It’s all in the initials. With the F800ST that BMW has been producing since 2007, the “ST” stands for “sport-touring.” But for 2013, the company rethought and redesigned the ST to provide a little less of the “S” and more of the “T,” then renamed it “GT” for “grand touring.”
If any model sold as poorly as the F800ST has in recent years, most companies would have punted it from the lineup for good. But BMW stuck to its guns, still convinced there is a viable market for a sporty middleweight with long-ride capabilities. “Rider feedback told us they liked the idea of the F800ST,” says Sergio Carvajal, BMW’s Motorcycle Product Manager. “It’s a ‘right-sized’ bike. But they wanted something more comfortable and practical.”
Based on my 200-mile ride over a wide variety of roads as part of the U.S. press launch of the F800GT, BMW seems to have succeeded. The GT is more accommodating than the ST, with revised ergonomics that prop the rider in a more upright, relaxed position. The aluminum frame is unchanged, but the bars are higher, the footpegs are 10mm lower and farther forward, and the seat is about an inch-and-a-half lower (thanks in part to 15mm-shorter suspension at both ends). Plus, a taller windshield and reshaped fairing offer better protection from the elements. Snap on a set of optional hard saddlebags with more total capacity (51 liters) than their predecessors and you have an excellent, easily manageable middleweight for touring, sport or otherwise.
At a claimed 470 pounds (without bags) when its 4.0-gallon gas tank is filled to the brim, the GT is light and lithe, with easy, accurate, predictable steering. In a straight line, it’s rock-steady, thanks in part to a 50mm-longer swingarm. But the GT also slashes through corners with confidence-inspiring ease that makes fast-paced backroad rides more fun and less work. This is no sportbike, to be sure, but it’s more composed than the ST when it comes to spirited cornering.
It’s more comfortable in the process, too, offering a slightly taut but pleasant ride despite its reduced wheel travel. The only standard suspension adjustments are manual preload and rebound damping at the rear, but a simplistic version of the company’s ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) is optional. It allows rear damping to be adjusted on the fly to any of three settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport) with a dual-function button on the left handlebar switchpod; the same switch also toggles the optional ASC traction control on and off. Rear preload remains manually adjustable with a plastic knob.
Among the GT’s numerous other options are two seats: a Comfort version that’s ¾-in. taller than the standard unit and a Low seat that sits about 1¼-in. closer to the tarmac. The bike I rode wore the standard seat, which felt comfy enough, but my time in the saddle was limited to just a few hours.
Although the counterbalanced, 798cc parallel-Twin’s engine internals remain the same as on the ST, refinements in fuel-injection and ignition mapping allow it to pump out a claimed 90 horsepower, 5 more than before. The engine feels peppier throughout the rpm range, with sharp throttle response, brisk acceleration and good midrange torque for its displacement. But it is a middleweight, after all, so don’t expect it to run with the big dogs if loaded with two large occupants and saddlebags jam-packed for weeks on the road.
BMW also offers a wide range of other options for the F800GT. They include heated grips, a centerstand, an onboard computer, a Garmin GPS, a 28-liter top trunk and even an Akrapovic Sport Silencer. The GT is available in three colors—Valencia Orange Metallic, Dark Graphite Metallic or Light White.
Sticker price for the base F800GT is $11,890, which is the same MSRP asked for the 2012 F800ST. Carvajal says that BMW is not likely to import many—or perhaps any—of the base model, however, but instead will offer the bike in two packages that include certain options for less dough than if those accessories were installed separately. The Standard Package gets the heated grips, centerstand, onboard computer and saddelbag mounts for $12,395. The Premium Package adds ESA, ASC and a tire-pressure monitor for $13,190. That’s a steep buy-in for a middleweight, although the GT is the most well-equipped sport-tourer in its class.
Still, whether BMW’s vision for middleweight grand touring is clearly focused remains to be seen. But if it isn’t, don’t blame the motorcycle. Despite its shift in focus, the F800GT not only is much improved at the T end of the sport-touring spectrum, it’s better at the S than it was before.