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Test Ride Review Of The BMW GS 700 - By Ren Withnell

Well you can't say no to a test ride can you? No, no you can't. Especially when it's the shiny new GS 700 from BMW. First things first...it's an 800cc motor. Confused? Yes me and the rest of the world too. The idea is that it's the same motor as the GS 800 but detuned a little which, in BMW's eyes, makes it a 700. No...me either. I'd sat on one at the NEC bike show in November and you know the first thing I noticed? The seat is narrow, thin and hard. I noticed so much I even made a note.

I'm thinking the sales guy is being a little patronising, showing me around the bike. I sure don't look like a typical BMW purchaser in my cheap jacket and faded waterproofs but perhaps I should mention I've been riding for a long time and know one end of a bike from the other. I then realise he's not telling me where the clutch is but explaining how to use the "ESA" and "ASC". Fair enough, I even have to ask what they are, I'll come to that. Leaving my CBF 125 behind as rather sub-standard collateral I climb on board.

I'm 5 feet 9, or at least I like to think I am. That narrow hard seat means my legs are not splayed out wide so although the seat feels high I can reach the floor with both feet flat. So far so good. The motor starts easily and the exhaust produces a quiet, polite and legally modern pulse but the engine itself seems just a tiny bit noisier than I expected. A light clutch and away we go. Everything falls into place immediately, the pegs are in the right place and the levers are correct, no wobbles and no surprises. A blip of the throttle in first indicates there's plenty of grunt at the bottom end.

My first criticism is the gear shifter, it feels short. Unfortunately my gear shift boot has an extra thick sole to compensate for the 40mm I lost in that leg 10 years ago and at the front of the boot there's an extra 20mm of sole (40mm at the heel). This can cause some difficulty in changing gear but I've adapted and overcome. I look at the shift lever and unlike most other bikes it is short. Not in it's length but the "blob" that sticks out that you move with your boot is stubby compared to other bikes. I adapt and learn to be more firm. It might be just me and my funny boot, I'll blame that.

Around town the bike is very very good. I can easily keep the revs low without the motor banging about, apparently there's a clever third con rod to nothing that does wonders with the vibes in the engine. There's a good fat juicy lump of torque to thrust me forwards if I want otherwise progress is smooth and calm, I feel confident and comfortable. The "big trailie" riding position places me high with a good view yet there's no fear of heights when I stop at the lights. Oh dear, it is rather nice, even if the seat is firm.

I then navigate a roundabout and get my first shock. Not being a professional tester this is hard to describe but I think I'm experiencing oversteer. It feels as though the bars are too wide making the front end too easy to steer, too light, too quick to turn. They are wide bars but this bike has a 19 inch front wheel that would typically slow the steering. Another bunch of roundabouts and I get the same feeling, I'm correcting mid turn to bring myself back up a little.

This being a modern BMW there's all kinds of technology aboard. Being tight I've got the display showing my MPG, updated second by second as I ride. At 30mph in fourth or fifth, given a moment to settle after accelerating, I'm told I'm achieving around 95 to 105 mpg! That, dear reader, is music to my wallet. Even taking into account BMW maybe being generous in their calibration if I'm getting 90 then I'd be a happy bunny. At a steady forty I indicate in excess of 100 mpg. Going up and down through the gears and wobbling around roundabouts I rarely drop below the 75 mark. I'd like to get these figures confirmed but if this truly is the case then BMW have excelled themselves.

I find another gripe. The speedo. It is oval in shape but the needle sweeps around in a circle within the oval. At 70 mph the needle is firmly over the 70. However at 30 mph, the speed where you need to be most careful and accurate, the needle is far from the 30 and leaves me guessing roughly as to my forward velocity. I would HAVE to place 2 stickers on the glass to clearly show 30 and 40, I hate guessing. It sure looks pretty but it is bloody annoying.

Out into the countryside I open the bike up. I don't exceed the limits but I duly note there is plenty of torque on tap that gives a sharp push forwards, but not so much raw power. I know this machine is softly tuned but at something like 75bhp I expected more. If you like linear power that is always under control then great, and I do. If however you're hoping for screaming arm pulling acceleration then you're on the wrong bike. In everyday use it is not lacking, if you want to race you're mates you'll find yourself lacking on the straights. 

Also though the bends. That front end seems not quite right. I'm not on top of it, it's not mine, I'm not it's master, I just can't put all my trust in it. It never lets me down but then I'm not riding hard enough to find out, I just don't like the way it turns. I try dropping the bike in, then hanging off, both are OK but not awesome. I'd like to be able to tell you it's the tyre or the setup or my riding style. I can't, I'm no expert, but I just don't like it.

The handling can of course be affected by the suspension. The "ESA" adjusts the suspension, Electronic Suspension Adjustment. 3 modes, Sport, Normal and Comfort. Sport is firm but not painful, normal is...er...normal and comfort is super smooth without being baggy or bouncy. I know the gf would just LOVE the comfort mode. Bumps and ripples in the road go unnoticed and even potholes cause but the merest of soft squidgy undulation. This can be altered with a simple button press on the handlebar switch whilst on the move. Clever but I fear it's another thing to go wrong. I am very impressed by the quality of the ride, but non of the modes fix my front end worries.

The "ASC", Automatic Stability Control, is just a posh acronym for traction control. Being more concerned with fuel consumption rather than performance I only trouble the ASC once, on a pothole through a bend. I don't notice other than a light on the dash, which is good as it means it works without intruding. It can be turned off but for the life of me I can't see why, maybe you can master the front end and get into drifting.

As for fuel there comes one more disappointment. I've been stunningly impressed by the alleged consumption figures so far, even when pressing on a little through the countryside. That's 40, 50 and occasionally 60 mph roads with acceleration then braking. Finally I catch the dual carriageway and my first stretch is limited to 50. WOW! 100 to 110 mpg just cruising with the breeze and feeling so good, knowing that my hard earned pennies are being put to frugal use. Then I roll into the 70 zone. The meter drops straight down to 60 mpg. My heart sinks. I mean 60's OK, but most bikes will achieve that. Damn.

Just to twist the knife as I roll back into town that hard seat is feeling very hard. I used to run an SLR 650 and that had a narrow hard seat and would bring me to tears on a long run. I'm already feeling the onset of numb bum and that's after a mere 1.5 hours. I fear this seat may not be comfy, not like the fat Fazer seat or even the average CBF 125 seat. 
With the electronic suspension and traction control this bike is on sale for around £8,000. It is a very well made and complete machine. But. But would I buy it? The economy is excellent except at high speeds, yet the NC 700 from Honda can match this I reckon. The computer is nice and clever, so is the suspension. Yet this bike is £2,000 more expensive than the NC 700 and I don't feel it's worth the cost. 

The NC handled well for me straight out of the showroom and around every bend I could throw it at. The digital speedo on the Honda is far less aggravating than the oval "guessing" clock. I'm certain that some will purchase the GS 700 and be delightfully happy with it, I just found it had too many foibles to overcome the premium BMW price tag. 

Reader's Comments

WL Field said :-
This is the first review I have seen that mirrors my experience with the F700GS. With the front end, the forks turn very easily, easier than most bikes, but the turn in lean into a corner is slow. At first it feels confusing and does not produce great cornering confidence. The bike does, however, produce a floating feeling through curves like piloting the Goodyear blimp through a road course.
The seat is hard and narrow, and the shifter does not always seem to be there. I have problems with the bike stalling, especially at idle speeds.
I haven't been off road yet, but I bought it for primarily street use. Operation is very fluid, refined. Well put together, but totally lacking in any kind of rowdy fun. I call it the "estate bike." I'm not through the break in period and already thinking in terms of what might work better in a street bike that will go off road occasionally. Very expensive motorcycle!
7/12/2016 6:33:37 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
HI WL Field. I used to think it was just me as everyone I met with any kind of BMW spoke so highly of them. As time rolls by though I'm coming across more and more folks whom secretly admit their expensive machines are not quite perfect.

I still think if you've not broken it in yet you need to give it a chance. I know from experience that some bikes just take a while to adjust to. To rethink how you steer and corner, to get used to where the gear shifter is and to understand where the motor performs and how it wants to be used.

I'd be thankful if you can report back in a while because real owner's experiences are far more worthy than my test ride reviews.
7/12/2016 2:27:49 PM UTC
Art Lewis said :-
Haven't noticed the front end/cornering issues. I just feel the forks need progressive springs $109.00 US. Yes, the seat is lacking as almost all the seats I have ridden were. Cheap fix; Skwoosh comes from kayaking sports. I'm averaging 65 mpg on my 85 mile/day commute.
11109 miles in a year of use.
Was thinking of replacing it..can't find anything better for the money. Sigh I guess it's springs and a RALLY SEAT Instead.
9/4/2017 7:06:16 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Art! I'd like to hear if the progressive springs help at all. The 65mpg you are getting - is that US gallons? If so here in the UK that would equate to 78mpg which is excellent. I'm currently getting around the same from my new CB500X.

What do you mean by a Rally seat?
10/4/2017 1:48:30 PM UTC
Allan said :-
What is the adventure bike game 700 compare like ?
11/4/2017 8:44:22 AM UTC
Daren said :-
The front is very light with the tank under the seat. This makes for good balance but it takes some getting used to when cornering. After 5000 miles I don't even notice anymore and I ride in winter with ice on the roads. It's a fantastic all rounder, albeit expensive but 3 winters and it still looks like new - you get what you pay for.
15/3/2018 4:15:09 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Glad you're liking the 700 Daren. I'm wondering what your running costs have been like? Servicing, fuel and consumables. I always hear running a Beemer can be quite costly and I'm interested in your thoughts.
16/3/2018 6:29:34 PM UTC

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