I finally had a chance to ride the BMW S1000XR. There are plenty of reviews out there in formal and informal media formats about this bike to a point where I thought I would not have much to say, except to confirm what others have said before me. Although I agree with most, if not all of the technical points raised by previous reviewers, I will add here my subjective opinion about it, as we know the connection between rider and machine is perceived in different ways from rider to rider. It was great fun riding this bike!
When the guys at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon told me they had the S1000XR available as a demo I found a window of time, got my gear together, and showed up at the shop.
The bike I rode had the Touring Package:
- Heated Grips
- GPS Preparation
- Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment)
- Center Stand
- Luggage Grid
- Saddle Bag Mounts
And the Dynamic Package:
- Cruise Control
- Rider Modes Pro
- Gear Shift Assist Pro
- DTC (Dynamic Traction Control)
Some engine specs:
- Motor is an In-line 4
- Displacement: 999cc
- Horsepower: 160 hp @ 11,000 RPM
- Torque: 83 ft-lb @ 9,250 RPM
And some key dimensions:
- Seat height: 33.1 inches
- Wet weight: 502 lbs
- Wheelbase: 61 inches
- Fuel tank: 5.2 gallons
- 3-year / 36,000 miles limited warranty
- 5-year limited emissions warranty
- BMW Roadside Assistance Program, 3-year / 36,000 miles
Taking a Closer Look at the Bike
First thing I did when I got there was to work with the bike’s settings. It turns out they are easy and intuitive to operate. We set the suspension to Dynamic, and the spring load for rider with gear. Riding mode was set to Dynamic.
I appreciate BMW’s stubbornness in keeping analog tachometers on their bikes, as it makes it easy to see the motor’s RPM with a quick glance. On top of that, this bike’s tachometer is very nice looking with its white background with black and red numbers.
I did not try the cruise control, not on this bike not on any bike. Many times on long trips I wish I had this feature on my motorcycles to give a short break to my right hand or when adjustments to helmet or gloves require the right hand. On the last three or four years a trend started and now every high end motorcycle comes with cruise control, even mid-size adventure bikes like the Tiger 800XCX has it, and I hear the 2016 BMW F800GS will have it as well. It is one of the several benefits of throttle by wire systems. Yes, the S1000XR comes with cruise control.
The left controls include a trip meter button, the info button, the ABS on/off switch, and the Electronic Suspension Adjustment switch. ABS is standard on this bike, as well as Automatic Stability Control. On the right side you have the heated grips switch.
Similar to other BMW motorcycles, this bike has the “GPS preparation” option. It has everything you need to add a GPS: the wheel to operate the GPS from the handlebars, the wiring, and the above-the-dash GPS mount. That wheel is a nice way to operate the GPS without taking your hands off the handlebars and without facing the challenge of using gloved fingers on a GPS touch screen. On the other hand, that means you have to get a specific GPS for this system to work (the guys at the shop installed the Navigator V to demonstrate its use). Might as well plan to buy the Navigator V or not get this option.
The GPS is positioned where it should be, closer to the line of vision.
This bike also came with saddle bag mounts (bags sold separately). We installed the bags to see what the bike looks like with them mounted.
The bags fit the bike well and are easy to install. They are a bit on the wide side of things, though, extending a couple of inches from the handlebars on each side.
There is a reason for how wide they are. I want to make two points about these bags and their width: 1) the bag on the exhaust side does not have a cutout for the exhaust; which 2) for their size and with no cutout, they allow for not one, but two full face motorcycle helmets to be stored inside these bags (one in each bag, of course). We tested it by placing a Schubert C3-Pro helmet both sideways and standing and it fits perfectly inside the bag.
The saddle bag has a nice shelf making it easy to place and remove your travel gear in/from the bags without having to do the three-hand maneuver where you work the lid with one hand, shove the gear inside the bag with the other hand, and with the third hand you adjust anything that might be falling off while you operate the latch.
For a brief moment we thought it would not fit, but with enough clearance the bag closed with the helmet inside.
There is also a nice insert bag you can purchase separately. It looks like a stand alone bag, with a semi rigid side to it and a handle making it easy to be carried to and from the bike.
It will probably rob you of some space but having these inner bags make it a lot easier to load your travel gear, then take it to the bike when it’s time to leave. Same when arriving at the destination. It is touring made easy.
Did I say something about this bike not being sexy? Not yet? Well, this bike is definitely not a looker… but check that friendly face. Also notice how the United States version does not have the LED light bar in the middle of the two headlights as is available in the European versions. The two headlights are not LED either in the US version.
One more thing to note, the bike comes with a standard steering damper.
I think I covered everything… now it is time to take it for a ride.
Going for a Ride
Although the bike’s key has a transponder, you have to insert it on the ignition and turn it… yes, one day we will need instructions for how to use a traditional key, and it will happen soon after all bikes and cars come with keyless systems like that on the Multistradas.
Once I started the bike I immediately felt the vibration on the handlebars people talk about when they rode this bike. Yes, it is there. I would say, however, it is nothing different than any other in-line four motorcycles I’ve ridden before. Maybe slightly amplified by the broad, adventure-style handlebars. As soon as I started riding the bike, though, I completely forgot about it. Gone just like that. Maybe it was there but it no longer registered or bothered me while in city traffic.
To get the bike in motion I was expecting a release of the clutch would suffice with minor throttle input. Instead, I was surprised by how much throttle input (twist) you need to give for the bike to start moving. Is it a throttle-by-wire setting to prevent the 160 hp motor from detaching a distracted rider’s arms from their sockets at a first go on this bike? More likely it is there to make it more maneuverable at slow speeds. And that it does well.
As matter of fact, I felt it needed too much throttle input for a dynamic mode (I did not try the road and the rain modes, but they probably require even more throttle action). But it is a question of perspective, in my case I like a crisper throttle action. It took me some time to adjust and find the right dosage of throttle and clutch release to get the BMW S1000XR going from a stop without looking like I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life.
The sound of the motor is exactly what everyone says, a very nice in-line four even keel growl at low speeds turning to GP bike sounds at higher revs. Very nice indeed at all RPM levels. The 4-inline engine stability at low RPM, together with the soft throttle action and the sound of the motor as feedback makes maneuvering in tight places and riding in stop and go traffic very easy on this bike (after you learn the friction zone / throttle input level, that is). The slow speed ridability of this bike is a nice feature for people who ride often in busy urban environments.
It was only when getting to the roads outside of town, when I got the bike at proper speed that I felt the handlebars vibrate again. It starts at about 5K RPM and disappears by 6K RPM. I did not take the bike on highways where you may get stuck for many miles on the very speed that turns the engine at 5,5K RPM which actually happens to be around regular cruising speeds in 6th gear. For country riding and sport rides, when you will be changing speeds often, this is definitely not an issue. For highway riding? Not sure. I would put this in the column of “maybe it is an issue that needs to be addressed” for the riders who ride on highways often. Certainly not something you want to experience on long distance touring.
I took the bike to my usual testing grounds on the back roads just south of town. The quick shifter pro is a joy to use. After I used it for a file I realized I didn’t care much to use it on up-shifts – I used it for a while, but I eventually turned back to do doing the clutch work myself, especially considering the gear box actuation is very smooth. Where I felt the quick shifter being really useful was on downshifts. A typical very useful scenario is when coming to a sharp turn after a long straight and you have to quickly go down from 6th to 2nd or 1st gear. You just close the throttle and modulate the front brake as needed while your left foot takes you down, gear by gear while the quick shifter blips the throttle for you in between shifts. I can see how this can be very useful on track riding – you just modulate the time for downshifting based on how much engine braking you want or need to use. Very useful also on city riding and you have to stop at a red light.
When the road opens up the bike will quickly show you what it means to have 160 horses at your disposal at 83 lb-ft of torque. The speed will sneak up on you, although it seemed like there was a very slight disconnect between rider input and motor response. Coming from a V-twin, I do think this is just an in-line four characteristic, where you reach horsepower and torque figures at high RPM numbers (peaks at 11,000 and 9,250 RPM respectively). Either that or it is that throttle input situation I identified at off idle speeds manifesting itself at higher RPM levels as well. You gain something with throttle by wire, you may lose something. In any case, this bike will take you to lose-license speeds quickly and the motor is an absolute gem.
In terms of handling, this bike is amazing. In my perception it was the best characteristic of this bike by a great margin. I found myself delaying corner entries with the confidence this bike inspired, a guarantee that once the commitment to the curve is made the bike will follow through without complaints. It is a point and shoot motorcycle. And once you are leaned, it remains on your selected line without wanting to drop you down or standing you up. This nice stability could be coming from this bike’s long wheel base (61 inches, longer even than the Multistrada, although by less than one inch) together with the steering damper and other geometry measures I confess I didn’t research. Then there is the semi-active suspension and the automatic stability control. Add to this formula the great engine stability and broad torque curve and you have a great recipe for great fun on curves of all kinds. To sum it up, this is the best handling motorcycle I’ve ever ridden.
One thing that bothered me about this bike is the windshield. For my current height, 5 foot 10 with a tall torso, wind was not clean at helmet height on either position of the wind screen (screen has only two positions, up or down, and I decided to keep it down after truing it on the high position). This is always a sore spot for adventure styled motorcycles. I’m sure the aftermarket will help riders find a solution. I would attempt making it smaller (cutting it down to a smaller size) before going the other direction and trying a barn door, Sheriff style screen. But it depends on how you plan to use this bike, as an upright sport riding machine or for touring?
By the way it was not easy (and probably not meant to be done that way) to adjust the windscreen while riding. I would recommend you stop to adjust it.
Overall Riding Impression
Let’s start with the motor. I can’t find anything wrong with this in-line four motor. Some people love the smoothness of in-line four motors, others claim a lack of character, others complain about its high pitch vibration. In the end, I believe this is all about personal preference. Although the motor needs to be revved like a proper sport bike motor to deliver its top performance, if you are just having some regular fun on regular roads, which is how most people will probably ride this bile, you won’t miss a thing at lower RPMs. It will provide plenty of fun at any speed you decide to ride, and that is a virtue of this motor and this motorcycle. Perfect for urban settings, for relaxed riding on the hills around town, and when you want to go fast, twist that throttle with abandon…
As I mentioned before, I do think the handling is the best characteristic of this motorcycle. The bike can be ridden slowly in town and it can be pushed when out in the hills out of town. It is comfortable and stable everywhere. It will certainly help you ride faster, so beware of your license when you twist that throttle.
As an overall package, I would say this bike is a great upright sport bike first, then urban and/or touring second. At 502 lbs wet and that round and stable motor at low RPM, you can make it into your urban machine, although it really excels when you take it for some sport riding fun. And it will do well on long distance travel. The sport component is its best attribute when we combine motor and handling.
The touring component is the one where this bike misses a few points in my opinion. It is not about the vibration, although it is there, and it certainly contributes to lower its touring rate for highway riding. It is just that when compared to other touring motorcycles you will want more torque perhaps, or a more relaxed feel from the motor for long distance travel. Or better wind protection, although we know that can be fixed.
Having said that, 20+ years ago I used to travel cross-state (okay, it was only one state over) on my little Honda XL 250 with gear and all and I thought it was the best bike in the world for such travel. Perspective, that’s where this is: if you are coming from a sport bike and want more comfort for long distance travel the S1000XR will feel great and it will be a lot more than enough for touring and on top of that you will feel at home with its motor. If you are coming from a Multistrada or a large touring machine, and you want to downsize some but still have some power for spirited riding fun, this machine is also for you. But you might just miss a relaxed pace from a V-twin motor, for example, and perhaps some more wind protection.
Would I buy it?
Although it performs better than my Multistrada in many levels, this bike does not make me get ride of the Ducati for my touring needs. In that case, if I would acquire the S1000XR, it would need to be as an addition to the stable. And if that’s the case, what role would it play? Perhaps it would be my urban and sport bike, where I personally think it does shine the best?
Maybe I should take it for another ride… Which I want to do. Alternatively, I should check what are the other options out there. I’m scheduled to ride the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce next weekend, for example. Eventually I will ride the new Ducati Multistrada DVT, which is the bike journalists have been comparing to the BMW S1000XR. I think when that time comes, and I happen to like it, the new Multistrada will be the natural upgrade to my 2013 Multistrada. The preference for a V-twin manifests itself here, I admit. In that case I should mention I’m in no hurry to upgrade my Multistrada, as it still delivers plenty of fun and it still looks good to me.
On the other hand, the BMW made me want to look at something smaller, a sport bike with upright touring ergonomics that would sit side by side with my Multistrada in my shed. It would be a more nimble sports bike, still adventure styled. The BMW S1000XR is such a fun and nimble motorcycle with a great motor in a very elaborate package. You should take it for a ride. Visit the guys at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon and schedule a ride on this wonderful machine. As always, don’t tell me I didn’t say so, you might just find it irresistible.