Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rider impressions - GS800


I am in the market for a new bike. Why? Well, there's nothing wrong with the trusty TransAlp I've got, but it's almost 2 years old now and has 26 000km on the clock. Because I bought at the right time (before the substantial price increase) and got a discount on the bike back then, I am in the unique position to be able to sell the bike after 2 years for not much less than I bought it for.

So I decided to "renew" and buy a new TransAlp 700 again. But before I do, I decided to have a look at the BMW GS800 as well.

Just for background - my criteria in order of priority:

- Reliability.
- Comfort.
- 2-up touring.
- Moderate DS ability (be able to do Baviaans etc with pillion).
- Speed. (Above 150km/h is not important.)
- As always: Price. What do I get for how much moola?

I visit Lynn Schroeder BMW in George where I get friendly service from Donovan. He organizes for a Demo ride on Saturday morning and so this Ride Report begins.

My steed for the hour:

The demo is yellow but the 800 on the floor is a lovely white one.

First impressions: Predictably the building quality is very good. If I switch from the TransAlp to this bike I will not be worse off as far as that is concerned. Surprisingly the seat is not as soft and comfy as my TA, but it's not a MX seat either. Sitting on the bike it looks and feels small. There is not much bike in front of you. I also find it weird that I cannot see the front wheel.

My route for this test ride will be over Outeniqua Pass and back over the mountain via the gravel Montagu Pass.

I filter through the traffic till I hit the open road towards Outeniqua Pass. It feels totally different than the TransAlp. You sit "on" the bike while you sit deeper "in" the TransAlp. Also the oil reservoir on the handles is mounted on rubber and it keeps vibrating and moving about. It keeps drawing your eye and is somewhat irritating.

I decide to open her up a bit and WHOAAAA!!!!!! Sheeez!!!! The bike instantly comes alive! It has instant punch as I run through the revs and gear up. WHOAAAA!!!!! 3rd. 4th. 5th. This bike is waaaaaaaay faster than the Transalp. Slow down boy!

First stop on the pass - view of the cockpit:

The dash is informative with all the necessary info. Very nice. The bike doesn't look half bad either.

I hit the road again. WHOAAAA!!!!!! 1st. 2nd. 3rd. 4th. 5th. 6th! This bike is fast and you "feel" the speed. But more than the speed, the acceleration is addictive. I can't see someone riding slowly on this bike.

I ride along and decide to slow down. A quick look at the speedo indicates 140km/h. Funnily 140km/h feels faster on the GS than on the TA. On the TA this would feel like cruising, on the GS your hair is on fire and you feel like punching the throttle again. Whohaaaaa!!!!! 4th. 5th. 6th!!!

I start feeling the seat. I am not used to it and it's definitely harder. I stand up (BMW riders do that ) and I lean forward looking over the console. I still cannot see the front wheel. Weird I like the digital speedo of the TA better than the traditional speedo of the GS but I really like the fact that you can see which gear you're in. The TA doesn't have that. Also the 6th gear is VERY welcome. I don't know why the TA only has five gears?

I overtake a car and WHOAAAAA!!!!!! 4th. 5th. 6th! Did I mention the acceleration is addictive? The Scorpion tyres stick and the bike really feels planted. And it corners like it's on rails The adrenalin is flowing.

In Herold I stop and switch the ABS off. Gravel time

I didn't fiddle with the suspension and don't know what the tyre pressure was, but the bike feels "harder" on gravel. You feel every bump and corrugation where the TA would have just floated over. Maybe it's in the setup but the TA feels more comfortable. On the flip side you really "ride" this bike on gravel - constant rider input.

I prefer riding with knobblies and would probably never have road tyres like these on my bike, but the handling on gravel even with these tyres are not bad at all. The throttle response is instant. Almost too instant. I get caught by surprise as the bike jumps if you ride over a hole and accidentally twist the throttle somewhat. It's something you can get used to though.

Every time you speed up the bike pulls like a train! You just want to go faster and faster. I can see why people who own and ride these bikes LOVE them.

Comparing the GS to the Transalp is like chalk and cheese. These are different bikes with different temperaments and different strong points aimed at different types of riders.

Trying to compare a Transalp and a GS is like comparing black and white


The GS800 is a very good bike. Definitely an adrenalin bike. It will keep you smiling and wanting more. This is how it scores according to my criteria:

  • Reliability - I have no reason to believe that the GS will be less reliable than the TA. It also comes with BMW Roadside Assist.
  • Comfort - Here the TA wins hands down. The seat sits like a couch and the bike feels like it cruises along. It's also much more comfortable on dirt. The GS feels more alive, punchy and needs more rider input on dirt. This is great for a guy who commutes in the week and wants to play on the weekend (weekend warriors), but for some-one who wants to tour that is not ideal. I guess a GS800 rider would be more fatigued after a 600km day than a TransAlp rider.
  • 2-up Touring - As far as pillions go the TransAlp is probably 5 times more comfortable. On the GS a pillion cannot really stand comfortably and my wife absolutely hated the GS's back seat.
  • Moderate DS ability - I do not think either bike would have disapointed here.
  • Speed - The GS is way faster, both on pullaway and top end. My criteria of 150km/h is easily met by both bikes though.
  • Price - The GS8000 is SA is +/- 50% more expensive than a TransAlp. In South Africa that realtes to R40 000 (approx. $5300) which is a LOT of money. That kind of money can pay for all expenses, services and fuel for the TA for several years. That kind of money can be an African trip for a couple of months. That kind of money can buy a second trailbike like a XR400 with change left over!

So for my specific circumstances and application the TransAlp remains the bike of choice, but with different circumstances and priorities the GS might be another rider's bike of choice. It's a good bike and a hoot to ride. If you ever have the chance to test ride one go for it!

Thanks to Lynn Schroeder BMW for the test bike.




Anonymous said...

Stick with Honda,it still come out with a toolkit and not with a list of telefhone numbers like a bmw

cyklopps said...

Nice review. Very informative. Thanks for posting it.

Luke said...

Thanks for the great review. The GS 800 has always been a bike I've been drooling over. Someday i want to do a long trans-continental ride... the search continues. It sounds like the TransAlp is a great bike although not as suited for the off road as I would like for a trip like that.