So you know how it is. You get tall, rangey cars with loads of suspension movement and they are great off road. Then you make them a bit, or even a lot, more luxurious and they are slightly less good off road but they are ever so popular in suburbia. Why? Honestly I don't know - they're hugely expensive, a bit underpowered and really floaty and boaty on the road. But they're comfortable. Then someone, like BMW, takes the idea and just makes it a better road car - you have the height but then you have proper road suspension and a proper meaty engine. And the price tag to match.
Now BMW are pretty good at that sort of thing in the car world. And one of their little tradmarks is taking the engine and drivetrain out of a proper M-car and otting it into a pseudo off-roader. It'll be limited in the mud but they're pretty awesome on the road. Which, happily, translates rather neatly into their two wheeled division as well.
On paper the S1000XR is all wrong. It's tall and leggy, just like you'd expect of any other BMW GS. But it's got road tyres on road wheels. And then there's the small point of that 1000cc four cylinder motor. That's far too much power for an off road bike, surely?
Well, spoiler alert. Paper is wrong - this is a bike that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are, well, they're an interesting combination of slightly mental and utterly practical. So far, so BMW. Chassis-wise, you get, in essence, a sports tourer on stilts. The riding position is all-day comfortable, with the bars in exactly the right place and the seat cosseting your bum in a way that no sportsbike ever will. The pegs are forward enough to be comfortable, back enough to be helpful when you need to move your weight around. And the suspension is as supple as anything - more on that later. Of course, the headline point, as always where this particular item is concerned, is the engine. It's not quite as rip-snorting as the version fitted to the 'RR, lacking as it does the shiftcam wizardry fitted to the sportsbike. So the XR rider has to make do with a mere 165 horsepower. Let;s just recap on that. This is arguably an off-roader, certainly a tourer. And it's got significantly more power than a top flight sportsbike of just a few years ago. But we'll come back to that as well.
There's one thing you can't get away from. Actually there's two things. This is not a pretty bike, but it certainly has...something. And in the interesting new Ice Grey paint scheme it looks far better than you might expect. And the other thing is the quality. The S1000XR simply oozes it. BMWs have aways been pretty well screwed together, but this year they seem to have upped their game, certainly sith the S1000 ranges. Top notch components and some really neatly integrated design that just works.
For example. The XR has the same TFT dash that is rolling out across the whole BMW range, and it's a fine piece of kit. Control is achieved with a button on the left bar and a combined scroll wheel and left-right clicker. It sounds complicated, but because the thing is so well put together and designed, actually it's dead straightforward.
I think there's an important thing that gets forgotten when folk look at bikes like this. Like the car equivalent, in reality the closest these bikes will get to really going off road is perhaps parking in a field. Probably not even that. And when you remember that, the perspective changes slightly. It would, of course, be easy to sneer and dismiss the whole thing as a poseur's dream, but that's not really fair. Apart from anything else, the poseur will go for something with more genuine adventure credibility if that's their bag. The XR doesn't have a glorious Paris-Dakar heritage on which to fall back, so it'll never compete in that sense.
Let's go for a ride and see if that's justified.
The seat is quite tall, but not unmanageable. Certainly it's less daunting than the GS I tested last year - that was really a little unnerving at first. There is no stretch to the bars - they're wide but nicely positioned and the pegs fit perfectly. The clocks are beautifully clear and the mirrors are wide and buzz-free. Controls all fall easily to hand, as you'd expect. The days of BMW ploughing their lonely furrow with eccentric control layouts are happlily long gone. This particular bike has key-free ignition - as long as the fob is in your pocket (or anywhere else about your person) then you just press the button where the key would normall go to turn the ignition on, thumb the starter and off you go. The filler cap opens electrically as well - if you have the key then press the button and the cap pops open. And yes, there's a real key inside the fob in case something goes wrong. But I digress.
Start the engine and wait for a few seconds for it to settle down. Not as long as the 'RR which seems to need a few moments to get warm before it ticks over properly, but a good few seconds. Then pull in the clutchm click into first and off you go. The clutch is light, the gearbox positive. This bike has a quicksifter as well, and it's probably worth speccing that pack because it gives you the heated grips you really want, cruise control which will make you chuckle, adaptive suspension which will make you wonder how you got by without it before and that keyless ride. You'll want the Premium Pack as well, which gives you hand guards, the satnav mount, a USB power socket and a centre stand. Oh, and a really neat luggage rack. I know, it's terribly sensible, but there you go.
So you're rolling. Notice how easy the XR is to ride at low speed? Shouldn't be with those long forks, but the thing is just planted. Fabulous brakes as well. Once the speed limit lifts and you're able to crack on a bit you will find that the XR may be quite large but those 165 horses are feisty little things. Not only that, but the way the power arrives is deceptive. The torque curve feels pretty flat, which gives the impression that it's a bit gutless. It's not a correct impression. Far from it. The XR picks up its skirts and positivelyflies. It just doesn't feel especially fast. Fortunately the chassis is up to it, as are the OE tyres. The ride is, in fact, utterly free of vices or drama. You just sit there, comfortable, and watch the horizon come toward you at a rather surprising rate. And when you come barelling up to a roundabout, for instance, you just lose whatever speed you need and go round it. The wonder why you slowed down so much, because it could obviously have gone quicker. The weird thing is that what should be a rather anodyne experience is actually enormous fun.
Looking at some of the technology, you can see where BMW have piut their R&D budget, as well as where they've been very pragmatic. So the suspension adjusts itself a couple of thousand times a second for rebound and compression damping as well as for spring preload. That's front and rear, of course. And it does it unfailingly accurately. You have achoice of modes - from memory they're Rain, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro - which adjust damping and spring rate presets, then the system makes those on the fly adjustments from the selected base point. Those modes also affect throttle response and, indeed, the amount of power and torque on tap in Rain mode. Then you have ABS which knows how much tyou're leaning and moderates brake pressure accordingly. Which is all incredibly clever. But when you come to the adjustable screen, BMW have really shown their genius. There's a lever on the right hand screen upright. Push it and the screen adjusts. Manually, Because it's easy and it works. It won't break and it's the lightest solution you could get.Probably saved some of that R&D budgets as well.
So let's have a summary. You have a not very pretty bike that has a stonking engine but too-long suspension. You might argue that it's neither fish nor fowl, but you'd be wrong. It's a bike that actually has a very clear identity. It's not a GS though, and nor is it pretending to be. That's important. It goes like the clappers, handles and stops brilliantly and has all the toys you could reasonably ask for. It's a touring biased BMW so it goes without saying that you can get all the luggage, additional lights and everything else you may think you need, integrated and TuV approved.
There's another important thing that gets forgotten. It's what the point of riding bikes actually is.
In almost every sense the S1000XR ought to be compromised and actually less than the sum of its parts, not more.
It is immense fun to ride. It's fabulously comfortable, it is, as I've already suggested, beautifully put together. It was obviously designed by someone who rides motorbikes because it works. It's a great bike. Perhaps one of the best. I never thought I'd say that. Perhaps that's the stongest praise of all.
Thanks to Vines of Guildford in general and Simon in particular for a brilliant level of service and general looking after. COVID precautions make their normally friendly and sociable environment a little complicated, but they're still lovely people to deal with. Give them a try if you're after something new.
**This feature will be updated with pictures when the current lockdown restrictions have finished.**