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

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 met its 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.

41 replies
  1. Robert Post
    Robert Post says:

    Thanks I’m just about to sell my 1200 GS LC to get an F800 gs Its a money based decision but also i like the fact that it is bike that can do more off road.

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      You’re welcome Robert. I think you’ll be happy with the change. BMW is also rumored to be updating the R1200GS to a brand new R1250GS next year. Which I don’t suppose will help bring the price of the big new adventure bikes down at all.

  2. Steve Hertler
    Steve Hertler says:

    Great review Paul. I agree with your assessment. I had the chance to compare the New 2018 Triumph Tigers (1200 & 800) and your hey vs gravel assessment is about the same with these bikes as well. I think the 1200’s are very dilerberate when riding off road, where the 800’s are much more nimble…like a Jeep Grand wagoneer to a CJ7 perhaps? Of course, I too own an F800GS and it has taken me to Big Bend, the UP of Michigan, Arkansas, Oachitas, and many other places. Ride on!

  3. Gary E.
    Gary E. says:

    Yes Steve I too have switched to the F800GS. I find it a joy to ride, engine and gearing perfect power and handling, not too big not too small. I did 18000 miles on my 1200GS in 16 months and loved every one. The bike was big and a bit more effort to ride slow. It was a beast on the highway and you could really rack the miles fast. I travel mostly backroads for fun now and the 800 is just perfect. Added a Corbin seat was a necessity as my only complaint was the seat. Loved the boxer but the Rotax has an awesome growl and great powerband. I rarely cruise over 70mph so I’m loving it. Agree with your views completely. Sorry about the deer hit, dread the day as I have many near misses a year as well.

  4. Francois
    Francois says:

    Hello may I ask about size and weight? I am 5’10” and 230. I know the 1200 is more than accommodating but what about the 800? Just sold my 1200rt (boohoo) and thinking of gs for inner city and a bit of off road.

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      Hi Francois,

      I am a similar size. 5’11” about 210 lbs. I don’t find the 800cc twin to be lacking, but it doesn’t excel the way the 1200 boxer does. If you plan to ride mostly on road, the 1200gs will be the better option. It is a much more comfortable bike to ride on the road right out of the box.

      I think if you choose the 800gs, you’d want to put in a beefed up suspension to suite your weight.

    • Nils Gruttner
      Nils Gruttner says:

      Great article. As a fellow writer, even though in a totally different field, I loved the read. Came across your article purely by chance looking for recommendation on both these bikes. Thanks for the hands on review versus technical bullshit details.

  5. Steve Gantner
    Steve Gantner says:

    Greetings from another Midwesterner (MN)! Appreciate the comparison of the two bikes from a different perspective than the standard reviews about hp, torque, suspension travel, etc. I’ve been on a 1200GSA now for several years and agree with everything you’ve written about on/off road, long distance, speed, etc. Have been wrestling with the same considerations that drove you to the 800GS (not GSA?). Then I hop back on the big beast and fall in love all over again. Another thought is going rogue to something like a KLR650 for shorter local expeditions and keeping the big beast for the long distance camping trips. Did you consider adding a smaller dual sport to rather than replacing the 1200 and, if so, what brought you to deciding on one bike in the middle with the 800?

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      I did, but my considerations were more drastic than a 650KLR. I personally am not a KLR fan. They do everything, but they do nothing well. Overweight off-road and under horse-powered on the HWY.

      I like the simplicity of owning (maintaining) just one bike so ended there, but if I had more time and money I would likely have gone with both a BMW r1200gs and a Yamaha WR250R.

  6. Alan
    Alan says:

    Thanks for all that info and advice, I have experienced exactly the same as you and moved from the 2013 1200 GS LC to the 2016 F800GSA. I much prefer the 800 because I do a lot of dirt road riding and found the 1200 GS lacking in that area. Otherwise it was an awesome bike!!!

  7. William Collins
    William Collins says:

    Great write up! I have a R1200GS which I ride about 10,000 miles per year. I love the way it handles on the highway with my camping and fishing gear, but never feel comfortable hitting “unpaved”. I’m about 5’8″ and weigh in at 165. I also have an old single-spark F650GS that I’ve taken on everything! That said, maintaining two bikes is somewhat of a pain, so I’ve been thinking about “meeting somewhere in the middle”. My only concern with F800GS is the seat height.

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      The seat height is higher but you’ll notice that it’s also not as wide. Which for me meant that the effective height was about the same. Hope that helps.

  8. Adam
    Adam says:

    I hear what you’re saying about the 21 inch front wheel, but I’ve had my 1200 with the 19 front wheel on gravel up to 70mph or so. The tires used make a big difference to me.

    That said, many people update their R1200GS with a 21 inch front wheel as a custom change. I think if I start riding more technical off road routes, or want to gain better performance, I’ll probably make that change and keep the big motor. I can’t give up the highway passing power!

  9. Tim Walker
    Tim Walker says:

    I think that starting with the 2017 model, the First 800 GS ASV has tubeless tires. They are still spoked tires, but use the BMW technique of seating the spoke hubs off to the side of the rims.

  10. Rob
    Rob says:

    I just did BMW’s two day offroad school with an R1200GS and I came away with two strong feelings.

    1) I’d had no idea what that bike was capable of. Just amazed.
    2) I bet I’d enjoy the 800 in the soft stuff alot more.

    Diving into deep gravel got to feel like swimming, on that indestructible super-barge of a bike. Would much prefer a bike that just sliced through it.

    While I’m not going to give up my Multistrada, I could maybe see finding a spot in the garage for one of these.

    • Brian Brooking
      Brian Brooking says:

      Rob, I also recently took part in the BMW ORS school, the instructors were clear, the F800 is harder to handle off road than the R1200 GS. One woman on the course started out on the F750 but on second day she rode R 1200 GS Ralley and her comments echoed that of the instructors.
      I would like to buy the R1200GS but budget and head says to go with F800GSA for about half the price. I’m certain it won’t mean half the fun.

  11. zaid tayob
    zaid tayob says:

    Great article, to the point very quickly, and very pertinent information. Amazing that salespeople even don’t explain this well. Thank you

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      I think the 1200gs is simply so much more popular that it doesn’t pay to discourage anyone from getting one. Thanks for checking out Dirt Orca’s.

  12. Josh
    Josh says:

    If you feel unsafe on a 1200 over 40kph then you should do a course on how to corner on gravel roads.
    You can feel safe at MUCH higher speeds, it’s just a technique thing. Nothing to do with ability or classing yourself as a jackass. And a 19 inch front can feel as stable and ‘safe’ as a 21 inch. Do some reading on Miles Davis.

  13. Mark Gardner
    Mark Gardner says:

    Im riding the KLR 650 at this time and Im thinking hard about getting a BMW. Still not sure if the R or the F will suit me better but reading your article helps! Leaning toward the R but thinking I will keep the KLR for the more trail oriented rides… But I do hate the KLR for my hiway rides. KLR is a bullet proff machine and thats hard to give up.

    • JD
      JD says:

      I rode a KLR for 3 years. Every add on I bought & installed is basically a stock item on the 800 GSA. I loved my KLR. I went with a F GS 800 Adventure. Granted it cost 3 times more than a KLR, it honestley performs 3 times better.

  14. Tom
    Tom says:

    Pretty valid assessment. Just bought a 2014 r1200 GSA because I’m planning to ride thousands of miles through Alaska next year. But I rented a f800gs in Panama City and ran that all over the country on very twisty roads. Was glad I had the more nimble version in that terrain. They are indeed both great bikes. Though I still have a serious weak spot for my 97 K1100 LT. Long live BMWs and their dedicated fans.

  15. Sandra Steliga
    Sandra Steliga says:

    Hi, I have bought a BMW F800 GS (first ever adventure bike) in April 2018 to ride it from Canada to Patagonia. During some off road in Nicaragua my foot got stuck under the bike and resulted in a nasty foot injury. I was advised that the 1200 GS doesn’t fly as flat and minimises the risk of such injuries. Would you agree with that? I can’t pick the 800 GS up so feel reluctant to upgrade to a heavier bike but was also told that the centre of gravity point is much lower and despite being heavier is overall easier to pick up. Since you’ve owned both bikes I’d love to hear your opinion. Thanks, Sandra.

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      Hi Sandra,

      Thank you for reaching out. In my opinion the boxer engine does often create an “easier lift” in many cases because the 1200/1250gs won’t fall over as far on level ground even though the bike is heavier.

      However, depending on where and how you fall, weight is weight, and both bikes can prove to be easy or difficult to lift depending on the slope and direction of the fall. So I wouldn’t say definitively that one is easier than the other. There are some great video’s on YouTube about the easiest way to lift these bikes that are worth the watch if you haven’t seen them.

      All that said either bike will be a great companion for you trip. The important thing is to feel comfortable while riding. I admire you plans to ride to Patagonia. On a ride like that you may also consider the larger fuel range and how much weight you plan to haul in your luggage. This might tip the scales towards the 1200/1250.

      – Paul

  16. Miles
    Miles says:

    My wife and ride two up and enjoy long distance camping tours. Currently we are riding a 2001 RT but would like to change to a GS I am attracted to the idea of the lighter 800 for gravel roads but am concerned that it might be under powered for all the long distance pavement riding continental riding involves. Of the two bikes which do you think is more suitable

  17. Leslie Jensen
    Leslie Jensen says:

    Hi. I’ve just made the same swap! I’ve been driving a 2011, 1200GSA while my wife has been driving an 800GS. She was always much quicker that me in the forest and on the gravel roads we often ride. I’m now the owner of an almost new, 2017, 800GS. I do really share all your observations and agree with them. In the future I’m hoping to be able to afford Ducati Multistrada 1260. But that’s another question 🙂

  18. Dylan Shawhan
    Dylan Shawhan says:

    Hey Paul, I’m just now coming across your article. Well written and I tend to agree.

    My wife and I rode our first adventure bike, a 2016 Honda Africa Twin, as a rental excursion on our honeymoon in Alaska. After cruising through the southern Alaskan and western Canadian canyons, we were hooked and shopped around until we found our own 2010 F800GS. It has been awesome! We were living in Salt Lake City at the time and found the bike to be pretty good for the canyons and all of the national parks in close proximity. It wasn’t the most comfortable for us to ride TO the parks, but it tolerable for only 3-4 hours on highways and canyons.

    We now live in Austin Texas and I’m leaning toward switching up to an R1200GS/GSA. I think for what we do -always ride 2 up, mostly ride country roads and canyons, and occasionally take it off road- the R1200 will be more suitable. Plus, even if we do go to Big Bend, or anywhere with good off roading, it’s a solid 6+ hour trek to get there and I think the R1200 would allow us to be more comfortable. If I rode solo, I’d ride more aggressively and take it off road at every chance. But with the wife I just don’t end up doing that very often, and when we are off road she hates feeling like I’m pushing it.

    In summary think it depends greatly on the individual, and the where, what, and how he/she rides. And I think for your use, and someone who rides similarly, would find the F800GS more suitable.

    Would love any input!

  19. Sam
    Sam says:

    Excellent information!!! Thanks for sharing. I was debating on whether to buy a 1200 or 800 and I this info is very helpful. I have shared your comments with others experienced BMW riders and they 100% agree with your thoughts.

  20. Glenn Hamburger
    Glenn Hamburger says:

    I’ve owned an R1100, R1150, R1200 and an 800 GS. Ridden some 350,000 miles on these and a few other Beemers. The 800 GS was far and away the worst- no low down torque- it would stall out several times, and it was top heavy. Worst BMW for me. However, I encourage you to take one out for a test ride. It may be a wonderful bike to you!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *