BMW chose to launch its new F800GT on the winter roads of Suffolk last week to show the bike's true ability. And despite freezing temperatures, fog and slippery roads, it was the prefect way to illustrate that the new BMW F800GT really is a capable and versatile tourer that offers a lot for its £8095 list price.
If you're not sure what it is, then let me explain. The new F800GT replaces the F800ST as BMW's mid-range sports tourer. Compared to the F800ST it replaces, the bike gets another 5bhp (90bhp up from 85bhp) from the 799cc motor, a redesigned fairing which offers more wind protection, better pillion and luggage carrying capacity, ABS as standard, redesigned riding position and lower suspension.
It's basically BMW's entry level tourer and has grown in physical fairing size significantly from the F800S and BMW F800ST that started this journey in 2006. If they were sports tourers with the edge on Sports, then this bike leans way more towards the touring end of the market than the previous model.
There's also new lightweight wheels, revised switchgear, clocks which look to me like they've been nicked of the old R1200GS, and options of Electronic Suspension Adjustment, Automated Stability Control to stop the rear tyre spinning, and hard luggage which can carry 11kg more than the old bike thanks to a beefed up subframe. This is BMW so you can also spec heated grips, centre stand, a sports silencer, tinted screen and an array of seats.
To spread the bike's appeal further, the suspension travel is lowered by 40mm from 840mm to 800mm meaning that even those shorter in the leg department should be able to touch the floor. A lower 765mm seat is also available as a free option at the time of ordering the bike. Got that. Good. Well let's take a ride into the mists of Suffolk to tell you what it goes like then.
The first thing that strikes you about the BMW is how bizarre that many people now class an 800cc machine as an entry level bike. BMW do in fact offer a 47bhp model that makes it accessible to A2 licence holders, but this is no small bike, it's an 800!
Okay, so it's not the size of something like the BMW R1200RT but then it's not meant to be, but what it does offer is a good size bike, full size pillion seat and comfort for all day riding.
What you might not be expecting though is how high the footrests are. The bars are high and wide, but the footrests are always a few millimetres higher and further back than you'd expect on this bike. Much more sports than tour.
Footrests apart, the seat is comfortable, though an optional comfort seat is also available for £100. Not that I was complaining after more than 200 miles in the seat over two days last week.
The whole experience of the GT feels all rather mellow at first as we head off into villages that remind of the movie Hot Fuzz.
With a claimed 90bhp on tap from the parallel twin motor, the motor is flexible and pulls from almost tickover in third of fourth gear at ridiculously low speeds with no chain snatch, mostly because there isn't a chain, its driven by a rubber belt.
In fact the drive is so smooth it feels almost like a shaft drive and more than once I had to remind myself that I wasn't riding a shaftie.
Wind it up a little and the motor takes on a new lease of life and you discover that as flexible as it is, the motor likes to rev too. Take it up to 9500rpm, a raspy noise takes over by about 7000rpm, and a red light flashes warning you that the electronic rev limiter is about to cut in before you do too much damage.
On a motorway it will cruise at 85mph, but you may just need to change down one of the six gears to go for an overtake, especially if you're used to bigger bikes or stepping down from say a BMW R1200RT.
The fairing is good on motorways and even with six foot four inches of me on board the wind protection was pretty good, for someone of normal size the fairing will be spot on. Mission accomplished BMW. As previously mentioned though, the footrests always felt like they were too far back and a little high for a bike of this kind.
Although I never got the chance to ride it hard on dry roads, even in the wet and slippery conditions the bike always give you confidence. Part of this is down to the Metzeler MEZ8 tyres which find extraordinary grip in the wet, helped further by the traction control fitted to my test bike.
The system is simple compared to something like say on the BMW S1000RR, but does its job when pushed and buffoons like me try and make it chime in on purpose. In all honestly, unless you're trying to find its limits as I was, most people will never even know the traction control is there, but its nice to know it is. Even with it switched off the bike finds grip as the motor is so tractable and it runs decent tyres.
The handling is never flighty, in fact the swing arm is extended by 50mm for extra stability, but its lively enough when trying the left/right flick out on the way in and out of roundabouts outside of town. Riding conditions like that also enable you to make use of the ABS which you can't turn on or off, it's fitted as standard too. Pull hard on the lever when trying to make it engage and you'll feel a gentle pulse through the lever, but most of the time you never know its there which is exactly what you want from ABS, just knowing it's there in the background and ready to bail you out in an emergency situation.
After two days in the saddle, the F800GT started to warm on me. As I said at the start, it's never going to get the adrenaline racing but then it's never meant to either. It's a great do out all sports tourer that will be friendly to new riders or offer plenty of bike for more experienced riders too. I'm not sure that I'd ride it two-up to the South of France, but for bimbling around places like Suffolk, a run up to Scotland or The Lakes, the F800GT will take it all in its stride. Spec it up and your looking at £10,000, but get a BMW R1200RT to where you'd want it for touring and that will cost around £15,000.
They're very different beasts but can both do the same job, albeit in slightly different levels of luxury.
Thanks to Globebusters, BMW Rider Training, Scott Grimsdall and James Wright.
+ points - easy to ride, good value sports tourer, capable
- points - footrests in wrong place, not that exciting
Seat height: 800mm
Colours: orange, dark grey, white