Rated – BMW S 1000 XR

Plenty of hype and plenty of sportsbike-like credentials (plus a ‘don’t take it off-road’ three-line whip) give us plenty to ponder as we test BMW’s S 1000 XR.

A Roman road, Carnaby Street, a seat of power, Lord Nelson’s tower, Marc Bolan’s bridge, a boat race finish and, randomly, Mr Nice. A good day in the life of a motorcycle tester and not a bad day’s testing of a bike. Welcome to London and welcome, at last, BMW’s S 1000 XR into the Brake testing department. To say we’ve been waiting to test this creature would be an understatement.

There’s hype around many a new bike but the XR was something else. Is it really an adventure bike with a sportsbike engine? What are BMW doing making a bike like this anyway? We’ll attempt to answer these questions…

Right, let’s get our heads around this. The BMW S 1000 RR is an adventure motorcycle specifically NOT for use off-road. Indeed our test came with very shouty instructions from BMW Motorrad; “DO NOT TAKE THIS BIKE OFF-ROAD.” They know what we’re like and they know what Brake is all about. We’d been warned.

So adventure motorcycling that doesn’t go off-road…What? Look around (open your eyes sonny – I’m talking to myself here) and there are thousands of adventure motorcyclists riding millions of miles a year and never venturing off the asphalt save the odd pull-in, gravel drive to a hotel or lumpy layby.

Broad-church goers that we are, what would be wrong with sticking to the roads? It doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventure or cannot travel does it? There are some astonishingly fantastic roads in this world and whichever country we’ve ever ridden in the breadth of road type is enormous. So why not just remove the dirt bit, for a bit, and stick to asphalt? BMW already has the Gelande Strasse bit sewn up quite successfully thank you very much. What they’re trying to do with the XR is shout to all the non-believers, “Oi! Over here!”

BMW knows all the above PLUS it knows only too well there’s a large portion of the motorcycling world which thinks all adventure bike riders are bearded, boring, bulging-bellied old farts. I’m not, are you? Occasionally bearded maybe but however I might think I look in the mirror each morning the stereotype persists in some quarters. So why not prove those doubters wrong with an adventure bike which squashes the prejudices with a different type of bike altogether?

Clever marketing? Maybe, but for BMW to basically give its flagship sportsbike the riding position of a GS and plonk it within its own adventure bike model line-up, we not only have to take notice but we had to take hold of a key and give one a thrashing.

A thrashing that involved a whole heap of miles on as large a range of road types as we could muster because we weren’t allowed off-road. You’ll spot the images are all taken in London. Not typical Brake territory, we know, but we wanted something different in look and feel because this bike is something different in look and feel. We took it there for Phil Steinhardt to work his magic but also because it was a great excuse to clock up some decent miles testing on different roads. Miles and time on the bike is a road test by most people’s book. Plus, if nothing else it’s a nice place to get a cup of tea.

It helps to be able to step away from your preferences in life, certainly in the job of motorcycle testing so step away we did and you know what? It made a refreshing change. Not that we’d stick with that change, our preference for riding off-road underlies every test we do here, but to take a motorcycle anywhere and everywhere (except off-road) is, well all good isn’t it?

There’s definitely a contingent in the sportsbike and adventure bike camps which stands apart in a pub car park and scoffs at each other.

An unquantifiable fact in biking life is that sportsbike riders and adventure riders don’t mix too well. I’m not sure why that is. Personally I’ve spent many thousands of hours on both and a good bike is a good bike. But there’s definitely a contingent in the sportsbike and adventure bike camps which stands apart in a pub car park and scoffs at each other. You don’t have to spend much time with the XR to figure out it bridges that gap. I’ll wager both car park camps could see themselves on one (and likely argue the case why it doesn’t quite fit the other mold and why they haven’t actually flipped to the other side.  If biking is about image to you then the XR has chameleon-like qualities that allow it to blend in wherever it parks up – while simultaneously standing out as a distinct-looking bike.

With your bum in the seat you quickly find most things about the BMW S 1000 XR are standard BMW issue; familiar and easy to use. Which is to say it looks pretty good, well-made, inspiring, has decent controls and feels nice to ride up the road. Nothing stands out as untoward and indeed if you’d never seen or heard of the S 1000 XR or spoken to anyone about it, you wouldn’t know it was anything other than a nice-looking Beemer.

Sports-tourer you might say? It’s arguable. Who cares about categories anyhow but if I had to draw a comparison I’d say this bike on first impression is aping the Ducati Multistrada in look and attitude, particularly in this red colour. There’s an easy feel about the S 1000 XR, easier than an S 1000 RR for example and for many who hop on this adventure bike it needs to feel good in that kind of way to be immediately appealing.

I think whatever you’re familiar with the XR will feel quite different because in many ways it’s isn’t like anything else. If you’re used to a GS it’ll feel quite different slim, revvy, quicker-steering. Sportsbike riders will feel at home in all those ways but wonder what the GS-like riding position and longer travel suspension is all about. A screen? What’s one of those?

This is important – important to help make it distinct, interesting and attractive to customers who might be tempted to shift away from their current biking genre and try something different but without putting any of them off.

I’ve spoken to a bunch of people who’ve tested the XR either because they wanted to know what all the hype was about or simply because their dealer loaned them one while their bike was in for service. To a man (they were all men, sadly) the talking point is how bloody fast it is. With nothing like the torquey V-twin power I’d spent the previous week riding, the XR builds power slowly, progressively right through the rev-range to an ever-increasing peak way up in a lofty part of the revs many will never have visited. Soft at the bottom is welcoming but the more you twist the throttle the more alert it becomes right up to the point where many adventure bikes are running out or have run out of steam, where-upon it enters a phase roughly similar to the Star Ship Enterprise hitting the warp speed button. If you’ve never ridden anything with 160hp at 11,000rpm you should try it, it’ll blow your socks off and make you shout out loud inside your helmet. Impressive power characteristics don’t come much more impressive than this. Get yourself down to a BMW dealer showroom and try it for yourself. You might long for some more torque lower down but that’s not what this engine is all about and besides, you won’t be disappointed.

There are several things this ADV hybrid does better than established rivals in class but no two things are more impressive about the XR than the way it brakes and accelerates. Any bike can be an adventure bike but very few of those can boast such performance from their engines and brakes.

It goes against the grain to rev a bike so hard if you’re used to a big twin cylinder motor or a single-cylinder trailey. This 999cc in-line, four cylinder engine is revvy, noisy and just when you think it has produced all it can the damn thing busts the 9000rpm mark and all hell breaks loose. In full power mode this moment on the tacho should not be underestimated. It’s an utterly exhausting drug, a true warp speed injection of thrust which puts your eyes as wide as a near-death experience does for at least the first thirty times you do it. Maybe more.

Peak torque is at 112Nm @ 9250rpm, 160hp peak power at 11,000rpm. Compare that to the GS12’s 125hp @ 7750rpm  and 125Nm @ 6500rpm peak torque and you get a notion. The GS might have more torque but you wouldn’t no it or care if you owned the S 1000 XR.

I don’t recommend you live at this hair-raising peak of power for too long, in fact you can’t unless you live in the middle of the Uyuni salt flat because you arrive at obstacles (bends, other vehicles, junctions, the edge of the earth) with such frequency you’re forced to knock your right wrist off for most the time. It’s fierce and most un-ADV-like.

Oh yes, and the brakes. These are sportsbike Brembo monobloc brakes, assisted with BMW’s extremely effective (and mode adjustable) ABS system. You’ll struggle to find better brakes than this on a road motorcycle. They have all the feel you could need (on road) but with this positive chassis they also screw hard down on the 43mm USD telescopic forks and front tyre when you really ask for some proper braking force. They are a great component, I can offer no criticism other than to say they might be too much off-road, if you were to go off-road…

What might disappoint if you’re used to adventure bikes (but won’t if you’ve spent any time on a sportsbike) is the tank range. It’s not bad but it’s not great. Maybe you wouldn’t expect it to be with a 24litre tank (20 plus four in reserve) but our best before fill-up figure was 160miles – often much less. As ever there’s a bit of a game of roulette to be played with the dashboard data: the fuel warning usually came on around the 110mile mark and the average consumption was always between 45 and 47mpg. I’m far from great at maths but something doesn’t add up there. Luckily the seat isn’t comfortable for any great distance so high mileage between fill-ups isn’t an option on either count.

A complex bastard of a sports bike-cum-adventure bike with a phenomenal array of electronics and a very fast engine.

If GS is all you know of the German marque you cannot fail to notice there are bikes on the market which do not pretend to have off-road cred but still elbow their way in to the adventure bike sector. Honda does a good line in this with its Cross Runner/Tourer. Ducati’s Multistrada, though capable off-road, is every bit the street bike to many people. A complex bastard of a sports bike-cum-adventure bike with a phenomenal array of electronics and a very fast engine. BMW wanted a piece of that action, built a bike every bit the bastard and who could blame them.

Speaking of complex arrays of electronics you have plenty to play with on the XR. Less if you opt for the base model and its two riding modes with TCS and ABS. The ‘Sport’ model gives you the added Dynamic option which includes a more aggressive power character, better DTC and additionally cornering ABS. Meanwhile the Sport SE lives without dynamism but does get semi-active suspension. It goes without saying the different components work well and certainly in Dynamic mode you can have a lively time safely. The semi-active suspension too gives you more options for tailoring the bike to suit what you want and need.

To be clear there are three model options of the competitively-priced S 1000 XR model. ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Premium’ models offer more sport or more tour, respectively than the standard bike. The ‘Dynamic’ package includes shift-assist, LED indicators, cruise control and additional ‘Pro’ modes listed above. The ‘Premium’ package includes the ESA, luggage racking, Sat Nav mounting and handlebar controller, heated grips and a centre stand. All these options are available if you want to make your own Super Dynamic/Premium hybrid version like we tested here, but it costs more of course.

It feels such a step away from the R 1200 GS and not so different in many ways from the S 1000 RR, you don’t expect an easy bike at slow-speed and two-up.

The XR’s pretty good two-up by the way – which is not something we always get to test at Brake. Taking a photographer to different locations was a breeze with a light clutch, nice balance and good low speed agility. I had half a thought the XR would be a bit more nervous, top-heavy maybe but it turns out not to be the case. I’m making this point because I suspect most people who haven’t ridden the XR would naturally think the same. Because it feels such a step away from the R 1200 GS and not so different in many ways from the S 1000 RR, you don’t expect an easy bike at slow-speed and two-up.

The rear suspension needs adjusting for the pillion- it’s no good just getting on and thinking it’ll be ok. It gets all too wallowy at the back if you don’t click the buttons to make it stiffer.

Generally speaking the suspension is fine for the task but, with initial suspension movement a little on the harder side, it suits a fast blast along your favourite road more than bumbling along on a day out looking at historic churches. You can adjust the ESA right down for a softer time all round but even then it hits bumps at slow speed rather than absorbing them in the plush way the GS or Super Adventure do.

The blend of sportbike, sport tourer and sportsbike is a terrific mix in many ways but it’s hard not to appreciate the adventure-type riding position. Adventure bike or not this is a better chassis than the GS or any of the larger capacity ‘genuine’ ADV bike can match. It’s a contentious issue I’ll concede, what makes a good handling bike and what I’ve said elsewhere in this copy contradict each other but at any given lean angle this bike is utterly positive, precise and super-controllable by comparison. No matter what kind of mood you’re in or rider you are this translates to confident riding. You can’t discount that fact when you consider what is ‘good’ about the way a chassis handles.

If you’re prone to travelling quicker than the rest of the traffic around you and cracking on a bit when you have a decent journey in front of you, then the XR is encouragingly agile, hides weight and gives confidence in corners. Which are all obviously good things.

What’s typically adventure bike about the XR is how the controls fall easily to hand, as the cliché has it. The riding position all-but copies the 1200GS which makes it a happy enough spot to sit in. A comparatively average 840mm seat height isn’t adjustable but is lower by 10mm than the GS12. You can get a 20mm lower option for free from your dealer or opt for an even lower modification but that’ll cost you a little more.

If you’re bobbing around in London like we did for the images on this test an easily handled bike makes itself conspicuous by its very lack of quirks. No clunks, an easy clutch, slick gear changes (with power assist helping on this bike) and a good hand-to-seat-to-foot ratio are equally important at the end of a long day when you’re still miles from your bed and just want everything to be right about your bike.

Weather protection is never going to be outstanding with this nose and fairing but I found it no better or worse than I expected behind the fairly small screen. It’s a nerdy point but an important one to many and certainly you’ll find it better than an S 1000 R or RR.

What’s not so good and must be mentioned are the vibey handlebars. Any length journey more than about an hour made my hands tingle. I broke a scaphoid badly once and had a blood flow problem to the bone, which made my hand feel weird for a month or so. While it didn’t last a month (thankfully) riding the XR makes my hands feel weird in the same way for a while at the end of a ride.


So it’s good two-up, good in the city, good on the motorway, fast A-roads and bumpy B-roads – you have to conclude this is a good all-rounder. What’s not to like? Well that tank range and the seat for small starters. They point to the fact that it isn’t designed to be a globetrotter and while the large part of me never expected anything else, I am a little disappointed it doesn’t do ‘tour’ more.

Because it does battle with all types of bikes you have to compare it to them all in my view, and not just 1200 GS’s, Explorers and Super Adventures. It’s more comfortable than many sportsbikes but less comfortable than so many sports tourers and adventure bikes and to that end slots in the adventure-lite category.

I’d love to have tried it off-road but in reality there’s little reason too.

The BMW S 1000 XR is an adventure bike slayer. It is BMW’s answer to its own knockers who say ADV bikes are boring, big, fat and heavy, made for old men with beards or wannabe travellers/Long Way Somewhere dreamers. Whether or not ADV bikes are those things in reality is a different debate but for certain to some people they are and the S 1000 XR is the anti-dote.

In many ways the XR is all about sprinting rather than running marathons. This is a fantastic bike, it’s just not a great adventure bike in the traditional sense. BMW already makes that bike several times over of course and I’ll be surprised if many people take up a global tour on one of these in the same way they so readily do on a GS.

If you don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to go a long way anywhere but you do subscribe to the notion that you want sportsbike-like handling, brakes and certainly engine performance but with a more gentlemanly riding position then BMW has you a bike.

Want to learn more about the S100 XR? Click here.

Images crafted by Phil Steinhardt.

Crafted By

Jonathan Pearson
Former Features Editor

JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.

Rated - BMW S 1000 XR
An incredibly performing road bike biased toward going fast.
Off Road Ability0
  • Well Finished Bike
  • Very strong engine and chassis combination
  • Manageable at low speeds
  • Revvy Engine
  • Vibey Bars
8.4Overall Rating
Reader Rating: (20 Votes)
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