The bike: a 2013 BMW F800GT. I am a little familiar with this bike, as I had purchased a 2007 F800ST last summer and had enjoyed it until it found a new home. This is BMW’s latest version of the bike. They have dropped the ST designation and have re-launched it as a GT.
In April I was collected in a nice black Lincoln sedan and delivered to the Ponte Winery in Temecula, Calif., where we would have cocktails, dinner and an introduction to the F800GT. Roy Oliemuller from BMW was on hand to welcome a big group of 15 or so magazine editors.
The bike is beautiful! I had requested a white one and was pleased to find out we all had received our first choices.
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The next morning, after an early breakfast, a brief riders’ meeting was held that identified which of the three small groups we would each be in for the ride and the ride route was explained. We would be winding through wine country, then through the local hills that separated the Temecula Valley from the Pacific Coast, over the Ortega Highway and into Laguna Beach to the Montage Reserve for lunch on the patio overlooking the ocean.
Once underway, I started to feel the bike out a bit. My first thought was that it just seemed to fit. The ergonomics were perfect for me, but it did take a few tries to figure out where the turn signals and high beam were located. I hit the horn three or four times reaching for the traditional-style turn signal switch. After a while I had it figured out. The high beam switch is in a new place (for me) in front
of the left grip. I don’t know why, but I seemed to trip it occasionally, finding the high beams on when I didn’t intend that.
The bars seemed a bit wide visually but felt right. While we were riding around in the mountains, the handlebar vibrations previously felt with my 2007 ST were diminished. BMW has provided some insulation to try to minimize this. Once I was on the freeway, the vibration was back at around 4500 rpm—right where I wanted to cruise. This model has a longer swingarm and wider rear wheel that helped the bike feel well planted while carving corners in the local hills, even in the rain. Oh, did I mention two-thirds of this ride were in the rain? Even lunch on the patio overlooking the ocean was in a light drizzle. We did catch sight of a few whales lounging just off the coast, though.
As I approached home, the fuel warning signal came on. This didn’t concern me, as this bike gets super mileage. When I refilled the tank with 3.4 gallons I had covered around 180 miles, so the fuel mileage was about 54 mpg. This is after mostly spirited mountain riding—not bad!
Once into the garage I finally had the opportunity to slowly take a long, hard look at the bike. It’s a very nice looking machine. The rear shock has adjustable compression, and the rebound is adjustable with three modes to choose from using the electronic ESA button on the left controls: Sport, Regular and Comfort. The exhaust looks good and sounds beefy, too.
The next day I rode to the local dealer to pick parts for an Airhead I’m resurrecting. The 2013 F800GT models were currently in the showroom, so I was able to ask for a copy of the menus in the rider information display. There are a bunch of different things you can watch, check, monitor, set and so on. Thanks to Brian Bell at Irv Seavers BMW for taking the time to do this for me. The bikes for the press were not supplied with an owner’s manual. Brian also helped me set the preload on the rear shock. I definitely noticed the difference on the ride home. It was on this 56-mile freeway trip (each way) that I noticed the buzzing in the handlebars again and also that the windscreen allows a certain amount of buffeting at speeds over 70 mph. It wasn’t bad, but slightly annoying.
The next ride was a longer one. I was registered for the Chief Joseph Rally in John Day, Ore., and this was the perfect opportunity to see how this bike could perform during a 2,000-mile extended-weekend tour. The first challenge was to negotiate 60 miles of morning commute traffic. In California it is customary to share lanes when traffic slows to a crawl. I found the clutch to be a bit stiffer than on other bikes I had ridden recently. I was also very aware that the new style saddlebags were wider than the mirrors, so I needed to judge the space between cars carefully. This was not an issue as long as I remained aware of it. Without the bags this would be much easier. Once through the commute, I had light traffic the rest of the way up U.S. 395. I enjoy this route as it includes nice stretches of highway with little traffic and also nice sweepers. The route runs through several mountain passes, encouraging aggressive lean angles.
The seat on the model tested was the comfort seat, one of three available, with the two remaining choices being the stock seat and a lower seat. The comfort seat has two mystery horns at the rear of the driver’s portion of the seat that I became aware of after 500 or so miles. I’m not sure what their purpose is. They are hidden under the stretched covering of the seat unless you feel for them. Although the seat could be improved upon, it performed well enough that I wasn’t sore the next day. I did find myself shifting around a bit looking for a comfortable position.
The windshield did a good job of removing wind pressure from my lower chest, leaving the upper chest area in turbulent air and my helmet in clean air, which meant I collected my fair share of insects between gas stops. Air circulation from below the fairing up and into the rider’s space was good, providing a cooling effect when temperatures rose into the 90s. The second day the weather was in the 40–60 degree range, and I had expected the fairing to provide more protection; but I was left chilled all day with lighter riding gear. The heated grips worked nicely on the low position with summer-weight deerskin gloves.
Several times during the weekend, the local deer decided to make an appearance. I found the brakes to be excellent, with the suspension providing a solid feel under heavy braking. Don’t know if the ABS kicked in, but if so, it did not intrude. No deer were hurt during these events!
While at the rally, the bike constantly drew attention. Many people were looking for a lighter, easier-to-handle bike than they were currently riding. I was surprised to hear this from R1200GS riders, as well. One rider asked how I felt about the crosswinds and headwinds on the ride, and I realized I hadn’t noticed them much. I have to believe the fairing design had a lot to do with this. With a claimed weight of 480 pounds with a full tank of gas, it definitely felt light, whether I was moving it around in the garage or in the mountains at speed. This probably contributed to the super mileage I experienced during the tour. Cruising at 75–80 mph most of the day, with excursions higher during passing, I experienced a steady 52 mpg. With a four-gallon tank this means a range of over 200 miles between fill ups. With less aggressive riding during one stint, I actually got 60 mpg. On the way to the rally I used premium grade 91 octane and on the return trip I used 87 grade regular. I didn’t seem to notice any difference in performance or mileage between the two.
There are several items I think could be improved upon. The first was seat comfort. I am no longer the svelte young man I once was, so I’m sure that’s part of the problem. Riders weighing in below 180 would probably decide the seat is just fine. I did not have a passenger to validate the comfort of the rear seat.
The mirrors show a good view of my elbows in the inner third of their oval surface, with the remaining two-thirds providing a clear view behind me. The F800ST that the F800GT replaces had the same issue and aftermarket mirror-extenders are available.
I noticed that while above 7,000 feet in elevation, response was anemic. A quick downshift helped in passing situations, but this is not a liter-plus bike.
I did not like the new style saddlebags. The cases each incorporate a shelf and strap system that is intended to keep items from falling into the cover upon opening. I found the shelf took up a lot
of interior space and created a pinch point, blocking the bags from closing when something did slip from the shelf. On the plus side, the right side bag holds a full-size helmet.
I also found fueling the bike to be a hassle. The gas cap interior extends into the area where the fuel nozzle needs to enter. This is even worse for gas pump nozzles that incorporate a vapor recovery hose. Almost every time I fueled the bike, some would escape and require clean up from the paint, frame and drive-belt shield. Maybe with practice this gets easier, but I’m not convinced.
Lastly, I would expect a bike with prolific computerization to have an electronic cruise control, but this is not so. I really missed having it on the long stretches. Another rider showed me he had overcome this with several hair bands placed strategically between the throttle grip and the controls. BMW should address this.
All in all, this is a sport-touring machine designed for those wanting a nimble canyon carver that transforms into a comfortable touring machine for longer trips.
The BMW F800GT base price MSRP is $11,890.