A while ago Brien and I took a test ride on a F800GS as well as an R1200GS. We only had the bikes for an hour, so it was wasn't really enough time to form a conclusive opinion, but enough time to know whether these bikes are to my liking.
We picked the bikes up in Melbourne and headed out west out of the city to Diggers Rest. I was warned by the salesman that the tyres on the 800 were new and to take it easy for a bit. I took the 800 first as it appeals to me more than the 1200. I guess I had my preconceptions about the 1200 and especially about its weight. The 800, as expected, handled nicely in the city. The power flows through nicely. It's not as direct as the KTM 990 Adventure. That makes it a bit more manageable, but I must say, I do like to have a direct response in the city as you sometimes just want to open the tap quickly to get out of a situation. That said, this bike's not designed for the city, although most people unfortunately only use it there. Out in the dirt, this play in throttle response, will come in handy, I'm sure.
The 800's riding position is great. I can't complain about that. One thing I want to whinge about is the indicator controls. There are on each side, to switch on the indicators as well as cancel, but the position of these buttons are rediculous. They're placed as such that you have to lift our hand halfway from the handle to use them. It took us a long time to get used to this. In fact, we probably didn't get used to it. Aside from that, it was all good. Brien complained about the seat, 20 minutes after swapped bikes. I must say that I felt the seats were quite comfortable. Then again, I'm used to the DR650's seat, so a rock wrapped with barbed wire would feel comfortable to me. The heated grips were a nice touch. Pity I don't have those on my bike. The handle bars are quite a bit more forward than what either Brien or myself were used to, but they worked. Standing up was comfortable too. I'd put in bar risers though as I'm 1.9m tall and I'm always looking for that extra bit of height on the bars. Another thing I'd do is to add a larger screen or at least extend the stock screen. The stock screen is really low and doesn't provide much protection. The bike had a standard pipe on it and I must say that did the trick for me. A fairly quite note lowdown, but when you open it up, it gives that bark that you'd expect from an enduro. It's quite different from the KTM's V-twin, but I liked it.
The handling in general was good. Once we got out of the city, I could test it a bit more. It's nice and smooth, the pickup on the throttle's smooth I rate it 8 out of 10 on the 'smile on my face' scale. The engine's bit of a beast and quite deceptive at that. It feels like a smooth, long distance tourer when you don't push it, but just open that tap and you'll have to hold on for dear life. I tried this with Brien on the 1200 trying to catch me and it absolutely left the 1200 in the dust. It made me feel like a little kid again, laughing in my helmet. The front wheel did feel a bit light and I know Brien mentioned the 1200 was the same. It does feel like it can get blown around in the wind. On proper excelleration it felt really light, very quickly. Different to what I experienced with the 990 Adventure. On the 800 I see this as an indication of good handling in the dirt.
We stopped close to Diggers Rest and swapped bikes. The first thing that went through my head when I pulled the bike off its side stand was just how heavy this bike felt. I'd hate to drop it! This isn't true when moving though. The bike immediately transforms into a light, quite agile machine...well, agile for it's size. Very different to what I expected. I must say it's really prooved me wrong. I could feel why people use this to chew up the miles on the open road. What I do worry about is the sheer weight of the bike once stationary. Lets add some panniers to this equation and we have ourselves a beast to handle and move around in the bush. If you drop it and you're on your own, you'd better hope you didn't injure yourself when you came off the bike, because you'd need to be a 100% to be able to lift this thing. Okay, enough complaining; I really did like this bike. It's really comfortable. You feel like you sit in the bike and it hugs you; shelters you from the elements. The controls are positioned well, except for those dreaded indicator switches. The bars are at a nice position as well. Just right for cruising along. Standing up feels right too. The large screen protects you well , sitting down or standing up.
Engine wise, the bike performs well enough. It's not a power house, not a street fighter and it's not supposed to be. You can't compare this to a 990 Adventure. It's smooth with direct power transfer, thanks to the shaft drive. I really like this bike, but it has very specific applications. I won't take this out on a trip to tracks and proper off roading. Nothing where you're going to be travelling on difficult roads at low speeds. I'm probably just not a good enough rider, but this isn't me. Where I would use this is on the open road. Sealed or unsealed. I'd probably take this around the world as well, as long as I stick to roads a normal 2WD pickup can do. Anything above that, I'd take the 800.
In terms of styling I'd say the 800 is far more appealing. The 1200 looks like a BMW...functional. The 800 looks like something you want to jump on a thrash. it's sexy. Brien prefers to the look of the KTM, but it's difficult to say where I stand on that. I'd say the only thing that I'd change in the design is to give the front end more of a Dakar look.