BMW executives didn't have to come right out and say it, but I knew that the new F 800 S and ST models being talked about at the press launch I attended recently are aimed squarely at the women's market. How do I know this? Because this pair of middleweights possess qualities many women want in a motorcycle. First, they're middleweights -- an ideal end-all size bike desired by many female riders; they're light and narrow; seat height is decent; power is decent; there's a low center of gravity; and the price hovers around an affordable 10 grand.
Genevieve rides the F 800 ST through a corner. She's wearing Olympia Moto Sports Air Glide jacket, and Motophoria leather pants.
The S model with its minimal fairing and flat handlebars. Click on photo to enlarge it.
The ST model with its more upright seating position and full fairing covering the engine.
The F 800 S is the sport version and the ST is the sport-touring version. They're basically the same motorcycle except for wheels, styling, and a few ergonomic features. This is a new platform for BMW bridging the gap between the single cylinder F 650 motorcycles and the larger Boxer (or opposed twin cylinders) engine motorcycles.
BMW designed the new F 800 parallel-twin engine in conjunction with Austrian engine company Bombardier-Rotax.
The 798cc engine is a new parallel-twin design meaning the two cylinders are side by side in an upright position. Those in the know are aware that parallel twins tend to cause a lot of vibration in a motorcycle. BMW uses a swing-action balancing rod to reduce vibration. To this technology's credit, I never noticed any annoying vibration on the F 800s.
The blacked-out wheels on the S model have a sporty, "in motion" appearance. A 120/70-ZR17 tire is fitted to the 3.5-inch front wheel; a 180/55-ZR17 tire is fitted to the 5.5-inch rear wheel on both bikes.
I'm a touring kind of rider so I enjoyed the ST more than the S with its upright riding style, full fairing side panels that my knees comfortably hugged, and higher windshield. The S version has the rider leaning forward in a sportbike style crouch. There is plenty of get-up-and-go with these 6-speed fuel-injected machines. That sixth speed is an overdrive gear which reduces rpms so the bike doesn't consume so much fuel; plus it smoothes out the ride when cruising at top highway speeds.
Zipping along at 60 to 65 mph on Hawaii's curvy mountain roads where I road tested the two bikes, I never felt the need to shift from fifth to sixth. Most of the bike's torque is felt on roll-on propelling you forward throught the gears. Power really surged in the mid-range of the powerband so fifth gear did the job just fine. BMW spec sheets list peak torque at 63 foot pounds at 5,800 rpm, with peak output of 85 horsepower at 8,000 rpm. Out on the highway when I needed to pump it up a notch traveling 70-plus mph did I feel the need to use the sixth gear. Snicking through the gears is smooth and accurate, and finding neutral was always easy. You'll know what gear you're in thanks to the digital gear indicator on the dash.
The S is so easy to ride, you find yourself leaning farther over in the turns with each sucessive corner.
The F 800's track smoothly through the corners. I felt confident as I tested both mine and the bike's limits leaning over through the banked twisties, with the forward riding position of the S model inspiring more confidence. The aluminum frame and swingarm and the conventional 43mm telescopic forks provide the bike with just enough rigidity (not too stiff like some sportbikes) to keep it stable and planted even when being ridden hard and flying over bumps.
Saddle Road on the big island of Hawaii. Imagine nearly 20 miles of this! (Photo by Richard Izui)
Speaking of bumps, we tested the F 800s on one of Hawaii's most bumpiest thoroughfares, Saddle Road, which links one end of the Big Island to the other. I have to say, the suspension on the bikes is superior. Never once was I jarred out of the saddle as the F 800s blasted through miles and miles of cracked, uneven, and holey pavement. I did have to hold on tight, but I was surprised at how the bike elegantly "see-sawed" through the rough asphalt. The rear shock absorber is attached to the swingarm with a pivot joint accounting for the relative smoothness. I could adjust the preload of the shock absorber with a hand knob located on the right side, but the stock setting was dialed in just fine for me.
Both spring preload and rebound damping on the rear shock is adjustable by turning this knob.
The position of this imposing swingarm makes it easy to remove the rear whee and easy to check the tension of the belt.
The swingarm, which doubles as an aluminum styling piece on the right side of the bike, is combined with a low maintenance toothed belt drive. The F 800 uses a high performance braking system that brings the bike to a strong and solid stop. Two large 320mm diameter front brake disks are each squeezed by a Brembo four-piston hydraulic caliper; in the rear a 265mm diameter disk is combined with a twin-piston caliper. Anti-lock brakes (ABS), a feature common on many BMW models, is optional on the F 800.
Seat height on both bikes is 32.3 inches – that's pretty standard for sport and sport-touring motorcycles. What's great about the F 800s is that they are relatively light with the ST weighing in the heavier of the two at 450 pounds full of fluids. The bikes' seat and profile are also very narrow. This, plus the light weight enable riders with a shorter inseam to handle the high-ish seat height.
Genevieve, at 5 feet 6.5 inches with a 30-inch inseam stands flat-footed on the ST.
There is a lower seat option that brings seat height down to 31.1 inches. In addition, a lower suspension option that can be ordered and installed at the factory brings the seat height to 29.9 inches when combined with that lower seat. Be sure to ask your dealer about these options. I found the stock saddle to be very comfortable after 200-plus miles. There's a flat lower back support at the rear of the rider's seat, adding to the overall comfort.
The narrowing of the seat up front enables shorter riders to reach the ground. Notice the flat lumbar portion of the saddle -- adds noticeable support. Luggage rack is standard on the ST.
Reach to the clutch and brake lever, an issue for riders with small hands, was not an issue for me, nor was the clutch effort. To accommodate smaller hands though, there is a knob that can be rotated to bring the lever closer to the grips.
The cockpit of the S model with its easy-to-read dash (the same on the ST). We like the placement of the controls. All very intuitive.
For a middleweight sport and sport touring machine, the F 800 platform does not feel top heavy. This low center of gravity is due partly to the fuel tank being located below the seat, instead of between the seat and handlebars like on most motorcycles. The tank holds a decent 4.2 gallons and the filler cap is located on the right side of the bike. This location has the added advantage of not having to remove a tank bag to refuel. It must be noted that the fairing and top of the bike where a tank bag would be placed is made of plastic, not metal, so magnetic tank bags won't work.
Buying into the BMW brand
The ST has a full fairing with higher windshield (than on the S) that forces air up and around the rider.
Front view of the S with its smaller, sportier windshield
BMW executives cited the Kawasaki Z750S and Suzuki SV650 and SV650S models as competition to the F 800 motorcycles. These are popular bikes among women, particular the SV650 platform, because they are an affordable intermediate motorcycle providing plenty of power and reliability. Theoretically, a woman learns on a beginner 250cc or 500cc motorcycle, then hopes to find a bike on which she'll spend the next several years building her skills, confidence, and adventure quotient.
BMW hopes those who normally wouldn't consider a BMW because of price will find the $9,950 for the S, and $10,950 for ST attractive enough to buy into the BMW brand. While higher than the competition, you're buying all the German engineering, reliability and status that goes with owning a BMW. In fact, company executives expect a 70 percent conquest rate – that's the number of buyers expected to cross over to the F 800s from another brand, a brand that's been owned for at least two years. The primary two conquest manufacturers are Harley-Davidson and Honda, the brands whose owners are most likely to buy a BMW.
The ST, dressed in its Graphitan metallic color, fits right in to Hawaii's lava landscape backdrop. Notice the position of the fuel cap -- towards the rear of the right side.
BMW hopes to expand on this platform with future models. I think they've started with a winner, a bike that will have a permanent place in many women's garages. Visit BMWMotorcycles.com
The Specs at a Glance
BMW F 800 S/ST
Displacement: 798cc Parallel Twin
Seat Height: 32.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gallons
Wet Weight: S model 450 pounds; ST model 461 pounds
Colors: S model: Flame Red non-metallic; Sunset Yellow non-metallic; Lahar Gray metallic; ST model: Blue metallic; Graphitan metallic
Price: $9,950 for the S; $10,950 for the ST
While BMW considers the F 800s an entry into the BMW family, an 800cc motorcycle is not a beginner bike. We see the F 800 as an intermediate motorcycle, a bike for which a rider can trade in their beginner wheels, or side-step from their Japanese middleweight. The $10,000 investment will make you want to hold onto the bike for many years to come. We think the quality of the ride, BMW's reputation for longevity and reliability will make the 10 grand a worthwhile investment.