BMW F 900 R review: Naked and naughty

The BMW F 900 R is a great example of how much fun it is to get your riding kit on, and then get naked…

ALMERIA, SPAIN — Right, two easy and equally valid ways to think of the BMW F 900 R. You can see it as the newest contender in that brutal corner of the market where bikes take off their tupperware, get naked,and the likes of Triumph’s Street Triple and Yamaha’s MT-09 slug it out, pull each others’ hair and so on. 

Or you can think of it as the direct replacement for the BMW F 800 R. Can’t remember that bike? Can’t blame you, because they just didn’t sell that many. 

Pity, though, because the F 800 R was a seriously nice bike: fun to ride, fuel efficient, and fun to ride. Yes, that was worth saying twice.

Still, maybe what people want from their naked bike is not something nice, but something naughty. That’s precisely what you get with the F 900 R.

It shoves its friendly predecessor aside to stare down the Triumph and Yamaha, not with the one-eyed squint of the F 800, but with a single, tampering LED headlight mounted mean’n’low between those upside-down front forks to give the bike a sort of menacing hunch.

The broad 15.5-litre fuel tank adds to the musculature, though interestingly it’s made of plastic, which makes it dent-resistant and rustproof. Underneath that, you’ll find the same 895cc twin that powers the F 900 XR. And behind that is pretty much the same rear suspension as on the XR, while the two bikes have the same compact exhaust muffler with a collector box hidden down low.

Having ridden the F 900 XR and pronounced it brilliant, you’d expect us to feel much the same from the F 900 R. Yet, the two bikes feel very different.

One thing they do have in common is that they’re well equipped for the class. Like the XR, the F 900 R comes with Keyless Ride, the feature that lets you jump on and ride off so long as you have the key on you. The safety stuff, always a priority with BMW’s bikes here, is present and accounted for, with traction control (we’ve all had that fishtail moment from gassing it too hard in the wet) and cornering ABS both standard.

The bike even has an active headlight that takes info from speed and lean angle sensors to decide when to activate an extra LED and light up the inside of a bend at night for you. I never got to try it on the road, but anyone who’s been on tour knows how black it gets at night in the countryside.

Would you tour on this? You could, of course, but half a day on the F 900 R makes me think that it’s more suited for a fast, satisfying bash through your favourite roads in Johor, apart from doing the daily stuff around town. 

Climb aboard and it feels like a taller, bigger bike than the F 800 R did (though there are six saddle heights available), with a riding position best described as aggressive.

Compared to the more laid back F 900 XR, the naked bike’s handlebars are 80mm further forward and 20mm lower, with slightly higher footpegs so you sort of feel like you’re in a fighting crouch, arms raised and ready to slug someone right in the mouth.

Higher pegs or not, on the right roads they’ll be touching tarmac in no time. The F 900 R brings out the devil in you, the way other nakeds do, and when you’re on top you just want to ride hard (you know very well what I mean).

The bars need quite a forceful shove to initiate a turn, after which the BMW snaps over onto its side quick, only to faithfully hold its line. It’s not quite as corner-hungry or ready to switch direction as the XR, but it’s still an easy bike to ride, and before long you can do it with enough confidence to touch a peg down once in a while.

That happens at 45 degrees in either direction. I know this because the bike told me. Okay, a BMW Motorrad engineer told me, too, but the F 900 R confirmed it. It comes with BMW’s 6.5-inch digital dashboard, which displays all sorts of crazy things, like your max lean angle.

The screen is sharp and clearly readable in bright sunshine, and surprisingly easy to operate with the little scroll and toggle wheel, but it can also pair with your smartphone through the companion BMW Motorrad Connected app, which gives you all sorts of added functions.

Some are useful, like relaying navigation instructions from your phone, and some are for titillating the Instagram masses, like the ability to share your ride on social media, including pics overlaid with a graphic of, among other things, your max lean angle.

It’ll record your top speed, too, which if you’re on a quiet enough road, will be pretty high. The F 800’s throbby parallel twin was a buzzy, characterful thing, but this new engine is on a different level of sound and fury.

It’s gorgeously flexible, summoning plenty of torque from who-knows-where, and the result is that if you’re tackling a tricky road you can actually stick the F 900 R in one gear and just make use of its broad spread of pulling power instead of hunting for revs all the time. Not that kicking the gear pedal up and down is a chore on this thing though, because it has a clutchless quickshifter.

Let it rev, and the new twin feels energetic all the way to its 8,700rpm redline. It’s actually got noticeably more life at 6,000rpm and beyond, which is where the F 800’s engine used to tail off.

The new engine sounds completely different from before, thanks to an offset crank that means the firing is order is like a Ducati’s L-twin motor. It actually sounds the part, too, with a similar thundery boom at high revs, although the other guys in the press group were evenly split on whether they preferred the rumble of this engine or the braap of the F 800, which was a true parallel twin.

As throbby as the F 900 R sounds, what’s noticeably different about its engine is the way it’s far smoother than the old twin. At highway speeds the F 800 R would buzz constantly, so much so that the mirrors became unusable, but no such problems here. If anything causes discomfort, it’s the saddle, which on my test bike was so hard I eventually wished I had the fleshy buttocks of the average Harley rider.

As for the lack of a windscreen, there’s actually a tiny one that works decently until you’re up to 140km/h or so, after which you get a good idea of what it’s like to be a parachute.

All told, however, the F 900 R feels like an altogether more sophisticated bike than the  F 800 R. It’s better equipped, feels like a more substantial bike, and has the sort of exuberance that tends to make your day when you ride it.

Mind you, for S$2,800 more, the F 900 XR has this licked in terms of comfort and wind protection, and it’s an easier bike to ride hard. Spend half a day on the F 900 R charging through the twisties, and you feel like you had a proper workout. If long tours are your thing, you’d be better off on the F 900 XR. 

BMW F 900 R

But if your riding is mostly done in town but you can sneak away for half a Saturday once in a while for a blat around Johor with mates (once all this Covid-19 oppression is over, of course), then you’ll very likely enjoy having an F 900 R. It’s a fun, well-equipped bike with character. That’s a valid way to think of it, too.

BMW F 900 R
Engine 895cc, 8V, parallel twin
Power 105hp at 8,500rpm
Torque 92Nm at 6,500rpm
Gearbox Six-speed manual with up-down quickshifter 
0-100km/h 3.7 seconds
Top Speed More than 200km/h
Seat Height 815mm 
Agent Performance Motors Ltd 
Price S$31,000 with COE
Available Now

about the author

Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 26 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.