2019 BMW F 850 GS vs. 2009 F 800 GS: Time to Upgrade?

2019 BMW F 850 GS
The 2019 BMW F 850 GS may have more power, greater ground clearance and tons of electronic whiz-bangs, but is it really worth the upgrade from the original F 800 GS? Photo by the author.

Dang! Just when I thought my first-year F 800 GS was perfectly set up I spent a week on a 2019 F 850 GS in the Premium (“soup to nuts”) configuration. Having upgraded my suspension with Traxxion Dynamics fork internals, and a HyperPro rear shock, then adding a Scott’s steering damper (read: lifesaver), AltRider body protection, a Sargent seat and other goodies, I figured my GS was tricked out nicely. Over the past 60,000 miles, we’ve worked quite well together. Then here comes BMW with a brand new bike for their middleweight adventure slot. Do I need one?

Read our on- and off-road review of the 2019 BMW F 750 and 850 GS here.

It’s the 850’s new engine that I find most appealing. The whizzy doo-dads like dynamic traction control, electronic suspension adjustment, various riding modes, ABS Pro, keyless ignition and tire pressure monitoring have their place, but I’ve survived several decades of dual-sport and adventure riding without them. And though I was able to strafe my rocky test road with more speed and confidence using the 850’s electronic suspension helpers, most of my adventuring isn’t at a blitzkrieg pace. For newer riders, I see the technology advances as beneficial for making the sport more accessible and the learning curve less painful. 

The one electronic goodie I do covet is cruise control, made possible by throttle-by-wire technology. The Kaoko throttle lock on my GS does its job well, but set-and-forget cruise control is a serious step up in long haul comfort. Having endured a couple of 600-mile days on a recent trip, I know precisely how much better my right shoulder and wrist would have felt with a set/resume button at my fingertips. 

2019 BMW F 850 GS
The F 850 GS’s electronic suspension soaked up the bumps on this rocky dirt road. Photo by the author.

Another plus for the 850 is its tubeless-capable rims, claimed to be stronger than the much-maligned hoops on my 800. It’s not their strength I want–I’ve bashed into plenty of rocks and ruts without bending a rim–it’s the convenience of fixing flats with a plug.  

About that motor: per BMW specs, the 850 has five more horsepower and two lb-ft more torque, both coming in around 500 rpm higher that the 800’s maximums. The 850 revs more quickly though, creating a sensation of greater gains (and wider grins). A 270/540-degree firing order gives the mill a more substantial feeling than the legacy 360-degree design, while the counterbalancer eliminates the 800’s slight buzz. Instead, the motor emits a subdued lower frequency vibe that rumbles through the pegs, bars, seat and tank, an almost appealing lumpiness that seems to say “Wick it up, bro. I’m ready.”

2019 BMW F 850 GS
On-road the F 850 GS is planted and comfortable, and the author especially appreciated the electronic cruise control. Photo by Steve Yates.

BMW has also played with the gear ratios, lowering 1st through 4th gears and raising 5th and 6th. Sixth feels like a real overdrive now, whereas on the 800 it was too low for comfortable interstate cruising. An extra tooth on the countershaft sprocket fixed that on my GS, and if my math is correct it gives me nearly the same ratio as the 850 in top gear. Paired with a bullet-proof clutch, the slightly relaxed gearing has worked for me in the most delicate situations.

The 850’s full-color TFT instrument panel is a splashy upgrade over my bike’s analog/digital unit, featuring numerous screens of data about the machine. Unfortunately, the simple task of resetting the tripmeter requires futzing with two thumb controls and drilling down multiple levels to the correct screen–not what I want to do at every gas stop. 

I welcome BMW’s change to an industry standard push-to-cancel turn signal unit from their old and clumsy three-switches-are-better-than-one standard. But all the new wizardry requires more and smaller handlebar switches, with mixed results. The riding mode button is convenient, where the heated grips one is a reach. Changing display screens is easy, but hitting the high beams requires reaching around the left cluster and flicking a small switch outward with a gloved finger. Perhaps BMW’s development riders all have long, thin fingers.

2019 BMW F 850 GS
Bright LED headlight, hand guards, plastic belly pan and small, serrated footpegs are all standard on the 2019 BMW F 850 GS. Photo by Steve Yates.

There’s also a short list of where I feel BMW failed in the upgrade. The gas tank, now between the rider’s legs instead of under his or her bum, is handier for filling, but holds less fuel (4 gallons instead of 4.2). In spite of a claimed 57 mpg, I can’t believe anyone who’s keeping up with Interstate traffic will see 200 miles from a tank of gas on the 850. And it appears that wizardry adds weight–the 850 has porked out, besting the 800 by 50 pounds. You won’t feel the difference while riding, but it materializes immediately when the bike topples over.

Some components will need replacing upon delivery. The footpegs, which have an adventure-ready serrated surface, are much too narrow for extended periods of standing–my arches complained after half an hour. Down below, the plastic bash plate invites expensive repairs, in spite of the 850 gaining over an inch of ground clearance over the legacy model. This is a $17,000 motorcycle that’s jam-packed with electronic goodies and you still have to cough up a couple bills for decent underbelly protection. In that way, it’s exactly like my 800.

From where I sit on my trusty steed, the 850 offers some big improvements and stacks up better to its middleweight competition, while also failing in some key areas–mainly weight and range. And although the new motor, wheels and suspension make a tempting combo, my 800 has proven itself a faithful, reliable partner in my adventures, and not one I will cast aside anytime soon. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. No comments on the weight gain or the seemingly higher center of gravity and more weight on the front wheel, normally an no no for dirt riding?? Seems the old F800GS was a better design in these areas!

    Just what is the weight differential between the F850Gs and the R1250GS?

  2. My 2011 F650gs twin is all I need. It has tubeless rims; a good gear ratio; low seat height, and gas under the seat for low top heaviness. I don’t do heavy off road anymore and appreciate its no nonsense attitude. I’m 71 now and appreciate the low weight and smoothness that counterbalances the Harley that shares its garage.

  3. Bob, as I said, the weight is noticeable when picking up the bike (also while pushing it around in the garage, which I didn’t say), not while riding. I think the electronic suspension is such an improvement over the original model, and enough over my modifications, that the 850 hides its weight well when in action. And between the gearing changes and power gain, any extra weight on the front wasn’t noticeable – the 850 front wheel lofts much quicker than my 800’s.

  4. I enjoyed your comparison of the two bikes and I recently purchased a 2016 f800gs. Since you have a lot of experience with the bike I would appreciate a recommendation for a larger touring style windshield that would fit bike. There is one wrinkle in that the prior owner put a f800gs adventure windshield on the bike with the adventure hardware, so I think I will need to buy a windshield that would fit the adventure hardware. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    I am a long time subscriber to Rider Magazine and think all of you do a great job.

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