BMW S 1000 XR review: Hell of an adventure



BMW’s S 1000 XR is half sports bike, half adventure tourer, and pretty much all smiles…

UPDATE: Looking for the all-new, 2020 S 1000 XR? We’ve ridden that, too! Click here…

BARCELONA, SPAIN — Some people in Singapore think of BMW as a maker of huge adventure bikes. Lately the brand has been getting plenty of attention for the S 1000 RR, a super sportsbike capable of kicking sand in the face of a Bugatti Veyron.

But here we have the new S 1000 XR, a maniacal combination of the two.

It takes a tweaked version of the S 1000 RR’s insanely powerful engine and slips it into the frame of adventure bike.

The result is a machine that arrives on the back of a winning streak for BMW: so far this year, the German motorcycle manufacturer (it also makes cars, by the way) has been handily outselling rivals in Singapore’s premium bike market.

With 99 bikes registered up to and including April, BMW has sold as many bikes as Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Moto Guzzi combined.

Here’s the rundown on how the S 1000 XR might prolong the agony for those competitors…

“S 1000 XR”. Bit of what mouthful. What does it even mean?
The “S 1000” bit tells you the key plot point: the engine is derived from the one that makes the S 1000 RR superbike go like a missile slathered in butter.

The in-line four (along with the six-speed gearbox) is shared with the naked S 1000 R, meaning it’s been retuned for less top-end zing but now has enough low- and mid-range torque to propel a Panzer with ease.

As for the “XR” part, it’s a new tag for BMW bikes. Execs there say this is a new breed of machine: namely, an “adventure sport” bike.

Is that why it looks so tall?
Partly. It’s not really meant for off-roading, like BMW’s famous GS range of adventure tourers, but its styling clearly evokes them.

The front end has the GS’ trademark “beak”, for instance, and there’s an upward sweep to the tail that BMW calls the “flyline”. Both are nods to the brand’s round-the-world bikes, and so is the tall ride height. But BMW says the long-travel suspension is really there to help with ride comfort.

The front forks have 30mm more travel than that of the S 1000 R (for a total of 150mm) while the swingarm has 20mm extra (for 140mm total). That allows softer springs to be used.

Did you have to tiptoe?
Embarrassingly, yes. I’m 173cm tall (or short, if you’re a Scandinavian reader) and the XR’s 840mm saddle height obliged me to use my feet like a ballerina.

But there’s a version with lower suspension, which drops the bike 30mm without changing any of the geometry. You could also opt for the low seat and shave off another 20mm, or do both.

Sounds accommodating.
It is. The riding position is straight out of GS territory, meaning it’s upright and comfortable, with wide handlebars and excellent forward vision. The mirrors work well, too, always a bonus on a bike.

But then you fire up the engine and start moving…

What happens then?
First, the engine bursts to life with a bass-heavy rumble, even with the stock exhaust can, and it immediately sounds like it means business. Then you find out it does.

Roll open the throttle properly, and O Ye Gods, the S 1000 XR just feels unstoppable. Maybe it accelerates just that tiny bit less ferociously than the lighter S 1000 R, but saying it’s fast is like saying a volcano is a bit warm inside. It pretty much warps time and space, with a howling soundtrack from the engine that’s enough to make the small hairs on your neck stand up.

Wicked!
Except it’s not. There’s a built-in controllability to the XR that does wonders for your confidence. Sometimes the front end gets a bit light when you cane the engine, but the power delivery isn’t jerky or heavy-handed. Maybe the ride-by-wire throttle has something to do with it, but you always feel precisely in charge of the floodgates.

Mind you, there are three power modes for the engine, with “Rain” calming things down for when things are slippery or if you need to build up to the engine’s potential.

“Road” gives you full power and less traction control intervention, but with gentle power delivery. I spent just five minutes in that mode before I got used to the bike. I’m no hotshot in the saddle, yet I felt comfortable using the “Dynamic” setting nearly straightaway. That felt nice and manly. And that setting gives you hugely entertaining pops and crackles from the exhaust each time you close the throttle.

So what do the pros use?
The “Dynamic Pro” mode, of course. That lets you pop wheelies, and it tells the ABS system to permit a bit of rear wheel lift. Apparently when you’re on the track it helps with the laptimes and all that deep braking stuff. But it’s probably there for skilled riders to do what really counts, which is impress women with stoppies, drifts and other stunts.

Where does that leave the unskilled?
In a happy place, actually. The S 1000 XR has a way of flattering the rider. It just goes after corners the way a shark would lunge at a swimming chicken.

The wide handlebars make it easy to turn, but after it flops down for a corner it feels brilliantly stable. You can hold it steadily on its side for those long, glorious bends that make biking worthwhile.

Chassis developer Dalibor Daic says “banking freedom” was a high priority, meaning there’s plenty of lean angle available, too.

But when you’re faced with a series of fast corners, the BMW shows some real agility.

The riding route took in some roads twisty enough to make a politician’s spine look like a chopstick in comparison, and in conditions like that the XR excels. It flicks through S-bends with thunderous authority, boom-boom-boom, and though you’re aware of the bike’s weight when you nudge at the handlebars, a fast attack never feels like work.

Before long, you lean on the rider aids and go even faster.

Rider aids? That sounds like a nasty disease that one biker gives another in the back room of a seedy bar…
Don’t be cheeky. I’m talking about electronics. The BMW has traction control of course, so you can hammer the throttle open without fear of being spat off, but it also has ABS Pro, which I can only describe as magic.

Basically if you arrive in a corner a bit too hot, you have the usual option (prayer) or you can now squeeze the front brake. There’s a lean angle sensor that tells the bike how far you’re banked over, and the ABS system meters out the braking force to both wheels so you don’t go down and skitter off into the scenery. Instead, the BMW slows down gently, without standing up suddenly to straighten your line. You can actually use it to trim your mid-bend speed a little bit, but that’s not really recommended.

Markus Hamm, the guy who developed ABS Pro, says you could theoretically use it on the track and brake super late into corners with it, but it was really meant to save your hide during those “Oh, shit!” moments. My words, by the way, not his.

Hmm that sounds like the BMW does for you what Autotune did for Britney Spears.
If you mean it makes you look like a star, then yes. But more importantly, it makes you feel like one. With a safety net in place you’re free to enjoy a hard ride more, and it’s nice to ride something properly fast and snarly but so willing to work with you instead of challenging you.

I even grew to love the Gearshift Assist Pro, another magic feature that lets you change gear super smoothly — without the clutch — in both directions. That leaves you free to focus, and it’s liberating. Brake hard, tap the shift lever, down two, three or four, then lean it in and go for it.

MORE: We tested the S 1000 R at Pasir Gudang

That said, it’s pretty much impossible to be in the wrong gear with the S 1000. The engine is that flexible, pulling strongly from impossibly low revs, and just never running out of puff even when the shift light starts to flash.

But tireless bike, tired rider. Correct?
Well, the G-forces are certainly high, so if you’re in attack mode all the time you can wear yourself out. And there are some pronounced vibes from the engine around 5,000rpm.

Rudolf Schneider, the head of BMW’s four and six cylinder bike lines, says the engine doesn’t have balancer shafts to quell the vibrations because it just wouldn’t be in its character. It’s meant to be explosively powerful, not silky.

But overall the comfy riding posture means the S 1000 XR is set up for long days in the saddle, and even in the “Dynamic” setting the ESA active suspension system is firm but never jarring or crashy. There are luggage options (a top box, panniers and tank bag are optional), an adjustable screen, and the tank holds 20 litres.

So it’s a proper tourer?

Very much so. Basically, if this were a car it would be BMW’s X5 M — monstrously powerful, no slouch around corners, but comfort-oriented and a tireless gobbler of miles, with a bit of rough-road readiness thrown in.

But above all it’s a stunningly easy bike to ride hard. Even though it has the personality of a bull, it never wants to throw you off.

“S 1000 XR” might be a bit of a mouthful, but the bike itself isn’t a handful.

NEED TO KNOW BMW S 1000 XR
Engine type 999cc, 16V, inline 4
Bore X Stroke 80 x 49.7mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual with Gearshift Assist Pro
Max power 160bhp at 11,000rpm
Max torque 121Nm at 9,250rpm
0 to 100km/h 3.1 seconds
Top speed >240km/h (est.)
Weight (fully fueled) 228kg
Seat Height 840mm
Price To be announced
Availability July 2015

Download a press kit for the BMW S 1000 XR here

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Meet the 2016 BMW S 1000 RR’s surprising first buyer in Singapore

Photos by Jörg Künstle and Bernhard Limberger. Check out more lovely pics below:

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.