World First Test: BMW F800R review

Visordown supremo gives you the first ride report on BMW's new 800cc naked

BMW F800R ... click pic for full gallery

Images courtesy of Jason Critchell

I'M AT the launch of the BMR F800R, and I've just finished the morning road ride. While the others are out on track, I thought I'd fill you in on what BMW's latest middleweight is all about.

BMW know that the market for this bike in the UK is limited; over half of their worldwide sales of middleweights are made up of just France, Spain and Italy and the UK market is comparitively small at just 4%, so you'd wonder why they're putting a lot of effort into this new middleweight class, a class saturated by bikes like the Yamaha FZ6, Honda Hornet and Suzuki Gladius. But as we've seen from their recent S1000RR Superbike, BMW like a challenge.

The F800R fits into BMW's Urban category, alongside bikes like the R1200R and K1300R, but unlike those models, the F800R runs a parallel twin. The bike has been designed over two years to take on this competitive class, while costs have been kept to a minimum. I'll run you through the areas I think BMW have skimped on to save money, but first I want to talk about the engine.

Despite being an 800, the engine doesn't make as much power as its smaller capacity middleweight rivals, but it does produce more torque and on the road that translates into smoother drive and a less manic ride. The engine pulls from as low as two-thousand revs and even if you're tickling along in top gear at 40mph, it'll pull surprisingly hard, without being laboured. During running in periods, BMW claim they got 195 miles to a tank, which is on par with an R1200GS and I don't doubt this. On my ride, after 80 miles the fuel gauge wasn't even at half full.

The gearing is spot on for this bike and the kind of riding it's designed for. First gear revs out at 60mph, second at 80mph and third at 105mph. In top gear, the F800R will cruise comfortably at 80mph, 5,500rpm with another 3,000rpm to go before you hit the redline. The maximum speed I saw was 120mph on the speedo and although the fly screen is good at deflecting the wind, at speeds over 100mph, you really do feel exposed.

The front end uses conventional forks, and not BMW's Telelever system - which is arguably better on the road - but heavier and a lot more expensive. There's no adjustment in the front end, which I thought would be a serious weak spot, but the ride is firm, on par with a Triumph Street Triple, and with the Bridgestone BT014 tyres fitted to mine, the feel and feedback was extremely positive. I test rode the bike down some seriously bumpy, fast back lane roads and only had one moment where the front end shook its head. It came as a surprise but it was far from a tank-slapper. The non-adjustable steering damper was obviously working hard, harder than if would if you could adjust the front end..

The display gives you everything you need but looks quite cheap. It's part analog, part digital, with an analog speedo and rev counter but digital readouts including gear, trip distance, tank range and outside temperature. The gear readout is comparitively huge and distracting. I'd rather this bike came with a decent digital speedo as everytime you peek down, your eye is led towards the readout displaying the gear you're in. Frankly, on the road, that's just not required.

Our bikes were fitted with ABS brakes. The rear is too obtrusive, stepping in at almost every given opportunity. I barely use the rear brakes but if I owned an F800R, I'd probably never touch it. However, the ABS on the front-end is ideally suited to a bike like this. I rode through rain, down country lanes, through town and across cobbled surfaces. The ABS adds an extra degree of confidence and only chirped in a couple of times when I provoked it. It's one of those features that you don't think about until you have to use it, but if it saves you once, you'll never want to ride without it.

While the riding position is upright, I felt the foot pegs were too high and slightly too far back. After 80 miles in the saddle, my knees were the only part of me needing a break. This riding position allows you to have a very dominant riding style, which I prefer, but if you're doing long distance and you're reasonably tall like me, you may want to fit the taller seat which should give your legs a bit more space.

Even though the F800R is here to take on the established middleweights, it's hard to compare it to a Hornet or SV650. If I wanted a Hornet, it would probably be for all the reasons I didn't want an F800R, but if you're after a bike that's capable of back-lane blasts, daily commutes and trips across Europe, then the F800R is well worth a look. As too are the Triumph Street Triple and Aprilia Shiver 750.

The only issue I have with the bike is the fact it's very basic as standard. You don't get 'much' and while the options list is as long as your arm, I feel some of the options - including a main stand and fly screen - should be included in the price, as you would need both if you wanted to put miles on the bike and easily maintain it.

BMW purists will hate the fact it hasn't got shaft drive and a single-sided swing-arm and no telelever front end but for those new to the BMW way of life, that won't matter. At £5925 OTR, this is amazingly good value for money and for a first big capacity bike or a do-it-all bike on a budget, you'd be mad not to consider it.

If you have any questions about this bike, I'll do my best to answer them. Please leave a comment below.