Imagine for a moment that you're World Stunt Riding champion, Christian Pfeiffer (nice thought). You've just signed a lucrative new contract with BMW, and the PR department wants to make a video of you doing stunts on a Bavarian- badged bike on the roof of the company's distinctive quad-towered headquarters in Munich.
So which BMW do you choose from the lineup for your performance of tricks like feet-up donuts and wheelstands- while-sitting-on-the-handlebars in such a confined space? The S1000RR superbike? The sensationally-popular R1200GS? The real Christian Pfeiffer didn't hesitate to choose the bike you see here: the affordable F800R streetbike.
Now my riding requirements and those of Pfeiffer might be light years apart, but it was easy to admire the sweet balance of the F800R as it slithered through a saturated field on its way to my chosen photo location - a former gun emplacement located in one of Auckland's many hidden treasures, Fort Takapuna.
Standing on the pegs, the bike responded instantly to any shift of my body weight, and we easily conquered the occasionally muddy little climb to the historical gun position despite the strictly road-only tyres fitted. It was an experience that suggested that Pfeiffer wants for nothing after his decision to ride for BMW; the F800R has the evenly distributed mass, gutsy engine, and turn-on-a-10c-piece agility that every good stunt-bike needs.
But don't get the idea that the parallel twin-powered streetbike is just a trick-friendly pony, for this is a great everyday roadbike as well.
The F800R replaces the F800S in BMW's range, and the latter was a half-faired version of the fully dressed $20,395 F800ST. The already minimal bodywork of the S model shrinks almost to the point of invisibility on the R model, with just a vestigial piece of plastic remaining to protect the instruments and the mounts for the higher-positioned handlebars and little else. Changes to the powertrain amount to a reduction in the top three ratios of the ST's six-speed gearbox, and a switch from belt final drive to a more stunt-friendly chain. The other major difference between the ST and the R is the suspension - the front telescopic forks lack adjustment on the "naked" bike and, although the rear monoshock comes with handy tool-free adjusters for both spring preload and rebound damping, it lacks the plush action of the shock fitted to the R-model's more touring-oriented sibling.
The suspension downgrade and the reduction in weather protection results in a healthy price reduction for the F800R. Usually this ABS and factory heated handlebar grips-equipped bike costs $18,481, but BMW New Zealand will currently give $1773 of that back in a rebate, bringing the price down to $16,708. As such, the F800R represents one of the best buys in the middleweight streetbike sector, and compares favourably with direct competitors such as the $17,390 Ducati Monster 696 ABS and the ABS-less $15,990 Triumph Street Triple for value. No-one should buy any of these three highly rewarding bikes without first sampling and evaluating all three.
I make that recommendation because the cruder suspension is the only sign of obvious cost- cutting on the F800R. The rest of the bike exhibits the same patrician build quality values associated with the brand and highlights include the corrosion- free laser-etched connections of the single-wire CAN bus system that networks all electronic functions of the bike, and the excellent self-cancelling single- control indicators. The details of the F800R have received similar attention to those of the fastidiously made Ducati, and BMW has obviously learned from the Bologna bike-maker that machining metal into shape instead of merely casting it results in a more upmarket-looking product.
Built by Rotax, designed by BMW, the 800cc parallel-twin engine of the F800R has earned an enviable reputation for fuel efficiency that has in no way compromised its performance. Most of that rep is due to the patented fuel injection system that varies fuel pressure according to the load on the engine, driving fuel use down to 4.5 litres/100km levels. Yet the F800 is still a spritely bike to ride, delivering healthy levels of torque right through the rev range, and an intriguing extra kick that arrives at 5000rpm and lasts until the 10,000rpm redline. My only opportunity for criticism is that it displays more vibration when operated in that go-fast zone, despite the trick counter-balance system BMW added to the engine.
To what is one of bikedom's best engines, add the sharp-steering rigid alloy frame of the F800R and its powerful brakes, then finish off with a firm but well-shaped seat and decent fuel capacity. It all adds up to a streetbike that is as capable of meeting the needs of emerging first big-bike riders as it is of satisfying stunt monkeys like Pfeiffer.
AT A GLANCE:
Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled dohc 8v parallel-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 64kW (87bhp) at 8000rpm and 86Nm of torque at 6000rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Alloy twin-spar frame with cast alloy rear swingarm, 43mm unadjustable telescopic forks with 125mm of travel, rear monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping with 125mm of travel.
Price: $18,481 ($16,708 after current $1773 rebate offer).
Hot: A more complete bike than the Husqvarna Nuda 900 that uses an enlarged version of the same engine thanks to expanded fuel capacity and comfier rider ergonomics.
Not: Generates 16bhp less than the Nuda and is just as prone to vibrate when entering the go-fast zone at 5000rpm.