You can see exactly where BMW got the idea for the S 1000 XR. Ducati’s 2010 Multistrada put the ergonomics and chassis of an Adventure bike together with a storming Superbike motor (slightly detuned) from the Panigale. It left BMW’s class king, the GS, looking seriously outgunned. Even a major revision in 2013, giving the German bike water cooling and a power hike to 125hp, didn't remedy the situation, and KTM joined the arms race with their 150bhp 1190 Adventure the same year.
Then, presumably, someone at BMW looked at their S 1000 RR parked next to the GS and a Frankenstein dream was born. Chop the monstrously powerful 999 cc engine from the first and sew it into the latter. Although that’s not exactly how it ended up. Instead, the XR uses a slightly revised version of the RR’s chassis, near identical to the S 1000 R naked, adding long-travel suspension front and rear. Meanwhile the motor was retuned from a ballistic 199bhp to a still-fearsome 160bhp. (The 2017 model has been lifted to 165BHP). But the stance and ergonomics are unmistakably ‘Adventure’.
Remember, just a decade ago 160-165 bhp was the headline power output of leading Sportsbikes, including the revered K5/K6 Suzuki GSX-R1000. Today, even on a machine weighing 228kg, it makes the XR ridiculously fast. From mid-range revs, it will pull like a train in any gear. The roll-on stomp is way more than you expect from an ex-sports bike four-cylinder, pulling relentlessly away from the 1200 Multistrada in a top-gear, 70-100km/h comparison.
The engine’s flexibility and torque are accompanied by seamless fuelling, making for a relaxing ride if you want one. But hit 8,000 rpm and the soothing company of Dr Jekyll gives way to the deranged presence of Mr Hyde. From 9,000 revs to where the redline starts and peak power is delivered at 11,000 the XR’s engine is pure evil: snarling, howling and bent on torturing the rear tyre and chassis.
‘Gelassenheit durch technik’
That the rest of the BMW can contain and channel this power is testament to some genius engineering, not least in the electronics department. Despite suspension travel of 150mm front and 140mm rear, and a fair bit of mass, setting the Electronic Suspension Adjustment to Dynamic mode delivers an impressive level of control. You’re always aware that you’re riding a big machine, but the reassuring hand of BMW’s ASC (Automatic Stability Control) works effortlessly on the background. ‘Gelassenheit durch technick, as they might say in Germany. Or ‘composure through technology’.
The downside is that Dynamic mode is too firm for real comfort. Handily, it’s easy to switch on the fly. Road mode soaks up the bumps impressively.
Living with the beast
An important consideration with the S 1000 XR is the sheer size of it. At 6ft, I’m no shrimp. But the XR proved more difficult to manhandle, paddle around and gain confidence with than expected. The 840mm standard seat height (there’s a lower one available) is not particularly Himalayan and less than the GS’s 850mm, but the seat is fairly wide (and hence comfortable). The 228kg mass is usefully less than the 244kg GS, but it feels tall and topple-y in a way the GS does not. Reasons? The GS has a lower C-of-G and longer travel suspension (190mm/200mm, F/R) so it doesn't feel as top heavy, and when you sit on it the suspension compresses a fair bit, giving a better chance of getting your feet flat on the floor.
Another fact of life with the XR is fuel consumption. Exploit that epic engine power and it sucks down juice at a fair rate. With a 20 litre tank, range is acceptable but not outstanding. Bank on the fuel light and range countdown coming on after about 230 kms.
The ergos of the bike will be familiar to anyone who has ridden a recent GS. The control layout is identical, and the riding position similar. The front screen offers about the same amount of protection, which can mean a fair bit of wind noise depending on your height. It can be manually adjusted between two positions but it’s tricky to do so on the move.
In terms of steering, handling, ground clearance and sheer ability to enjoy a twisty road, the XR is top class. Although longer in wheelbase than its R and RR siblings, the tall bike displays similar talents. The wide bars give great leverage so it steers quickly, and the bike relays excellent feedback about what the tyres are doing. For a long, high bike it can be amazingly nimble.
Chain drive requires more routine care than shaft drive, but some will welcome the simplicity. Not that anyone is likely to choose the XR for a Road of Bones style adventure. BMW describe the bike as Adventure Sport, and the emphasis is very much on ‘Sport’ with a tarmac bias. The massively powerful (but not especially communicative) radial Brembos up front offer a clue in that regard: they’re designed more for hauling the bike up on a track day than feathering down a boulder-strewn track.
People got very excited by the XR when it launched, offering a bewitching mix of sports bike power and adventure bike controllability. And you can see the attraction for a generation of riders reluctant to give up the excitement of their R1 but whose chiropractor counsels a sensible GS. Effectively, the XR is a K5 Gixxer on stilts with a comfy seat and handlebars.
But does it really make sense? I’m not so sure. There’s talk of owners going back to the GS, and the lure of that machine remains strong. Maybe, in some ways, the S 1000 XR is just too much: too fast, too tall, too coolly proficient. But in other ways it’s lacking. It doesn't have the character and quirkiness of its GS sibling, or the Multistrada or KTM Adventure come to that. It’s a technical tour-de-force, but not the sort of machine that secures a loving last look before shutting the garage door.
Of course technical excellence and sheer performance are hard to argue against. If they count above all other considerations, then the XR could be the bike for you.
All-round prowess and performance.
Model: BMW S 1000 XR
Engine: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, 16-valve four
Capacity: 999 cc
Fuel System: EFI
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive, Gear Shift Assist Pro (up-and-down quickshifter)
Seat Height: 840mm
Kerb weight: 228kg
Fuel capacity: 20.0 L