Can KTM and BMW work to carve out a niche for the middle weight Adventure bike class?
Nez Perce pass in central Idaho
Doing a comparison of adventure bikes is a tricky task. It is sort of like Goldilocks setting down to the bowl of porage; one might be too big while another is too small. So which one is going to be “just right”. In a segment where there is not much definition of class based upon size or any other key factor, each maker takes a design approach based upon what their view of an adventure bike should be. That view can vary greatly and so it should, just as the road traveled varies. There has existed a gap between the 600cc dual sport bikes and the liter class Adventure bikes. Are these bikes going to be the perfect tools to fill that gap?
In fact, it is likely that a potential buyer will probably be apt to consider different models within a single brand, such as the entire BMW GS line up, verses similar models from a different brand. The Germans set out to give all their bikes a certain feel, clearly true with our test bike here, while the neighboring Austrians approach the challenge from a very different perspective.
There is no denying that all BMW’s are road bikes at heart. So much so that many have long felt that the GS line up represents some of the company’s best tarmac mounts. By contrast, there is the case of our KTM 690 that always seems to have a dirt bike trying to burst out of it.
What we have here are two bikes of similar displacement and cost, both billed as adventure bikes. At a casual glance it could be easy to assume that these two might have little in common. Yet, they are two models trying to carve out the relatively new niche of middle weight adventure bikes.
The BMW heated handgrips are welcome on cold mornings
We decided to throw the two together for a week of riding on some of the best back country roads of Idaho just to see how well the two played together. As you may remember, we tested the KTM just a few months ago and found plenty to like about it. This is our first extended test of the 800GS.
2010 BMW F 800 GS
When JC rolled up on the Beemer after a long haul to meet me in Boise, I was surprised to see the GS decked out in full luggage. I was relegated to wearing a back pack for my stint on the KTM. But from my Baja wanderings I am used to traveling light. With my Goretex suit to serve as my basic outfit, that really only left me needing a few personals and some flip flops to complete the kit.
Isn’t adventure riding about being minimalist? Well for BMW the answer to that is no! A little luxury never hurt anyone and the middle child GS proves that. Along with the integrated bag system our test bike included heated grips, ABS and a dazzling array of electronic displays that included a fuel gauge with an estimated remaining tank mileage calculation. That theme of luxury carries over to almost every aspect of the 800’s ride quality.
But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a look at what makes up this newest member of the BMW Gelände/Straße line up. While having many of the creature comforts that we have come to expect from the GS, technically it is pretty much a clean slate design. That means dispensing of both the Telelever and Paralever designs in favor of more conventional suspension and a chain final drive.
At the heart of it all is a very ordinary looking 798cc parallel twin motor. Forty years ago this engine configuration ruled much of the motorcycling world. Yet ultimately they were doomed by vibration and the progression of the larger Japanese fours. Once manufacturers were able to overcome the vibration issues, the motor design just never seemed to come back to prominence, probably overshadowed by the lure of sexy V-twins.
It may be oddest of all that BMW would be one to showcase such a design against their own heritage of opposed twins. But here it is, fuel injected and putting out a very respectable claimed 85 horse with 62 lb/ft of torque at just 5,700 revs. It is smooth, fast and without even a hint of vibration.
If there is a knock against the motor is it simply that it just lacks a little soulfulness. No big power pulses here to get the adrenaline flowing. What it does have is a nicely crafted exhaust note that gives a rewarding little growl upon start up. More than once I walked around the back of the bike to try to figure out how such a note could come out of the very generic looking canister. At speed the sound is quickly drowned out by highway noise and so never becomes obtrusive.
BMW tackles the mud hole
Mated to a six speed transmission, the 800 has very long legs. It is easy to find yourself at cruising speed only to look down and notice that it is only in fourth gear. In fact without the aid of the gear position display I may have never even found sixth, partly due to the quietness of the motor. The smooth power delivery is a joy in traffic, stop and go situations require very little clutch modulation.
The triple disc brakes are strong and have decent feel. The ABS system can be disabled by holding the bar mounted button down while turning the key on. This is really a must for off road riding as the system seems to kick in pretty quickly, well before any serious lack of grip is noticed.
The spoke wheels are a 17”/21” combo. The 150 series rear will be limited to a street or adventure style tire, but a full knobby could easily be mounted up front. This is a common practice with many dirt bound adventure riders; run an aggressive tire up front for better braking and turning with a more street oriented tire in the rear to give a longer life span. Aggressive riding on the large bikes can go through rear tires pretty quick.
The suspension package features 9” travel in the front and 8.5” rear. The inverted 45mm Marzocchi fork looks like it is ready for some serious action, but that is mostly window dressing. Sadly it is completely non-adjustable. The soft spring rates let you know very quickly that obstacles are not to be tackled with aggression.
Similarly, the Sachs shock features preload adjustment only, although this can be accomplished by hand. Overall action is pretty decent, but this is a package designed for comfort. Easy does it and everyone will remain happy.