2015 BMW S 1000 XR Review

Is the all new BMW S 1000 XR a high performance adventure sports bike or just a really comfortable superbike? While BMW Motorrad is targeting the bike at those who like to at least think they’ll head off road occasionally, in our mind the S 1000 XR is a literbike in sheep’s clothes – high and wide bars, upright riding position and suspension that makes the bike feel downright luxurious in comparison to dedicated track weapons. And that’s fantastic in our view.

The adventure bike market has exploded in popularity over the last number of years with every manufacturer seemingly wanting to tap into the every growing pie. The ironic thing however is that like similarly marketed cars, for most owners their adventure bike won’t ever venture off the bitumen and onto a road less traveled. So why do people buy them? Probably because they at least have the notion they’ll get them dirty at some stage, but also because for normal riding they’re so comfortable and practical.

Wide bars making cornering a breeze, the upright position is not only better on your back but also gives a better view when riding – especially in traffic. Add to that the generally more padded seats for your posterior and the added bonus of luggage being easily available and you can see why said bikes are increasingly the go to weapon of choice for riders.

And this is why the BMW S 1000 XR is so good. It’s about as far removed from a dirt capable bike you’ll get this side of a sportsbike. Yes, it’s styled like a typical adventure motorcycle and no doubt BMW’s advertisements will try and convince you of its amazing offroad abilities, but this is a sportsbike, plain and simple. And BMW shouldn’t shy away from that fact because to us it’s the key selling point of this machine.

Probably the most in your face indication that this is so is the dash. Taken virtually as is from the BMW S 1000 RR, it not only features a shift light but a mode that allows you to monitor lap times. Then there’s the suspension – front travel is 150mm while rear 140mm – most true adventure bikes will at the very minimum have 180mm of travel at the front and anything really made to tackle serious off road scenarios will be looking at 210mm of range. Even Ducati’s Multistrada, the closest competitor to the S 1000 XR has 170mm of travel front and rear.

In fact, for shorter riders, BMW offers a lowering kit that reduces travel to 120/110 front and rear – true sportsbike territory now. This isn’t a criticism mind you – because 150mm is a great sweet spot between the harsh and planted ride of a sportsbike and the plush feel of an adventure bike. And if you’re never going to take the S 1000 XR offroad (like 99% of owners wont) then you’re not sacrificing anything but still gaining a heck of a lot.

When I first saw the specifications like this on the bike, I readied myself for disappointment thinking this would be a very average adventure bike. And if you’re thinking of something like a KTM 1190 R then yes, it pales in comparison. But when you readjust your thinking and accept this bike for what it is – a luxurious sportsbike – it makes perfect sense and in fact comes close to being the ultimate hybrid machine.

The engine from the S 1000 XR is from what we can tell taken directly from the S 1000 R naked. That means 160 hp @ 11,000 prm and 112 Nm of torque at 9,250 rpm – down considerably from the 198 hp of the S 1000 R sportsbike but honestly, it’s hard to tell. How this machine is almost of a quarter of the power down from its big brother is hard to fathom because this machine is fast, raucously so. It pulls from wherever you are in the rev range and an incredible speed.

Like the naked S 1000 R, that’s partly explained by the fact the engine has been retuned for more usable power down low and with the torque curve being flatter and peaking earlier. Fueling is just about perfect and even at low speeds when in stop start traffic, the engine never complained once, nor did the gearbox. It’s extraordinary refined – another mark for it being a comfortable sportsbike.

At a base level, the bike comes with two riding modes – “rain” and “road”, but from what we’ve seen, BMW seem not to really be bother with pushing the base model but instead offering the the next level up with what are described as “pro” riding modes of “dynamic” and “dynamic pro”. Those two pro riding modes also take advantage of  Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) – all of which feeds into the bike’s semi-active suspension.

All of this is in typical convoluted BMW fashion. The “dynamic” mode really unlocks the bike for what it should be as standard. Throttle response is instant, traction control is dialed down to a more sensible level and wheelie control is reduced too. The “dynamic pro” mode is activated by what BMW refer to as a coding plug, which once inserted deactivates ABS and traction control completely. It also further blunts wheelie control and sharpens throttle response to track levels. It’s pretty cheeky of BMW to ask customers to pay for things that are already present in the bike by way of software, but they do like their upsell.

The upsell is worth it because it comes with the dynamic suspension – something increasingly common on high end bikes and it really does propel motorcycles to new levels of comfort and control. On road mode, damping is automated depending on conditions while preload can be electronically adjusted at the push of a button. Fancy. All this works in conjunction with both the front and rear of the bike.

Handling is brilliant, and dare I say that with two equal riders – one on the S 1000 XR and one on the S 1000 RR – riding in tight, twisting mountain roads would see the S 1000 XR come out victorious. You just can’t beat wide bars for improving low speed cornering with the added leverage making turn in so much easier. Cornering ABS is also an added bonus of the “dynamic” upgrade.

Further luxuries include heated grips, hand guards and cruise control. The cruise control is simple to use and the hand guards in conjunction with the heated grips provide good levels of cold weather versatility. Annoyingly, the sides of the hand guards bow out further than necessary, adding probably just under 2cm of extra width to the bars – making an already bike needlessly wider which is annoying when filtering in traffic.

Despite that fault, there’s only one other major criticism of the bike – the vibrations. Despite being an line four, you’d sometimes be mistaken for thinking you were riding a thumper. For the most part it’s not really an issue. BMW has done a pretty good job of masking the vibrations and they aren’t really felt through the bars. That is at least until you hit a certain engine speed – for me it was around the 7,000 rpm mark until just below 9,000 rpm while for others it seems to come on a bit lower.

Many riders have stated that the vibrations they felt were extremely noticeable both in the bars and pegs at such speeds but we experienced them through the seat – and they were very strong. This has the potential to cause fatigue in riders looking to go on long tours, but in the bike’s defense, the engine is so flexible and strong that you can easily just choose another gear to keep out of the ‘vibration zone.’ Crucially at highway speeds, engine speed is low enough to avoid this issue. To me the rest of bike is good enough to overlook the vibrations, but for others who are spending a not insignificant amount of money on a new machine may consider otherwise. Also to note is that many owners have stated as the bike gets more mileage on it and loosens up a bit, the vibrations seem to reduce.

Overall, the BMW S 1000 XR just makes sense. I want a super fast bike to ride everyday, but one that doesn’t feel like a medieval torture rack and prevents me from getting blasted by wind as soon as I hit the highway. A bike that has space to put my luggage, a comfy seat and is easy to corner – a comfortable sportsbike that really won’t ever be taken off the road. That is the BMW S 1000 XR and it’s brilliant – save for the vibrations. If BMW adds a counterbalancer for the first model refresh, it’ll come close to the perfect all-rounder.

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