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S 1000 XR: A GS for Hooligans

Photos by Kevin Wing

Not too long ago, I used an image of a Ducati Multistrada as the screensaver on my computer. It was 2010, and I was getting back into riding after a multi-year hiatus. Though I hadn’t ridden the Multi, I was drawn to the red bike with its sexy Italian lines, superbike-inspired motor, sophisticated electronics and supposed, yet limited, off-road capabilities.

While all of the magazine comparisons pitting the GS and Duc back then essentially said the GS was the bike to take you to the ends of the earth, the Ducati was the bike to take you there if the route was paved with only a few gravel roads thrown in to connect the asphalt. What did I do? I bought an R 1200 GS and changed screensavers.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when rumors began popping up on the web describing a new BMW built to go beak to beak with the Multi, and seeing one last November at the Long Beach stop of the Progressive International Motorcycle Show only served to raise my interest even more. It was going to be a long, arduous wait before my first chance to ride one.

Though the press launch was still several weeks away, my first chance to ride an XR came unexpectedly in early June when I was able to coax one from the BMW Demo Truck at the Touratech Travel Event in Niedereschach, Germany, and take it through the twisting roads and gently rolling hills of the Black Forest. I was beginning to believe I must have sold my soul to the devil, but I was in heaven.

After ten days of riding an R 1200 GS water boxer through Europe to get to the Touratech event, it took only a few kilometers to get used to the ergonomics of the XR. While the upright seating position felt perfectly natural, the power delivery of the inline-four initially seemed, well, foreign. While a boxer engine is perfectly happy chugging along at 4000 rpm, like a caffeinated adolescent, the superbike-inspired motor of the S 1000 XR doesn’t even begin to wake up until much later. I was embarrassed to ask the purpose of the white LED above the instrument cluster, but when I understood its function as a shift indicator, the bike woke up, and I didn’t know I could smile so broadly. Though I didn’t know much about the specific equipment that XR carried, my initial impression was simply based on feel. Despite the ride lasting but an hour, the seed of desire was firmly planted.

Three weeks later, the motorcycle press gathered at a resort a couple hours north of Toronto on beautiful Muskoka Lake for the official North American press launch. It was there we learned what the bike was all about and spent a full day riding. The day I had been anticipating for nearly a year had finally arrived!

Seemingly building a motorcycle with the Ducati Multistrada clearly in its sights, with the S 1000 XR, BMW has taken the class-leading and superbike-inspired motor of the S 1000 RR, detuned it to level of the S 1000 R, and stuck it in a chassis offering the rider the upright seating position of the GS. In doing so, BMW has created the new Adventure Sport category and a bike with a strong bias toward the Strasse, while still capable of a little Gelande.
BMW describes the XR as the unifying link between the S 1000 R/RR and R 1200 GS families. The bike offers offers sporty performance, agility and an upright riding position for comfortable, dynamic touring, but with it’s 17″ front wheel, BMW estimates a negligible 5% of riding will be off-road and 85% of XR miles accumulated while Sport and Adventure Touring.

The spec sheet describes the XR’s inline-four engine as producing 160 hp at 11,000 rpm and generating 83 foot pounds of torque at 9,250 rpm, thus making the bike equally adept at comfortable touring as it is at tearing up twisty country roads.

Allowing riders to program the bike to existing road conditions and maximize safety, XRs come standard with two riding modes, Rain and Road. Selecting Rain mode will set the bike up for conditions of lower traction while adjusting throttle response, ABS and ASC accordingly. Selecting Road mode will lessen computer intervention. With the optional Ride Modes Pro, riders can select two addition modes, Dynamic to further lessen computer intervention and Dynamic Pro (accessible using a coding plug) which allows the bike to unleash its full performance potential.

Additional available options include BMWs latest iteration of Dynamic ESA, allowing the XR’s suspension to automatically adapt to road conditions based on the riding mode and spring preload setting chosen, using the external inputs of spring travel, bank detection, acceleration or deceleration. Suspension adjustments are made in milliseconds using electrically actuated control valves which BMW states will “allow riders to enjoy an unprecedented level of damping comfort and stable handling.”

While the XR’s standard ABS ensures a high level of braking when moving in a straight line, the ABS Pro included with the Ride Modes Pro option goes further to make braking while cornering safer by enabling ABS-assisted braking in a banked position.

Yet another benefit of the Ride Modes Pro option is Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) which goes beyond standard ASC and incorporates banking detection, allowing riders to safely accelerate even when leaning through a corner.

Like the S 1000 RR and R, the XR uses an aluminum-alloy, perimeter frame with the engine as part of the load-bearing structure. Front suspension is handled by an adjustable upside-down fork, and in the rear, a double-sided swing arm holds an adjustable single shock.

XRs are available in two option packages. The Standard Package ($17,295) includes ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control), two riding modes (Rain and Road), a two-position adjustable windscreen, multifunction display, 12-volt socket, an adjustable rear suspension (Preload and Damping), plus GPS preparation, heated grips, cruise control and saddle bag mounts.

The Premium Package ($18,750) adds the highly desirable options of DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), ABS Pro, Ride Modes Pro, Gear Shift Assist Pro, Dynamic ESA, center stand and luggage rack. Each of the XRs lined up in front of the hotel Sunday morning were equipped with this package which, according to BMW, will be how most of the bikes will be delivered to dealers.

Press launches provide the opportunity for spirited rides, but sadly, the morning light was accompanied by a soaking, all-day rain, necessitating the adjustment of the scheduled route to avoid some mud on unpaved roads. If the rain wasn’t enough to dampen spirits, the fact that the bikes all had essentially just been pulled from their crates with each odometer showing less than 10 miles meant tires were new and slippery and rev limiters were set at 9,500 rpm rather than their 11,000 rpm redline (the rev limit will be removed by a dealer at the bikes initial service appointment). Regardless, with heated grips set to high, we finally pulled out of the resort and into the Canadian countryside.

As a GS rider, the seating position and the wide, comfortable reach to the handlebars immediately felt familiar to me, as I easily got comfortable on the XR. The standard 33.1 inch seat height (a low seat option is available) is just under that of my GS, and with a slightly narrower seat, sitting with both feet on the ground was never an issue.

With a steady rain falling, I began the ride in Rain mode, but my familiarity with the bike after riding an XR in Germany allowed me to confidently switch to Road mode at our first photography stop just a couple miles down the road. During the course of the day, I found the stock seat surprisingly comfortable.

Just as I remembered when riding in the Black Forest, the XR is a lot of fun to ride. Despite a longer wheelbase, the XR’s lower weight and slightly different frame geometry make the bike more agile in corners. Once I got used to shifting at a higher rpm, I found the bike to be much quicker and hooligan-esque than my GS. For me, that translates to fun when I want it, and whether that’s good or bad is of personal opinion, but for me, it’s just one of the factors used to calculate ride excitement.

Following Blake Connor of Cycle World clearly illustrated the bike’s different personalities. When I was initially content to simply enjoy the picturesque Canadian roads, Blake began using every bump as an opportunity to wheelie and test DTC. I soon found myself doing the same with muddy gravel roads becoming flat track ovals and a place to test the traction limits of the stock Bridgestone tires. Though our time on the sloppy roads was brief, I found the standing position a bit more natural for my six-foot frame than on my GS. Regardless of whether I was sitting or standing, the XR took all of the conditions we faced in stride with my only complaint being the buzzing felt in my throttle hand between 4 and 5,000 rpm. Hopefully, it’s a quirk of a bike right out of the crate.

The XR’s extensive palette of electronics create a bike with multiple personalities. With four riding modes, options like Dynamic ESA, DTC, ABS Pro and more available at the simple touch of a button, riders can choose a mode to match the weather or even their mood that day. Considering the nasty weather we rode through in Canada and my earlier experience in the Black Forest, I predict the XR will soon rank among BMWs top five in sales numbers.

I love my GS, I truly do, and it’s faithfully taken me wherever I wanted to go over the past four years. Yet despite the miles of smiles it’s given me, my heart has always been drawn to red. For me, the XR was a bike worth waiting for. To illustrate exactly how much I dig this new bike from BMW, I just changed screensavers after bringing my new XR home.

(PS Not long after the publication of this article, Bill traded his R 1200 GS in for an S 1000 XR. After three years, he traded the XR in for an R 1250 GS. –Wes)