Cape Town – When BMW set out to build a bad-ass streetfighter based on the Rotax-engined F800 series, the result was actually a pretty neat all-rounder.
Its insectoid styling is impossible to ignore – you either love it or hate it – but apart from the too-low headlight, it’s more practical than it looks. The seating position is well-nigh perfect, with a slight but definite forward lean to the low, wide ‘bars and the foopegs located with Teutonic precision, directly below the lowest point of the saddle.
The seat is narrow at the nose (the fuel tank is a dummy and the engine is very slim) but deeply padded and comfortably wide at the step. Neither of our test riders had any problems spending several hours in the saddle.
Other than range anxiety, that is. The standard easy-to-read F-Series double-ellipse instrument panel features a small liquid-crystal screen displaying, among other things, a bar-graph fuel gauge.
Even with the tank filled to overflowing, this stubbornly refused to go more than one bar above ½. Then it stayed like that for considerably in excess of 100km, before tumbling with dizzying speed towards reserve.
This is neither the first motorcycle fuel gauge we’ve seen with this problem, nor the worst (the first-generation Honda VFR1200 holds that dubious honour) but it can be intimidating, especially if you’re out in the country and you don’t know exactly how far it is to the next pit-stop.
Nevertheless, range to reserve should be about 240km, and you soon learn to monitor fuel level the old-school way using the tripmeter.
The F800 R has been retuned to deliver a claimed 64kW at 8000 revs and 86Nm at 6000rpm, but it’s also short-geared as befits an urban warrior, so it gets off the line like a scalded cat. Keep the revs above 6500 and this bike will definitely get your attention – it’s no pussycat.
The test bike hit Vmax barely 1500 metres into our notorious Six-Kay Straight, topping out just past its power peak at 8200rpm with 215km/h showing on the analogue speedometer. True top speed, however, was an underwhelming 201km/h, for a speedometer error of almost seven percent - not good enough, BMW.
The short gearing and fire-cracker response produced another unexpected side-effect.
Despite Rotax’s unique counterweighted ‘third con-rod’ system, the test bike was the most vibratious F-series derivative we’ve ridden, felt mostly through the handlebars, and becoming intrusive above 5500rpm. Its gearbox was also distinctly notchy by the standards of the breed, although that could probably be alleviated by switching to a better-quality oil.
A steep rake angle and wide ‘bars endow the F800R with light, quick steering and impressive agility. Together with the narrow engine and chassis, they make it a killer commuter, yet it’s reassuringly stable at full tilt boogie, and held its line with no more than appropriate twitchiness through our ride-and-handling test section at an average of 128km/h where 120 is the pass mark for sports bikes.
With its rear suspension at the factory’s median settings (there’s no adjustment on the front) the ride was firm, and steady, if occasionally a little jarring, over our bumpy test section. Nevertheless the bike showed no discernable tendency to pattering on even the worst sections, and held dead steady under hard braking.
She Who Has the Casting Vote rode the test bike on a seven-hour marathon search for parts for a project bike, involving 13 calls on a 120km route, most of it in heavy traffic. By the end of the day she was completely won over by the F800 R’s accurate handling, light controls and impressive comfort levels.
She was also very positive about its latest-generation Bosch ABS, saying the system had saved her more than once from being knocked down in traffic. At R130 990, she agreed that the BMW F800R is expensive for a midweight hooligan tool – but it’s a hooligan tool you can ride every day.
Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 82 x 75.6mm.
Compression ratio: 12.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 64kW at 8000rpm.
Torque: 86Nm at 6000rpm.
Induction: BMS-KP digital electronic fuel-injection with two 46mm throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Monoshock with stepless remotely adjustable preload and adjustable rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm discs with Brembo four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 265mm disc with single-piston Brembo floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 800mm.
Kerb weight: 204kg.
Fuel tank: 16 litres.
Top speed (measured): 202km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 4.89 litres per 100km.
Price: R130 990.
Bike from: BMW Motorrad South Africa.
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