BMW S1000XR

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The introduction of BMW’s S1000XR for 2015 isn’t only interesting because it represents the first serious competition to Ducati’s very successful Multistrada 1200, but also because it’s a type of motorcycle we’ll see increasingly more of in the future, one that is derived from a platform shared by several models. It’s a philosophy Harley-Davidson adopted a long time ago with great success and a way of creating new models that’s very common in the automobile side. It’s a type of development method that has never been embraced by motorcycling, but times are changing and if only for the survival of very focused sportbikes, which saw their sales numbers plummet after the 2008 financial crisis, the strategy will have to be adopted. Actually, it is, and the S1000 family is the perfect example. 

Developing a new sportbike is expensive, but it produces knowledge and components that can be reused in many more applications. That’s exactly what happened with the S1000R naked as it uses much of the S1000RR technology. In a sense, other than design, it’s almost as if it was developed for free. The new S1000XR ($17,600) follows the same principle, but with the R as a starting point. Both bikes share very similar or identical engines, frames and several chassis parts like wheels, brakes and suspension, along with electronics. There again, development costs were drastically reduced compared to a standalone design. The big question for would-be buyers is, how well does a sportbike like an S1000RR transform into a multi-purpose machine like the XR? The answer is quite well, although not completely seamlessly.

Hitting the starter button on the XR brings to life an inline-four that burbles and rasps in a very familiar way for anyone with seat time on either the S1000RR or the S1000R. Even for others, there’s no mistaking the tone of a superbike inline-four, even one that’s restricted to 160 hp. That number may seem low compared to the original S1000RR’s 193 hp, but in the context of this category, it’s actually class leading power. 

Probably the most impressive characteristic about the S1000XR engine is the constant availability of power brought by a generous and very early arrival of torque. There’s a solid push right off idle that builds through mid-range and keeps on climbing all the way to the 11,000 rpm redline. A note here: I know this from my experience on the S1000R which uses the exact same motor, not from the XRs used for the launch as they were all still being broken in. 

Electronics prevented their engine from revving past 9,000 rpm and although I whined and moaned about it—bizarrely I seemed to be the only one to do so—the electronic limiter was apparently impossible to override. But even with that limited rev range, the XR proved to be a lot of fun.  

The S1000XR is not as polished as the Multistrada in the sense that it doesn’t seem to take the whole multi-purpose thing too seriously. Rather, it feels completely unapologetic about its sportbike origins and simply mixes them with an upright, adventure type riding position, a good seat and optional luggage. 

Suspension is set on the firm side and brakes are powerful without being brutal (they come standard with switchable ABS), allowing for a seriously fast pace through a twisty section of road while maintaining the precision and control one expects from a superbike chassis, albeit one that clearly sits a higher than normal. 

The stock seat height is considerable at 840mm (33 inches). Interestingly, BMW not only offers accessory lower seats, but also an option to reduce wheel travel by 30mm, bringing the XR back down to normal street bike level. As for the current tall stance and the off-road capability it suggests, that’s almost just for show. I say almost because we did ride the XR on some hard-packed, relatively smooth unpaved roads and it actually behaved very well in those conditions, even proving a lot of fun to slide around in basically all six gears. 

For that I credit the confidence inspiring riding position and the width of the power delivery, characteristics that made the XR easy to control even while moving around on loose soil. But it’s by no means a true GS-type off-road motorcycle, first because the suspension doesn’t deal well with something other than pavement irregularities, and second because the rest of the bike just isn’t made for that environment. As an example, flying rocks easily damage the completely exposed radiators sitting directly behind the front wheel.

So the S1000XR can be fast on pavement and it can also prove fun on an occasional unpaved road, but what about traveling? The truth is we only put a few hundred kilometres on the new bike during its press launch, which obviously doesn’t qualify as travel. Still, even in the relatively short time on it, most of its strengths and weaknesses became obvious. The riding position is really good. It’s relaxed and supports the body well without taxing one part more than the others. There’s no weight on the rider’s hands, the handlebar isn’t too wide, the seat is good and one’s legs aren’t bent too much. The windshield does a good job of keeping windblast off the rider’s torso and is manually adjustable for two positions, on the fly. The electronically adjustable suspension is set firmly and works fine as long as the pavement is smooth, but there are only two settings programmed in the computer. Ideally, there would be at least an additional very soft one. Perhaps my biggest personal pet peeve about the XR regarding comfort is its buzzy engine, probably a side effect of the sporty origin of the motor. The standard electronic cruise control is appreciated on longer rides as it allows the rider to rest his/her throttle hand, but a motorcycle like this should be smoother. 

BMW says the new S1000XR belongs to a new category it calls Adventure Sport. In reality, the class has existed for a while. It’s basically made of various sort-of-adventure looking models that really are street motorcycles. Ducati’s Multistrada comes to mind first, but there’s also Kawasaki’s Versys 1000. Although they may share some characteristics, all are very different and in that group, the XR stands out as the one with arguably the simplest to understand nature: it’s a sportbike with a few adventure-like features, mainly the riding position, the tall suspension and the styling. Maturing sportbike riders have been looking for years to transition to “something” more comfortable and practical, yet still exciting, but without ever really being offered what they wished. Although a machine like the S1000XR may not be the first bike they think about, it’s just about made for them and those needs. It is true that the same thing can be said about some nakeds like the S1000R or Suzuki’s GSX-S1000, but the XR brings a lot more in terms of comfort, practicality and touring capability. It’s not perfect and could use some refinement in certain areas, but for anyone coming from an S1000RR or something similar, it’ll be pure luxury combined with serious entertainment.