First Ride: 2013 BMW F800GT review

The GT barges the F800ST out of BMW's range. It packs more power and promises greater touring potential but what's it really like on typical UK roads?

WHENEVER I think of motorcycle touring, the images that spring to mind are glorious vistas of winding roads through beautiful scenery, brilliant sunshine and not a copper with a radar gun to be seen anywhere.

Often, the reality is dawdling down a country lane with half an idea that it could be a good road were you not stuck behind a queue of cars that are pressed up behind a slow-moving tractor. And to top it all off, it's probably hammering it down with rain and your boots aren't quite as waterproof as you thought they were.

The reality is never quite as glamorous as motorcycling publications would have you believe. Sorry about that.

So as we made our way to the Suffolk coast on BMW's new F800GT, in drizzling rain, stuck behind all manner of slow-moving vehicles, dodging gravel, farmer's mud and making the already poor visibility worse every time I tried to wipe clean my dark visor - it dawned on me that despite lacking pretty much everything I've been conditioned to believe I need to enjoy touring, I was loving every second on BMW's new GT.

The F800GT supersedes the F800ST. The suits-any-chassis 798cc parallel-twin engine has had its fuelling tweaked and it now produces 90bhp, 5bhp more than before. The belt drive can deal with the extra horses. The rest of the changes are simple; to make an ST a GT, you just have to beef up the touring potential. The GT features a fuller, wider fairing, higher handlebars with footpegs set further forward. It can now carry 11kg more load and has a 50mm longer swingarm to improve stability. Suspension stroke has been shorted by 15mm to 125mm to take the edge off any unwanted wallowing. Tom Cruise would approve of the seat, which now sits at 800mm - it was 840mm on the ST and there's a 765mm option for even shorter riders.

All F800GTs come with ABS which you can't switch off. Big Brother is watching you and he's saying: "You're too old to live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. So I'm going to make sure you make it to that nursing home one day."

Our models had the aftermarket parts catalogue thrown at them and we'll talk about what that involves later but the two options worth caring about are ASC; BMW's Automatic Stability Control and good-old heated grips.

The engine, despite an increase in power, won't put hairs on your chest but it has got a great character. Two great characters in fact. It has plenty of low down grunt and isn't sluggish to fire off the line but keep the throttle wound open and feed in the gears and you'll find yourself revving it right out. It may not be the most powerful motor out there but it's plenty willing. It has an addictive note too, it's gruff and raw low down and has a similar sound to a Lotus Sunbeam hillclimb car I drove years ago. Now that's not something you'd associate with a sensible touring motorcycle.

Then there's its other character, it plods along in top gear quite happily at almost any revs. Get the needle over 2,000 and the obedient and well-mannered parallel twin will chomp away at the petrol you throw at it. Perhaps the word chomp makes it sound like the GT is thirsty but far from it. On a 220-mile round-trip that combined towns, fast A-roads taken slowly and fast A-roads taken fastly, the F800GT returned 59mpg.

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At times I felt like I was being overly aggressive with the GT, riding it the way it was never designed for, by braking too late and hard into roundabouts, being ham-fisted on the gas to entice the traction control to show its hand and trying to clutch up wheelies but the GT, like a trusting, loyal but slightly dopey dog, didn't question any of this, it just got on with it. Man's best friend?

It's handling is one of its strongest attributes. At 213kg fully fuelled it's really not heavy and despite the visual bulk of the fairing, it weighs no more than an F800GS. Its lightweight aluminium frame, swingarm and wheels help keep the weight down while storing the fuel lower down in the tank and under the seat add to the sensation that you're not hauling much bike around; this bike changes direction much quicker than you think it could.

The steering is light and thanks to the wide-set bars, there's plenty of feedback. My test bike was fitted with Metzeler's Roadtec Z8 tyres which are a fantastic option and perfectly suited to this bike, UK roads and weather.

The ride out to the coast was, despite a glut of slow moving traffic, a really pleasant experience. Ten motorcycle journalists standing at the bar after the day's ride, ready for a well-earned pint was a testament to the bike's easy-going nature. If the bike was a pig, many would have called it a night and hit the sack.

It was the ride back the next morning where the F800GT really impressed. With heavy fog blotting out the landscape and visibility down to less than the distance it would take you to stop at 20mph, myself and another journo set off to get back to HQ the fastest way possible: the A14. As soon as we got onto the A14 heading west we were ushered off again, thanks to an accident. Our simple route home became a mission which we had no option but to accept. After a day in the saddle of the F800GT, I couldn't think of a bike I'd rather be on.

We fired down twisty country roads that cut through farmers fields and woodlands. If it weren't for the fog thick enough to slow a bullet, they could well have been those picturesque roads you see in motorcycle magazines. The fog was quite good at one thing however: taking your mind off just how much mud, gravel and straw there was coating the roads.

In hindsight, we covered ground far faster than we should have done but I didn't have anything but confidence in what I was asking of the F800GT. While you can go fast on it, it's hard to go faster than you can handle and even harder for an overenthusiastic tweak of the throttle to land you in trouble. This is not a solid-fuel rocket like the K1600 or GTR1400 which in conditions like the ones we were riding in, would have been about as much fun as being stuck in a lift with Gok Wan.

I didn't feel like I was on a motorbike in gloomy wet Suffolk. I felt like I was secure in the bridge of a battleship, surveying all around me. Hardly on the throttle or on the brakes, the focus was almost entirely on reading the road, knowing that if I needed it, the dual-ABS would be there and if I did anything really stupid, the ASC would kick in and save me from a misty fate. Add into that heated grips and I could have ridden all day. Except, I can't pretend I wasn't glad - and slightly amazed - that we had threaded our way through 30-miles of almost invisible back roads to once again link up with the A14 for the short blast back to base.

On my calculations, I'd have squeezed 180-miles from the 15-litre tank. A 200+ mile range would be easily achievable if, unlike me, you were paying for the petrol. Talking of 200-miles; while the screen and wind protection are perfectly good enough for the job, it's the sort of bike that warrants a larger screen for added comfort on 100+ mile jaunts.

The base model F800GT costs £8,095 which on the face of it, sounds like good value. However, I'd definitely feel mine was lacking without heated grips (£230) and ASC (£305).

Our models were equipped with the 'Dynamic Package' (Electronic Suspension Adjustment, ASC & Tyre Pressure Control) which costs £680.00 and the 'Comfort Package' (Heated Grips, On-board Computer, Main Centre Stand, Pannier Fastenings which costs £490.00. A total of £1,170 extra, making them weigh in at £9,265. That's without panniers and top box, which will set you back another £700.

As soon as you mention ten grand, I think 'woah' the F800GT is too pricey, but that's a fully kitted version. With ABS as standard, heated grips and ASC: it's a well sorted package that'll deal with whatever roads and weather you throw at it. Yours for £8,630*

*glorious vistas not included.

Click here to read BMW F800ST owner reviews.