When we last heard from Jeff Wilson, in this post, he was getting ready to ride with some friends to Pennsylvania on a BMW S1000XR. He was moaning about the heat. He didn’t know there was a storm coming… – Ed.
No matter how much you prepare, sometimes the unexpected just happens.
For a good bike trip, this could mean getting lost and discovering the world’s greatest riding road simply by happenstance. Or it could mean having an infuriating mechanical meltdown in the middle of nowhere. Either way, it’s all part of the adventure and one of the reasons so many of us love a good bike trip.
To celebrate my brother’s recent marriage, the guys and I decided to have a belated bachelor party weekend of sorts, except instead of strippers and beer, there’d be motorcycling on some of our favourite riding roads. And then beer.
Thanks to BMW Canada, I’d do the pilgrimage with a new S1000XR
sport touring, err… “adventure” bike. On paper, the S1000XR looks like the sordid progeny of BMW’s revered S1000RR super sport and its legendary R1200GS adventure machine.
The XR utilizes the same 999 cc inline-four found in the S1000R naked sport bike. It puts out 160 hp, making it a spot-on match for the Ducati Multistrada 1200 – the S1000XR’s most obvious competitor. The BMW is a fair bit less expensive, too: it starts at $17,700, while the most basic Multistrada starts at $19,395.
Torque, at 83 ft.-lb, is down almost 20 from the Duc, but I can’t imagine anyone riding an XR proclaiming, “Gee, this bike is woefully underpowered and boring.” In fact, from the first on-ramp, the big Beemer’s sensational power becomes highly addictive.
Setting out from Southern Ontario, we headed toward the sinuous roads around the Sproul State Forest in central Pennsylvania – an area our small group of riders visits annually. The others straddled smaller and sportier bikes (and one poor fella was stuck driving a full-size Toyota Tundra), but I was assured by BMW that the XR would impress on the twisty bits of pavement we’d encounter.
ON THE ROAD
First, we had some interstate miles to digest. Where my peers looked like folded origami riding their little machines, including a Triumph Street Triple R, an Aprilia Tuono and a Suzuki SV650S, I was perched on the XR’s broad seat and relishing the comfort of the BMW. It had moderate protection from windblast, even with the adjustable windscreen set in its lower position. A little cruise control perhaps? Sure, why not?
An hour or so into the trip and I was properly pleased with myself for having planned such a smart choice in motorcycles. The onboard computer said there was still 250 km of range and we’d already ridden more than 100 km (though curiously, even when full, it never read more than 250 kms). It was fast, stable and comfortable at speed, although the frenetic four-cylinder engine was buzzier than expected, causing some tingling even through the rubber footpegs and soles of my boots. The mirrors also danced around enough for me to do a few double takes, to make sure that vibrating reflection wasn’t a State Trooper.
The XR had a unique sound, too. Cruising along at around 6,000 rpms in sixth gear, there’s a very industrial, kind of buzz-saw-like soundtrack. But crack open the throttle and the Beemer belts out a hair-raising howl that’s unexpected from a bike in cargo pants.
Heading off the multi-lane highway and on to the secondary routes, the terrain started to change, with elevation fluctuations and twists and turns that all quickened the pulse. We stopped for a photo at Hyner View State Park before heading out onto one of the most magical stretches of asphalt I’ve ever experienced.
Clean, smooth pavement wound back and forth, up and down the ancient mountains. There were no cross roads for miles at a stretch, not even driveways, and we were in our glory. Revs rising and falling, we bent the bikes into the corners with everyone relishing that glorious rhythm when every corner flows smoothly into the next.
Riding the biggest and heaviest bike (228 kg) in the group, I volunteered to take the tail position in our convoy. I didn’t need to, though. The XR dove eagerly into corners, its Bridgestone Battlax tires gripping impressively. The fluid delivery of all that power inspires confidence pulling hard out of the corners, and BMW’s sophisticated traction control and ABS was there to help if I should get a little too ambitious.
Maintaining both a manageable pace and safe distance behind my peers, I worked to keep my focus on the road and not the sight of the machines ahead of me gliding from corner to corner, lean-to-lean, in rhythmic arcs. Occasionally, I caught myself catching up to one of the riders more quickly than expected, but the S1000XR always had abundant braking power, with great bite and immediacy.
On a less engaging section of road, I found myself fiddling with more of the Beemer’s features and accidentally jettisoned the GPS mount’s cover into the countryside. Miraculously, the small, plastic piece was located and replaced on the bike, and it wasn’t until later that locals told us of the Forestry Department’s strict warnings to stay out of the greenery – it’s full of rattlesnakes this season. A snake bite was definitely not something planned for on this trip.
While we were enjoying the blurred scenery on our bikes, two other friends who were set to join us for our planned dinner at the legendary Denny’s Beer Barrel ran afoul of a US Border official having a particularly bad day. With a passport that showed only a month until expiry, the surly guard denied access to our fellow Canadian revellers and their weekend celebration finished before it began. The rest of us, with our bikes parked for the night, toasted them in their absence with a pint of local craft brew.
EYE OF THE STORM
Saturday had breakfast scheduled for a reasonable hour, enabling us the time to avoid the freeway and take a more interesting route toward Cleveland – our Day 2 destination. However, we couldn’t get going in time to avoid heading right into the path of a late summer storm. Barely an hour into a four-hour ride, we pulled off and ate gelato in the only restaurant in a tiny rural town, waiting for the deluge to subside.
Believing the worst of the storm had moved on, we set out again, directly into a second, stronger front. The rain was now coming down so hard that I could barely see the hazard lights flashing on the bike in front of me as we inched along, praying for the next off-ramp to find some place – any place – to take shelter once more. We’d planned for a bit of rain, but nothing like this, nor the reported tornado that touched down less than 10 miles from where were riding.
Even fording puddles nearly hub-deep, the S1000XR was unfazed, reminding me that BMW doesn’t take the whole “Adventure Bike” moniker lightly, even in this sportiest variation. Pressing on with such limited visibility, I couldn’t locate the button to select BMW’s “Rain” ride mode, and yet the XR never missed a beat through hours of miserable conditions. The heated grips were a welcome treat for my chilled, wet hands.
Physically soaked and mentally drained, we rolled into Cleveland hours later to find our hotel accommodations were one bed short of our needs. It was a problem that could wait until after an Uber ride, dinner and some more well-deserved beer.
Happily, Sunday confirmed that both Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the A Christmas Story house are well worth their admission cost, and with spirits buoyed, we began the four-hour ride home on the interstate beside Lake Erie.
Through it all, the BMW S1000XR proved a capable and willing travel partner for this adventure, hauling me and my luggage through all sorts of riding. On the highway it’s stable and comfortable, yet it never forgets its superbike roots when the roads get curvy. Sure, it’s not going to handle rocks and off-road excursions, but that’s what the gnarly GS series bikes are for. This machine is for on-road adventures.
There always seem to be some events that unfold on a bike trip that can never be properly planned, but counting on the S1000XR to be a capable and well-rounded bike can make getting through the unexpected a little easier.