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I'd just passed my Direct Access Motorcycle Test and was looking for something that was stylish and of good quality but not your run-of-the-mill Japanese "Pocket Rocket". I had always admired the BMWs anyway and loved the looks of the R850R and it's big sister, the R1150R. I had also greatly enjoyed the highly acclaimed TV series "The Long Way Round" with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, in which they rode BMW R1150GS Adventures around the world. The BMWs looked to be a serious piece of kit.
I ruled out the GS Adventure straight away. It was a big tall bike and, being a relative newcomer to biking, I needed a more manageable and gentler machine. The R850R fitted the bill, it seemed. It was expensive but, like the Harleys, good resale values make this a cheaper bike to run after the initial outlay, as depreciation is so very low compared to bikes from Japan.
My first impressions were that it had clean lines, and looked big. The lowish seat at 770mm (a no cost option) was a big advantage for me compared with the 800mm standard seat, and the whole machine looked clean and uncluttered. The riding position was superb, all the controls fell easily to hand and it felt good to sit on.
The engine is smooth and spins sweetly, more so than on the bigger 1150 I'm told. The choke works positively and is needed for all cold starts, this being operated by a lever inboard on the left handlebar in common with most modern motorbikes. It's described as a fast idle control rather than a choke, and the engine runs evenly and pulls well and without hesitation when it's on. It can be turned off after a minute or two.
The indicators are operated by three switches, two on the right handlebar, one on the left, the latter for left turn, the former for right turn and cancel. It seemed a bit odd but this is a common complaint it seems. I was told that one soon gets used to this layout and I can confirm that this is so.
All the switches have a solid Germanic positive feel to their operation. Instruments comprise of tachometer, speedometer with odometer and trip meter, and clock . Very clear, and nicely backlit in orange. No fuel gauge though, just a warning light which illuminates when you're down to five litres. That's a shame, a gauge would've been useful here, as this is now a common feature on most modern motorcycles. There's a big array of warning lights including one for ABS which is an option that wasn't included on my machine, though I did have the heated grips (a good option which enhances the resale value), handlebar covers and a small fly screen. A luggage bridge, touring panniers and cylinder head protectors completed my list of optional accessories, the last being essential as this is a heavy bike and all too easy to drop if you're walking with the machine, though I've so far avoided doing this!
The gearbox is a bit clunky which is normal for Beamers, but precise in operation. Well spaced ratios make for good acceleration and the R850R gives little away in performance when compared to it's larger 1150cc sibling.
Stability is the great thing with this bike. The large flywheel on a longitudinal drive layout, when combined with the wheels, give a phenomenal gyroscopic stability which makes this machine so perfect for a new biker. It's handling is superb, very forgiving, and there's little chance of being in the wrong gear because the engine is so big-hearted and flexible. The shaft drive, though adding to the weight, means there's no chain maintenance or adjustment.
Also adding to the weight are the ingenious suspension setups, Telelever at the front and Cantilever at the rear. This makes the bike very stable under braking and gives the perception of the front of the bike rising under heavy deceleration. This is not actually the case, it's the tank dropping in relation to the handlebars. But it's a great setup and hats off to BMW for designing such a clever system. It feels safe and stops on a sixpence, even without the ABS option. Just as well, as all this engineering adds to the weight. At 238kg, this R850R weighs in at around 60kg more than most bikes of this capacity.
So, do I like it? Well, yes, it's an ideal first bike. I think the styling is awesome and those big oil cooler ducts on the tank sides (this is a 2004 R850R) look impressive.
No fairing makes this a windy ride at any more than 60mph but it's a naked roadster so you get wind in the face biking as standard. I rather enjoy that myself. Touring huge distances would mean the R1150RT, with the fairing and screen, might have been a better bet, but for trolling around the Lincolnshire Wolds on sunny days, the lack of protection from the elements is less of an issue. And, after all, this is what I bought this bike for.
Finally, insurance. As a newly qualified biker, age 46, living in North East Lincolnshire, with no No Claims Discount, a fully comprehensive policy with Norwich Union/BMW was £268 per year, for social domestic pleasure & commuting to work. That was, I felt, very acceptable. There was an even cheaper policy at £240 but that restricted all parking at home to be inside the locked garage. The Norwich Union policy allows parking on the driveway in the day though the bike must be locked inside the garage from 11pm to 7am when at home.
For a seasoned biker, it may not fit the bill, but for me, it's just perfect. Though I'm told that many experienced bikers have run these R850Rs for thousands of miles with no complaints! That I find very easy to believe.