Like almost all adventure bikes, the BMW F800GS Adventure is slightly hampered by the fact it’s not an R1200GS – the bike that defines the class and remains a massive global seller.
It’s the same for tomato sauce when it’s not Heinz, a Porsche when it’s not a 911 and aircraft that aren’t Concorde; they are all the definitive iterations of their classes. In the case of the F800GS, that really is a shame, because this bike is perhaps more suitable for more people, more of the time – and is genuinely capable off-road.
For 2017 (although the bike will be available almost immediately in dealers) BMW have been forced to make some fairly big changes to their entire range of bikes in the F800 and F700 families in order to meet the impending Euro4 emissions regulations.
The changes are mirrored throughout the range, but we have only tested the F800GS Adventure – so we’ll concentrate on this model here. Changes include a new exhaust, full ride-by-wire throttle, different riding modes, a revised dashboard and new paint finishes. The GS Adventure also gets new galvanised radiator trim and a revised ignition lock casing. Euro4 rules mandate ugly fork-mounted orange reflectors and a malfunction light on the dash as well.
Overall, this is a mild refresh in terms of cosmetics but the mechanical updates to introduce ride-by-wire have given the bike a noticeably different feel compared to the outgoing model.
Ride-by-wire control is a key part of meeting Euro4 as it more directly meters out the throttle input, with sensors replacing the cables. Twistgrip movements are translated into an electrical signal that controls the opening of the throttle valve for much more precise fuel delivery.
This is the single biggest improvement to the feel at the bars, giving much smoother delivery from the parallel-twin, and eradicating the old bike’s tendency for a slightly jerky action at light throttle openings. It’s never been as bad as some bikes, but the very moment you want the most precise throttle application – that tiny movement between on and off the throttle – is where the old F800GS stuttered and stumbled.
Ride-by-wire has also now enabled the provision of multiple rider modes, as found on other BMW models. Rain and Road modes are standard to all models, while the F800GS and GS Adventure models are also available with Enduro and Enduro Pro modes as optional extras to provide even more electronic rider assistance when riding off-road.
Rain and Road modes are aimed squarely at riding on the tarmac, with rain mode softening the throttle response and upping ABS and traction control intervention. Road, meanwhile, makes the throttle sharper, and reduces the ABS and traction control intervention.
Enduro is aimed at light off-road use with road tyres; it backs off the TC and ABS intervention to suit loose surfaces, and put more control back into the rider’s hands. Enduro Pro is designed to work with off-road tyres and changes the throttle response and turns off the rear ABS. ABS and TC can also be deactivated regardless of mode.
The R1200GS and its even larger Adventure sibling are great bikes with exceptionally devoted followings, and have become the benchmark for the class – but riding one can be a daunting prospect because of their considerable size and weight.
The F800GS – even in the more imposing Adventure spec – is the polar opposite. Sure it’s a bit taller than the average non-adventure bike, a bit squishier thanks to the longer-travel suspension, and it looks a lot more tough than a normal road bike – but the intimidation factor just isn’t there. The wide bars, upright riding position (low seat and lowered suspension options can be ordered from new) give an easy introduction to the bike. It feels light and manoeuvrable at even the slowest of speeds with the 798cc parallel-twin motor working unobtrusively beneath you.
Even in Adventure spec the F800 sticks with road-focused Michelin Anakee 3 tyres as original fitment, which are pliant and grip well. The ABS and tyres work well enough in combination to be able to bring the bike to a howling stop in complete control in the dry despite the tall and narrow 90/90 front profile and 21in rim.
While cosmetically the bike is hard to differentiate from the existing model, the technical changes have made for a better overall package, which might not convince existing owners that they must immediately upgrade, but it should certainly influence new buyers, and those who might be considering entering the adventure world.