Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled parallel twin.
Performance: 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds
Worth considering: Honda NT650 Deauville, Ducati Multistrada 620, Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
BMW knows a niche, and there is a big one made up of born-again motorcyclists keen to get back on two wheels but anxious not to be scared.
Nearly 10 million Europeans have motorcycle licences but do not own bikes. The middleweight, parallel-twin cylinder 798cc, liquid-cooled F800S is aimed straight at them. This dynamic little belt-driven motorcycle is instantly accessible to a hesitant or saddle-rusty rider, but powerful enough to be satisfying when confidence returns.
I rode it on city streets, motorways and mountain switchbacks between Cape Town and Franschhoek in South Africa. I liked it a lot. Smooth and docile at low revs, the Bombardier-Rotax engine snarls beautifully under harsh acceleration. It generates just 85bhp at 8,000rpm but has the torque to surprise more powerful rivals.
Handling is impressive. Calm and predictable in cautious hands, it responds eagerly to rough treatment and feels delightfully agile at high speeds through tight bends. The 16-litre underseat tank allows a range in excess of 200 miles, and the riding position is comfy enough for long journeys.
Standard equipment includes such refinements as a gear-position indicator, an electronic immobiliser, mirrors that return automatically to their settings after folding and smart aluminium alloy wheels. ABS is optional, but the Brembo brakes fitted as standard are reassuringly powerful.
For a rider on a budget, keen to own a motorcycle that will perform reliably on the daily commute but will also work well as a holiday mount, it's a very practical option. If that makes it sound dull, the impression is unfair; it has the zest to chase Japanese and Italian middleweights around country lanes without getting left for dead.
Slim, light and highly manoeuvrable, the F800S fills a gap between BMW's big boxer twins and its ageing F series single-cylinder 650s. Together with its touring variant, the F800ST, it is the first BMW ever to use an upright parallel-twin engine.
But for all the new technology and svelte, modern looks, this is very much a Beamer. That means it includes the unique indicator arrangement BMW riders adore and most other riders find absurdly eccentric. Given the target market, it might have been a good idea to abandon this controversial hallmark. My advice is that it does not take long to get used to.
Overcome that little hurdle and the F800S is a real all-rounder that can take its rider from novice level to advanced riding without feeling like a compromise.
Darran Wood, 45, Window cleaner, Caistor, Lincolnshire
This was the first bike I have ridden over distance in 25 years. I want to get back into motorcycling, but I have not owned a bike since the 1980s, when I had a Yamaha RD350 LC. I could not fault the BMW. From the moment I got on, it felt smooth and dependable. The riding position is very comfortable and it handled perfectly, even with two up. I covered 160 miles with my wife as the pillion passenger. We did not set out to go that far, but in the end we were just riding for the sake of it. I was expecting to feel pretty weary after covering such a distance on my first long ride in ages, but I was not stiff at all. There was some slight tingling in my wrists, but you expect that after not riding for so many years. I was really pleased at how easily I slipped back into riding what is, to me, a very powerful machine. The brakes were dependable and the bike felt really secure in all conditions. I would be delighted to own one.
Matthew Collins, 45, Environmental health officer, London, Usual bike: Aprilia Tuono Factory
At first I thought the engine bland, but it grew on me. As I pushed it I was surprised by what it could do. This bike is not going to frighten you. I never felt the back wheel was going to step out; I felt secure right up to 120mph. It is supremely practical, with all sorts of refinements that riders of Italian bikes are just not used to. I particularly liked the gear position indicator. I have never used one before and I was astonished by how useful it is. The brakes are very good and I liked the gearbox. Critics say BMW boxes are clunky, but this was not remotely. If you had just one bike this would be perfect. The fairing makes it feel as if would be equally at home touring, on a Sunday afternoon ride or commuting to work. But I detested the indicators. I almost stopped using them. I like to ride with my hands at the end of the handlebars, and sometimes I could not reach the cancel switch.
Sam Hollyer, 48, Web programmer, Bristol, usual bike: Honda St100 Pan European
After hustling one 100 miles through rural Wales, I'm an F800S believer. Its stable chassis works well whether you want to shift in graceful arcs or muscle the handlebars. This is a great pothole dodger; that light frame will change trajectory as the thought forms. Very smooth engine. I had to remind myself that it is a twin. These days, 85bhp sounds like chicken feed, but it is plenty. What you ask for is what you get, with no sudden lurches or surprises. The gearbox is light and slick and, given the torque, has at least one more gear than it really needs. Linear and powerful brakes make it easy to cosy up to the ABS system. If I could keep one part of this bike, it would be the brakes. The seat is firm and comfortable and the styling crisp. But I really dislike the handlebar switchgear. C'mon BMW; did you actually try to use these things? Overall, an extremely good bike that deserves to succeed.
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