• BMW F 850 GS & F 900 XR first ride review

BMW’s middleweight tourers are back and are more convincing than before

BMW Motorrad is known the world over for its flagship adventure motorcycle - the R 1250 GS but the bikemaker also dabbles in what is perhaps the most important segment for it. The middleweight touring segment. BMW sold its middleweight tourers in India until 2019 when the BS6 norms kicked in. They are back now with the F 850 GS, F 850 GSA and F 900 XR. The motorcycles not only get a cleaner engine but also offer more features while being priced upto a whopping ` two lakh less than before. This has been made possible thanks to the motorcycles now being imported from Thailand instead of Germany. More kit for less money makes the deal sweeter for these Bimmers but just how good are they compared to the competition? We head to God’s own country to find out.

Kerala is a beautiful state and is known among enthusiasts for having some of India’s best driving roads as well as some truly epic forest trails. We head to Thekkady which offers both in equal measure. The agenda for the day is to spend the first half tackling rocks, mud slush, humidity and leeches with the 850 twins. The styling remains mostly unchanged and thats a good thing. Both motorcycles project a handsome silhouette and offer fantastic road presence. What has changed is the addition of kit. Both are available in top-end Pro variants and are properly decked out with BMW’s Comfort, Dynamic, Active and Style Rallye packages now being offered as standard.

The GSA gets an additional Touring package as well as saddle stays. So save for the aluminium sump guard (plastic sump guard is standard), what you see on the motorcycles here is standard fitment. It feels quite premium, with high quality panels and especially the colour TFT screen that is one of the best among motorcycle displays in terms of resolution, fluidity and intuitiveness.

I pick up the F 850 GS over the GS Adventure. While it has a relatively smaller 15-litre fuel tank compared to the GSA’s massive 23-litre fuel tank; at 248kgs it weighs a whopping 15kg more and has a lofty 875mm seat height that’s 15mm taller than the 850 GS. Given my relative inexperience with all things dirt, the 850 GS is my best bet to survive the jungle and hence my pick for the ride. Plus it comes in this cool Style Rallye Racing Blue Metallic livery that stands out from its Adventure cousin.

Heading down Kerala’s smooth winding roads at a decent clip, the 850 GS feels at ease, its non-adjustable forks and electronically adjustable monoshock feel planted and the dual-purpose Michelin Anakee tyres offer enough grip to allow steep lean angles. It now gets the safety net of lean-sensing rider aids should the situation get hairy.

The 853cc parallel-twin motor impresses as well. In BS6 guise, it delivers 95PS and 92Nm. The motor features not just better power delivery but also fills in torque gaps that were present in the low to mid-range powerband on the BS4 bikes. The mid-range itself feels potent and it is a joy to hustle the motorcycle through the smooth flowing roads. It even sounds bratty thanks to the 270-degree firing order. However, the clattery valvetrain noise at idle is disappointing.

We soon turn off the state highways into single lane B-roads. The long travel suspension setup paired with a 21-inch front and 17-inch rear cross-spoked alloy wheels and tubeless tyres soak up road undulations with aplomb allowing me to sustain high speeds despite the imperfect road surface.

For the off-road experience, we head to a vast woody area surrounding a lake. We are led into the trails by my former senior colleague Ouseph Chacko who also runs the School Of Dirt around these parts. We switch to Enduro Pro Mode which is now standard on the BS6 850 GS models and quite an important one if you venture into trails often. Besides having a preset rear suspension tune, it allows you to customise engine response, traction control and ABS intervention.

The suspension does a brilliant job of soaking up shocks from jutting rocks and tree roots and has the motorcycle feel planted allowing me to ride around the trails at a quicker pace than I would. And that’s the way you should ride the 850 GS twins on the trail. Both feel top heavy (the GSA more) compared to its European competitors so in case you stall and begin to tip over, it becomes quite difficult to get it upright. Another reason to blitz through trails is the limited grunt at low revs which has the 850 GS bog down easily and stall on technical trails, as I did. A few times I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place and the only way out is to rev and slip the clutch. Thankfully the Enduro Pro mode allows for a certain degree of ham-fistedness with the throttle. So you do need finesse and experience by your side while offroading with the F 850 GS.

After a hard afternoon enduro session, we switch to the F 900 XR. For 2022, the 900 XR gets Comfort, Dynamic and Active packages as standard which include Pro riding modes, electrically adjustable rear suspension, adaptive LED headlamps, keyless ignition and fuel filler cap, switchable ABS, heated grips and mounting hooks for luggage.

The F 900 XR is easier to ride than the 850 GS twins thanks to a lower kerb weight (215kg) and lower seat height (825mm). This being a sport tourer, we stick mainly to tarmac with a series of landslide strewn sections thrown in for good measure. In the broken sections, the non-adjustable long-travel forks do not soak up road imperfections as well as its GS cousins and coupled with the 17-inch wheels road-biased tyres, forces you to reduce your speeds considerably. Where it shines though is on the smoother bits.

We are let loose on a deserted hilly section laid with pristine tarmac and this is where the 900 XR impresses with its brilliant dynamics and poise. The Michelin Road 5 radials offer fantastic grip while the brakes offer a strong bite.

The 895cc parallel twin motor delivers 105PS and 95Nm and feels more high strung than the 850 GS twins. You get a stronger and more compact powerband here and you are happiest on the F 900 XR when tackling a twisty strand of tarmac.

The BMW F 850 GS Pro is priced at Rs 12.50 lakh while the F 850 GS Adventure retails for Rs 13.25 lakh. This places the GS twins in Tiger territory! Even the F 900 XR, at Rs 12.30 lakh, is priced competitively. With a lower price and even more kit, BMW has spiced up the middleweight touring category and offers a formidable lineup that will have the competition rethink its strategies.

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