there’s oodles of fun to be had with a twist of the wrist, and the bike’s free-revving engine bonds perfectly with the light handling to reward the rider time after time.


You sit ‘in’ the bike, with an upright seating position and high, wide bars making quick turns a piece of cake, aided by the relatively light weight of the bike.

It’s a bit of a looker too, with sharp lines inherited from the current R1250GS, but it still has its own distinctive look, sitting somewhere between a smaller enduro bike and a big trailie.

I did a four-hour stint of south Dublin and Wicklow runs one of the days I had the bike, and comfort was as you’d expect from a trailie, with no aches and pains despite my six foot-plus frame and propensity for numb-bum.

The 15-litre tank means you’re filling up more often than on many bigger tourers, but that’s no bad thing in my book, allowing you to take a breather between some spirited riding.

If you absolutely have to have the biggest, most revered trailie out there, and have a budget that allows for it, then by all means go for an R1200GS, the newer R1250GS, a KTM Adventure or Yamaha Super Ténére.

But you’d be mad not to consider this ‘mid-sized’ trailie. It truly is more capable in more situations – big-mile touring apart – than most bigger-capacity, more expensive bikes. And it’s an absolute hoot to ride.


Engine: 853cc  twin, liquid-cooled
Power, torque: 95hp, 92Nm
Frame: Steel bridge-type
Seat height: 860mm standard, with lower options
Wet weight: 229kg
Tank: 15l
Price: From €13,030

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