BMW’s new F 850 GS is the kind of adventure bike the GS label promises—a true go-anywhere machine.
If I’ve said it before, I’ve said it a thousand times: The United States of America is a wonderful place to ride a motorcycle.
America is blessed with some of the most stunning vistas, some of the most engaging terrain you’ll find anywhere in the world. For me, this prehistoric landscape is best explored off-piste, away from the manmade fast-food chains, the incessant negativity of cable television news and political warfare, which has split down the middle like never before.
Photography by Kevin Wing
To explore America is to leave this rubbish behind, to find a dirt road and to let nature engulf you, filling your lungs with the kind of purity big cities like Los Angeles and New York once enjoyed 200 years ago.
Humans need to explore. Exploration feeds our inquisitive nature, but just the want to explore isn’t enough. You need a steed on which to do it. And here is where we come to the subject of our affections in the 2019 BMW F 850 GS.
BMW’s new middleweight adventure motorcycle has taken me deep into the guts of Moab in eastern Utah, transported me to another time, one ruled by dinosaurs. The footprint of the velociraptor at the Manti-La Sal National Forest lookout is just one treat on this single-day adventure ride that would later see us climb the road to La Sal in sideways snow before heading to the relative comfort of our digs at the Gateway Canyons Resort, and heat. Precious heat.
It’s easy to shout about a motorcycle’s relative merits when faced with such naturistic wonders as a dinosaur footprint. That’s something you don’t see every day—maybe ever—so it’s important to keep the journalistic integrity, be objective about the motorcycle you’re evaluating and not too swooned by what surrounds you. Sometimes this can be very difficult indeed, simply because a manufacturer may, in the depths of their soul, know the bike they are trying to get a favorable write up from isn’t up to scratch and hope to distract the writer with shiny things and lots of alcohol. Oh look, a free backpack. Thanks!
Thankfully, I can say wholeheartedly say this is not the case with the new 2019 BMW F 850 GS. This is a motorcycle that’s got a cemented place in the hearts and minds of proper adventure riders across the globe, and for 10 years was essentially untouched from when it came out in 2008 in F 800 GS form. Therefore, making the new one better was of top priority to the bosses in Munich.
Grown in moniker by 50 to now go by the name F 850 GS, this motorcycle is a ground-up redesign in everything from a new motor, chassis, bodywork and electronics—it’s a comprehensive overhaul and one that will likely stick with the brand for at least another 10 years.
We evaluated two machines in Utah, the predominantly road-focused BMW F 750 GS and this 850, our test bike fitted with the centerstand and all the electronic bells and whistles in BMW’s Gear Shift Assist Pro, the Dynamic ESA (electronic suspension) and Enduro Pro riding modes which takes the sticker price that starts at $13,195 to just north of $17,000—a hefty price when you consider a 2019 Honda Africa Twin starts at $13,599.
Under the GS 850’s hood, you get a brand-new parallel twin-cylinder engine that’s grown by 55cc to 853cc, and now sports a second counterbalancer. The engineers have also changed the firing order dramatically: instead of firing the pistons down the bore at 0° and 360°, the 850’s firing order is now 270°/450° thanks to a crankpin offset changed from 0° to 90°. That helps smooth out low-end torque, improve fuel consumption and give the 850 a much more raucous exhaust note although, truth be told, it’s still not as mean as something like a big V-twin.
Inside the gearbox, the first three gears have been shortened to give better performance off road but still enable comfortable highway cruising. As such, the last three ratios remain unchanged.
Turning attention to the chassis, BMW has done away with the old tubular steel spaceframe and now features the engine as a stressed member in a monocoque format. They’ve also moved the gas tank from under the seat to the traditional place behind the steering head/between your knees; and the chain drive (now on the left) and exhaust have swapped sides. With the tank moved forward, it makes for a dramatically slimmer back-end on the 850, not to mention taking a stack of weight off the rear of the bike and the greater handling characteristics that ensue.
However, the new chassis, as well as moving the weight around has resulted in an increase in mass from 478 pounds to 504 pounds ready to ride.
Although the 850 comes with road specific tires at purchase, if you want to go real ADV riding, you’ve got the right kit underneath you with the spoked 21-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels, solid items we bashed hard into rocks with none of the journalists at the introduction getting a bent rim—unlike on the F 750 GS test the previous day.
For a bike costing this much, it’s disappointing not to see any form of adjustment on the fork. Although many will never touch it, having a clicker would be of great benefit to more experienced riders who want to dial in a certain level of feel to their 850. The saving grace here is the 850’s front suspension, while on the soft side, is beautifully planted on the road and in the dirt, so it’s not all bad.
BMW’s got four different seats available for the 850 rider, ranging from the tall and flat Rallye seat at 35 in., to the low seat of 32.9 in. which, if you combine with the optional lower suspension kit, will knock another 0.8 in. off the seat height to give you 32.1 inches. You’ll be able to move the peg and bar position, mixing and matching with the seat heights/shape to get the ideal riding position you’re after. But you can only do it once—lest you buy all four different seats when you pick up the bike from the dealer. Adjustability is the name of the game here, and BMW knows riders of all shapes and sizes want to go adventure riding, so they’re doing their best to get them onto an 850 comfortably.
As you’d come to expect from the big B, electronics abound in the GS ride, as do the options. The 850 GS comes standard with traction control (ASC—Automatic Stability Control), ABS, and the ride modes of Road and Rain come standard, with DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), ABS Pro and Dynamic Mode available as a packaged optional extra. The F 850 GS also gets Enduro Mode Pro, which gives the rider full power and disengages the ABS from the rear of the bike, although it has a preset traction-control setting you cannot adjust.
Changing the rider modes is not simply a case of changing the throttle response with the 850 GS. As we have seen with bikes like the BMW S 1000 RR, a mode change affects a whole range of things including suspension behavior, traction control and ABS, and even though you can go in and change certain parameters within individual modes like having ABS or DTC on or off, not being able to dial in say, level-two traction with level-three ABS, is a bit of a downer.
The ride, however, is anything but a downer. Middleweight adventure bikes are really coming into their own these days, as people begin to realize maybe they don’t need a full house 1200 GSA to go basic adventure riding, let alone a ride that might see them head south to Tierra Del Fuego.
The 850 GS’s new engine is a gem of civility, one that can easily change it spots by switching between the five available maps as you deal with compact dirt, river crossings or the inevitable tarmac tours between trails. After an hour switching between various modes, I settled on Dynamic mode as that gave the most direct throttle response to access the claimed 90 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 63 lb-ft of torque at 6250 rpm. That’s more than enough for one rider and luggage to play with, as the spread of usable torque starts as low as 2000 rpm and pulls nicely right through the rev range.
Having that shorter first and second gear was a bonus for the tight, rocky hills we encountered on the Moab ride, conversely the tall fourth, fifth and sixth gears meant cruising above (ahem) the posted speed sign of 65 mph was a breeze for the 850.
Although the front suspension lacks adjustment, the 850 tracks beautifully over rough canyon roads, so long as you’ve got it pointed in the right direction. The ride is soft, possibly too soft for my 192 pounds, as I’d hit the bottom of the front stroke occasionally, but the ride is for the most part very comfortable.
BMW’s created a bike that is the perfect transition machine for someone looking to get on a proper ADV weapon. It’s also a bike that will make a worthy addition to the shed of a seasoned rider, as the combination of motor, chassis and electronics should satisfy even the fussiest of riders.
In the spec we tested it, the F 850 GS is certainly expensive, but worth it when you add up all the extras. CN
Optioning It Up
BMW’s famous for giving you plenty of options when it comes to customizing your ride and there’s far more accessories for the 850 than we can list here (60 percent more stuff than last year), but they’ve given you a start with the base optional equipment and the Select and Premium package. Each of these adds a fair bit to the MSRP that can be altered depending on what you buy, so consult with your BMW dealer as to exactly what each package will cost you.
The good news is ASC (Automatic Stability Control), LED headlights, on board computer, and adjustable rear brake and gear shift levers are now standard fitment, whereas before they’d have cost you yet more money.
- Lowered suspension
- Seat bench for two, low
- Comfort seat
- HP Sport Exhaust
- Off-road tires
- Center stand.
- Alarm system.
- Heated grips
- Cruise control
- Luggage rack with saddle bag mounts
- Connectivity incl. 6.5 inch TFT color display
- Ride modes Pro including DTC, ABS Pro
- Gear shift assist Pro
Includes all the equipment in the Select Package, plus:
- LED Style Element
- Keyless Ride
- Tire Pressure Monitor
- Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) or Low Suspension
||2019 BMW F 850 GS ($13,195 base)
||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-stroke, Parallel-twin
|Bore x stroke:
||84 x 77mm
||43mm inverted fork, non-adjustable
||Monoshock, preload adjustable
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||2 x 305mm disc, 2-piston calipers, ABS
||265mm disc, 1-piston, floating caliper, ABS
||90 / 90 21 in.
||150/70 R17 in.
|Weight (wet, claimed):
||Light White / Racing Red /Lupin Blue