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2019 BMW F850GS

Wind Shielding

Classic Velocity

The cosmetic piece of plastic in front of the TFT display can hardly be called a windshield. And it turns out that it is affixed to a cavity intended for an adjustable version to come. It has since been disclosed and shown that the GSA version has this new adjustable version. However, a better idea was to talk to the folks at Madstad whose product I had been impressed with previously. They borrowed the bike for a few days to develop a prototype. The result is another great product from them. They used the cavity to develop what looks like a factory solution. They even re-used the factory trim, and provided a bracket for mounting a RAM mount or other solution. Brilliant.  

The new shield worked perfectly for the initial 20 minute test. Great wind protection between the shield and deflectors. Adjustability as a bonus. And the grey tint as an added bonus!

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Coming to Grips

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it is amazing how many little things you have customized on a bike you have had for a long time. They are only noticeable once they disappear. And so it was with my grips which had grip puppies whenever the machine had thinner grips than my hands would like. Hand fatigue was evident as soon as long rides took place. Rummaging through the parts bins produced a brand new pair that were not intended for some other machine. Five minutes later, the grips were at a far more comfortable circumference. On a short ride, the heated grips still come through, but their effect is certainly dulled.

The Electronics Ride

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It is the mark of modern technology, that I am dedicating an entire post to the electronics associated with this new machine. They are so extensive and complex, that they warranted a separate ride just to muck about with them.   I should start out by saying that most of my machines have dials and gauges that are approaching 40 or 50 years old. I have to wonder whether the new electronics will also be able to be useful and serviceable on an old 40 to 50-year-old motorcycle in 2079. Now with that said, they are so much more readable, and display so much more information than those old machines, that it is not even worth comparison.

I remain somewhat befuddled by the whole helmet system to phone to Connect app to bike display interaction. I have managed to make it functional for navigation and for playing music, but it has not been seamless. There is a sequence that must be followed to get everything working correctly, and I cannot find info on that process. Suffice it to say, that it is not intuitive, and not reliable. There may be some pilot error in the mix here, so I will continue to gain experience and follow up. Once functional, the precedence of sources seems to function logically. Navigation prompts are later than I would like compared to something like Waze or Apple, but they are clear and do interrupt music. I have not yet seen what happens on a phone call.

The drive modes are fun to play around with on the road. Rain does dramatically soften the throttle response and the power. Dynamic is dramatically sharper and more powerful. Road is closer to Dynamic but the edge is dulled a bit. Perhaps the main challenge is remembering that you have these modes to help adapt the machine to the riding context. I tended to get intoxicated by dynamic and keep it there. I did not get anywhere near the traction control differences between the modes. The suspension modes were either less dramatic, or I wasn’t testing them hard enough. I also have not yet ridden 2-Up or loaded, where they might be more noticeable. However, they did this well back in 2010 on the GS, so I am sure that this is even better.

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The screen alerts are multiple and intrusive. You can argue that this is a good thing, but in some cases they obscure Nav or other more immediate needs. They consume almost the entire screen. They could take up less real estate and still be very noticeable. There is also no quick way to reset the trip meters. I always like to use the trip meter as a backup to the fuel guage, so it gets reset every fillup, which on this machine is fairly frequent. Lastly, the default screen is often a few button clicks away. It would be good if there was always a single click/push which got you back to a “home” screen, and it would be even better if you could define some/most of the elements on that home screen.

This trip was a mixed bag. Amazing information and capabilities when everything was synced up, combined with frustration when it did not stay that way. The fact that this is software and firmware hopefully means that it can and will improve.

The Luggage Test

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The goal was always a simple one. Transfer existing luggage, tried and proven over years, to the new steed. The tank bag is not a great fit, but it works. The tail rack is a great transfer with no issues. That leaves side luggage. The Mosko bags are first generation, but still look great after being hosed off, and they are used on the R100GS as well. The only thing they need is a standard tubular rack. Givi is known for its bags, but it has a great track record of engineering racks for different machines. It has had one for the 850/750 since shortly after launch, and I believe the figment is the same or similar to the R1200GS. The fit is closer than I like on the exhaust side, but it does have clearance. 

The fit is one thing, but actual travel is the real test. I chose a relatively bumpy 60 miles as a test track. The rack is stable and the bags stayed perfectly in place on them. They are a reasonable height, and clear the pillion legs. At half full, I could not detect any discernible shift in handling or suspension movements. The bike now has full storage capacity and is ready to take on a trip in this regard. Same cannot be said for the windscreen..... 

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Handles

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Somewhere along the lines, I had a pair of grip puppies laying around. The grips on the 850 feel narrow in diameter, and contribute to hand fatigue. The grips go on easily with the hand guards unbolted. 

Impressions at 700

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Following the break-in service, here are some thoughts at 700+ miles.

I did a 450 mile day in getting the break-in miles complete, and to see how it worked as a longer distance machine. It was all on-road except for about 30 miles of sandy trail. The seat was surprisingly comfortable. I say surprisingly, because on my former 12GSA, I could barely make it 60 miles home from the dealer without searching the web for options. Comments on the pillion seat will come in the future. The ergos are very good seated, but standing not so much. For my anatomy, the bars need a riser, and the brake lever definitely needs a height extension attachment. As usual for all manufacturers, the stock pegs are uncomfortable standing for any length of time. Conversely, the windscreen is rubbish on-road, but very good for airflow off-road, but you could tell that just by looking at it. Grips and controls are all nicely placed, and the wonder wheel (new to me) is a very good piece of engineering, given the options for introducing a new hand/finger control. Like any new toy, I was messing about with it far less at mile 600 than at mile 60. Cruise control makes this a wrist-saving machine for long highway stints, and the excellent headlight can extend the day if so desired. Aux lighting is something I have added to every touring/adventure machine ever owned. This one may only need something for fog rather than more light.

The display is as good as you have read. Brilliant in all types of light and stunning at night. I think it even draws the attention of passing cars! For the first time, I do not miss an analog speedo and/or tachometer. The interface does not start out being intuitive, but you adjust after a while. Resetting the trip meter (which I do religiously still having bikes with no gas guage) is surprisingly complex. It takes many wheel and button presses, and is too distracting if already underway. BMW clearly believes that we are now at the same stage of evolution as the cars and don't need this very much. A more significant challenge is the bluetooth phone/helmet scenario. Several functions (eg: music, nav) do not work unless you have both your phone, and your headset paired and connected to the display. My headset (Sena) already connects to my phone automatically, so if I want to get the F850 functional, I have to turn off bluetooth on the phone, connect the headset, then turn bluetooth back on to allow the phone to connect. This happens every time you turn off the bike! Uuugghhh !! Strangely, it will happily connect just your phone, but I am not sure what it does in that mode. I am hoping that I just have not yet discovered some needed setting that will make this all seamless. The good news is that once connected, things look and work well. The turn by turn Nav is way below the standard of Apple or Google car interfaces, but it is functional. My guess is that they still want to sell full BMW Nav systems, so this is hobbled intentionally. Since this is all software, hopefully upgrades will be forthcoming. Speaking of upgrades, BMW could really take a page from KTM and allow you to put your favorite info on one screen and allow a one-touch return to the default screen. This entire section though, is picking niggles with what is an amazing improvement in instrumentation and navigation. Durability and longevity are the only unanswered questions.

If you skip the previous section, and just evaluate the motorcycle, I remain thoroughly impressed. The engine is the best I have ridden since the KTM 1190R, which makes it the 2nd best motorcycle engine ever in my book. It has plenty of torque, and plenty of HP for the application. It can easily hang with sportbikes in the right hands (not mine). The ride modes are interesting to play with, and I tried out Rain just to see the difference. It certainly tames the throttle response and cuts power, but I did not do anything to test the other safety net features. The gearbox is typical BMW, which is to say solid and clunky in lower gears and great in the higher ones. The quick-shifter is not an option I would have chosen, but it works. I tended to avoid it in the lower gears and use it for 5th and 6th gear where it was very smooth. In fact, 5th to 6th sometimes required a look at the display to confirm the shift had happened. It is that smooth. It is not intuitive for me (in fact, it feels wrong!) to shift without the clutch, so I have to remember to use it. Perhaps over time. The brakes are very good. I have not taken them to the point of engaging ABS, and I am not planning to ;-) I have not played with the suspension yet other than selecting the modes to try them out. I will need full luggage and a pillion to really notice the differences, but hard braking does induce front end dive. Since the front is not adjustable, springs and/or valving may be in the future. Conversely, the front felt perfect for the short stint offroad. YMMV.

More to come

First Service

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One thing is for certain, there will be no way to miss the little exclamation point triangle indicating that service is needed. Every time you key on, and even during a ride (not sure what triggers it), this obnoxious screen appears. To make matters worse, you still have the yellow exclamation point triangle which remains permanently visible to the right side of the display! 

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Break In Miles

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A business trip allowed for completion of the 1000km needed for break-in. There were many discoveries along the way. The engine is magnificent and reminiscent of the KTM 1190R. The seating is surprisingly comfortable. The bars found use a riser when standing, and the pegs need an upgrade as well. The electronics have a couple of niggles. Resetting the trip meter ( which you do frequently given its short 200 mile range ) is a multi-step pain. Connecting phone, headset and apps was inconsistent, but when it worked, it was great. 

The sidestand is too tall !! It will be useless off-road on all but perfectly flat ground. I cannot understand this error by BMW. Another error is providing the GS with street tires ! This must be a ploy to sell tires at the dealer. the windscreen is useless for the average rider of this machine. It only feels good when standing. 

On the positive side, the cruise control works very well. The display is great in any light. Fuel economy averaged 50 mpg over 650 miles of varied riding. The headlight is excellent and negates the immediate need for aux lights. The ride modes are distinctive and interesting to play around with. Dynamic really sharpens the throttle response, and turns the GS into a sport bike. 

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Transfers

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The worst thing about a new bike is that it has no personalization. In this case, it also had no storage of any kind. Fortunately, the gas cap ring has the same bolt pattern as forever, so the SW-Motech bag came over once the correct standoff’s were found. Next, a RAM handlebar mount was easy. Lastly for this session, the BRE rear rack from the Sertao was taken apart and with a few holes drilled, it mounted to the bike with no modifications to the BMW. Now, within hours, the bike has a tank bag, a rear case, and anything a RAM mount can handle.

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A Barrage of Firsts

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A first year of a new model

Following spy shots and pre-production information

A deposit before even seeing one in person

An hour sitting on one and combing every detail at a launch

Purchasing the first one out of the crate from the local dealer

For whatever reasons, the F850GS was an appealing machine from the time it was announced. A big upgrade in performance compared to the 650 Sertao, and a big upgrade in maneuverability compared to the 1190 Adventure R. Two up capability, superb electronics, cruise control, heated grips, etc.

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