Launched in 2000, the original F800 R was considered by most to be a trustworthy, simple and relatively affordable point of access into BMW’s elaborate arsenal of premium contemporary motorcycles.
It offered no more than it delivered, and so found a considerable degree of success in the Roadster market for many years, remaining relatively original for the core of its 14-year life. But at the back end of 2014, BMW showed off a new incarnation of the parallel-twin powered street bike. Arguably it was much needed with competition substantially hotting up in the middleweight naked sector thanks to new additions such as Yamaha’s range of MT’s and an abundance of other like-minded rivals.
Addressing the looks, the ergonomics and introducing techno baubles to the package have produced a gentle evolution of the bike, intended to make it more visually appealing and upping the fun levels, too.
The old headlight has been consigned to history, replaced by a unit that now conforms to what BMW designers think the public want. It’s said to work better at night too. But I liked the old one, and think the new one looks at best a bit like the Suzuki B-King’s light, at worst the Inazuma…
Other design touches include fresh cowls and covers, adding a frisson of aggression in an otherwise friendly look. Replacing the old right-way-up forks and conventionally mounted brake calipers is the front end off the new R 1200 R and a new set of lighter wheels. The forks are nonadjustable, but fashionably upside down, while the Brembo brakes are now radial mount jobbies.
The bikes we rode were also equipped with BMW’s entry level ESA system, that just changes the rear’s rebound settings electronically according to three modes – sport, normal and comfort. That’s not the only concession to modernity, with these bikes also fitted with the ASC traction control system. As ever with BMW, the base bike is a blank canvas for you to add extras to. Remapping has found an extra 3bhp, and that’s the new bike for you. So what’s it like?
Very capable, if tearing around the hills of Almeria for 200 miles was anything to go by. The launch ramped up speed and challenges as the day progressed, so an easy ride along the coast highlighted how easy the F 800 R is to ride.
The clutch has been made easier to operate, and in conjunction with a tooth coming off the front sprocket, drive is clean and consistent. The parallel twin motor doesn’t shake disapprovingly at low speeds in the wrong gear, rather offering enough pull at low revs to satisfy even the laziest of riders.
The revised ergonomics work, too. Making the bars straighter and offering more legroom makes the bike more intuitive than before, and its balance is excellent. BMW offers an A2 version of the F 800 R, and with its decent turning circle it’ll make mincemeat of any coned configuration.
So far, so good. But surely the escape from the coast to the hills would see the 798cc parallel twin suffer, especially as there’s only 8500 revs and a claimed 90bhp to play with. Well, what the motor lacks in character it makes up for in sincere enthusiasm. It offers linear power delivery, with only a small boost at around 6000rpm, so there’s plenty of flexibility on offer.
The supposed small rev range, however, actually incorporates plenty of shove. You’re not feeding it gears constantly, rather in the confined environment of Spain’s open spaces, it can push you out of a corner at 3000rpm and get you to the next 5000 revs later without swapping ratios.
While the extra 3bhp is not really noticeable, the improvements made to the bike’s suspension are stark. The front now offers plenty of support, and though the forks are nonadjustable on economic grounds, the settings mean the front doesn’t capitulate at the first sign of a cornering encounter. Shod with Metzeler Z8 Interact tyres, it was only at extreme levels of lean where the communication with the road turned down into the corridor of uncertainty. The rear’s ESA also has a palpable effect, although I only felt it jumping from Sport to Comfort, not noticing the single step to or from Normal. The F800 R’s electronics didn’t intervene at any point, with the ASC traction aid and ABS unemployed other than cajoling it into action. The traction control can be turned off on the hoof to allow wheelies, but the ABS is a permanent feature.
The ride turned into a dangerous competition with our guide, mounted on a K1600, trying desperately to make us grow small in his mirrors. But for all the might of the six-cylinder bike, the plucky parallel stuck to its twin pipes. We slipped on to the motorway for a few miles, where it climbed to 120mph with ease, before settling on a comfortable 100mph cruising speed, with no notable vibes appearing between 60 and 120mph thanks to the additional con rod to balance the motor. For a few miles I flicked through the controls, noting that the bike’s mpg figures were impressively economical on such a throttle heavy journey. I then thought that the analogue speedo display was hard to read, jumping as it did by 20kph increments, making holding a constant speed through, say, average speed cameras difficult. Hardly the most damning criticism…
So the bike’s better, more controlled with extra power and a less divisive look. But in many ways it sits in a no man’s land of middleweight nakeds, inspiring no discernible compulsion to buy it over its rivals. One group of rivals are more powerful, sportier and packed with character (MT-09, Street Triple, Z800) while in the other camp the competition is cheaper, friendlier and simpler (MT-07, Er-6F, SV650). Given it’s the introduction to the range, BMW had to err on the side of manners rather than mayhem, although if you go looking for trouble the F800 R is capable of finding it.