I was always a fan of the F800, but this all-new 2019 BMW F850GS takes everything I liked about the original middleweight adventure bike and makes it even better. The F850GS is intended to bridge the gap between the low-tech 800GS and the high-tech R1200GS models by combining the technological advancements of the big bikes with a redesigned platform that is even more capable on the dirt and more comfortable on the street. The goal is to create an adventure bike that appeals to a wider cross section of motorcyclists including new and existing ADV riders.
Both the 2019 F750GS and this F850GS are built around the same frame and 853cc parallel-twin engine with a six-speed wide-ratio transmission that utilizes a slipper clutch that is light at the lever and looks great on the spec sheet. It also has a standard quickshifter that just adds to list of impressive hardware along with the electronic rider-assist technology that takes a page right out of the 1200GS playbook.
At the heart of the changes to the bigger engine is the 270-degree firing order and 90-degree offset crankpins that combine to create a sweet-sounding exhaust note from the single sporty exhaust. Note that the muffler is now on the right side so that you can maneuver the bike from the left side without burning your gear. Meanwhile the dual counterbalancers subdue the vibrations inherent from those changes and as a result it feels smooth when you’re droning out on the boring sections of the highway, yet peppy enough to get your blood pumping when you’re connecting the twisty sections.
With a claimed 90-hp and 60-plus pound-feet of torque on tap, the 850 has just enough motor to keep most of you gearheads entertained. The power comes on low in the rpm which gives it the necessary grunt to get you up steep hills at low speeds, and since the powerband is so linear it’s easy to modulate the power delivery when you’re in tricky off-road conditions like mud, gravel, and loose rocks. But it’s not perfect…
In the dirt the linear power and heavy weight (500 pounds) make it tough to unweight the front wheel. If you ride hard enough, you’ll come across situations where it would be nice to simply dab the clutch and blip the throttle so you can loft the front end over an obstacle, but that’s the price you have to pay for the otherwise comfortable riding experience. Fortunately, the 850 offers almost 10 inches of ground clearance so, if you can relax and ride it like a big adventure bike, you probably won’t run into this situation.
The problem is, the F850GS feels like a big dirt bike and it handles so well that it compels you to ride it harder than you should. Thankfully, it has a chassis that is up to the task. With its new steel bridge frame, 43mm inverted fork, cross-spoke wheels, and Continental TKC 80 dual-sport tires (21-inch front, 17-inch rear) you might be forgiven for forgetting it’s not an enduro. Still, we logged at least 100 miles off road through the canyons of Gateway, Colorado, skirting along the northern edge of the red rocks of Moab with a big-ass grin on my face.
Our test units were equipped with the optional Premium package ($3,450) with the Ride Mode Pro option and I cannot think of any reason why an F850GS wouldn’t be equipped like this. The Enduro Pro mode provides a long list of useful features that make the 850 riding experience awesome. Enduro Pro removes the ABS from the rear wheel, while reducing traction control and ABS to a predetermined algorithm that is intended to make the off-road capability that much better. There are so many configurations and packages available just go for the most expensive setup and call it good. Trust me. While I usually shy away from these electronic packages, I found this setup impressive.
You’ll notice most of the off-road photos that I’m riding in the standing position. The wide, tall bars and serrated pegs are tailored to the off-road rider. They make it easy to manhandle the bike in the rough stuff and make it comfortable when you are standing as well. It feels well balanced, and part of that can be attributed to the relocated fuel cell that’s now just a traditional 4-gallon gas tank rather than residing under the seat, which now creates a near-perfect 49/51 front-to-rear weight distribution.
You may also notice that I am short at only 5 feet, 8 inches, and the GS is quite tall with a seat height of 33.9 inches. There are optional lower seats as well as a suspension lowering kit if you can’t hack it, but the tall stock setup feels so good that even though it’s a balancing act to touch the ground, I’d be hard-pressed to change it.
By the time we sloshed through three dozen water crossings on the way out of the red-rock canyon and made our way to lunch, my feet were wet but I was more than impressed with how well the bike performs in the dirt. After a quick break we were hitting the pavement to see if the new GS is as good on the street.
Right away it was apparent BMW has hit this one out of the ballpark. The 850 handles great and with the optional drive modes and ESA at our disposal it was fun to fine-tune the bike for the road ahead. I found the brakes to be even better on the street too, with good power and decent feel as we gobbled up corners while climbing higher and higher into the mountains.
The F850 is quite comfy on the street thanks to its well-formed seat and relaxed riding position. Every component from the multifunction selector wheel on the left handlebar to the large, easy-to-read TFT dash and lever position all feel well thought out. The bars are tall and the distance to the pegs didn’t cramp my stubby legs, plus the windshield is just tall enough to break the oncoming wind and offer a decent protection to my upper body from the elements. It all helps make the ride easy and enjoyable so you can take time to either soak in the scenery or whip it through the turns. I was trying to do both.
At some point, it started to get chilly. I saw an indicated 40 degrees on the TFT dash but it was decreasing rapidly into the 30s. After that, raindrops dotted my visor as the dark clouds blowing in from the south began covering the summit we were heading toward. Moments later, we rode into a steady mix of rain and snow that, while it sucked, added an element of excitement to an already wild ride. Those heated grips and brush guards were a blessing.
I could whine about the weather but instead I decided to switch the bike in Rain mode and put those rider-assist technologies to the test. I rode just hard enough to get the ABS and TC to kick in, which in turn revealed that you have to be a numbskull to ride so aggressively in the wet. In a nutshell, the BMW ABS and TC systems are impressive. Riding a bike with any sort of safety net in these conditions is worth more than the $16,920 price tag of a fully loaded 2019 F850GS like this one.
By the time the snow gave way to a light rain, we had safely made our way from the mountains and back into the foothills. The rain subsided for the most part and all we had to contend with was the cold. Fortunately, the GS actually provides decent protection from the elements on every part of my body except for my lower legs and at this point we were on our way home.
The final 45-minute ride back to base solidified the new F850GS as a worthy replacement for the venerable F800GS. The new bike is more comfortable, it’s faster, and its engine has more character which in turn gives the bike more character. Plus it handles like a sport-touring bike even though it has knobby tires, so there is not much to complain about.
Overall I came away impressed with both the 750 and the 850, but it is the new F850GS that takes the cake. It’s a near perfect combination of dirtworthiness and on-road performance that is destined to make it one of the best adventure bikes on the market right now. Add into the mix the smooth and entertaining engine, incredible performance packages along with that badass GS look and you have a motorcycle that is ready to take you to the ends of the earth and back in style and comfort that is unique to the BMW brand. This is all a combination that’s hard to get from any motorcycle, so if you are looking for an excuse to get into the sport of adventure motorcycles or to replace your old one, then you owe it to yourself to check out the 2019 BMW F850GS.