BMW launches a hot pair of asphalt-carving twins. By Bill Heald
Few manufacturers have worked as hard as BMW when it comes to producing new machinery. This latest effort adds a whole new class of bikes to its line, courtesy of a brace of sporting 800s. The F 800 S and its touring partner, the F 800 ST, feature an engine format that BMW has never used beforeâ€”the vertical twin. This compact, plucky 85-horsepower mill, built by Austrian engine manufacturer Rotax exclusively for BMW, sports four-valve heads and electronic engine management, and features an interesting first in a production motorcycle. To quell vibration, a swing-action balancing rod knocks out annoying shakes and smooths the twinâ€™s power pulses, even at higher revolutions.
This technology is mated to a six-speed transmission and a clean, quiet belt that powers the rear wheel instead of a chain. The F 800 S and the F 800 ST possess a rigid aluminum frame and an under-seat fuel tank for better mass centralization. In addition to the high-performance triple-disc brakes, BMWâ€™s excellent antilock systemâ€”which the marqueâ€™s engineers have been perfecting for decadesâ€”is available as a factory option. Stout 43-mm front forks and a fully adjustable rear shock handle suspension duties, and a single-sided rear swingarm not only looks cool but also makes wheel changes a snap.
A standard steering damper keeps things on track should you blast out of a corner and hit a serious bump while hard on the gasâ€”a situation that can induce a nasty, potentially disastrous wobble in motorcycles with lesser road discipline.
The F 800 S is the sportier of the duo, with a lower, shorter handlebar that promotes a more aggressive riding position, a lower windshield, a smaller fairing to reduce drag, and â€œspeedâ€? wheel design. The ST gets higher handlebars for a more upright riding position, a larger fairing with side panels for more weather protection, a standard luggage rack, and a â€œdynamicâ€? wheel design. Great options like expandable saddlebags, heated handgrips, and a trip computer add long-haul comfort and versatility to either machine.
BMW held the U.S. press introduction for these bikes in Kona, Hawaii, and the Big Island was the perfect venue for contrasting the S and STâ€™s personalities. Both bikes are light, flickable rides that deliver crisp, smooth power from the new vertical twin and excellent stability
when pushed hard. Tropical rain showers demonstrated the value of the STâ€™s better weather protection, while the Sâ€™s sportier riding position made railing through tight corners a breeze. Amazingly, as fresh as these lightweight twins are, they still have the versatility, comfort, and even the exhaust cadence of a traditional BMW.