11 Feb 2013

F700GS first impressions

A week ago I brought my F800GS in for its 6,000 mile service and was given a brand new F700GS as a courtesy bike. While the 700 and 800 are mechanically similar, there are several differences including:

  • different fairings
  • lighter-duty suspension (lower, less travel and standard front forks)
  • more road-oriented alloy wheels—19" front/17" rear
  • 12% less power and 7% less torque
  • some cost-cutting bits such as steel handlebars and a tiny windscreen
My particular 700 was waiting for me dressed in a rather stealthy matte grey paint, and fully equipped with optional active stability control (ASC), electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), heated handgrips, centre stand etc.

So what was it like to ride? First impressions—it felt like a toy, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.
The combination of lower height, slightly lower weight and no heavy aluminium top box mounted up high meant I hopped on it, rather than climbed aboard. It felt slightly more chuck-able and easier to toss about while manoeuvring between cars at low speeds, mainly as I was a good 10cm closer to the ground. I could put both feet firmly on the ground when stopped (I can manage one foot flat at best on the 800 with my short-arse legs). 

However, I was somewhat surprised that the smaller wheels and lower suspension didn’t handle noticeably differently to me in bends or sharp corners.

At city speeds in stop-and-go traffic, you would be hard pressed to discern a difference in performance since the power/torque curves of the 700 match the 800 up to around 5,000rpm.

The 700’s engine is a touch more smooth, linear and refined than the 800’s due to the different cam settings and fuel management programme. That said, the 800 feels somewhat pluckier overall—a bit more characterful, rough and alive. If anything, the two models are actually in line with BMW’s own marketing fluff—the 700 indeed feels firmer and more road-oriented whereas the 800 feels softer and more all-terrain.

I had to play with the ESA which cycles through Comfort, Normal and Sport modes at anytime via a toggle switch next to the left grip. With London’s roads rivalling those of a third world country, there was actually a tangible difference when going between Sport and Comfort modes, with the former transmitting the holes and bumps through to my spine, and the latter soaking them up. Normal mode was, unsurprisingly, somewhere in between.

If I was buying my 800 in 2013, the ESA is an option I would splash out for without hesitation since I constantly switch between riding alone and with a pillion. Being able to tighten it up at the flick of a switch means it would actually get done since I only end up playing with the manual setting before and after a long (and heavy) trip.

I didn’t give the ASC a go for obvious reasons—I’m not brave (or stupid) enough to take someone else’s bike to the limit of grip.

My one hate was BMW’s decision to go back to a traditional single switch indicator control. Now that I’m used to the quirky paddle system on the models up to 2012, the single switch felt unintuitive and awkward.

There seem to be a lot of people who see the 700 an inferior product to the 800 but I think they’re missing the point. Both bikes have their good points, but for someone who only rides in the city or highway without carrying half their home with them, the 700 is probably the better choice.

It’s comparatively light, refined and fun in the city—definitely more of a toy than the 800. The naysayers who turn up their nose at the 700 or call it a ‘girl’s bike’ need to have a ride on one, and step back to evaluate their personal insecurities. I quite enjoyed my time with it and certainly didn’t feel emasculated.