I am back in the saddle again! After a 5-year hiatus (mostly due to events out of my control), I purchased a new 2015 BMW 800 GS Adventurer to quench my desire to hit the open road and fire-trails of the great Rocky Mountains. My last motorcycle was a 2005 BMW 650 GS Dakar, and while I was pleased with the bike, I had to sell it to buy a pop-up tent trailer. This was the only way my wife would go camping with me and the kids!
Just so you all know, I’m not a hard-core rider either on-road or off-road. However, I do enjoy riding and love taking the bike on the fire-trails all throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I also use it to commute to work so long as the temperature is above 32°F and there’s little chance of hail. With that in mind, here’s why I chose the 800 GS Adventurer and my likes/dislikes.
As mentioned above, I wanted a motorcycle that could handle the pavement as well as the dirt. This was largely the reason I previously purchased the BMW 650 GS Dakar. There is no question, nor disputing, that the 800 GS is capable of gobbling up anything from easy going fire-trails to some of the more complicated single-track paths depending on your skill level.
Virtually all my off-road riding has been on the fire-trails and while I do sit some of the time, a lot of it is spent standing, which is where the large and conveniently situated foot pegs come in handy. The long suspension on the front 21 inch tire also soaks up many of the bumps without problem. The bike is also very easy to maneuver and while it will wear me down due to its weight, that would be the case with any off-road dual-sport bike. The gearing is spot on, providing good torque and grunt to get you moving in some of the tougher spots.
On the pavement, the bike also handles very well. The center of gravity on 800 GS is very low which makes it feel more stable than some of the other bikes. A lot of folks complain about the vibration from the twin engine, and I won’t deny that it exists. But it’s not that bad, and certainly a lot better than the single-cylinder 650 GS. Surprisingly, at about 70 mph the vibration is minimal making long trips a piece of cake. But once you hit about 75 mph, the vibration picks up and it seems to be worst right around 80 mph. Again, even at its worse, it’s not that bad, but it certainly “there”.
Ergonomics and Control Layout
The bike promotes an upright seating position, but not uncomfortably so. It’s also very tall, which when combined with the upright seating position gives the rider good visibility and line-of-sight to the traffic ahead. The seat cushion isn’t all that great and feels a bit too wide when you have to put you legs down to stop. It’s rather annoying and I’m hoping it will break-in a bit the more a ride. However, it’s comfy while riding.
The foot pegs are in a good spot (I’m 6’2″), not too far forward and not too far back. I have no complaints with the handlebar position and height either. The windscreen does an OK job at deflecting the wind, but it doesn’t stop it all, nor should it. This isn’t a cruiser. The small faring around the knees actually does a pretty good job at blocking the wind. This was probably one of the first things I noticed when riding in 34°F weather; my knees weren’t freezing like they were on the 650 GS Dakar.
The control layout isn’t a big deal to me. After a week of riding, I got familiar with all the positions and don’t have to look where my thumbs and fingers are. At first, I did honk the horn when trying to cancel the turn signal, which was rather embarrassing. But that’s done with and I haven’t made that mistake since that first week riding. I hate to knit-pick, but the turn-signal button could be a tad bit more solid. There is no “click” to let you know it’s engaged, however there is a turn indicator that illuminates on the speedo.
I like the on-board computer. The mpg reading (instantaneous and average) along with the average speed is nice to have. Dual trip meters are also nice. When you start pulling fuel from the reserve, the on-screen indicator will start counting from 0 the number of miles ridden. The fuel level indicator is a tad misleading until you understand why. If you top off the tank, the gas gauge won’t actually start going down until you’ve used up half the fuel and passed the half way point. This has to do with the odd shape of the gas tank, which was the only way they could increase it to 6.2 gallons. So just keep this in mind when riding on the trails; when the gauge does start going down, turn around! That means half you gas is gone.
Engine and Gearbox
I don’t know all the technical details about the engine, and I really don’t have a lot to compare it too. But obviously, it’s more powerful than the 650 and that much is evident. However, this bike will not break any land speed records, even if the speedo states it can go 150 mph. At 75 mph in 6th gear, you are about half way to red-line and while it will keep picking up speed, it won’t do so quickly. However, this bike was not meant for speed. If that’s what you are looking for, you won’t like it. The acceleration isn’t bad despite its rather heavy weight. I remember wishing my 2005 650 GS Dakar had a sixth gear, and I’m very glad the 800 GS does.
The 6.2 gallon gas tank was the whole reason I bought the Adventure over the standard GS. Those extra gallons make a big difference with long rides, both on and off road. For those interested … at about 45 mph, I average 72 mpg. At 55 mph, it drops to 60 mpg. At 75 mph it drops down around 45 mpg. I find that I can go right around 315 miles on a tank of gas commuting to and from work and still have a little left in the reserve. How far I can go off road completely depends on the type of riding, but it’s a lot further than the standard GS fuel tank.
The gear box is a it noisy, just like the 650 GS. Up-shifting isn’t too bad if you get the revs up, but down-shifting from 2nd to 1st is rather noisy. It’s a little unnerving at first, but I’ve gotten used to it. Oddly, the bike likes being ridden hard, and when you get the revs up, it gets quieter and smoother both up-shifting and down-shifting.
Options and Packages
My bike is fully optioned out. I have the Enduro package (Off-Road Mode for ABS & Automatic Stability Control), Active Package (fog lights, Electric Suspension Adjustment) and the comfort package (heated hand-grips, on-board computer, center stand). The only thing I really wanted was the comfort package, which included the heated hand-grips, center stand, and on-board computer. But as is turns out, the authorized BMW dealership and I were able to come to an agreement on price that put me close to where I wanted to be.
Some of the extra options are not that expensive. The Enduro Package adds about $500 to the price tag and provides the Electronic Suspension Adjustment, nice when transitioning between dirt and road. I will say, after riding at night a few times, the dual fog lights do make a huge difference with visibility. So those are definitely an unintended positive and I’m glad I got them. I don’t think I’ll ever use the Automatic Stability Control. I suppose it might come in handy in some situations, but if I do slip the back tire, I’ll just manually roll off the throttle.
Although it’s not an option from the dealership, I added an after-market skid plate since the one that comes with the bike is woefully lacking in function due to its small size. It’s probably the biggest oversight BMW made in designing this bike.
This is completely subjective, but I love the way the bike looks. This was one of the big reasons I purchased it. Had I gone with something else, I know I would have gotten that sour feeling in my stomach every time I passed an 800 GS on the road. Buyers remorse would have set in. And yes, for me it was absolutely worth the extra money. No one likes to spend this much money on something they aren’t 100% happy with.
The other bikes I was looking at were the Yamaha Super Tenere, which I don’t like the looks of, and the KTM 1190 Adventure whose price tag was about $5K higher then BMW (I understand it’s a more powerful bike, but I had to draw a line in the sand on price somewhere).
As previously mentioned, my 800 GS Adventurer is fully optioned out with all the goodies. That wasn’t my intent when I went out shopping, because the price on these bikes is among the highest. In hindsight, it was probably a good idea, though. These bikes hold their value very well, and owners tend to be very loyal. It’s very difficult finding a used BMW. There are a few out there, but not a lot. When it does come time to sell the bike (to buy a 1200 GS Adventurer!), just know the more options you have, the more resale value you’ll have.