Being an old fart, I entered motorcycling during a time when rider development focused on skills that kept both wheels of a motorcycle in constant contact with the ground. The few stunts being performed back then involved large ramps, school buses and a lot of broken bones. Although spectacular, the antics of Evel Knievel served as a warning to impressionable young riders that there were dire consequences to stunt riding. Knievel best summed up the danger by prefacing each of his jumps by saying “God, take care of me. Here I come…”
A lot has changed since then. Raised on a steady diet of BMX bicycles and skateboards, a new generation of riders has emerged with riding skills that allow them to laugh at perceived notions of what a motorcycle is capable of. And whether you like it or not, stunting has become a mainstream activity in the motorcycling community. If you’ve never watched a stunt competition – and I don’t mean a stoppie performed by an irresponsible rider at a red light – I guarantee the display of mechanized rhythmic gymnastics will amaze you; only the most cynical would fail to be impressed by the skills and athleticism these riders exhibit.
The sport has become so popular that BMW released a special one-year-only version of their F800R roadster last year to celebrate the accomplishments of Chris Pfeiffer, a four-time Stunt Riding World Champion. The attributes of BMW’s F800R so impressed Chris Pfeiffer that he now uses a modified version of the bike for international competitions and considers it to be a perfect stunt bike. Before you turn the page wondering what possible value such a motorcycle could hold for the average rider, consider this: the characteristics of a good stunting machine, exemplary balance, precise engine control and powerful brakes, translate into an equally potent street motorcycle.
Since its initial launch five years ago, I’ve watched the evolution of BMW’s F800 series with interest. The mid-displacement models were intended to plug the gap between F650GS and the 1200 cc boxers in BMW’s line-up. The first two versions to appear were sport and sport-touring models. A year later, a dual-sport was introduced, along with an odd replacement to the F650GS using the F800’s engine. Then in 2009, BMW added an F800 to its Urban collection of motorcycles. The new F800R roadster was designed to provide a higher level of riding dynamics over previous F800 models and inspired Chris Pfeiffer, who switched from the F800S he had been using to the R model.
Although the F800R was a logical addition to the series, riding the motorcycle was a revelation. In many ways it felt like this version of the F800 had found its true niche in the market. As a standard motorcycle, its easy handling, light weight and flexible engine made it an ideal choice for blitzing through any urban jungle. Even though the Chris Pfeiffer Edition was meant to visually resemble the competition version of the stunt champion’s bike, its base technical specifications were unchanged from the standard F800R (see sidebar).
Most obvious when looking at the limited edition bike is its special livery, a multicolour design executed in the white, blue and red of BMW Motorsport. In contrast, the engine, frame, swingarm and rear wheel are finished in a matt black, and to add a little additional flair to the package, the front wheel is painted white. On its own the paint wouldn’t draw too much attention to the bike (a similar paint scheme is available for the 2011 F800R); however, what made me feel like a poser while riding the bike were the sponsor stickers that covered it from front to back. For the buyers who were lucky enough to receive a Chris Pfeiffer Edition, the stickers were supplied unapplied. I’m sure that more than some of them ended up instead on rolling cabinets in the garage. Completing the unique paint scheme is Pfeiffer’s signature on the central body cover (the area we normally think of as the fuel tank, which on this bike is actually located underneath the rider’s seat).
Only available as an option on regular F800Rs, a colour-matched pillion cover was standard with the Chris Pfeiffer Edition. However, where one part was gained, another was lost: missing from the bike was the instrument cowling, an intentional omission BMW says “emphasises the powerful, purist character of this special model.” More realistically, it’s just one less part prospective stunters will have to replace after their first failed wheelie. With the exception of an Akrapović muffler and clear lenses for the LED turn signals, the Chris Pfeiffer package was primarily a cosmetic make-over that added $1,350 to the base price of an F800R.
Part of the machine’s cost was the option of choosing whether it came with an 800 or 825 mm (31.5 or 32.5 in.) seat height. Fitted with the lower seat, the riding position for my 185 cm (6 ft.) height was upright and relaxed. The supportive and well-shaped seat coddled my buttocks like a hot dog in a bun and my hands fell naturally in place on the wide handlebar, which provided plenty of leverage, so much in fact that over-input from the rider is moderated through the use of a steering damper. The brake and clutch levers were adjustable, but they used fiddly plastic spacers that were an anomaly on this bike; built in BMW’s Berlin Spandau plant by well-paid labour, the fit, finish and quality of the parts on F800Rs are typically above standard.
The instrumentation was typical BMW; the asymmetric layout looked like it was compiled using three different motorcycles. The upright LCD screen was easy to read and on this bike came equipped with the optional on-board computer ($215), which added air temperature, average speed, fuel consumption data, a stopwatch and a lap timer to the display’s functionality. The analog speedometer and tachometer were on the small side and had closely spaced indices that made getting an exact reading while on the fly more difficult. A more trivial complaint is that the illumination for the white-dialled tach was uneven and cheapened its look.
The engine in the Chris Pfeiffer Edition is the same 798 cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin used in the base R model. The engine’s design places emphasis on pulling power, quick response and low fuel consumption; my experience with the bike proved that those goals were achieved. Even from low revs, the 8-valve engine pulled hard and built speed quickly, reaching 90 percent of its claimed maximum torque (63.4 ft-lb) by 5000 rpm. Said to put out 87 horsepower, it was also plenty quick, especially around town, where the engine’s responsiveness made the bike feel like it was in a constant state of readiness. Though omnipresent, engine vibration remained unobtrusive and was completely forgotten during the distraction of spirited riding.