Review: BMW S1000XR is sportier and tourier than most sports tourers
The BMW S1000R super-naked is an absolute monster, but now it's got a much more respectably dressed older brother in the S1000XR adventure sports machine. Sharing the same 999cc, 160-horsepower, extreme performance engine, the XR adds luggage, centrestands, a more comfortable touring rider position, and pretty much every practicality you can think of. Don't let the beak fool you, this is no adventure bike – it's a next-gen sports tourer that's both sportier and tourier than any sports tourer I can think of. We spent 10 days with the S1000XR for the latest in our motorcycle reviews, enjoy!
For the average rider, a motorcycle has to do a lot of things. It's got to make the daily commute a feature of your day. It's got to take you long distances carrying enough underpants and intoxicants to get you through a few days in the company of the smelliest and loudest people you know.
It's got to transport your lady friends, and sometimes your feebly protesting man-friends, in some degree of comfort, but most importantly, when you get to a piece of twisty road, it needs to make your heart hammer, your pupils dilate and your breath quicken.
All bikes are forced to compromise, but some are less of a compromise than others. And BMW's S1000XR is less of a compromise than most. This is an adventure machine in name only. If you want to ride lots of dirt, move five metres up the showroom floor to the GS section. The XR is best viewed as a next-gen sports tourer, a superbike with an upright riding position and cruise control. And as a complete all-rounder it's rivalled only by Ducati's magnificent Multistrada 1200.
It's a superb sleeper. None of the cool kids on their sportsbikes and super-nakeds will give you a second look at the service station as you waft in, peering down from on high with your back so erect you might as well have glided in on an ergonomic chair. Little do they know, the XR's superbike-derived engine is tuned and geared to be faster than a sportsbike below about 150 km/h, and it's perfectly happy to party at speeds way higher. Come twisties time, the XR has more than enough up its sleeve to suck the side fairings off a sportsbike if the rider's more form than function.
It feels like a fresh throttle mapping has taken a touch of the hyper-aggressive edge off the engine response compared to the S1000R we rode last year. And that's no bad thing, that bike's throttle action was somewhere between two-stroke and light switch. The XR gives you the same awesome acceleration, it just feels a little more like you're getting what you ask for.
The sound is fantastic, a personal symphony that screams like a superbike when you rev it hard, but at lower speeds there's a burbling, shrieking induction howl that keeps things very entertaining in the midrange. And the lovely BMW quickshifter now does downshifts as well as upshifts, complete with a sweet little throttle blip to match revs as you do it. It's almost a pity the engine's so flexible – second gear handles most twisty roads with aplomb.
I left the suspension in Dynamic mode more or less permanently. It seemed to pretty much nail what I want from a suspension setup: quick, easy steering with nice bump handling and great confidence in fast, slow and bumpy corners. BMW's factory suspension settings tend to work for me out of the box far better than most other brands, and this was no exception. Road mode is there if you want to soften things off for the highway, I suppose, but it makes things a little loungey and bendy in the corners, so I really only used it when I needed to pee, to reduce the amount of tank-on-bladder action. I don't think I'd miss that switch too much if it was gone.
That's not because I don't like the ESA system, it's because the switch is buried in among so many others of the left switchblock that you'd never notice one missing. We counted a preposterous 18 different things your left thumb can do at any given moment, and the block itself looks absolutely hilarious:
Even so, I reckon I prefer this kind of comical setup to a menu-based system like the ones on, say, the KTM Adventure bikes. With the BMW system, you can do just about everything on the fly, and your thumb quickly works out where the buttons you use a lot are.
My second favorite button is marked ABS – but if you press it quickly, it turns off the traction control. BMW's traction control systems are great – as good as any other – but the temptation to flick the clutch in second gear and loft the front wheel on pretty much every corner exit is just too great for a fool to ignore. The lean-angle sensitive Race ABS system worked a treat, even in situations where some other ABS units have been giving me troubles lately. So full marks there.
My favorite button, as with the R, is BMW's brilliant cruise control switch, although it's not quite as good here as it is on the nakedbike. That's because the XR's handlebars have an annoying buzzy vibration that's pretty much only noticeable in top gear between 95 and 115 km/h (60 - 70 mph) – i.e., pretty much exactly the speeds you wanna cruise at. The BMW team assures me most XRs lose this vibration once they're run in, but our test bike was 4,500 km (2,800 mi) old and still afflicted. Surely it's an easy thing to solve with aftermarket bar ends or vibration dampers, but it rains on the cruise control parade a bit.
I felt fast on this bike. Really fast. Out in the hills I couldn't think what I'd be faster on –maybe the R, by a hair, but both bikes let me ride pretty much as fast as I could see. The XR is a tall bike, and it feels like you're laying it miles over in the corners, but it's also an instant confidence machine and you can't ask for more than that!
Importantly, I also felt very comfy. For a bike that feels so quick to be right up there just a half step below the megatourers in comfort is a remarkable achievement. And practicalities are certainly taken care of, with luggage and top box racks, centerstand, and a 20-liter tank that's good for more than 300 km on an average fuel bill around 6.5 liters per 100 km (36 mpg US).
I flat-out hated the windscreen. It scoops up al the air that'd otherwise fall gently on your torso, and forces it double-speed right into your face. It makes an open helmet unwearable and a closed helmet really noisy. But to be fair, maybe I'm a bit weird about such things. I flat-out hated the similar screen on the Multistrada as well, and pretty much every other screen I've ever come across. So if you're the type of person that likes screens, you may well like this one, and may god have mercy on your soul.
With high and wide bars, the XR feels poorly suited to lane-splitting on a commute. I understand this isn't legal in a lot of places, but it damn well should be, and the mirrors and hand guards on this bike seem to be perfectly placed to whack into van and 4WD mirrors when you're in between lanes. Otherwise, it makes a solid and fun commuter with a tight turning circle and a "who, me?" not guilty plea embedded in its conservative appearance.
At AU$22,190 for the base model in Australia (US$16,350 in the USA), it's a good AU$4k more expensive than the R streetfighter, but costs nearly AU$2,000 less than the base model 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200, which is really the only other true fire-breather in the emerging adventure sport category at the moment, and a magnificent thing in its own right.
Which one's the bike for you will likely come down to whether you're a twin or an inline 4 kind of person, because both engines are sublime examples of their kind, and both bikes are more than worthy of their extraordinary motors.
I haven't swung a leg over a Multistrada for a couple of years now, but I can tell you that once you fix the buzzy bars, the XR is a complete and versatile machine with just about every conceivable practicality that can rip into a set of corners with shocking alacrity and extreme composure. It's an absolute beast.