I’d call it a review but enough time has passed since riding the motorcycle that I’m sure what I’m sharing are feelings and memories transformed by time into heroic feats against impossible circumstance. I have this vague recollection of hurdling through snow and over the Grossglockner Pass. Climbing up under an overpass is almost the same thing isn’t it?
The motorcycle didn’t make it home easily. Like a lot of things in my life I resisted this bike. At least until Craig Kissell, owner of Kissell Motorsports and the local BMW dealer, explained how this was one of his favorite bikes – ever. After offering some strong arguments and a final “what do you have to lose?” I relented and took the keys.
I should explain my reluctance to ride certain motorcycles (you’ve seen no reviews of sport bikes for instance) has little to do with the machines and a lot to do with ideas stuck in my head. To date, each resistant idea related to motorcycles has crumbled through experience.
My aesthetic taste runs towards plain. Aside from my yellow and black riding jacket I find comfort in shades of gray. A bright orange motorcycle with large GS lettering doesn’t fit well for a guy who has a black truck and asked the dealer to reverse the tires so the white lettering wouldn’t show. Standing in the middle of the road and sizing up the bike it just seemed out of step with my riding tastes.
Too much power, too much sound, too much flash.
Sitting on the bike in the parking lot at Kissell Motorsports I had my first meaningful reaction – the BMW F 800 GS is tall. While I can flat foot the bike, barely, I silently gave thanks for those few extra potato chip fueled pounds that allowed the shock absorbers to compress enough to make sitting astride comfortable. Be forewarned that it is not a good idea to come to a stop and casually put your foot down into a pothole.
The instant the engine sprang to life my ideas of power were confirmed. I remembered the first time a sat on a tall quarter horse and the thrill of recognition that comes being connected to something powerful.
The first order of riding business is familiarizing myself with the motorcycle. Particularly brakes, clutch, shifter action, throttle and general handling. Some slow speed turns and maneuvers and enough experimentation to believe I won’t completely muck things up in a panic. Winding through the countryside on the way home offered many opportunities to practice.
Getting on and off a tall motorcycle repeatedly to make pictures can be physically demanding for someone used to the step through set up of a Vespa. Each new motorcycle has me making notes in my journal…. Exercise, stretch, get in shape. So far I have a lot of notes.
The light was starting to fade and I really wanted to ride a bit more before dark. A few errands interrupted that plan but not enough to diminish the thrill of the F800GS. Even parked along a concrete wall it looks like fun.
Getting the bike late in the day meant parking it in the garage after a short ride or riding at night. I chose the latter and departed into a mild evening under clear skies. Riding just after sunset is something I enjoy, especially the slow changing of light. Watching for Bambi is something I can do without though. Stopping at a nearby park to make a picture in the fading light triggered a few fantasies about the proverbial trip into the sunset. You could ride a long way on the BMW F 800 GS.
Craig and his staff made a few modifications to the bike including the addition of a set of Touratech lights up front. A flip of a toggle switch on the handlebars caused the two side mounted lights to illuminate the world. For riding at night in deer country these things allow you to see far to the left and right making any four-legged motion easier to detect.
The BMW F 800 GS is noticeably more powerful than the F 650 GS even though they share the same engine displacement. Reaction to the throttle is direct, positive, and you have the sense that whatever you would want will be there. The riding position is almost perfect for me – upright and comfortable.
Pacing around the bike, assessing angles for photos, the lines of the motorcycle become apparent. A beautiful machine, one that will over a few days of riding reveal its functionality as well.
Near midnight I turn towards home and a good night’s sleep before riding the next day.
Rain. Not a lot but enough that I momentarily consider leaving the BMW in the garage. But only momentarily. With a mist falling I headed down the road. While stopped to take a picture I have the chance to try my boots on the wet pavement, a nervous tic I’ve developed as part of a personal weather evaluation system.
The F 800 GS is completely at ease on the narrow, winding secondary roads of central Pennsylvania, especially at the sightseeing speeds at which I often proceed to allow for quick stops for pictures. It’s definitely the kind of machine that makes it easy to experience the landscape without leaving the impression that it’s only happy bombing down the road at breakneck speed. The rain had stopped leaving wet roads and a gray light to make pictures in.
An absolutely comfortable ride, at least at tourist speeds through the bucolic countryside. I know I should be pushing harder but my wandering eye and camera get the best of me and I force the BMW into service as my photo vehicle. Certainly not what its Bavarian designers envisioned. I promise to push the bike hard.
Across the valley and into Rothrock State Forest. I realize that I am more at risk climbing up the rocky hillside to take a picture than I am on the road. Being a good Boy Scout I check my cell coverage in case I break a leg.
Thirty miles later I’m winding along empty roads like the BMW and I have been friends our whole life. Granted, neither of us is pushing the performance or skill envelope but the union of rider and machine is close to perfect. I find myself wondering which part of the garage I would dedicate to this motorcycle.
And I really grew to love those Touratech lights.
This part of Pennsylvania is traced with small roads, paths and lanes that lead through field and forest, between gaps and watersheds into places that are seldom trafficked by mainstream riders. Many hours curled up with my worn copy of the Pennsylvania Atlas Gazetteer tells me this road is more than a farm lane and will wind over the mountain in the distance.
Riding time passes quickly. Aimless wandering and enjoying the sights maintains a seductive power. Standing by the sign covered garage I realize another day has evaporated. And I’ve not experienced the BMW F 800 GS. I’ve just forced it to conform to my riding habits.
With the motorcycle tucked safely away in the garage and I vow to let the BMW lead the way tomorrow, ride the way it wants to ride. Perhaps then I can produce a few insightful words about this lovely machine.
Stay tuned for part two on the BMW F 800 GS.