One of the best perks of being a motoring journalist, besides riding new machines, is travelling to some brilliant places. Apart from the first-ride junkets, where most of the time is spent shooting and understanding the motorcycle, there are these other junkets that manufacturers organise for customers and journalists alike to experience the capabilities of their motorcycles under the guidance of trained instructors. One such experience landed in my kitty when an invitation from BMW Motorrad came in for a Ride Experience event in Kerala. And the motorcycle lineup for the ride event consisted of the 2022 editions of the F 900 XR, F 850 GS and the F 850 GS Adventure.
With my off-road kit packed, BMW had us journos flown down to Kochi, from where we travelled by road for another 160 kilometres to Kumily in the Idukki district of Kerala. After a full day of travel, we rested for the night as the following day was going to be a full day of riding. In the morning at 7 o’clock, we were divided into two batches, one for the F 900 XR road experience and the other for the F 850 GS off-road experience. I got allotted to the road experience group for the first half of the day and was handed the keys to the new F 900 XR. Now, I have extensively ridden this motorcycle before and have had a ball of a time with it. For the 2022 edition, while the bike’s design has remained largely the same, it now gets keyless ignition, Dynamic ESA (BMW’s electronic adjustable suspension system), heated grips, ABS Pro (switchable ABS), and some more. Most of these features were previously available as an option but are now offered as standard equipment.
Having the technical information on the F 900 XR out of the way, it was time to get riding on the twisty mountain roads of the Kumily district. It was fun revisiting the F 900 XR as I turned the bike’s ignition ON and thumbed the starter button. The 895cc parallel-twin motor sprung to life at the very first crank. The bike’s exhaust system has a raspy note that makes you want to open the throttle, which is what I exactly did soon after getting on the highway leading to the tea estate roads. The roads down south in Kerala are really good and well maintained, far better than what I am used to back in Maharashtra. Even the B-roads were paved with asphalt with a changing gradient every few kilometres.
The F 900 XR felt at home on these roads as it is a thoroughbred sports tourer, as this was the perfect environment to ride it. From smooth flowing corners to sharp hairpin turns to a sequence of corners, I was pretty much in complete sync with the motorcycle all the time. The suspension setup is on the stiffer side, and it was showing off its true potential on these roads. While the front forks are non-adjustable, the rear monoshock comes with preload and rebound adjustment that can be changed via the preset modes through the 6.5-inch instrumentation dash.
After riding up and down the twisty roads we grabbed a small bite and from there headed to the Periyar National Park reserve where we were to swap the F 900 XR with the F 850 GSs. The road to the reserve had a lot of broken tarmac with several patches of loose gravel and small rocks as well. It was during this section of the ride that the F 900 XR’s suspension felt to be too stiff for comfort. One way was to stand up on the pegs and let the bike do its thing. But, since the setup wasn’t that forgiving, I had to reduce my pace every time the road surface got bad.
Once we had reached the reserve, I handed over the keys of the F 900 XR in exchange for the F 850 GS Adventure. This one was the higher-spec version of the stand F 850 GS that was slightly wider in proportions to accommodate the larger 23-litre fuel tank. The bike also came with additional tank extensions and a pair of auxiliary lights that gave it a heftier look. The F 850 GS Adventure’s seat height was 875 mm, that’s 15 mm more than the standard F 850 GS. We grabbed our lunch while the GSs were being cleaned after they got dirty from the previous batch. Before we set out, Ouseph Chako, a former journo, who runs ‘School of Dirt’ along with two other members, was our instructor for the off-road part of the ride experience.
After a quick rundown of the features and settings and how to access them on the F 850 GSs, it was time to get going and kick up some muck. Like the F 900 XR, the F 850 GSs have also been upgraded with the same features that are offered as standard equipment on the bikes. The first part of the trail consisted of a steep hill climb with a flat top on one side and a deep valley drop on the other. We had our bikes set to Enduro Pro mode allowing the rider to individually set the parameters for how one would want the motorcycle to behave. In this mode, ABS is turned off the rear, while the intrusion at the front is dialled down by a good margin. To be honest, it did take me some time to get accustomed to the wide stature of the GS Adventure, but once I was comfortable, it was all about sliding the bike on gravel patches and kicking up rooster tails. The next part of the trail was a slush pit that required a constant throttle and excellent balancing skills. As you can see, in the corresponding image, not only did I lose my balance and shove my left foot in leech-infested muck, I even ended up stalling the motor. Nevertheless, I cranked right back up and without any delay, I gave the right grip a good hard twist and made it out of the slush pit. While I did pick up a few leeches on the way, I was able to spot all of them and get them off of me. The last and final bit of the trail was a rocky section that had lots of medium-size rocks along the path. With the correct speed and technique, one could clear the obstacle in 3-4 minutes, but if goofed up, would take more than 20 minutes. The trick is to go hard on the gas most of the time, and that too while the bike is jumping over rocks and ditches. I didn’t clear the section in record time, but I did manage to complete it in 6-7 minutes, which also isn’t bad at all.
We rode back to the hotel on the same broken road, but this time on the GS, and one can instantly feel the difference in how well the motorcycle was dealing with rough roads. It was simply ironing out the imperfections, while offering such a comfortable ride. Despite a full day of riding, the GS did not let me feel tired even after all the off-roading and riding. Bikes like the XR and the GS are designed to rack up a lot of miles depending on the capability of the rider. The Ride Experience in Kerala was simply surreal and was the perfect environment for the bikes to be ridden in. BMW Motorrad, how about next time you take us up north to ride in the snow-capped Himalayas?