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MCN Fleet: The F800GS and the Scottish spectacular (Part 1)

Published: 12 October 2016

The first thing I did when I got the F800GS in March was take it to a trip to the Scottish Highlands. The trouble was, with only a long weekend, I didn't get to see as much of this vast and beautiful landscape as I had wanted. I vowed to return before my year on the GS  year was out, and that’s exactly what I did for a week of wild camping. And it was absolutely incredible.

Thanks to Scotland’s Land Reform Act of 2003, you are allowed to camp on most unenclosed land, making wild camping legal. This means you can stop in some of the most remote and incredibly beautiful places uninterrupted by noisy next-door neighbours or rowdy campsites, it also means you can explore for longer as you have nowhere to be at the end of the day, you can just pitch up wherever is best suited.

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For me, this meant spending time away from civilisation. It was just me with a tent and the GS, with the whole of Scotland at my fingertips. It was going to be a proper little adventure that’s right on the doorstep.

To make more of the riding opportunities, I opted to break the back of the journey and get most of the boring motorway riding out of the way after work, so decided I’d cheat a little and get a room at the Buccleuch Arms in Moffat just over the Scottish border. Dave Smith and his crew operate a brilliantly run hotel that caters very well for bikers, with bike lockup sheds and properly good food to sort you out before and after your ride.

The weather was atrocious on the way up, I had managed to leave at exactly the right time to ride right through the middle of a storm. I’ve ridden the GS a lot in the rain this year but the strong winds that accompanied it on the A66 over Cumbria were a different story.

Heavy gusts caught the bike like a sail, its substantial stature and presence felt a hundred times larger as I was repeatedly dragged over to the wrong side of the road. It felt a little like riding on a massive kite.

It was so dangerous that I even considered stopping, but every time I started slowing the bike would become even more unstable and I was unsure that I would be able to keep balance coming to a standstill with its tall 880mm seat keeping me on my toes at the best of times.

One of the very good things about staying at the Buccleuch Arms is owner Dave’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the surrounding roads. I had resolved myself to heading straight up the M74 to Glasgow to sooner hit the twisty mountain roads when Dave interrupted my thought with a “might I make a suggestion?”.  Pointing a road that ran en route to the M74 but was far more fun, it got my day off to the right start, incorporating the best of the local roads without adding a significant amount of time to my journey.

Going at the end of September allowed me a clearer path to where I was going, missing the endless hordes of motorbikes and caravans (and midges) that litter the roads throughout the summer.

It also let me use the GS to more of its potential. Which is where the F800’s lack of puff started to become more apparent. On similar roads and even when I visited Scotland on it earlier in the year, I was always restrained by approaching slow traffic that I would have to navigate around before giving it another spurt. This time was just bliss, the roads were as empty as one could ever hope them to be with the weather still bearable (though the single figure temperatures made me glad of the BMWs heated grips).

It may be that I have improved on the bike throughout the year, but I’ve really come to start noticing the grunt of the GS more recently, or lack of it. Especially when loaded up with all my camping gear. It had to be worked really hard to get the best from it and I found myself riding much closer to the bikes limit more of the time.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact I somewhat like that you can use the GS to its full potential, it’s a rewarding feeling that leaves me feeling satisfied with my own riding. It’s also nice not being intimidated by the machine in any way – its frugal nature helping the bike find its way over whatever is put in front of it, be it on road or off. But this said, I’ve been hitting the limits of the easy-going motor more and more of late and I can’t help but to want a little more from it every now and again.

When the roads are this good and the scenery so incredible though it hardly matters as I found myself in the familiarity of Glencoe, which has become my own mental marker of where the highlands truly begin, with everything north of it holding gems of every kind. It was here I spent my first night to catch up with relatives before I’d head further north tomorrow.

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