Having the right tool for the job can make all the difference.
A quarter-inch socket isn’t going to work if you need your missing 10-mm. A can of spray cheese is no replacement for whipped cream. And those flip-flops are a poor choice for ice fishing.
But there are some tools that can be right for a lot of jobs. A multitool or Swiss army knife can solve an endless number of challenges. The 2022 BMW S 1000 XR is a motorcycle multitool to the extreme, and it was absolutely the right tool for a rapid tour around the Canadian Maritimes.
The last time I saw the Cabot Trail that circles the northern tip of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island was from the back seat of my parents’ 1987 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, and as a surly teenager I wasn’t as appreciative of the geography as I am today. My riding partner had never been to Prince Edward Island, so a loop of that province was part of our mission, too. But we only had one week for our vacation, which meant a quick pace and no dilly-dallying.
Still, within the first minute of our ride, my companion’s voice came through the intercom. “Umm, do we really need to go so fast?” In the process, they were calling me out on my exuberance, and bringing to my attention that I might’ve been unwittingly travelling just a touch over the speed limit.
In my defence, it’s incredibly easy to accomplish both with this BMW. The 999-cc inline four-cylinder engine shares more than a few mechanical bits (and personality) with the fire-breathing, race-bread S 1000 RR superbike; and even after it’s been detuned to 165 hp, it’s a wickedly fast machine.
Having logged a lot of miles on a previous-generation XR during a wild ride through Pennsylvania, I was expecting this BMW to be very quick, but I wasn’t anticipating how much smoother it would be. The old bike made my toes and fingers numb, and shook the mirrors at highway speeds, but this one wound up with the smoothness of a turbine by comparison. BMW has taken a lot of care improving the vibration damping through the bars and pegs, and it’s appreciated.
My other excuse for not noticing my pace is that the redesigned fairing on the XR improves airflow around the rider, so the sensation of speed is noticeably diminished. At times, we encountered considerable head- and cross-winds, buffeting my partner relentlessly on her unfaired Z900 at highway speeds – a sensation to which I was largely immune on the Beemer. When the rain pelted us on PEI, I flipped the lever to elevate the windscreen higher, offering even more protection.
Sadly, our truncated timeline forced more highway riding than either one of us would’ve preferred. As it turns out, this is one of the tasks that the S 1000 XR manages really well, not only because of its wind protection, but also its exceptional stability at speed. Plus, the luxury of cruise control offered a welcome reprieve to a weary throttle wrist, and on chilly mornings, the heated grips were nice, too.
Even if its insect-like face suggests sport bike intentions, BMW classifies the S 1000 XR with its other adventure bikes, and its riding position offers straight-up seating similar to the gnarlier GS bikes. While slightly more forward than the last generation, it’s still a very neutral posture that keeps the rider’s weight off their wrists, and the elevated height compared to the naked S 1000 R means a less cramped leg position, too. The new seat developed for this generation S 1000 XR is a dramatic departure, being very comfortable, but aggressively scooped to hold a rider’s butt in place, yet allowing a narrow width at the tank to help short-legged riders put their feet down.
Even so, my short-ish inseam meant I was on tippy-toes to touch down, and usually leaning to one side for a one-flat-foot perch at stops typical of other adventure bikes I’ve ridden. BMW offers a lowering kit to drop the suspension about an inch, and a thicker “comfort seat” is available for those wanting more height and cushiness.
For the most part, the roads we encountered were in good shape, but through construction zones and the few neglected parts of the Cabot Trail, the comfort of the S 1000 XR’s ride also shone brightly. As standard equipment, BMW fits the S 1000 XR with its Dynamic ESA Pro system that allows for electronically controlled suspension adjustability. When first climbing on the XR, there was a surprising amount of suspension compression akin to a full-on ADV bike that had me wondering if this machine would live up to my recollection as a great handler when the roads got squiggly.
I needn’t have worried. Being about 10 kg (22 lb) lighter than the old bike, and with the advancements to the suspension, the S 1000 XR is even more eager to play in the curves than before. The suppleness of the suspension over bumps tightens up magically as the bike is tossed into corners. For riders who want to set things up just so, the Dynamic Pro ride mode enables configurability of throttle response, traction control, ABS intervention, and even the amount of engine braking. There’s also a rain mode that I used during a particularly soggy part of the ride on PEI which softens the throttle response and heightens the safety nanny intervention.
BMW has put in considerable effort to increase the safety of the S 1000 XR. Beyond the highly-sophisticated traction control with wheelie suppression and hill-start control, the ABS is tied into the cornering angle sensors to reduce the likelihood of a skid-out when leaned over and grabbing some brakes in a panic moment.
It was fun experimenting with some of the different ride modes, but for the majority of the trip, the bike was left in the road setting and suited me just fine. The bike’s relatively tall stature and centre of gravity provide an exaggerated urgency to lean into turns; and with wide bars offering lots of leverage, the big BMW feels particularly eager to carve through even the tightest corners. Even at low speeds, or negotiating through a parking lot, the amount of steering angle available makes the S 1000 XR really easy to weave through tight spots. The throttle calibration is spot-on, too, helping to provide smooth, linear inputs at any speed.
The precise throttle and long travel suspension mean the S 1000 XR can manage gravel roads and pot-holed parking lots with ease as well – something its stiffer S 1000 R and RR cousins can’t say.
As accomplished as the S 1000 XR is on the highway, it’s equally adept at doing one helluva a sport bike impersonation, too. The eagerness of its steering and stability is backed up by a set of confidence-inspiring Bridgestone Battlax Sport Touring tires that offered plenty of grip. Bending into the Cabot Trail’s famous corners, the BMW was thrilling with so much performance on offer, and even though much of its 103 lb-ft of torque seems accessible through most of the rev range, I couldn’t help keeping the gears low and revs high just to hear the feral scream of that engine over and over again, often ripping off clutchless shifts thanks to the standard Gear Shift Assistant Pro system.
All this multi-faceted excellence comes at a cost, of course, which is $19,995 to start. My bike had the reasonably-priced $615 Touring Package with luggage rack, USB charging socket, centre stand, and hand protectors, all of which were useful. It also comes with the GPS holder for the Motorrad navigation unit loaned by BMW that was in desperate need of a map update and tedious to input destinations. Still, having an integrated and weatherproof navigation system was a welcome perk on this trip.
The adaptive headlights were an additional $685, plus $330 for a tire pressure monitoring and another $330 for the alarm system, ringing up a total of $21,955 before the government takes its share. There’s an extensive catalogue of other options and accessories available meaning that this already multi-faceted machine can be set up for darn-near any rider’s preference or needs.
It’s a costly machine, to be sure, but its nearest competitor, the Ducati Multistrata V4, starts at over $22,000 and can easily crest the $30,000 mark. The KTM Super Adventure S is $21,499, and even Kawasaki’s Versys 1000 LT SE is more than $20,000, so this Beemer is competitively priced.
The blend of that lusty drivetrain, serious performance capabilities, touring comfort, aggressive styling and excellent build-quality make the S 1000 XR a good value. It also made it the perfect tool for making the most of our scramble around the eastern provinces, and has been reaffirmed as not only one of the best machines Motorrad builds, but one of my favourite bikes for sale today.