BMW F850GS – It’s a bit Tom Daley…Review and Road Test

Our new bike tester Stu has been out playing again…

So last summer on my umpteenth (I kid you not !) visit to Wolverhampton to get the brakes sorted on my BMWR1200GS at the dealers, my usual loan bike steed of either their R1200GS Rallye or Exclusive demonstrator wasn’t available….”don’t worry Sir, we have a great alternative for you to enjoy…it’s the new F850GS”. Hmmm…was my reaction, I’ve had to endure BMW parallel twins before (a F800R) and I wasn’t exactly enamoured with their lack of power or the cramped riding position…the general instruction to the dealer was not to put me on one unless it’s absolutely the last resort…heyho…beggars can’t be choosers.

I wandered out into the summer sunshine and there it was glinting away, looking terribly spangly and new. Well, maybe I should give it the benefit of the doubt…it looked alright…proper sized, red,white and blue…LED headlight, gold rims…..I am such a tart !!


Hopping on and things are looking up, comfy seat, familiar back-lit GS switch gear and BMW’s new TFT screen, so I thumb the starter and I’m treated to a bassy parallel twin exhaust note. Adjust the mirrors, snick it into gear and we’re off across the dealers car park and into the Black Countries road network. Initial impression is that the engine has plenty of torque (unlike the weedy feeling F800) and acceleration pleasantly brisk. The handling seems to be fine whilst negotiating the pot-holed/man-hole cover strewn surface and in the corners there is grip (but no knee down heroics though). Even better, the brakes work which made for a pleasant change after my GS!
All was going well until I approached a set of lights at my normal pace, I apply the brakes expecting to stop but I am caught out totally by the rapid disappearance of the handle bars towards the floor. Wow, this thing dives under braking ! Ok…maybe I am being over critical, I’d been riding all year on my GS magic carpet with its ‘Paralever’ suspension set-up with anti-dive geometry. Let’s try this again when riding like a normal person…Next set of lights, roll-off in a timely manner and firm braking…the same thing happens again, thankfully it doesn’t try to pitch me off like a bucking bronco this time! Man, this thing dives so much it could give Tom Daley a run for a medal. Perhaps these bikes aren’t designed for 14 stone blokes with an overly stuffed rucky…but I don’t think I’m that lardy to cause this sort of reaction, I’m pretty sure my Triumph Tiger never reacted like this. Right, next set of lights, same drill but add back brake first before apply the front…results in a slight improvement but still loads of fork travel. Looks like I need to either;
A: Use the brakes from a long way out or
B: Not use the brakes!!
Thankfully the ride to my next meeting is all on motorways and dual carriageways meaning a combination of both gets me there safely. The slightly nervous run home in the tail end of the M42 rush hour was entertaining but gave me a chance to reflect on the fact that when I was in the showroom after the launch G350, the BMW service tech and myself were laughing at how soggy the front shocks were on their demo model, maybe these are fitted to the F850 GS too? If so, I think this could be a bit short-sighted of the part of BMW. I have to say that the dive under braking is such an overwhelming feature of the bike that it actually overshadows all the other good points.
In my opinion the Yamaha MT-07 Tracer would deliver everything that the F850GS does and more with a couple of grand savings thrown in and without the need to buy into the GS culture of buying trinkets (sorry essential extras) that should really be included in any case! If you can live with budget creep (who said 1290 Adventure at the back!), in this price range I’d have a look at the MT-09 Tracer