BMW motorcycles have a reputation for being pricey and peculiar, but that image has changed as of late. While they've got a long tradition of building sturdy, quirky bikes, the BMW F 800 ST is the perfect example of how Beemers have evolved. Starting at $10,520 for the 2008 model year (the 2007 model tested here starts at $10,475), this middleweight tourer undercuts the price of the only other 800cc sport tourer on the market, the $10,799 Honda VFR Interceptor.
What are its unique features and how does it ride? Read on to find out.
The BMW F 800 ST's Spec Sheet
While boxer engines have a prominent place in BMW's history, the BMW F 800 ST sport touring motorcycle is equipped with a parallel twin powerplant. The F 800 ST's 798cc displacement puts it squarely in the middleweight category. While the F800 ST wears a fairing, its stablemate, the F 800 is a naked bike.
The engine acts as a partly load bearing element, and is surrounded by a cast aluminum bridge frame
The water-cooled, dual overhead cam twin produces 85 horsepower at 8,000 rpm, and 63 lb-ft of torque at 5,800 rpm. The fuel-injected engine has a 12.0:1 compression ratio and requires premium fuel. The gas tank is located under the seat for mass centralization, and has a 4.1 gallon capacity (including 1 gallon of reserve.)
A six speed transmission connects the engine to the belt final drive, and the 17 inch wheels are clad with 120/70 front and 180/55 rear tires. Unlike some BMWs which use an unconventional paralever suspension, the F 800 ST wears a conventional 43mm telescopic fork. Four-piston, twin floating 12.6 inch calipers are found up front, and 10.4 inch twin piston brakes grace the rear (mounted to a single-sided swingarm).
The F 800 ST tips the scales at 461 lbs, wet. Its seat height is 32.3 inches, but a low suspension option is available for $175 (which cuts seat height by approximately 2.4 inches.) Other options include heated hand grips ($235), ABS ($890), a tire pressure monitoring system ($260), an onboard computer ($250), an anti-theft alarm ($235), and a center stand ($120.)
The Look and Feel of the BMW F 800 ST's Hardware
Sport touring motorcycles can be outrageously brawny (like the Kawasaki Concours 14, but the BMW F 800 ST, like its direct competitor, the Honda VFR Interceptor, is an 800cc middleweight. Throw a leg over its 32.3 inch high seat and the F 800 ST might feel a bit tall, which can be rectified through the optional low suspension package that drops the seat 1.2 inches and lowers the suspension another 1.2 inches, for a total reduction of 2.4 inches.
The BMW's body panels feel heavy and well-constructed, a far cry from the flimsy bodywork found on other bikes. Unusual details include the fuel filler situated near the seat, which feeds an underseat tank, for mass centralization. Operating the F 800 ST's turn signals is typical BMW, with quirky hand controls that require push buttons and a sliding cancel switch... it's an unconventional element that BMW has retained, and while it might throw traditionalists off initially, once you use this system you eventually get used to it.
BMW's fully removable saddlebags also operate differently than most. In their closed position, they resemble oversized medicine tablets, with durable, curved exterior fabric surfaces reinforced by plastic. When extended, they widen the bike's proportions, but enable more storage; a pretty handy feature that accomodates more volume when necessary.
Instrumentation is clear and simple, with analog speedo and tach gauges that are accompanied by a digital screen that can be equipped with an optional on board computer.
How does the BMW ride? Read on.
Sport Touring with the BMW F 800 ST
The F 800 ST weighs 461 lbs wet, and that mass is quite apparent at a standstill. Get moving, though, and that perceived weight diminishes greatly.
As you pull away from a standstill, the BMW's acceleration doesn't feel particularly brisk, and its rather quiet engine reinforces the fact that the lower end of the powerband is rather unmotivated. In fact, unlike a torquey V-twin, the BMW's parallel twin requires throttle application in order to keep it from stalling off the line. Midrange and upper end power improves, and when ridden hard the F 800 ST can exude the attitude of a sport bike. However, its exhaust note never gets past the unsexy, muffled tone (unlike the Honda Interceptor, which roars with energy thanks to its VTEC system.) Handling feels sharp, and the bike's front tire can be maneuvered with accuracy. Ergonomics are comfortable during long rides, and the F 800 ST's handlebars are positioned slightly higher than the F 800's.
Brakes have good feel, and offer strong stops. The ABS system works well, without too much intrusive pulsing at the grips. Speaking of grips, the optional heated hand grips are a luxurious addition that are sure to spoil; once you ride in the cold with these, you'll wonder how you survived without them.
The windshield offers good protection from the elements, and while some turbulence reaches the rider, it's never enough to be intrusive or annoying.
Final Analysis: The BMW F 800 ST in Context
On its own, the BMW F 800 ST rides like a competent, well-made motorcycle ready for short jaunts or long rides. It's comfortable, confidence-inspiring, and easy to ride, and its optional low suspension package makes it accessible to an even larger segment of the population.
When compared against the Honda VFR Interceptor, though, the BMW feels a bit less fun to ride, a touch less visceral and involving. Whereas the Honda's V-four offers a great combination of low end torque and high-revving power, the BMW is a bit more conservative... and less eager to please. The F 800 ST might be perfectly capable, well made, and practical, but it doesn't quite thrill the same way the Honda does.
While it retains some of the quirks that BMW is famous for, the F 800 ST has also kept up with the times, thanks to its less bulky proportions, lower weight, and decent power. If you're all about performance and enjoy riding the tires off your sport tourer, you might opt for a Honda Interceptor. But if you appreciate Teutonic engineering and need a solid long distance ride, the BMW F 800 ST is a great way to travel.