18 May 2016

Saying goodbye (for now)

As I prepare to say goodbye to my beloved F800GS (which I own) and my R1200GS (which I lease) I thought it would be a good time to reflect.

Like any models of bikes (or cars, televisions, anything) you’ll have ranters and ravers—have a read through the forums and you’d be put off from any bike (take the whingers with a pinch of salt)—but I’m not here to whinge, just talk about my experience with these two models.

I’ll say straight away, one experience was exceptional and the other broadly positive—neither ever left me stranded and both gave me many miles of motorbiking pleasure. Both were bolted together flawlessly, and while neither could be considered ‘pretty’, their angular and functional styling certainly couldn’t be confused for anything other than BMW.

Read on for my thoughts on each and feel free to leave me comments at the end of this post.

F800GS Trophy (2012 model)

I bought this bike brand new in March 2012, optioned with ABS, heated grips, trip computer, factory alarm and LED indicators. Accessories included the ubiquitous aluminium panniers, touring windscreen and wind deflectors.

I passed on the (feeble-looking) BMW engine guards as they didn’t seem good value to me and instead went aftermarket with the excellent Adventure Spec crash bars—£100 less than BMW’s offering while providing full protection for the engine and plastic bits.

After my first longish trip on the bike—during which my TomTom Rider drank water and promptly gave up the ghost somewhere in Belgium, forcing me to actually read road signs, a long lost art—I bought a BMW Navigator IV and a ‘comfort’ seat to replace the uncomfortable stock plank.

What went wrong

Under warranty, the stay-cable for the top box (a roughly £2 part) which pulled out from the crimped end, and the steering head bearings at the 6,000 mile service (I didn’t notice any issue, the dealership just went ahead and changed it). One recall for the side stand switch. I killed the chain by over-cleaning it (as a result I stopped using harsh chain cleaners and started using WD-40 as a cleaner instead)—the only unexpected cost on the bike at about £150 installed by BMW at the 6,000 mile service. The stock battery lasted 3 years before it began to struggle when starting the bike on cold mornings.


The F800GS chews through rear brake pads—fortunately they are only about £20 and take 10 minutes to replace at home with only a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a mallet. This reflects my tendency to ‘level’ the bike during braking by using the rear heavily, as the soft suspension likes to dive at the front. Also, the windscreen doesn’t offer much wind protection—even the taller, optional touring screen is rather turbulent at higher speeds. Finally, the ABS system (its technology dating back to 2008) can sometimes be eager to activate when riding over lateral breaks in the tarmac—not an issue if you expect it, but can catch the uninitiated by surprise.


After 14,000 miles the engine still runs like new. I’ve never found the oil level low, and it consistently got 60 mpg 2-up and fully loaded on longer journeys—an incredible number for such a large (and large engined) bike on semi-knobbly tyres and with brick-shaped panniers. Fuel metering is the smoothest of any bike I’ve ridden (although the 1200 matches it when in ‘rain’ mode)—this is electronic fuel injection tuned to perfection.

The parallel twin won’t excite anyone—it goes about its job with a functional, Germanic drone and, with a virtually flat torque curve, never gets peaky. It pulls strongly from any speed in virtually any gear, consistently and smoothly—perfect for this type of bike. Off road it’s happy to creep along with no grumbling from the clutch or gearbox. Speaking of which, the gearbox is possibly one of BMW’s best, with smooth, positive engagement—I’ve never had difficulty finding neutral (unlike the R1200GS) and 1st gear engages from neutral with virtually no clunk.


I won’t lie—I am very attached to this bike and sad to send it off to a new home. It has given me more than four years of exceptionally reliable enjoyment including two trips to the continent, one of which involved a snowstorm in Alps in late June. Servicing from BMW is relatively inexpensive, approximately half of what I used to pay Honda for my last bike, and the service interval is every 6,000 miles.

What I will miss most is its consistency—pick-a-gear-and-go attitude, soft and smooth ride, excellent economy, and its gentle, forgiving nature both on road and off. Some might consider this description a bit boring, but I would say calming. And it has a hidden hooligan side—perfectly happy to ride over kerbs, swallow speed humps at full speed and occasionally surprise sport bikes with the ease it can cut through a curvy road.

The F800GS might just be BMW’s most underrated bike.

R1200GS TE (2014 model)

I leased this bike in September 2013—it was among the first of the 2014 model year build which included a steering dampener and the required wiring for the gear shift assist pro system (and, oddly, different crash bars due to a slight change to the frame). As the TE model, it came with virtually all options—I added the factory alarm and cross spoke wheels. BMW accessories included crash bars, Vario panniers and auxiliary LED lamps.

When the bike was six months old, BMW released the gear shift assist pro unit for retrofit on qualifying models and mine was the first in the UK to be fitted with the system. In fact, my post about this system is by far the most read post on this blog with 9,649 views to date!

What went wrong

When the bike was in for its first service, the dealership performed a recall for the side stand switch (clearly BMW had a bad batch, as my F800GS had a similar recall). At this service they also replaced the rear brake pads with new ones composed of a different material. The only other warranty repair occurred while it was in for service in September 2015—the dealership felt the clutch wasn’t disengaging correctly and decided to replace it at no cost to me. Servicing was about 30% more expensive than the F800GS (but still about 35% less than my previous Honda).

It should be noted that the 2013/14 models were the first boxer models to use integrated gearboxes and I believe there were teething problems which didn’t get worked out until the 2015 models—courtesy bikes I’ve ridden from that year onwards do feel noticeably smoother when engaging 1st gear while stopped, and also when changing gears.


Engaging 1st gear while stopped (at a traffic light, for example) clunks—like, in a way a bike at this price point should not clunk. Changing up through the gears is also clunky up to 3rd gear. This would have bothered me a lot more if I didn’t have the gear shift assist pro device fitted which means the only times you generally need to use the clutch is when coming to a full stop or starting off—I normally leave it in 1st gear while stopped (fortunately the clutch lever is lighter than on some 125cc bikes I’ve ridden—thrust bearings be damned) so I don’t have to hear the clunk. As mentioned above, the clutch was replaced under warranty but this made little to no improvement—and indeed other 1200s I’ve ridden from 2013/14 model years behaved the same. Perhaps related, this bike also has an almost magnetic propensity, at times, to snap into 1st or 2nd gear when attempting to select neutral.

One other minor thing which resolved itself once the bike had a few miles on the clock was a tick occasionally at idle from the cylinder decompression device—not a functional issue, more an aesthetic one. The device operates via centrifugal force below about 1,100 rpm to slightly open two of the valves to reduce pressure in the cylinders—this allows the use of a smaller, lighter battery since less torque is required when starting the engine. If the computer allows the idle to drop below this threshold, a tick is heard, although this has no consequence to the running of the engine. It’s possible the resolution was actually via a software update during servicing to prevent the idle from falling below the threshold, but this is pure speculation—in any case, I can’t remember the last time I heard this.


I’ve covered the clunking already. Other than this, the drivetrain on the bike is absolutely wonderful—most of the time no more than 4,000 rpm is required for more than sufficient performance. The bike is coarser—maybe ‘rawer’ is a better description—than the F800GS, but always smooth and fluid, with virtually no driveline shunt when coming on and off the throttle at low speeds. It revs instantly and has near-superbike acceleration up to 70 mph, with very strong, rapid performance above this speed, as experienced on unrestricted sections of autobahn last time I was in Germany.

When you open up this bike it truly excites—the engine becomes a beast and sounds amazing in the upper range, while never feeling abused or overworked. It has a very Jekyll and Hyde personality. Also, while previous air- and air/oil-cooled boxer engines traditionally consumed a non-trivial amount oil (due to relaxed internal tolerances to accommodate the expansion related to the greater heat range associated with these types of cooling), the water-cooled boxer doesn’t seem to use a drop—the oil level never fell between services in the 10,500 miles I had this bike.

I loved the (virtually) maintenance-free drive shaft which made the bike particularly easy to clean. The gear shift assist pro device—in my opinion a must-have for this bike—bypassed the clunking issues by enabling both upshifts and downshifts using just the gear lever. It cuts the power for a brief instant and rev matches the engine electronically, negating the need to use the clutch in most circumstances.

The electronics worked as advertised—never interfering unduly but always there to keep you from going one step too far. This is an easy bike to lift a front wheel in any of the first three gears, particularly if you have the weight of a pillion and/or luggage over the rear wheel—the anti-wheelie function of the traction control gently eases back the power to keep things civilised.

One feature worth mentioning is the Enduro mode—designed for riding off road (nothing overly technical, though) with 80/20 tyres like the stock Michelin Anakee 3s. It calibrates the ABS to stop effectively on loose surfaces and adjusts the traction control to allow just enough wheel-spin to turn without threatening to throw the rider into the bushes at the first corner. Riding through deep mud once, I discovered it also has a built-in ‘rocking’ function activated by holding the throttle fully open—this results in the computer taking over and cycling between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm to gently ease the bike out of the muck, and this worked much more effectively than it had any right to with entirely inappropriate tyres for the conditions.

Finally, the semi-active suspension could not be faulted—being able to set the preload at the touch of a button was handy, but the way it could firmly but smoothly even out a road was witchcraft. This, combined with the geometry of BMW’s telelever front and paralever rear suspension, meant the bike always stayed close to level—when braking or accelerating, riding alone or fully loaded. My only comment is that it could have done with a bit more suspension travel—something the Adventure version addresses, of course.


There are many things I loved about this bike—its touring ability, comfort, engine, flawless gear shift assist pro function, among the best lighting I’ve experienced on any motorbike (or car) with its full LED lighting, its general dynamics, and its notable fuel consumption (51 mpg 2-up and fully loaded on longer journeys). Yes, the clunky gear engagement was a bit of a let-down, but this has been resolved on 2015 and newer models—although even these are not quite F800GS-smooth.

But... I never quite bonded with this bike. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I don’t feel overly sad to see it go. Maybe it was the clunking spoiling what was otherwise a virtually flawless bike, or maybe it was because I developed trust issues with it following the axle grease incident in the Czech Republic a couple years ago... I don’t know.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend this bike—it’s BMW’s best selling model for good reason. And with the clunking sorted in later model years, it is an incredibly sorted and complete bike, but I would suggest that someone considering one keep an open mind and also test ride an F800GS.

What’s next?

For now, I’ll just say... stay tuned!