BMW has brought back the parallel twin with their F800S (sport) and ST (sport touring) models, and we recently visited the sun-drenched roads of South Africa to see what they’ve accomplished with their attack on the mid-size motorcycle market. You might want to look at our earlier discussions of these new middleweights here and here.
We’ve been excited about the new F800 since we got our first look at it at last autumn’s Milan motorcycle show. No one has ever doubted BMW’s technical abilities or know-how, but a new engine in a new market is a huge task for a motorcycle manufacturer. BMW is so confident in this new F-series model that they have launched two versions straight away. The S is a half-faired, sportier version, while the ST is more of a sports tourer with extensive fairing and tall windscreen. BMW intends both F800s to slot into the mid-range market, creating a logical step up from its current F650C model. But this is also a direct attack on a market where the Japanese manufacturers are very dominant. BMW did not take this task lightly, spent plenty of development money, and came up with two outstanding bikes.
A press of the starter button brings the 798cc parallel twin (with 360 degree firing order) to life, and even though a mega-sized silencer strangles most of the sound, there is still no doubt about what sort of engine this is. It’s a vertical twin, and the sound brings to mind Triumphs both old and new, as well as bikes like the Kawasaki ER6n, Yamaha TDM (and the old TRX 850) and MZ 1000S. BMW has brought this parallel twin to market with design help from Austria’s Rotax, and company reps told us that the F800S and ST are only the beginning for this new powerplant – similar architecture may find its way into many more new BMWs in the years to come. BMW experimented with several different engine configurations (such as a V-twin), but eventually decided that the parallel twin fit the bill perfectly – criteria being plenty of usable torque, balance, fun, and low weight.
I am at the world launch in South Africa and today’s route is mostly mountainous with some fast coastal roads added for fun. I am not sure whether BMW added the baboons in the road for fun too, but I stopped to play anyway. After taking some pictures of my furry friends with grotesque butts, I headed further north along South Africa’s never ending west coast. I found myself in the middle of a group of leather clad baboons from Germany that were roughly on my level (yes, ok, intellectually as well since you ask). We had brought with us two F800S and two F800ST’s so that we could swap along the way.
I must admit immediately that the F800S is my firm favourite of the two. I’ll go through the few differences straight away: The ST has some extra touring gear such as a higher windscreen, more extensive fairing, high handlebar, luggage rack and colour co-ordinated front mudguard. And that’s about it.
Our F800S had a stiffer standard suspension set-up than the ST. Our bikes were also fully kitted out with extra’s such as heated grips (yeah, needed those in South Africa…), center stand (ST) and luggage (ST). ABS is optional and both our bikes had ABS fitted.
Due to the fact the F800S weighs quite a few kilos less than the R1200S we rode the day before, the power feels strong. Front forks are conventional, so they are easier to get used to than the bigger BMW’s with the Telelever front suspension. The F800S felt very composed on the roads we traveled. Suspension action is firm enough to give confidence during hard cornering, but still soft enough for comfortable riding all day long. The chassis is very compact, and when really pushing the F800S I wished I could have sampled it on the same route we rode the R1200S yesterday. It’s at least as good a sports bike as the R1200S, if not better.
The F800S fills the gap between BMW’s singles and the big Boxers and in-line fours – and does so in such a brilliant way that it will probably steal sales from its bigger K and R- series cousins. The price is right and it’s so fun to ride on the twisty mountain roads, but at the same time, the combination of 85 claimed horsepower with a comparatively massive dollop of torque (86Nm) eats up the straights in a satisfying way, leaving no doubt in my mind that BMW’s choice of parallel twin was the right one for this model.
With such a strong engine in only 800cc’s, I predict it will give the Japanese midrange 600s and 750s, as well as the Ducati Multistradas and Yamaha TDMs, a serious headache. The F800S is so easy to get along with that it suits beginners as well as fast and experienced riders. The seat height of 820mm does not seem very low on the tech sheet, but due to a very slender design the seat allows shorter riders to put both of their feet on the ground. A lower seat of 790mm is available as an optional extra. The seat is both comfortable and firm at the same time, and BMW never forgets the passenger. The passenger grab rails are positioned in the best possible position.
We didn’t really do any city riding on the F800s, but in the traffic that we did encounter the bike is so agile, with plenty of useable power, that it seems to be a good town/commuter alternative. One funny thing about the engine is that sometimes when going off the throttle at low speeds it sounds like it’s grinding its internal. This might have something to do with the glorious 360 degree firing order that gives the F800 such great character, and we certainly do not believe the internal parts are actually grinding themselves to metal sawdust. It just adds a bit of character. The engine revs up quickly and the torque helps with acceleration right off idle. I had no problems reaching the 220 km/h (136 mph) mark, and there’s more on tap from there.
The fairing on the F800S is less extensive than on the ST, but in South Africa the air was so warm that I preferred some wind to enter my helmet. It is easy enough to tuck down so that only half of the helmet is exposed to the wind. The mirrors stay fairly clear, which is surprising since parallel twins are prone to excessive vibration. BMW has designed these bikes to run smoothly, and vibration is not an issue.
The F800S is fitted with the latest generation fuel injection and the fuel tank is positioned under the seat with stylish tank filler on the right hand side of the rear fairing. This has been done to centralize mass, and also to avoid the top heavy feel somewhat inherent in a parallel-twin design. It also allows a bigger air-box that is crucial for the development of torque. The only bad thing I can say about the very good fuel injection is that there is a slight hesitation when going off and on the throttle at low speeds.
Final drive is a toothed belt on a gorgeous swingarm based on the F650C design. When riding sporty bikes with belt-drive, I have sometimes experienced a lag in the drive to the rear tyre – particularly on the Buells. I am not sure whether this is due to how tight the belt is fitted, but the rear tyre on the F800S felt very much linked to the throttle. Being a baboon, I did a couple of wheelies, which puts the ultimate strain on any drivetrain, and for whatever it’s worth, the F800S is easily controlled when up on one. Every 10,000 kilometres the tension should be checked, but that’s it – which makes it virtually maintenance free. The engine’s sweet spot is between 5000-8000 rpm, where more than 90% of the peak torque is always available.
BMW has chosen Continental Road Attack tyres for the S and Metzeler Roadtech for the ST. The Continental tyres were new to me, but I could not fault them on either grip or stability. The Metzeler tyres on the ST seemed to have slightly better ability to soak up bumps in the road and will probably last longer.
The sport touring version in the F800 series shares most of the features of the F800S. As I stated earlier, the differences are higher handlebars, taller windscreen, more extensive fairing, and luggage rack, which accepts specially designed and easily mounted luggage. Our ST also had a center stand, which makes it easier to park when heavily loaded with luggage. For maintenance, you hardly need the main stand for anything but cleaning under the engine block or changing tyres.
Our ST was set up a bit softer than the F800S for comfortable touring. The ST shares an extensive LCD panel with useful information such as time, fuel consumption, temperature, coolant temperature and gear indicator. Two stacked round analogue clocks show speed on top and revs below.
The taller windscreen on the ST enables you to tuck completely in if you are on a fast motorway and the more aerodynamic fairing creates even more stability, which is needed with luggage and a pillion. The luggage rack is not just a tiny piece of aluminium attached at the rear. It is actually big enough to be useful. With the fuel tank under the seat, you do not have to remove the tank bag each time you fill up with petrol either. The modifications over the F800S have also added a few kilos of weight. The taller handlebars make sure you can sit upright in comfort with less weight over the front. But it also takes away much of the sporty edge of the F800S.
BMW has really pulled out all the stops to create a fun midrange sportbike in the F800S. I would personally choose the S over the ST purely for the fact it is a bit lighter and is so fun and easy to ride. Nevertheless, if you are in a touring state of mind, you will love the purpose-made luggage and comfortable ride of the ST with the same great parallel engine. There is a great future for the F800.
One of the best handling midrange bikes ever.
Get used to BMW controls
Slight hesitance off/on throttle at low speeds
Virtually maintenance free
Extra weight over the F800S
Sporty edge compromised slightly
Corruption factor: High
Flight to South Africa on Business Class
5 star hotel in beautiful surroundings
All inclusive (including mini bar)
Sightseeing in Cape Town
Perfect organisation of the whole event and good access to management and press officers
Launch gift: BMW t-shirt and cap
Technical details – F 800 S & F 800 ST
|F 800 S||F 800 ST||F 800 S
25 kW/34 bhp
F 800 ST
25 kW/34 bhp
|at engine speed||min-1||8,000||7,000|
|at engine speed||min-1||5,800||3,500|
|No. of cylinders||2|
|Compression/fuel||12.0 : 1 premium
|Valve/gas control||DOHC (double
|Valves per cylinder||4|
|Throttle valve diameter||mm||46|
|Headlamp||W||55 (high/low beam)
5 parking light
21/5 (brake/rear light)
oil bath, mechanically
|Primary ratio||1 : 1.930|
|Gear ratio steps – I||1 : 2.462|
|II||1 : 1.750|
|III||1 : 1.381|
|IV||1 : 1.174|
|V||1 : 1.042|
|VI||1 : 0.960|
|Rear-wheel drive||Toothed belt
|Transmission ratio||1 : 2.353 (34/80)|
|Frame type||Bridge frame
|Wheel control, front||Telescopic
|Wheel control, rear||Aluminium
|Spring travel, front/rear||mm||140/140|
|Wheel castor offset||mm||94.6|
|Steering head angle||°||63.8|
|Double disc brake
Ø 320 mm
Single disc brake
Ø 265 mm
ABS on request
|Cast aluminium wheel
|Dimensions and weights|
|Total length incl. mirrors||mm||860|
|Total width not incl. mirrors||mm||738||797|
|Seat height||mm||820 (SA 790)|
|DIN unladen weight, road ready||kg||204||209|
|Maximum authorised weight||kg||405|
|Fuel tank capacity||1||16|
|90 km/h||l/100 km||3.4|
|120 km/h||l/100 km||4.4||Acceleration|
|0-100 km/h||s||3.5||3.7||no details available|
|Maximum speed||km/h||over 200||155|