By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 2/23/18

The people have asked and I have answered. The BMW R1200gs is one of the most popular motorcycles in the world and for good reason. These are my thoughts on the differences between owning the BMW R1200GS and the BMW F800GS after a few years with each one and why I am pleased with my choice to downsize.

Before I get into the differences, first let’s talk about why this is important information. You might have one of these bikes yourself and are thinking about a change or maybe you are new to adventure bikes and want to make the right choice your first time out.

So first of all the R1200GS and the F800GS are both “adventure bikes”. That means they are designed to travel great distances both on road and off, while also providing the user with the fuel range, the engine power, and a suspension and sub-frame suited for carrying yourself and meeting your plentiful gear requirements. Many people mistakenly buy an adventure bike to ride locally on trails, gravel roads, and to OHV parks. While these bikes can still be a lot of fun on those types of terrain (I have taken mine on all this stuff), if that is ALL you plan to do with it, you should consider something smaller and more off-road oriented like a dual sport or Rally inspired bike in the 450cc range. There are many from Yahama, Suzuki, Honda, KTM or BMW that are terrific options. Even the KTM 690 Enduro might fit here. You’ll enjoy the lighter weight and you won’t need the larger fuel capacity and heavy duty sub-frame for travel and camping gear.

However, if you want to travel to wild places for days at a time, where you’ll  be required to bring all your camping gear and supplies, you’ll want an adventure bike. The BMW GS’s are some of the best out there. I have ridden both of these models over two years and put over 20,000 miles on each of them. I rode my 2005 R1200GS for three years. I used it as a daily commuter, weekend gallivanter, and took several multi week rides with it. Tackling the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands, through mountain passes in Moab and Colorado, and also the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail. I rode it in serious rain storm across Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Iowa for 9 straight hours. I put it through the paces. It meet it’s end when I t-boned a deer one summer day.

I’ve had my 2013 F800GS for almost three years now. I use it in much the same fashion as the R1200GS. It’s taken me to the Tail of the Dragon, the mountains of North Carolina, down the Colorado BDR, up the Rocky Mountains to Icefields Parkway in Alberta, and on many forest service roads around the country.

I know both of these bikes very well.

So we have established that my assessment of these two bikes is coming from a place of long standing ownership and also using these bikes as they were intended.

Here are my feelings:

  • The BMW R1200GS is the best overall motorcycle I have ever ridden. Period.
  • The BMW F800GS is a better motorcycle for me and the way I like to ride.
  • The ability you gain off-road with the 800GS outweighs what you give up in road performance compared to the 1200GS.
  • The 800GS gets better MPG’s but is also more expensive to maintain.

Let me explain.

“The BMW R1200GS is the best overall motorcycle I have ever ridden. Period.” 

The bike is simply a joy to ride all the time. In traffic, on country roads, on the interstate, on forest service roads, and mountain trails it is always great. The power the 1200cc engine puts out above 60 mph is the thing I miss the most. When you need to pass a car, you hit the gas and are around the car in no time. It is very comfortable at even 90mph. You may not go 90mph very often, but those of us who live in the Midwest know that to get to the mountains or great outdoor areas in the US, you will be required to hit the Interstate at some point and can do 85-90mph for extended periods of time.. The boxer engine is one of the best ever produced and it delivers smooth yet aggressive power to the operator. Because of the engine weight and distribution, this bike feels rooted to the road and is a dream to ride for long periods of time. Once you get off-road, it holds its own like few other bikes its size. Having ridden the comparable KTM 1190 and 990, I can say that those bikes feel like HUGE dirt bikes compared to the BMW. They feel powerful and nimble in the wide open dirt, but they punish the rider at HWY speeds relative to the 1200GS. The 1200GS will also carry all the gear you can throw at it, without effecting the performance much at all. Throw on your camping gear and fill those panniers with all your personal supplies and you will hardly notice any difference in performance.

“The BMW F800GS is a better motorcycle for me and the way I like to ride.”

The first thing I noticed when I switched from the 1200GS to the 800GS was the improvement in handling on gravel roads. The 21′ front wheel and reduced overall weight make it much easier to control in loose terrain. In the Midwest we have a lot of gravel roads. The 1200gs, with a 19″ front wheel, often felt even unsafe on gravel at speeds above 40MPH. The 800gs can easily handle 60MPH with this same jackass rider behind the bars. Both come with ABS and traction control that you can disable for off-road riding.

“The ability you gain off-road with the 800GS outweighs what you give up in highway performance compared to the 1200GS.”

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you ride the types of terrain I do and only plan to own one bike, the 800GS will give you a lot more confidence when you are off-road. The 1200GS is far superior on the highway. However, I have taken the 800GS to British Columbia and back to Iowa. It doesn’t suffer by any means.  While I do miss the long haul comfort of the 1200GS, I am so much happier with mobility I gained in the 800GS off-road. On balance this tips the scales to the 800GS. The 800GS uses a chain while the 1200GS uses a drive shaft to distribute power to the rear wheel. The chain relates a familiar dirt bike feel to it. If I was scoring them out of ten I would give the 1200GS a score of 6 off-road and a 8.5 on-road. I would give the 800GS an 8.5 off-road and 7 on-road.

“The 800GS gets better MPG’s but is also more expensive to maintain.”

I averaged about 41 MPG with my 1200gs and just over 60 MPG with my 800gs. The only time I notice a big change is when travelling at HWY speeds with a full luggage set up on the 800GS. Due to the extra weight and running over 5000 rpm’s, I fall to about 45 MPG. The smaller Rotax engine on the 800gs also means I am taking the bike in for service more frequently. Oil changes and engine adjustments more often than the larger boxer engine. If you are familiar with BMW techs, this isn’t always cheap. I would say the 800GS requires and additional service trip each year and that comes out to about $250/yr extra to maintain. When it comes to after-market accessories, tires, and other purchases the price points are about the same. The only thing I would point out here is that my 1200GS had tubeless tires. A nail in the tire on a trip could be quickly repaired and I was back on the road. The 800GS has tubed tires and the time to change/patch the tube is far greater. Personally I prefer the tubeless set up.

To summarize, I am not attempting to give a moto magazine style review of brand new bikes and the latest changes and technology they bring to market. Instead, I am sharing my real world experience of owning both these fantastic bikes for a period of multiple years. Running them through the paces and maintaining them properly to boot. Both were between two and three years old when I bought them. I use them as they were intended. As motorcycles that are capable of touring large stretches of highway, but also having the durability and off-road process to take you down difficult tracks to remote locations. I have yet to experience issues with either bike that you might see on forums or aftermarket product sights. Both bikes preform as advertised.

While I truly think the BMW R1200GS is a better overall motorcycle and will certainly make the owner happy with the purchase, I have also found that for the trips I take and riding I do, the BMW F800GS is the better fit for me.

I hope this review was helpful to you all.

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