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First Times Ride: BMW F800GT, an impressive mid-size touring bike

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The BMW F800GT is a sleek, sexy, lightweight touring bike that, not surprisingly, has generated enormous interest among buyers and wanna-be-buyers who want a road warrior that doesn’t weigh a ton or cost a packet.

This looks like the answer.

At a suggested MSRP of $11,890, the F800GT is a bargain when compared with the $13,975 you'd pay for the naked R1200R or the $17,350 you’d pay for the R1200RT. And at 470 pounds fully fueled, it’s the smallest of the BMW touring machines, and is a full 110 pounds lighter than a gassed-up R1200RT.

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The F800GT is powered by a relatively new water-cooled, in-line, two-cylinder engine — not the wide Boxer engine that many people associate with the classic German motorcycle. It’s an efficient operation: The company says riders can expect 69 miles per gallon at a steady 55 mph, and 55 mpg at a steady 75 mph.

Unlike the bigger bikes, the F800GT is driven by a belt, not a shaft — part of the weight-reduction campaign.

The basic package includes ABS, an “electronic suspension adjustment” feature that allows the rider to fine-tune the rear-suspension performance, and an “automatic stability control” option that helps prevent rear-wheel spin-out.

The unit I was riding also had heated hand grips with a low and high setting — a mighty nice thing on a cold morning — and side bags. The unit I was riding also had heated hand grips with a low and high setting – mighty nice thing on a cold morning -- and side bags. (The side bag mounts, the heated grips and a center-stand upgrades are part of a $12,395 retail package.) T Like its larger BMW cousins, the F800GT can carry a lot of luggageLike its larger BMW cousins, the F800GT can carry a lot of luggage

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On the road, the F800GT is a smooth, steady ride. The seat and basic ergonomics make for a soft, easy, long-distance sit. The bike handles nicely at high speeds, on the freeway, in a straight line, at slower speeds, in the canyons, through the curves. For a touring bike, it feels responsive and easy to manage.

That’s the good news: There’s a lot to like about this bike.

But there’s some not-so-good news, too: There’s the engine.

It’s not very strong. Although the company says the F800GT produces 90HP and 63 foot-pounds of torque, I found the motor sluggish, balky and reluctant.

At rest, the engine chatters in a way that made me think about my old '63 Ford Falcon, which had bad tappets. But the acceleration starts out smoothly, and quietly. Up to about 4,000 rpm, it feels smooth and confident.

At anything above 4,000 rpm, though, the acceleration diminishes and the bike begins to feel downright resentful about having to do the extra work. It makes its way fairly quickly from 60 mph to 90 mph, but complaining the whole way.

It’s as if the engine’s designers decided to trim excess weight by eliminating the power band.

For a certain kind of rider, taking a certain kind of ride, this won’t matter. Around town, at moderate freeway speeds and under normal usage, the payoff of the quiet engine and the fine fuel efficiency might offset the absence of real pull and power.

For that other kind of rider, though, who is interested as much in performance as price and per-gallon mileage, it might be a better idea to save up a little longer and buy one of BMW’s more traditional and time-tested bigger bikes.

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