THE BMW R1200 GS Adventure is a big, big bike. Too big for a lot of people and if you watched the fun Ewan McGregor et al had trying to pick them up all the time during The Long Way Round/Down, you’d think twice about taking one green-laning.
But there’s something so welcoming, so encouraging about a GS that makes you feel like anything’s possible, and the lighter F800 version broadened our horizons somewhat.
Don’t let the 229kg ready-to-go weight mislead you; this bike is primed for action. It’s not the typical featherweight, low capacity motorcycle that most people would choose to crest a wave of Moroccan sand, but it’ll easily cope with modest off road challenges.
The compact parallel-twin engine is unchanged from the standard F800 GS, and the differences between the two models are concentrated more on getting you across to the other side of the planet, as opposed to actually losing yourself in its muddy tracks. If a model puts on weight and grows a fatter saddle, it’s reasonable to assume it’s not a focused off roader.
The enlarged fuel tank and higher windscreen are the most obvious changes because the wheels, brakes and suspension are all untouched. The GSA, as it’s informally known, will swallow 24 litres of unleaded in one humongous gulp and it should cover close to 300 miles without stopping – at least if you can do without a toilet break.
I’m up for a little off-road challenge though, so I start fiddling with the bike’s settings in preparation for the dirt. In true press fleet fashion this bike is kitted-out with just about everything that BMW can offer. Take the ESA adjustable rear damping. It behaves just as you would expect; Sport is firmer, Comfort is comfier and normal is, surprise surprise, somewhere between the two.
There’s also an Enduro mode specifically for use with off-road tyres and it’s only available with the optional extra ASC stability control – which is switchable on the move.
The tank, which is 50% larger than standard, is housed towards the rear of the bike so the pannier rack doubles neatly as a protective cage in the event of a spill – it’s almost rude not to drop a GSA at some point in it’s very privileged life. BMW knows this, so you’ll find engine protection as standard too. Any other useful extras will cost you. BMW’s list price doesn’t include the centre stand, panniers, heated grips, alarm system and a bunch of other goodies.
The F800 GSA has a plushness to the ride quality that spreads across all kinds of terrain. It’s as if the jagged potholes and raised ridges melt into one deliciously flat surface beneath the spoked wheels and the sensation is feeding my confidence. Riding standing up is a rare thing for me, yet it feels remarkably natural. If I was serious about the rough stuff I’d probably raise the handlebars a bit, but my feet have plenty of room and grip on the widened enduro pegs, even though they’re still plugged by their removable rubber inserts.
The bike pulls up dusty hills as though it’s attached to an invisible winch, and if you stick it in first gear for a downhill section the engine braking is strong enough to stop you feeling like a passenger on a runaway train – which is never pleasant. This flattering and overwhelming capability is surely what makes a BMW GS so special.
Back on familiar, more solid ground and the qualities that are so encouraging on the loose stuff are just as, if not more rewarding on asphalt. Despite the weight of the lockable panniers and top box, the GSA is still balanced and there’s no sign of high-speed weaving on the motorway. Rev it hard through the gears, though, and towards the redline you’ll find the tingling vibrations in your feet hard to ignore.
The taller windscreen is effective enough, certainly at legal speeds and the bike’s sheer presence gives a kind of authority and purpose to even the shortest ride. Once the roads narrow and twist, the handling is delightfully easy, U-turns are a doddle and it’s not long before the bike begins to feel like a mechanical extension of your own body.
It’s comfortable too. I’m half tempted to ride until the tank runs dry, just to see how far I’d get. The world suddenly seems to have shrunk.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: 2013 BMW F800 GS, from £9,650 on the road.
Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled parallel twin producing 84bhp @ 7,500rpm and 61lb.ft. @ 5,750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential manual gearbox, chain drive.
Weight (wet): 229kg.
Seat height: 890mm.
Fuel capacity: 24 litres.