2018 Yamaha YZ250F
Words: Chris Pics: BMW Motorrad
With the adventure market on a steady incline in popularity, BMW have redesigned its middle-weight GS range in a bid to capture even more market share as we roll into 2018. With an invitation to sample three new models, including an off-road adaptable ‘Rallye’ version, we sent Chris to Spain to see if these new GS’s would live up to their well-respected namesakes.
The Euro ain’t no joke. As I sit here waiting to board my 25-hour flight back home, which diverts through Dubai of course, I order a ‘menu’, meaning meal from a food shop, complete with burger, chips and a drink. I shell out 11 Euros, not realising that equates to nearly 18 dollars kiwi. And that won’t include the fee, just for using my card in Madrid. That Euro ain’t no joke.
Rewind a week and I was boarding, probably the same plane, on route to Spain – Malaga to be precise, to attend the world launch of BMW’s all-new middle-weight adventure bikes. The F 750 GS and the double-barrelled F 850 GS, which comes in road trim and Rallye trim, are set as the successors of the F 700 and 800 GS models that have been around for about 10 years now. And it’s not just the engine that has been given the tickle up – the bike has had a complete makeover, and BMW was set to make a big deal about it.
You know what else is no joke – Dubai airport, where I missed my connecting flight to Barcelona, leaving me with an extra night and a hefty bill I didn’t really need. I eventually flew into Malaga and was greeted by an old fellow with my name printed on a board. I’ve never had a man waiting for me with my name before, so that was kind of a treat. I had also never been to Spain either, so the sensors were on full throttle, drinking it all in.
The La Costa Golf Resort and Spa was host to the launch, and journalists from all over the world had been flown into Malaga to sample two-days piloting the new German products. The venue was as fancy as it sounds, surrounded by golf courses, perfectly manicured grass and a picturesque landscape that kinda stuck out like a sore thumb on the horizon of a dry, brown terrain. Yeah, it was pretty nice.
The reason BMW visit Spain for launches – quite often as it turns out – is because the chance of rain is very low. However, no one mentioned this to Spain, as apparently, the journalists who arrived in the first week experienced nothing but rain, and it had only started to look as though it was going to clear the day before my arrival.
Riding was scheduled for Tuesday/Wednesday, but with the rain at bay, myself and a few other journalists headed out for a quickie on Monday afternoon to get some shots in the bag, should Mother Nature decide to come back for round two later in the week.
Initially, the F750 and F850 both felt identical. Same power delivery, the same cockpit feel and the same feedback out on the windy Spanish roads. I mean, the dimensions are the same, so no real surprise there and except for the front end, the engine mapping/computer, and of course the price, they are identical, which I guess makes sense if you are planning on building a shit tonne of them. Spoiler alert, BMW is. The company comm’s representative has BMW Motorrad reaching for 200,000 units sold worldwide, across their entire motorcycle line up by 2020. Current numbers suggest they are set to hit that mark.
Monday night was the official presentation of the two bikes, which included a brief introduction before splitting off into groups and hitting some workshops where we got to talk with actual designers and engineers who worked on the product, which was actually kinda cool. The passion for the product was evident and peeled off the layer of corporate-ness that BMW tends to front with. This gave the feeling that the next two days were to be enjoyed, not rushed.
The goal with the new F 750 GS and F 850 GS was to produce a motorcycle that was uncomplicated, carefree and could easily tackle sporty road sections, touring around the country, or even getting into a little off-road adventuring. A kind of ‘one ring to rule them all’ type deal. And after 10 years of service from the F 700 and F 800 GS bikes, these new models will now take over from where the older models left off.
Down To Business
The heart of the new bikes is an inline 2-cylinder engine, which is now developed and designed in house at BMW (the previous F 700 and F 800 GS were Rotax supplied engines). Keeping the process in-house allowed BMW to cut its own groove in the way the engine produces power and how it also sounds. The increased torque and power were key aspects that engineers had high on the list, combined with a reduction of fuel consumption – two things that don’t really go hand-in-hand.
The engine displacement for both the 750 and 850 is 853cc, up from the 798cc of the previous model. Yes, both models share the exact same engine dimensions of 84mm bore and 77mm stroke, but produce different power outputs. The 850 sits at 95hp with 93Nm of torque, while the 750 is 77hp and 83Nm of torque. The disparity is handled by the on-board computer and ECU. But before you think what we were thinking already…no you can’t just plug the 850 computer into the 750 – it won’t work, according to BMW.
The crankshaft has a 90-degree journal off-set and a 270/450 firing interval, which gives an exhaust note more akin to a V-twin engine – something BMW is very proud of. Two opposed counter balance shafts and a dry sump lubrication join a new anti-hopping clutch and 6-speed gearbox. Interestingly, the exhaust has been swapped to exit on the right hand side of the bike compared to the left on the 700/800. There is an all-new steel frame design to accommodate the new engine, as well as the fuel tank being moved from under the seat to a more traditional placement between the steering stem and the seat. The rear suspension is pre-load adjustable with a 17-inch rear wheel, while the front forks on both bikes are not adjustable. However, the F 850 GS receives some up-spec’d, upside down forks and a 21-inch front wheel to assist off-road use, while the F 750 sports smaller conventional forks and a 19-inch front hoop.
Then imagine every other part of the motorcycle…that’s all new too.
7:00am saw the breakfast call at the La Costa Golf Resort, followed by key distribution at 8. For the morning, I was going to ride the F 850 GS Rallye – the bike most customers would steer towards if lots of gravel road was on their horizon. The Rallye also happened to sport the best colourway in my opinion – the white scheme with streaks of red and blue, plus the gold rims just made the BMW pop off the eye line.
Climbing aboard again, the feeling is that it seems light and nimble, with a relaxed, swept back feeling on the handlebars and low ‘sit in’ seat feeling. With me being tall, it wasn’t like it was cramped, but I could have for sure done with a taller seat – which is an aftermarket option. It is interesting to note that the new bikes are slightly heavier than their predecessors, but when you are working with 229kgs, anything under 10kg difference is pretty negligible. The keyless start is a great touch, too. You just put the key in your pocket and push the button to light up the incredible TFT display. But sadly, neither of these features come standard on the bikes.
We rode about 60km through the winding streets and highways just out of Malaga, taking in a decent amount of gravel road on the way too.
The financial crisis that hit Spain in the early 2000s has left the countryside with what can only be described as new ruins. Hotels and apartment blocks that have been half built are now dropping bricks as the years pass by.
Our mid-day destination took us to an official BWM Enduro Park, a place adventure riders – predominantly BMW owners – can go to get training for riding off road. The Rallye edition is the most suited to the off-road, which incidentally, has a different meaning for BMW as it would to the average Kiwi rider. While the 850 is more than capable on gravel roads, farm tracks and dirt roads, going any more off-road than that might get you into a little trouble.
The weight is noticeable in the sand, as is the lack of traction from the Metzeler Karoo 3 adventure tyres when it gets really gnarly. At a guess I would say they are 70% road and 30% off-road from the feel they were giving me on anything that was remotely muddy and slippery. But let’s face it, even though this is the off-road version from BMW, you’re not going to buy this bike if your adventures consist of wet grass, mud and looking for trouble most of the time.
The options on the Rallye are really tailored to make whatever off-road riding you do, do just that much better. The engine had four maps: Rain, Road, Dynamic and Enduro Pro. If you bought the Rallye, you are going to want to know about Enduro Pro. All BMW bikes come with ABS and now most with traction control. Switching from Road mode to Enduro Pro gives the bike a whole different set of parameters when it comes to engine response, suspension pre-load (if you have the optional extra), ABS strength and traction control amount. In fact, all four modes have different parameters.
The Enduro Pro mode switches off the ABS to the rear of the bike, allowing you to lock up the rear wheel and steer with the back end. The front ABS is still active, but adjusted in the way it works, giving great stopping power on even the most skatey surfaces. I have to say, I was hesitant about ABS off-road, but BMW has nailed it here and the system was actually great on gravel and slippery surfaces.
The throttle response is light and instant, thanks to it being computer controlled, so the power is always there when you want it. The back wheel lights up easily when you give it a handful, but the traction control will kick in, spoiling the fun. You can disable the traction control if you want to, for say, a hill climb when you just want to be powering hard on the gas the whole time. But again, if you are after that, this is probably not the bike for you.
We spent about two hours at the Enduro Park, doing some slalom work through cones, and braking exercises, getting a feel for how the 850 Rallye responds on gravel. We then went for another burn on the road one last quick time before lunch to remind ourselves just how capable it is on the road too. Here the Karoo 3 tyres were superb.
Sticking to the seal and providing a smooth and confident feel. I put the engine in Dynamic mode and felt it pep up quite a bit from the ‘Road’ mode, and you can feel the differences. I also adjusted the rear suspension with the flick of a button on the ‘bars, firming up the rear end and giving the bike a solid feel on the road. Sadly, this is optional too, but something worthwhile if you are hitting different terrain a lot.
After the lunch break – we swapped bikes with the other journalists and I mounted an F 850 GS road version, complete with road tyres, darker colouring and black wheels. It didn’t look as cool in my opinion, but it was the bike to have for the following 80km of road riding we were about to get into.
I want to say it was like night and day, but it wasn’t. It was the same bike, but with road tyres, so not a lot of variation. Though, the road tyres did give me a little more confidence on the long ride back, and really allowed me to accelerate out of corners a little harder and start getting into the sporty territory that the 850 is capable of handling.
The bikes love to be man-handled in the mid-range of the power curve. Peak torque is at 6250 rpm and you can really feel that from the engine as you wind it through from a higher gear. I found myself predominantly sticking to third and fourth gear for most of the ride, using the torque to roll out of corners, flicking into the next one without worrying what gear I need to be in. It was a really fun engine to work with. Not arm wrenching, not sluggish, just fun.
The day finished back at La Costa Golf Resort and an obligatory beverage, which is customary after any ride in Europe. The debrief between the journos and BWM brass went on long into the night – or so I was told. Jet lag had taken a firm grasp and was pulling me under. I excused myself and headed to bed, knowing a sore head in the morning was not going to help anything, especially as we had another 180km to ride the next day on the F 750 GS. Jet lag ain’t no joke either.
Wednesday morning dawned to beautiful blue skies, just as the Almighty had intended Spain produce on a daily basis. The line-up of 22 F 750s was a beautiful thing, and after a brief chat, we were on the road again, sampling the best of what the south of Spain has to offer.
Right away I noticed the difference between the two models. Not in the engine, but in the handling. To me, the engines felt near identical, and after a chat with some BMW experts, it’s only after around 6000rpm that you could really start feeling that extra power the 850 produces. The smaller 19-inch front wheel on the 750 likes the road environment more, compared to the 21-inch front on the 850. It would turn in sharper and flick from side to side easier through the mountains of Malaga.
I was struggling to find much wrong with the 750, as its pedigree is on-road, it was being faultless in its work. The only negative would be the screen deflects zero wind from your helmet so you get battered around when up in the 120km zone. But for a mid-capacity adventure bike, it really hustles on the road.
This 750 had all the extras again, including the Enduro mode for the engine, which I didn’t use as we never went off-road. But it was nice to know it was there. The ride position on the 750 felt exactly the same as the 850, but slightly lower. This is thanks to a lower seat height and the smaller wheel and front suspension, which allowed it to dive into corners better as I mentioned earlier. And that restriction of power over the 6000prm…it didn’t bother me. The 2-cylinder made more than enough torque for everything I wanted to do and you could easily short shift all day.
Initially, I was disappointed with the Rallye version – I wanted it to be more off-road capable. That’s the Enduro rider coming out in me, which is hard to hold back. I struggled to pull a wheelie on the dirt as the bike was heavy up front for the amount of traction I was getting. I wasn’t really appreciating the bike for what it is and what it was made to do.
But by the end of the two days, I had come to appreciate the F 750 and F 850 GS for exactly what they are: great middle-weight road bikes that have the capability to check out some gravel roads and get a little dirty should you be up for the adventure. Adventure doesn’t mean you have to get dirty, or lost or stuck, or ride through mud and rivers…adventure means whatever you want it to mean. It could be going to your local fish and chip shop for dinner, or riding the length of the country only ever turning left.
Both the 750 and 850 are more than capable of taking you anywhere you want to go, whether you are an expert or beginner. The easy riding style, smooth engine and low seat height makes them very accommodating to all walks of life.
So, about three hours later, I’m about to board my 25-hour flight home. I spot a cold refreshing Coke in a cabinet. It’s whispering to me…’drink me’. I reach out, feel it’s wonderful icy touch, lift it from the shelf, mouth salivating in anticipation. “4 Euro 75 please,” says the cashier. I quick calculation in my head reveals an $8 price tag for a small Coke. I slide it back into place next to its friends and walk away muttering, ‘That Euro…ain’t no joke’.