There’s a certain feeling of exclusivity you get when you own something expensive. Drive through town in a Ferrari, Mercedes or Porsche, and you can’t help but hold your head slightly higher. Same goes for motorcycles. Whether you admit it or not, if you’re a Harley-Davidson, Ducati or BMW owner, you can’t help but take a little pride in owning a machine with some American or European character. Sure, it cost a lot of dough, but it’s worth the price of admission. In the case of BMW, it has the distinction of being in the exclusivity market on both two wheels and four. Shell out some serious coin for either of its offerings and you’ll probably have something your neighbor doesn’t.
BMW has a loyal fan base which has helped it lead the market among European motorcycle manufacturers. But challengers to the throne like KTM are aggressively seeking to gain some of that market share. In the world of sports they say that competition brings out the best (and worst) in people, and that’s the same spirit that the boys in Bavaria have used to bring some of that market back home. Looking at its current lineup, BMW brass realized that among its 650cc singles, 1,200cc boxer twins and in-line fours it had, well, nothing in between. It needed a bike to fill that gap and attract more first-time buyers to the BMW experience. The new F800ST (and its sportier brother, the F800S) is the answer. Call them the affordable Beemers.
New touring riders are the target audience for the 2007 BMW F800ST, as its compact dimensions and 800cc engine are less intimidating than the bigger, more powerful models in its lineup-though obviously the brand believes that experienced riders will enjoy it as well. The BMW designed, Rotax-built parallel twin-cylinder engine is liquid-cooled, has four valves per cylinder and was designed for solid midrange punch. The all-new engine also utilizes a trick counterbalancing system that employs a “dummy” connecting rod which moves opposite the direction of the cylinders and helps to reduce vibration. Pity the poor soul who has to change spark plugs on it, though-access to the cylinders requires a minor tear-down of the entire front half of the motorcycle. That fact frustrated our efforts to get a dyno reading in time for this story, but according to BMW the F800 pumps out 85 horsepower and 63 lb-ft of torque at 8,000 and 5,800 rpm, respectively, at the crank. Our initial riding impressions left a good mark on us, as it’s surprising how deceptively quick the bike is. The engine is mated to an incredibly slick transmission that never skipped a beat and always found neutral when I asked it to. Power is then transferred via an equally smooth belt drive to the rear wheel and eventually to the ground. In that regard, the typical German engineering we’ve come to know and love is clearly noticeable and much appreciated.
In order to meet the bike’s price point a conventional, non-adjustable, 43mm telescopic fork sits in front instead of the trick Duolever or even Telelever setups used on other BMWs. As is to be expected from suspensions that are dictated by price, these units are undersprung and dive considerably under braking. One tester even referred to the ST’s legs as the “Greg Louganis fork” because of how much it likes to dive. The 498-pound F800ST also takes some coaxing to turn in, although it does hold its line once leaned over. It’s a shame the front suspension behaves like it does because the rear shock unit, with its remote preload adjuster, was actually quite impressive in how it kept the tail end under control.
Bringing everything to a stop is a pair of 320mm rotors in front paired with four-piston Brembo calipers. Out back rests a single disc and single-piston caliper; our test bike also came equipped with the optional ABS. Unlike other systems on the market that pulse on and off, BMW’s ABS always applies some pressure on the rotors when the brakes are engaged. The system’s computers adjust the brake pressure several times a second to bring the bike to a stop without locking the wheel. Other systems may completely engage and disengage the brakes during a cycle to slow the bike, which creates a pulsing feeling in the levers. Once you get over the dive from the suspension, the brakes do a good job of slowing things down. The lever stays firm and modulation is easy, even with one-finger braking. My only complaint is that the lever does get slightly mushy after repeated stops, and occasionally the ABS will kick in sooner than expected.
We’ve logged quite a few miles on F800STs. Between Editor Tuttle’s first taste of the bike in South Africa (Rider November ’06), my first ride on the bike in Hawaii earlier this year and the numerous miles we’ve logged with our test bike, there’s a reason we named it 2007 Best Sport-Touring Bike. The seating position is comfortable thanks to the higher bars on the ST (as opposed to the clip-on type bars on the sportier S model), the pegs are slightly lower and the windscreen is taller. From an average-sized rider’s perspective the windscreen channeled the air right above my head with very little buffeting reaching my chin. The 32.3-inch seat height is bordering on the tall side, but I was still able to firmly place the balls of my feet on the ground. Shorter riders need not worry as a lower seat that’s only 31 inches from the pavement is also available.
Two key ingredients for successful sport touring are fuel economy and the functionality of the saddlebags. Despite its 800cc, the Beemer is surprisingly efficient with fuel. We averaged just a tick above 46 mpg in a variety of riding conditions, ranging from the quick canyon blast to the weekend getaway. That efficiency could come in handy, too, as the tank only holds 4.1 gallons. Something we noticed was that our ST’s fuel gauge would always show a full tank, even after traveling more than 100 miles, which should put the bike at about half a tank. It wasn’t until the 150-mile mark or so that the gauge would suddenly drop and show a quarter of a tank remaining. Weird.
Speaking of weird, the standard saddlebags also take some getting used to as they’re unlike most sport-touring hard side cases. To operate them you turn the key to unlock the bag and pull up on the “Open” tab. This releases the exoskeleton frame but doesn’t open the bag. To do that, pull on the “Open” tab again and tug on the exoskeleton, and that should release the outer liner, opening the bag. Confusing, yes, but it becomes second nature once you figure it out. The bags themselves are nifty as they are hard, yet expandable and feature removable waterproof liners that actually hold quite a bit. Fully expanded the right bag actually fits a full-face helmet (the left bag is notched to clear the exhaust). With it fully expanded it appears like the outer frame won’t close, but give the tabs on the end of the exoskeleton a firm pull and they extend to meet the locking mechanism. They’re also one-way adjustable so you can tailor the bag to your particular need without fear of it backing out.
Something we really like is the optional on-board computer system that’s located adjacent to the analog tach and speedo. Among its many neat features is a gear indicator, tire pressure monitor, odometer, tripmeter and fuel reserve meter. The most interesting feature I noticed was the built-in stopwatch! Lap times, anyone?
Considering the F800ST is the “bargain” Beemer, it still comes with many of the neat features of its more expensive siblings and performs almost as well as them, too. Fit and finish on the bike is top notch as well. Expect to see the standard F800ST in showrooms starting at $10,475. But don’t forget the heated grips. That’ll cost you $235. ABS? That’s another $890. Two-hundred sixty dollars gets the tire pressure monitor and another $250 nabs the on-board computer. Oh, and don’t forget the centerstand for $120. Add it all up and to get a bike like our tester will cost $12,230. That may sound steep, but consider that this is a fully outfitted motorcycle that’s still thousands of dollars less than the base models of other touring bikes on the market-not just BMWs. If you’re new to touring or are just looking to be part of the BMW fraternity then the F800ST is a steal.