Inside a nondescript industrial building south of Los Angeles, the custodian of the gaggle of new press bikes stored there waved his arm around to behind him and intoned “That one’s yours,” as he pointed at a brilliant red one.
I mentally screamed “Yes!” as I’m lukewarm about the other color available for the 2020 XR, “Ice Grey,” a hue which to me, looks like someone sprayed clear lacquer over grey primer.
With the fob for the keyless system ensconced in the surprisingly generous weather resistant compartment on top of the fuel tank, I pressed the go button and with the instantaneous response of a light switch, the four-cylinder, 999cc marvel exploded to life with a 2000 RPM authoritative call to arms. Amped up by the siren song of promised eye socket-crushing acceleration, I pulled in the clutch and selected first gear. Gently easing out the clutch lever, the still-cold engine gave a momentary lurch before it stalled from my awkward finger movements.
Spoiler alert: The new bike is fantastic. It does everything you ask it to, yet better than expected.
Having my own XR with over 32,000 miles, I feel qualified to render an opinion. The seating position is slightly different and improved. By the time I reached the main street, I could already feel a more responsive and lighter machine, much more than would be expected from the 22-pound weight reduction. I later learned the wheels are directly off the RR and their lighter weight helps its agility.
The new XR will inevitably be compared to four BMW standards: the outgoing model (with which it shares almost no parts save switchgear), the R 1250 GS, the BMW S 1000 RR and R and finally, all other motorcycles.
The new bike started with a clean sheet of paper. The heart of the bike is its new S engine, which appears in the S 1000 RR, only with a different head now featuring the current crown jewel of engine technology: shifting cams. When I first heard the XR would not get this admittedly heavier and more complex head, I felt a sense of disappointment. BMW said this bike “didn’t need it,” which sounded to me like a cop-out. I quickly learned they were right.
On a street machine rarely spinning over 10,000 RPM, there is little need for additional ultra high rpm power. The XR’s new double overhead cam engine and drive train is 16 pounds lighter than the former XR and produces noticeably more midrange torque, despite being about a half an inch narrower. In fact, this XR engine has more torque in the 2,000-6,000 range than the RR.
I could easily feel the increase in torque over more than 1,000 miles in five days. Cruising at speed on California’s COVID-emptied freeways, passing only required a few degrees of throttle twist to zip by traffic in sixth gear, which, incidentally, is 8% taller gear than on the previous model. The transmission is further refined as well, and with the Shift Assist Pro, it seems you can nearly think the bike into the next gear.
The clutch itself is a marvel of engineering. It is called an anti-hopping clutch, meaning if you downshift without the shift assist, releasing the clutch quickly won’t cause the rear wheel to lock up and produce wheel hop.
Another safety item has been incorporated into the XR. BMW discovered when a rider has to stop unexpectedly, they tend to grab the front brake forcefully. Additionally, some riders inadvertently keep a bit of pressure twisting on the throttle, the result being increased stopping distance. The XR’s main computer has the ability to sense a panic stop via its six-axis controller and it cuts fuel to the engine assuring a minimum stopping distance. The controller also intervenes when a panic brake situation occurs in a curve. Typically, without the multi-axis ABS, a hard grab of the front brake will result in a low side crash, but this latest technology will ease the application of the ABS allowing a safer stop.
Other goodies include a TFT screen, cornering lights with the Headlight Pro option, accessory LED fog lights to supplement the now standard LED headlights; available forged wheels with thicker brake discs and overall reduced rotating inertia; a lighter, narrower frame; narrower handlebars are decoupled for elimination of vibration, six seat options, including low, high, comfort and M. The Carbon Package contributed to this bike getting more compliments from riders and even pedestrians than any other bike I’ve ever ridden! Although expensive at $1,700, the package is considerably less than purchasing the parts separately.
There are two dealer options for windscreens, a shorty, plus a taller touring screen. Although the stock screen, which can now be controlled with one hand from the cockpit, compliments the overall improved aerodynamics of the bike and is better performing than the old stock screen, if this bike were mine, I’d also get the touring screen and switch out screens for long high speed touring rides. This is an easy task using only four simple screws.
Options include a locking GPS mount for the BMW Nav IV, cruise control, hill hold, and luggage prep. The new panniers are light years ahead in looks from the prior version. A new tank bag is convertible to a backpack – nice touch! Forged wheels are a relative bargain, costing only $1,350 as a factory option and include thicker brake rotors for anticipated track day use; the decrease in rotational inertia contributes to even greater response and agility in steering inputs.
High performance models and parts for BMW Motorrad have typically borne an HP logo, but BMW is now using their M branding as seen on cars, parts and pieces. Our test bike with the carbon package sported several items displaying the M logo. Dealer options include M levers, hand protectors, footrests, forged wheels, carbon bits and even carbon engine protection bars!
A completely new frame provides a rider position still oriented towards touring, but slightly more aggressive. The rider sits about an inch further forward with bars being a half inch lower. BMW calls this better rider integration with better weight distribution. The bars are also about an inch and half narrower to make the ride feel more lively and help with lane splitting.
A new suspension joins the new frame having a direct acting rear shock for better compliance and Marzocchi forks to offer better compliance in the “Road” mode for a more supple ride. When electronically activated into Dynamic or the optional Dynamic Pro mode, the ride stiffens and adapts in 10 microseconds to road conditions. The interaction of all the sensors, the main computer (or ECU) and the electronics for throttle and brakes make the bike a superior machine for going fast than were MotoGP bikes of not too long ago. Dynamic Pro mode allows for degrees in intervention for wheelies or stoppies (which we did not test since we had to return the bike ‘in the condition as we found it.’) The Pro mode can also be self leveling.
Our BMW Owners News article now switches from the rundown of the new machine to thoughts from three road testers; myself and two other XR owners with lots of riding experience; Deena Mastracci and Rick Giroux, officers in our local BMW MOA club.
Getting off the bike, after a spirited run through a twisty mountain section, Deena called to Rick, “I love it!” She then turned to me and said, “Shall I hate you now, or later?” meaning she will hate me now because she has to go and order one or hate me later when she has to pay for it!
When I asked what she like best, she answered, “The throttle, coming off the corners. I also noticed I had to customize my current XR for riding position, with different bars and seat; this bike feels perfect as is.” Deena is a hard riding, Iron Butt certified BMW enthusiast who considers herself of average build at 5’6”.
When Rick, who at six feet tall owns in addition to being on his second XR, also has a GS and a 2020 RR, took the bike for a while, his first comments were “more flickable,” “mid-range power is amazing” and “I felt like I was sitting in the bike rather than on it.” “I own a ’19 and this bike is 20% better in all ways,” he added.
Rick, Deena and I all agreed the ride was smoother over road irregularities, but shifting on the fly to dynamic mode quickly made the bike ready for aggressive riding.
We also all agreed the new brakes, now BMW-Hayes rather than the old model’s Brembo calipers, were at first a little grabby, but after our second or third stops, we realized they are absolutely rock solid and efficient, needing only modest input to bring the bike to an astoundingly fast stop.
It was hard to tell during our mountain roads day of play if it was possible to feel the claimed 7% increase in aerodynamic efficiency, but my 800-mile trip up the coast yielded at least 10% better gas mileage. I do know a 400-mile day on highways on my own XR will leave me wondering why I took it out that day. On this bike, it was a decent day but not quite a plush as my GSA, which makes 400 miles seem like child’s play. My only complaint is they did not incorporate a hydraulic clutch for those days where you’re stuck in traffic.
BMW motorcycles are designed and engineered by enthusiasts. They recognize no single bike can do everything perfectly. BMW engineers changed the focus of the new XR to be sportier since the GS and GSA need to remain the ideal adventure bike multi-tool.
Now, instead of trying to pawn off the XR as a sporty version of a GS, they’ve realized the XR fills the marketing position of providing a sports bike experience capable of comfortable all-day touring. The new XR provides very similar performance on the streets to the RR, but with comfort. The acceleration off corners is scary fast, adrenalin pumping, and smile inducing; but the bike can also be used for a docile run out for a quart of milk.
Only a few years ago, true race bikes weren’t as fast, but you can still use this XR to commute daily to the job, or on a tour of a thousand miles. The 2020 S 1000 XR easily qualifies as a MotoGP for the masses.