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Outfitting an F 850 GS

Tuesday, June 16, 2020   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Rob Adams #206078

In October 2018 I got an email notice from my local BMW dealer, Big Twin of Boise, Idaho, that they had received a couple of F 850 GSes. If you wanted to come and see one, they had one on their show room floor. If you wanted to test ride one to contact Into the Horizon Adv Motorcycle rentals & tours, as Lance Gaines has a standing order to receive the first bike of each new GS model. My 2007 F 650 GS served me well for over 40,000 miles of commuting to work and exploring thousands of miles on forest service roads in the Boise and Payette National Forests, but it was time to consider replacing it.

I had been reading about the new F 850 GS and watching some YouTube videos, so was excited to take a test ride. For my birthday (68) I contacted Lance and rented his new F 850 GS for a ride in the Boise foothills. My choice of test routes for the Rallye edition (with all the bells and whistles) I rode was the road to Bogus Basin Ski Area, a 22-mile climb from 2,400 to 6,900 feet with almost continuous turns and switchbacks. The road past the ski area is dirt and is popular with local adventure riders. The bike had 400 miles on it, so was still being broken in.

Not Rob's test ride, but the bike he ended up buying. Oops! Spoiler alert ;)

The day was perfect Idaho fall weather, sunny and in the mid 60s with a light breeze. Being a weekday, the road was empty so I could just enjoy the responsiveness of the bike and the smooth power delivery of the parallel twin engine as I carved my way up the mountain towards the ski area. I had a giant smile on my face when I reached the parking lot. I totally enjoyed the bike on twisty asphalt, but it was time to try it on dirt. The ski area had fresh gravel on the parking lot, so I changed the ride mode to Enduro and rode slowly around the lots while standing on the pegs. The bike felt lighter that my F 650 GS, but didn't fit me quit as well with out handlebar risers and lower foot pegs. Lance's bike also didn't have any bags or boxes. My F 650 GS had Happy Trails Teton boxes, which added weight but also provide excellent weather tight storage. After playing in the parking lot, I headed up the dirt road for another 10 miles, enjoying how well this bike handled the dips, rocks and ruts that the road acquired since the last time it was graded.

After four hours of putting the bike through its paces, I returned it to Lance and knew I had found the right bike. My 2007 F 650 GS was reliable and in great shape, and I had no reason to feel it would not continue to serve me well for the rest of my motorcycle riding days. I had to think about it for a while and talk to my wife, as we were now on retirement income and this was a major purchase.

Karoo 3 tires.

In January, after she completed the primary work on our taxes, she came to me and said, "I think you should get the new bike." I had been searching aftermarket parts websites like Wunderlich America and Touratech USA and knew exactly what modifications I wanted, things like skid plates, engine crash bars, handle bar risers, lowered foot pegs, a better wind screen and luggage. I knew this would add at least $3,000 to the total, but knew from experience that any bike I rode needed them.

I checked out the Big Twin website to see what bikes they had in stock before I made the 40-mile drive to talk to Sales Manager Chuck Gregg. The first thing I noticed was they were listing both the F 850 GS and GS Adventure in stock. I had not expected the GSA to be available for another 6-12 months. The GSA already had most of the stuff I wanted plus a bigger fuel tank and much better wind screen. The second thing I noticed was Big Twin was closing their doors. The owner (Fred Wiley) was retiring after 41 years in the motorcycle business and sold the business to Dennis Dillon Power Sports. The good news was his employees were all going to be moving with the franchise. Fred had a great team and his customers are loyal.

Bar risers from Touratech.

I contacted Chuck and he said Lance had the first one, but he was getting two more in, a lowered Rallye and a Granite Grey Metallic with the premium package. I told him to call me when they arrived and were out of the crate because I wanted to come take a look before placing an order. I also contacted Lance and asked him about his first impressions of the GSA.

Chuck called at the end of January and I made arrangements to come see a GSA. The Granite Grey really caught my eye and I was impressed with the package out of the box. There were only a few changes I would want before I took possession. The bike out of the box came with the comfort seat, 90/10 street tires and a cheap plastic engine skid pan. I am 6 feet, 4 inches tall with a 35-inch inseam and felt the flatter Rallye seat would suit me better. The skid plate need to be replace with a real metal one and I wanted 50/50 tires, as I spend a majority of my time on forest service roads. The handle bars needed to be raised as well.

Rack and mount for Mosko Moto soft panniers.

Chuck arranged to install Metzeler Karoo 3 adventure tires dedicated to off-road expeditions and featuring both off-road traction and on-road stability. They are specifically engineered for medium to large displacement bikes. My previous experience has been mostly on Continental TKC80 tires. I am looking forward to comparing handling and tire wear.

The new skid plate is the BMW Enduro Aluminum engine guard, although a Touratech skid plate would have been an excellent alternative. The Touratech 35mm bridged handlebar risers for the F 850 GS adds bar height and braces the handlebar clamps to minimize bar twist/flexs. There was an issue with the securing bolts, however; this bike came configured for GPS and the long bolts that allowed for attachment of the GPS mount were not available yet from Touratech. The parts department at DD Power Sports found an alternate source and put them on order along with the Rallye seat.

Close-up of mount and rack on right side.

While I was waiting for the various part to come in, I tackled the issue of luggage for the new bike. I really liked my Happy Trails Teton boxes. They were rugged, well made, kept water and dust out and if you laid down the bike at slow speed (which is how it always happens to me when I choke and pull in the clutch or front brake instead of hitting the gas and riding it out), made picking up my F 650 GS easy. Their downside was weight and the bruises on my calves I always seemed to have after a challenging back country ride. I'm a big fan of MOTOTREK YouTube videos, and their video on hard versus soft motorcycle panniers convinced me to consider Mosko Moto's Back Country 35L panniers. They are almost identical to the soft panniers with the BMW logos and are made in Portland, Oregon. I like their rugged construction and the presence of the MOLLE expansion system so you can add space easily. They are also a lot lighter than aluminum panniers and should be a lot softer if I hit them with the back of my legs.

I needed two other things. First, an adapter for the muffler side of the bike's rack. The one designed for the BMW R 1200 GSA works fine for the F 850 GSA. Second, a Touratech Large Side stand Foot to stabilize the bike when parked. Before I put one of these on my F 605 GS, my bike was always trying to fall over unless I found a flat rock or piece of wood to put the stand on.

Pannier rack on left side of the bike.

On February 21, Chuck called to tell me by bike was ready, and I picked it up at noon the next day. Southwestern Idaho had just come off a winter storm watch with 24 hours of sunny weather forecast before the next storm was expected. While the roads were clear, but the temperature was going to be below 25 degrees for the day. I caught a ride with a friend who needed to go to Boise anyway and was at DD Power Sport around 11:30. Chuck spent over an hour going over all the features of my new bike.

The 40-mile ride back to my hobby ranch in the Boise mountains was uneventful, but due to cold roads, new tires and lack of experience on the bike, I kept it in rain mode the whole trip. I had to make one adjustment before I rode the bike; the shift lever needed to be raised to allow my Alpinestars boots to operate the shifter. I am ordering lowered foot pegs from Suburban Machinery to improve my leg room and make operating the shifter easier with my boots.

Side stand enlarger.

It took me about two hours once I had the bike home to adjust the handle bars, install the side stand foot and mount the soft panniers. Then all I had to do was wait until the weather got more conducive to riding around my mountain home!

Ready to ride!


Matt Manuel says...
Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Great write-up! Enjoy your new bike. (One small typo -- at one point later in the article you refer to your previous bike as an "F 605".)

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