Photos by Kevin Wing
If we hadn’t been clear on it here at Canada Moto Guide before, we will now set the record straight. Adventure Touring bikes — proper AT bikes — must have some measure of off-road capability. This is usually determined by some added suspension travel over standard motorcycles, and appropriate front wheel sizes, usually 19 or (preferably) 21 inches in diameter.
Seventeen-inch fronts were originally introduced on sport bikes, and they’ve since become the default on-road wheels. The can even handle smooth unpaved roads, but throw in a few dips and bumps and they just get swallowed up and bounced around. This is why we’ve separated the adventure categories in our Buyer’s Guide, distinguishing the machines with some off-road capability from the strictly street-oriented ones with 17-inch front wheels, which we’ve called “Adventure Street”.
The 2015 BMW S1000XR falls into the latter category.
The S1000XR ($17,600) is based around the S1000RR inline four. According the BMW it’s the fourth model based around the 999 cc engine, following the S1000RR, the high-performance HP4 version (counted as a separate model by its maker), and the naked S1000R.
From a distance it’s not too difficult to mistake the S1000XR with the Ducati Multistrada, for it shares a similar silhouette, a pointy beak and a stepped seat. From the front it has a vaguely familiar S1000 face, but instead of having asymmetrical headlight lenses, it has asymmetrical headlight reflectors.
Engine specs are identical to the S1000R, which uses a detuned version of the S1000RR engine, and in the XR it also produces 160 peak horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque.
As defines Adventure Street machines, wheel travel has been increased, offering 150 mm at the front and 140 mm at the rear over the R model’s 120 mm at both ends. This has also extended the wheelbase to 1,548 mm (up from 1,439 mm for the R).
If you’re too short to feel comfortable with the bike’s 840 mm (non-adjustable) seat height, an optional lower suspension kit is available ($245), which reduces travel by 30 mm at both ends and can be doubled up with a no-cost low seat option – though you may just want to consider the S1000R.
The manually adjustable suspension features compression and rebound damping at the fork and rebound damping and preload at the shock. BMW has simplified things somewhat within the optional electronic suspension (ESA), which now has fewer selectable modes than on its other bikes. Suspension modes include only Road and Dynamic, the latter offering firmer damping (there are still three selectable preload settings).
There are two standard ride modes, Rain and Road, each one altering throttle mapping, stability control and ABS settings for either wet or dry conditions.
Two more ride modes are available, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro, through the addition of the optional coding plug included in the Dynamic Package. These modes further enhance throttle response, while adjusting the dynamic traction control and ABS Pro settings (both of which are lean angle sensitive), as well as ESA settings if the bike so equipped.
All of BMW’s various rider aids are still available in optional packages, like the Dynamic Package ($1,200 – includes DTC, shift assist, ride modes Pro and ABS Pro), and the Touring Package ($1,625 – includes ESA, GPS mount, centre stand, luggage rack and brackets, as well as heated grips). Traction control and ABS can be turned off if you like to slide.
For a refreshing change of venue, instead of flying press to some overseas location, BMW held the S1000XR North American press launch in the Muskoka region of Ontario. We were based out of the spectacular Rosseau Muskoka Resort and Spa, located right on the shore of Lake Rosseau, from where an abundance of winding roads branch out. If you’ve ever ridden in the area, you know the roads can be as sinuous as in the western U.S. or Europe, though maybe a bit bumpier. This was the ideal location to put the XR through the paces.
Our press bikes were equipped with ESA suspension and Gear Shift Assist Pro (clutch-less up and down shifts), but not with the Dynamic ride modes. They were also brand new, some bikes showing only one mile on the odometer (U.S. spec bikes), so they were in break-in mode, meaning their engine rev limiters were set to 9,000 rpm instead of 12,000. This also meant we didn’t have access to the full 160 hp, which arrives at 11,000 rpm.
The riding position is very relaxed with an easy reach to the tall, wide handlebar. There’s ample legroom, as the footpegs are mounted lower and father forward than on the S1000R. The seat, although supportive, is cupped and holds you in one place so you can’t change positions or easily move around.
Firing up the engine reveals a rather throaty four-cylinder hum, and clicking the transmission into first gear requires a very light touch. As anticipated, the engine is very strong, pulling progressively harder as revs build.
Although our bikes cut the fun off at 9,000 rpm, that was still enough oomph to achieve some unmentionable speeds along the more open back roads. The engine is mildly buzzy, with some vibration coming through the handlebar and seat beginning at about 5,000 rpm, and getting more prominent as revs pick up from there, though it never reaches an intolerable level.
Turning off the traction control is merely a matter of holding the ABS button down for a second or so (the button serves double duties, turning off the ABS too), which is the way I rode the bike for most of the day, as we altered from paved to unpaved roads.
Steering is neutral, yet ultra-light due to the added leverage offered by the wide handlebar, which fortunately doesn’t induce weaving at speed. At 228 kg wet, the XR is slightly lighter than the 232 kg Multistrada, and it felt light when flicking it through a series of turns. Turning transitions between tightly spaced turns were effortless, the bike’s height doing little to hamper the manoeuvre. Rolling on the throttle in fourth gear over some of the sharp crests induced instant wheelies that continued until the throttle was shut.
My major gripe with this bike is with the ESA suspension. I usually — and rightly so — rave about BMW’s electrically adjustable suspension, but with only two settings on the XR (Road and Dynamic), it fell short of an ideal setup for our bumpy Canadian tarmac. It isn’t harsh, but it is firm, and on BMWs with a wider range of adjustability (as well as the Multistrada) you can find a more comfortable setting for the rough stuff. Maybe the standard suspension has a wider range of adjustability, but there weren’t any of those on hand to try out.
We rode a fair amount along some unpaved roads (which are quite a bit more entertaining than blacktop), and due to the previous day’s rain, there was no dust and just the right amount of traction for the Bridgestone T30R sport touring rubber to make it an absolute giggle to ride along.
Although I would have preferred a softer suspension setting, Road mode worked well enough to blast along these hard-packed roads at a pace that would have been considered fast even on pavement. The Bridgestones actually had surprisingly good grip in these conditions, and breaking the rear loose through corners was a matter of winding in more throttle, though when it did break loose, it did so rather abruptly, requiring more throttle control than if the torque spread was wider, like on the Multistrada. These unpaved roads were smooth, however, and throwing any bumps into the mix would have probably overwhelmed the firm suspension.
Fortunately we managed to avoid the rain that had been lingering in the area over the previous couple of days, but I’m sure the XR would have handled it well. It offers very reasonable wind protection up to about helmet level with the windscreen in the higher position.
BMW has entered a relatively new segment with a new bike, but it will not have the same impact that the S1000RR had when it stormed into the open supersport segment. That bike redefined the performance baseline, as well setting the standard in electronics in the class. The XR only offers an alternative take on the adventure-street class.
Don’t get me wrong, the S1000XR is a great bike, but it’s not outstanding. It doesn’t dominate in output (the Ducati produces more torque), and it’s not particularly distinguishable in styling, say the way the R nineT is.
As is the case with other BMWs, it performs very well, and it comes in at a reasonably affordable price point in the class, but the naked S1000R version, at $14,800, is definitely the bargain bike if you want an introduction to BMW’s inline fours.
The S1000XR enters a class that is represented by a small variety of machines in a widely spaced price range. At the lower end of the pricing is the Kawasaki Versys 1000, which for $13,999 offers a modest 116 hp, traction control and ABS, though it also has a relatively basic suspension system, significantly more mass and only 12 months of warranty.
The Aprilia Caponord 1200, at $15,995, also features traction control and ABS, as well as electrically adjustable, semi-active suspension. It also comes with standard saddlebags, making it the bargain in its class. However, for all its merits, it unfortunately lacks a far-reaching dealer network.
The Ducati Multistrada is the S1000XR’s closest rival, matching the BMW’s 158 hp output but surpassing it in torque at 100 lb-ft. It’s also more tech-laden, with an available TFT instrument screen, more ride modes and a wider range of adjustability within its optional electrically adjustable semi-active suspension. It’s also more expensive, starting at $18,995, or $20,795 for the S model with the trick suspension.
And, as with all BMW’s, the S1000RX comes with a 36 month warranty,
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“A modest 116 hp”. What have we become?
I ride a 34-hp KLR650 and am very content. Never found the need for more than 100 hp on the road, though these days people have told me that the new 125-hp boxer from BMW isn’t powerful enough—and any of those bikes will lift the front wheel on gas in second gear, third if you tug on the bars…