Ride review: BMW S1000XR into the eye of the storm

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.

It’s especially not free if you get caught riding over the speed limit by small-town U.S. cops. Just sayin’.


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.

Doesn’t it make you want to just walk up to it, sling a leg over that saddle and take off? But there’s a storm brewing.

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.

Jeff’s posse pauses along the way. Don’t feel sorry for the guy in the warm, dry Tundra – he ended up with the last laugh.


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 windshield adjusts for a comfortable ride, and the instrumentation is always clear. The mirrors, not so much.

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.

Down there – that’s gorgeous riding, that is, through the low hills of central Pennsylvania.


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.

And this is what will take you down there, in a never-ending series of swoops and curves and effortless power.

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.


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.

Any excuse for gelato.

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.

Hmmm. “Take cover now! If you are in a vehicle, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.”

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.

“But officer – my bike doesn’t even have a speedometer, just a tach! I had no idea I was riding so fast!”

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.

It may be the rust belt, but there’s no rust on the Beemer down in Pennsylvania.



  1. BTW, for those somewhat interested in geology, these hilly/mountainous areas in Pennsylvania are not for the most part ancient mountains, but rather an ancient plateau that has been dissected by eons (~200 million years) of erosion. You can see this from Hyner View lookoff, where you can notice that all the surrounding “mountains” are basically the same height.

    However in eastern Pennsylvania you will encounter the actual ancient Appalachian mountains, which are somewhat but not a lot larger, having also been worn down by eons of erosion.

    In any case, it makes for some great riding. And I saw a lot of freshly paved roads when I was down there, too. Not like Ontario where we only repave roads when their condition has descended to somewhere between execrable and undrivable.

    • Thanks for the geological clarification, V-Strom Ry (I actually did the trip a few years ago on a V-Strom 1000 and got caught in some nasty rain on that trip too — was glad to have that bike then too!).

      Per your previous note, yes sir, the 144 out of Renovo was definitely a highlight.

      As for the rest of the route… well, we all find our own magic roads. 😉

  2. My test ride of the XR revealed mostly the same positives. Brilliant overall package – but that vibration was excessive. I think it would be a deal breaker !

  3. I was down at Hyner View on Friday.
    Hope you guys hit the 144 between Renovo and Karthaus (locally pronounced “Karth-us”, apparently). Really good pavement on it. The 44 and 144 north of Renovo are really good, too. Among the various really good roads to be found in that part of Penn., as you say.

  4. Is the XR in your pictures lowered? I’ve got a 34″ inseam, and when I test rode one, I couldn’t flat foot both feet. The one you rode looks lower.

    • No sir, it was plenty tall. I’ve got a 31″ inseam and found at stoplights I’d lean to one side to get a foot down. Obviously when riding around, the height is no issue, but admittedly, trying to tippy-toe around parking spaces, etc., it can be a challenge being short-of-leg on the XR, and one of the reasons I’d happily forego some of the comfort of the XR and pick up a slightly cheaper S1000R instead.

      The low seat option would’ve been a welcome addition – though dropping from 840 to 820 mm, it hardly seems worth it.

  5. A slight detune seems to be common practice for bikes derived from their super sport siblings and generally has more to do with the way the power is delivered than the outright maximum output. Most of us would happily take a more usable midrange and low end power delivery for non-track related riding. As I mentioned in the review, the S1000XR is definitely not hurting for power and moves along brilliantly.

    • But my point was, having ridden the RR, the low end and midrange on that bike is out of this world, no need to change it IMO. But what’s missing on the XR is that “holy freak’n shit” hit when it hits its peak. I don’t want “it’s not hurting for power” on a sport touring bike, I want “holy freak’n shit” when I’m feeling frisky…

      Why has this become common practice? Why do I need to be completely bent over with my ass in the air to get top shelf power? Just give me a comfy bike with all of it!

      (clearly a pet peeve…)

      • It’s a good point. It would seem the manufacturers (or their market research mavens) in all their wisdom have determined that riders on the open road need / want a smoother, more linear power delivery with meatier mid-range or low-rev power than outright top-end gusto. Maybe BMW needs to offer an S1000XRR with the full-balls engine? Maybe it could be a little niche-market opportunity for them there?

  6. Nice write-up. But 160hp…why? Why remove 40hp from that engine…nobody would say that the 1000RR wasn’t tuned for torque.

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