2016 BMW S1000XR review

Bmw_s1000_xr_bike_review_16

Anthony’s personal bike is a 2010 Multistrada 1200S. I do not like it.

That’s it. I just don’t like it. I never feel like I know what the bike is doing under me, I don’t care for the power delivery, and the styling of the bike has always left me confused. I don’t hate the bike or anything, but riding it just makes me feel like I am on an awkward date that is going to culminate with a hug or maybe a handshake. The reason I am mentioning this, of course, is that it’s not really possible to review a BMW S 1000 XR without having the Multi on your brain pretty much the entire time. I didn’t “get” this class of bike until I tested the S 1000 XR.

Now I do.

The bike

The S 1000 XR, to my eye, looks like an adventure bike with the wrong wheels on it. And really, that’s about what it is. The motorcycle’s frame differs a bit from the other members of the BMW’s S line. Put simply, the frame geometry is more relaxed than either of its siblings, which makes sense, because this bike was designed to provide more comfort. The bike is a bit titanic, in addition to being Teutonic. The seat height is fairly notable, at 33.1 inches with the standard seat installed, so shorter riders are going to have one heck of a time on the big XR. It tips the scales at 502 pounds. It’s not large for its class, but it’s large. The riding position is classic “sit-up-and-beg.” Long days on this machine are a cakewalk. 

The engine has been re-worked from the S 1000 RR’s to move the power farther south in the rev range. Part of this rejiggering included dropping the compression a whole point, to 12.0:1. Please do not let that drop fool you - this bike is among the fastest I have ever ridden. BMW claims the XR cranks out 160 horsepower, a very healthy number. Supposedly, this powerplant should turn in 44 mpg, according to BMW specs. Due to testing constrictions, I was unable to obtain true fuel mileage, but the bike’s mileage tracking feature indicated my insane abuse of the BMW yielded 41 mpg over about 700 miles. I’m willing to believe that was in the ballpark.

While the seat height and looks may resemble an adventure-touring bike, there's a lot of hardware here that's standard sport bike kit. This bike has chain final drive, fed by a six-speed gearbox. There’s a slipper clutch in there, too. Forks are upside-down style, and the rubber on this bike is straight sport bike: a 190/55ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso can be found back, and its mate up front is a 120/70ZR17 — and these are damn good tires for OEM. I do get tired of poorly performing OEM tires. BMW thankfully did not choose this area to save dough.

My test mule was outfitted handsomely. I had the “Premium” setup, which comprises all the bells and whistles. Luggage racks, topcase racks, ABS (anti-lock brakes that also happen to be linked), Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), ASC (Automatic Stability Control), DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), heated grips, cruise control, Gear Shift Assist Pro, and a GPS Prep Package. Also installed was a set of aftermarket handguards. (Why is it that this bike, not unlike the Multi, is purchased by people who seem to be enamored with acronyms?)

Here's the Cliffs' Notes: You know what ABS is, I imagine. Dynamic ESA is toolless suspension adjustment coupled with computer-controlled damping. ASC keeps you from wheelie-ing and also prevents the ass end from sliding out on you under acceleration. DTC takes that one step further so you can get away with doing a silly thing like applying maximum throttle even in a turn. Gear Shift Assist Pro is basically a quick shifter for both upshifts and downshifts. BMW packages pre-configured settings for all of these gizmos and slaps them into handy categories called Ride Modes (or Ride Modes Pro if you opt for that package, which unlocks two additional modes). If you need me to explain GPS to you, this whole article will be over your head.

Testing the S 1000 XR

My pleasure began at the starter button, which is integrated into the kill switch. Nice work, BMW. The bike felt tall, but that’s to be expected in this category. I worked this bike through L.A. traffic, and it felt like any other large motorcycle. I finally eased it onto the freeway, and inside of a few car-lengths it was apparent that this bike had loads of power to offer. Since traffic was kind of heavy, I kept myself occupied by fiddling with some of the suspension settings. At each stop, I was switching between Road (soft, cushy touring) and Dynamic (firmer, good for twisties) settings. At complete stops, I farted around with preload, which was expressed in a few self-explanatory icons: one helmet, one helmet with a suitcase, and two helmets, a preload system which seemed eerily familiar. Ignoring BMW’s obvious cribbing off Ducati, I can say the system works. Tools? Ha! None required for preload adjustment. Press a few buttons until your ass feels good. Press a few more until your tires stay on the pavement. I was getting used to this.

Finally, I got off the highway and onto a lonely road. I had selected “Road” riding mode. (Our test bike was equipped with the Dynamic Package, which includes Ride Modes Pro. I think BMW attempted to sway my opinion by simply loading up the bike with everything they had on the spec sheet. That strategy works.) "Road" mode enabled high levels of electronic intervention, which I wanted to play with. I did experiment with other modes, but I found myself coming back to this one because I was tickled every time the bike stepped in to correct me when it thought I needed some help.

I put the bike over on its side a bit. Hitting the curves with this bike is a real treat! The docile street motor just poured on more and more ferocity as the revs climbed. The exhaust was one of the nicest stock units I’ve ever heard. Each time I let off the throttle, I got a quick hit of exhaust overrun. I’d describe it as a nice mixture of crackle and burble. For me, any aftermarket exhaust would have to really outperform this pipe, because the song this bike sings is beautiful to my ears.

What I haven’t talked about yet is the acceleration. The S 1000 XR is simply powerful everywhere. Insanely, mind-stretchingly powerful. Every twist of the right hand grip yields ridiculous results. This motorcycle simply leaps every time you ask it to. The power doesn’t really slack off anywhere. Up to 4,000 rpm, the bike is simply acceptably fast. Beyond that, it turns into a snarling, galloping monster. I loved every second of it. The speed this bike is capable of is really astonishing. That power coupled with the incredible braking power the S 1000 XR has means it’s a hoot to pound this through the twists and turns on your favorite riding roads. You can get up to speed way fast, and then scrub it back off in a hurry. Riding this bike is fuuuuuuun.

The front brakes are twin 320 mm discs, squeezed by radially-mounted, four-pot Brembos. Braking is sublime. The rear is a more conventional two-piston floating-style caliper; needless to say most of the really good stoppin’ comes from your right hand, just as God intended. The brakes are stupid-powerful. One finger gets the job done. Oh, yeah — they have wonderful feel. Oddly, the linked braking was barely noticeable on this bike, so perhaps I don’t hate combined brakes the way I thought I did.

All of this performance was managed by the electronics systems, including ABS, DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), ASC (Automatic Stability Control), and the DESA I mentioned earlier. The bike’s optional equipment also included a set of BMW handguards. Luggage racks and a topcase rack also come with the top-tier model, as does a GPS prep package. (Our test bike did not include the GPS itself, so I can’t really speak to its efficacy or lack thereof.)

S 1000 XR highlights

I’m assuming this section should be more than simple happy babble about how damn fast this bike was. There were a few things beyond the enormous mill that worked well for me. Some were minor and some were major, but they all added up to a happy rider. The first thing that made me giddy with joy were the turn signals. Standard metric-style turn signals; just push to cancel. This may seem insignificant. It is not. Every...single...time that I ride the 2010 F 800 GS we have in house, I spend six or eight minutes seething, swearing inside my helmet because I ride the bike infrequently enough that I have to re-learn how to turn them off each time. In the same vein, BMW’s button de-cluttering is fantastic. Flash-to-pass and high beams are in the same button. Pull to flash, push to leave ‘em on, just like in a car. As I mentioned earlier, kill and start are the same button and more intuitive than the older combined switch. It cleans up the bars, reduces buttons, and pleases me greatly.

I mentioned this bike was tall. Our bike was equipped with (I think) the standard-height seat. There is a short seat and tall seat option available for free. I would have liked to have tried the lower option. I have a 32-inch inseam. I was unable to flat-foot this bike, and when my feet were not on the pegs, the wide seat dug into my inner thighs. However, once I was in riding position, the seat was magical — very firm and super-wide; the kind of seat folks fork over hundreds of dollars in the aftermarket for.

The two-position windscreen, though spartan and manually powered, was effective and seemed sturdy. I wouldn’t change a thing. Other niceties included heated grips (which I did not have the occasion to test) and cruise control, which was simple to figure out.

The final high note for me was the electronics package. This bike made me a faster rider than I really am. In Road mode, if I got stupid with my right hand, the bike let me have six inches of fun and then politely returned the front wheel to the tarmac. If I locked the rear wheel, I could feel the ABS tapping my foot, letting me know I was being too pushy. When I wanted to firm up the suspension to catch some riders up ahead in the turns, two taps on the button with the picture of a shock did the job. If I wanted the bike to just act a different way, quickly switching up the rider mode dialed in a different mix of intervention that seemed to be a fair approximation of the amount of help I wanted. I’m not a tech-o-phile, yet I appreciated all the assistance. I never felt as though I was being babysat. Rather, it’s as though the BMW was an old riding pal casually reminding me that my wife would probably yell if I wound up at the hospital. I never really expected damped throttle response to be a good thing, but if you’re just trying to get from A to B on a bike with 160 ponies, it is. Trust me.

S 1000 XR lowlights

Look, I know this has been a pretty glowing review. But the truth is that the flaws this bike has are so minor. Cindy Crawford’s mole comes to mind, but there are a few issues. The bars are the first problem. I found them too wide. Other folks on our team thought the bar ends were simply too high, not in terms of rise, but it was almost as though they were angled upward so the ends of the grips were higher. We all agreed they offered a pronounced buzz. A set of handlebars might be on the docket for many riders. Even though I found them acceptable, I know others will replace them. My other complaint was the feel of the slipper clutch. I’m not fond of the ratcheting of most slipper clutches. I know it’s “normal,” I just don’t care for it. It’s not going to happen, but an endless-screw type slipper in here would put a grin on my kisser.

I’d like to talk to BMW about the dash. It’s a boring old LCD. Look, I’m not a tech nerd. We know this. But if I liked this bike, tech nerds are going to go gaga for it. So why is it wearing an LCD screen from 1997? Sure, it’s simple and functional, but it sucks. If I showed my friends this dash, no one would be impressed. BMW, check out a Boom! dash or one of those classy motogadget units that Moto Borgotaro used on their Guzzi. Note that those dashes in no way resemble a pager. Try harder next time, please.

Let’s talk about the front of this bike. No, I am not commenting on the ADV styling, despite the fact that the beak and screen are not my cup of tea.

No, I am talking instead about the enormous radiator and oil cooler that have no protection in front of them. Even if you never offroad the XR, these items are sitting ducks just waiting to be impaled by some chunk of road detritus.

My last gripe is with the pricing and options. This one’s kind of long and dull, but I was dizzy after I tried to explain to my wife how much this bike would actually cost us if I was going to buy one. (I am not going to, but I did go so far as to pretend, which doesn’t always happen.) One issue is that the bike’s base price is listed as $16,350 on BMW’s website, but when you actually attempt to build one of these, you’ll find that you can’t actually order a bike at that price. The cheapest package is the Standard package for an additional $945.(Why the hell does any "standard package" carry a premium over a non-existent bike?!) If my math is correct, that means the cheapest S 1000 XR is $17,295.

BMW also splits up the electronics between sub-packages. If you want all the bells and whistles, you’re buying the Premium version, which includes the Touring and Dynamic sub-packages. Getting confused yet? All Standard package options, though, are sprinkled into the Touring and Dynamic sub-packages without a la carte pricing, so it’s hard to get a feel for exactly how much each option actually costs you. It’s almost a moot point. Finding the “Standard” version of one of these is going to be like hunting unicorns. BMW should just scrap the weird pricing, sell the top dog, and say it has a price tag of $18,750.

My other issue here is that even the top-of-the-line option isn’t really the out-the-door price. Who’s going to get the GPS prep package and then not buy the BMW GPS? Of course a bike like this demands luggage, which must also be added by the rider for more shekels. The pricing’s not out to lunch or anything compared to the Multi, but it would be nice if they just said, “$18,750 is the price, GPS and bags are extra.”

It’s a small bone to pick, really. This bike was a joy to ride. It went fast, slowed down in a hurry, and hustled through the corners like a champ. The electronics made me feel fast and confident, and the bike was comfortable and drew some stares. Now that I “get” the S 1000 XR, I think I also understand anyone who literally gets the S 1000 XR. Future buyers: It’s a fine motorbike. You have my envy.

The competition

Look, if you want to nail down competition, it’s the Multistrada. It’s the same bike and the same weirdo adventure-sport class. The Multistrada 1200 S Touring costs ya $21,294. However, it also comes with panniers, a top case, and handguards. Those pieces are BMW accessories that run $1,892, bringing the similarly equipped BMW to $20,642. The Duc’s extra cost nets a purchaser LED headlights, DCL (Ducati Cornering lights; here we go with the acronyms again), and a full-color TFT display. (Seriously, BMW. Fix this.)

All in all? Options are going to heavily affect the price and which bike is appropriate for a given rider. The pricing is similar if one compares apples to apples, but there are simply scores of option combos. Both bikes are premium offerings. The difference for most of the riders I know will probably hinge on whether the rider likes an inline-four engine or an L-twin.

I’ll toss the Aprilia Caponord in here, too, at $15,499. It’s the cheapest option, but it gives up a lot of horsepower. If one is truly planning on touring, I do have to ask: Is Aprilia’s dealer network robust enough to keep you on the road? Only prospective buyers can answer that question, but if you don’t need gratuitous power (you do) and you don’t mind doing some of your own wrenching (again, you do), then it could be a feasible alternative.

Conclusion

The styling of this bike still throws me, but the general usefulness of the S 1000 XR in so many situations won me over. It was comfy, and with bags it would make a great tourer, and yet it's still faster than 90 percent of the bikes on the road. I'm not the "early-adopter" type, but the BMW's electronics not only made me appear to be a faster rider than I am by a long shot, but also kept me safer — and that's worth something to nearly every rider.

I had a great time riding this Beemer. Before I got this bike, I remember thinking, “For that kind of money, this BMW had better be one hell of a bike!” Guess what? It is!

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