Touratech’s F 850 GS and Adventure Fork Cartridge Conversion (Bill Shaw)
I’ve been riding for 46 years and during this time have owned 15 R and K bikes—everything from standard and sport models to touring and adventure motorcycles. Until I picked up an F 850 GS in December, I never had an F series. This bike is an absolute blast to ride and embodies the best qualities of other bikes I’ve owned. It is as nimble as an R 1100 S, the engine is as smooth as my K 75, and the seating position is as comfortable as an R 1250 RT.
Unfortunately, it has one shortcoming: The non-adjustable forks are soft and compress too much when braking. It is also why the front end never seems to be in sync with the rear when going over large bumps or riding on rough or uneven surfaces. I’m not alone in this regard as there are numerous complaints about the forks on BMW forums. Thankfully, two options exist for owners of the F 850 GS and F 850 GS Adventure.
The first is to install a set of progressive fork springs and use a heavier fork oil. While that offers some improvement, the forks are still non-adjustable, and according to reports I read, not recommended for heavier or aggressive riders either. The second option is to install a fork cartridge. Since the right fork leg on the F 850 GS and GSA controls damping, a fully adjustable cartridge replaces the BMW internal components. For me, the decision was easy; I elected to go with door number two and use Touratech’s F 850 GS and Adventure Fork Cartridge Conversion Kit.
Touratech uses a closed-system cartridge that drops into the BMW fork without any modifications or special tools. Rebound and compression are controlled with one adjuster (conveniently located on top of the right fork cap) and are tunable over a wide range of riding conditions. Touratech also uses a bladder to keep the damping oil and air separate to eliminate foaming when riding under extreme conditions. Finally, a hydraulic stop offers secondary damping to prevent the fork from bottoming out.
Two weeks after filling out Touratech’s online Rider Suspension Profile, I received the cartridge conversion kit. It includes a fork cartridge already sprung for my weight and riding style, damping adjustment tool, fork cap tool, fork oil, and a manual. After thoroughly studying the instructions, I set aside three hours to complete the job; five hours later, I was finished. Unfortunately, the instructions are not always clear, which prompted a couple of calls to Touratech’s excellent customer service center for clarification (thank you, Morgan!).
After setting the sag with the preload adjuster, conveniently located on the fork cap, I went out on a test ride. I was skeptical about the fork’s performance since compression and rebound damping can’t be independently adjusted. I needn’t have worried; after 30 minutes of playing with the adjuster and only increasing it three clicks from its original setting, I haven’t touched it in over 1,000 miles.
My F 850 GS not only feels more compliant, planted, and balanced when riding over rough terrain, but the front now works in unison with the rear. With the TFT display set to dynamic suspension and single rider mode, the bike is composed at highways speeds and, on back roads, absorbs road irregularities with ease. Another testament to how good the Touratech cartridge works is that I no longer worry about dodging the numerous and bone-jarring potholes, expansion joints, and ruts that are commonplace on the roads around Washington, D.C., where I live.
There’s also significantly less dive when braking. To objectively evaluate the Touratech cartridge, I conducted a before-and-after test. Before installation, I made six quick stops from 25 mph and measured the amount of dive using a zip tie on the fork slider. The forks compressed an average of 155 mm with the stock suspension, which means only 24% of the bike’s suspension travel is still available. After installing the cartridge kit, the forks compressed an average of 120 mm, meaning that 41% of the bike’s suspension travel is still available. As we all know, more suspension travel is always better when braking, especially during an emergency stop.
Whereas the stock front end limits are reached quickly, I have yet to find them with the Touratech cartridge conversion. If asked to describe how my F 850 GS rides now, I would say it is confidence-inspiring; the cartridge has improved performance and handling considerably.
At $1,195.00 and available for both standard height F 850 GS and Adventure bikes and lowered models, the Touratech F 850 GS and Adventure Fork Cartridge Conversion is a fantastic solution for anyone who wants to improve the ride quality of their bike.
Touratech Spring Kit Upgrade (Wes Fleming)
It used to be upgrading the suspension on your Telelever/Paralever-equipped BMW motorcycle was as simple as a call to Öhlins. You gave them your information and a credit card number, and a week later you were back to blissfully riding smoothly on down the road (or off it). That was before you knew about all the choices available, and now that you know, deciding how to upgrade your suspension can be a paralyzing decision.
However, if you don’t have a lot of money to spend but still need a suspension upgrade right now, you can look no further than Touratech’s Progressive Spring Kit (MSRP $359). Compared to a full suspension replacement compatible with a liquid-cooled R bike, this could easily cost just 10 percent of what you could do if you went all-out.
The kit, which is available for 2013+ R 1200/1250 GS motorcycles in standard and short (down 20 mm/0.8 inch) versions, comes with two springs. The well-known progressive nature of the new springs emphasizes the difference in performance over standard springs; true to Touratech’s claim, their springs get firmer as they compress, and the more they compress, the more they resist bottoming out, allowing you to avoid both that disconcerting condition and the damage it can do to your suspension internals.
Installing the springs myself was a bit of a bear, but we got it done using a combination of a spring compression tool and tie-down straps combined with brute strength. Because BMW changed the design of the shock mounts from the pre-2013 GS models, getting the existing shocks off the bike to make the swap is pretty involved, though most any handy shade-tree mechanic ought to be able to handle it with some patience and enough overhead space to raise the rear subframe.
While I only rode the bike about 200 miles before making this swap, I weigh more than the average rider even before I add anything to my luggage, which is also made by Touratech—not hard to tell I’m a big fan of the brand. I found the pre-swap ride to be fairly harsh, which wasn’t surprising as the bike already had 55,000 miles on it, though thankfully with lighter riders.
Following the swap, the bike felt transformed, and I’m now confident I can hold off on a full suspension replacement for some time. I don’t tend to ride hard enough to bottom out the shocks, but I notice the harder I ride—or if I have a passenger with me—the road surface has less deleterious effects with higher speeds or heavy back-and-forth movements necessitated by tight twists and curves.
Installing Touratech’s Progressive Spring Kit proved to be an effective and cost-efficient way to upgrade my suspension. It’s not quite penny tech, but it is super inexpensive when compared to the cost of replacing a set of DESA shocks. One bonus is Touratech USA offers purchasers the service of swapping the springs for them if they should lack the proper tools to do the work.
For more information, visit Touratech USA’s website.