2015 BMW S1000XR First Ride Review

John Burns
by John Burns

BMW's new "Adventure Sport" is furiously fast, 5-star comfortable and electronically unsinkable

Has anybody built a proper “adventure bike” with an inline-Four cylinder before this one? We liked the new Kawasaki Versys 1000 when we compared it with its competition earlier this year, but it’s more sport-tourer than a real sporty adventure bike – mainly because it weighs 565 pounds.

2015 BMW S1000XR

Editor Score: 92.75%
Engine 19.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 9.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.25/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 9.75/10
Value 8.5/10
Overall Score92.75/100

One of the key numbers to process with this new BMW S1000XR is 502. That would be its fully-fuelled weight in pounds, according to BMW, which is only 8 more than the Yamaha FJ-09 that won the aforementioned comparison. The FJ made 104 horsepower on the dyno. BMW claims 160 crank hp for its newest beast, which translated into 155 hp at 11,200 when we tested what’s supposedly the same engine in last year’s S1000R here. The FJ-09 is by no means a slow motorcycle. The new XR makes 50% more power, and that makes every ride a Sporty Adventure, indeed.

Asymmetric eyeballs are a BMW styling thing now. The XR inhales through its steering head just like the S1000RR. Somebody needs to build a screen to protect its big radiator (and oil cooler below it) from front tire roost.

It’s the same 999cc inline Four we just sampled in the S1000RR overbeast, dialed back just a bit for use in the XR and the R. Now it makes peak power at 11,000 rpm instead of 13,500, and peak torque at 9,250 rpm instead of 10,500. With that hyperactive rev monster of an engine and the XR’s dirtbike ergos, combined with BMW’s electronics, what happens on Canada’s dirt backroads is that Colin McRae’s World Rally Car video game comes to life.

Keep it in Road mode, roll the throttle open and the rear tire steps out just a little while the engine wails and stutters and the orange light on the dash flickers. In Dynamic, it steps out more, the light flickers a bit less and the front wheel is allowed to come up over rises. Either way, it’s flat-track fun for the whole family, and it feels like (as long as you don’t wash out the front Bridgestone street tire on the entry), you can do no wrong. It’s not the sort of disrespectful behavior the S1000RR encourages at all. (Though if you’re too short for the XR, you might get away with it on the S1000R on smoothish dirt roads for a while.) And though BMW’s own R1200GS weighs just 20 pounds more than the XR, it’s a completely different experience. Camel vs Arabian stallion.

Ontario, Canada, offers a wide range of accommodations.

Heck, maybe you can’t wash out the front tire either? This is the first BMW with ABS Pro, which is BMW’s version of lean-sensitive ABS. There’s a lean-angle sensor plugged into the ECU that’s supposed to keep you from over-clamping the 320mm front discs even at full lean. For greater dirt pleasure, the rear is a good-sized 265mm disc, clamped by a two-piston caliper. BMW says this: “ABS Pro was not developed to enhance the rider’s individual braking performance when braking in a banked position – especially not on the race track. Instead, ABS Pro was designed to help use the S1000XR even more safely within its physical handling limits when riding on public roads – for instance, when faced with an unexpected hazard in a bend.” ABS Pro is part of the Ride Modes Pro option ($450), and maybe worth that all by itself if you’re the king of the late brakers.

Fuel capacity is supposed to be 5.2 gallons, which means you could never be heard from again up there in the Great White North.

The XR thrives on the sort of abuse most street riders try to avoid: 5.9 inches of suspension travel up front, and 5.5 out back, controlled by BMW ESA, means most common road irregularities cease to exist. Then there’s the thing that really created this class, the upright ergos. The XR’s seat felt comfy and plush for the one 9-to-5 day I spent on it, the bike is skinny between your thighs for a four-cylinder, and the aluminum handlebar doesn’t require you to bend over at all. The only downside is that if your legs are any stubbier than my 30-inch ones, it’s not so easy to reach the ground. The standard seat is 33.1 inches high, though of course there are low and high options. Also, BMW’s current four-banger can be a bit buzzy through the grips; it has no counterbalancer. Rubberized handlebar mounts help quell it on the XR, but there’s still a little tingle at various speeds. For me, electronic cruise control makes it a non-issue.

Also nice in white.

To me, the XR feels shorter-geared than the RR or the R, but BMW’s specs say all three bikes are the same. I think what’s happening is the XR’s (and R’s) enhanced midrange just makes them feel like they’re ripping through the gears even faster than the RR. It feels like somebody lightened the crankshaft. BMW’s Gear Shift Assist Pro seems a bit unwieldy downshifting, but it’s a lot of fun on the upshifts with this engine pinned.

Holding the throttle wide open in any gear on this bike (I have to consciously remind myself to open it all the way), it’s hard to believe the XR is 30 horses or so down on the RR we just dynoed (and that’s even with my test bike restricted to 9000 rpm because it was still in break-in mode). Maybe it just feels faster because you’re sitting upright in the face of the gale-force wind you produce instantly with your wrist? This bike basically compresses all the S1000RR’s 180-mph-plus performance into about a 150-mph package. Way more than enough for street use, in other words.

The fact that it seems made for dirt roads doesn’t seem to much affect the XR’s on-pavement performance either. Though it’s less steep of rake than the S1000R, and with 0.7-in. more trail and a whole 4.3-in. longer of wheelbase, the XR still snaps quickly from right to left with little effort, mostly due, again, to its superb ergos and the leverage of its wide handlebar. Meanwhile, the bike’s all-seeing, all-knowing electronic suspension knows just how to firm things up when it senses aggression.

The two-position windshield snaps snazzily up or down without tools. I had mine down all day, happy that the rain had stopped. The 6’4” guy I was riding with said it gave him pretty good, calm wind protection in the up position, too. There’s a 12-volt outlet right there in the dashboard; one official BMW spec says the alternator puts out 486 watts, another says 350. We’ll find out which is correct. (486, says BMW, on 7 July)

Cruise control makes it easy to snap pics while you roll merrily along. There’s a bit of tingle through the grips at cruise, but not an objectionable amount. Here the windscreen is in its low position, but you can pop it to high on the fly.

There’s supposed to be a $16,350 base model, with manually adjustable suspension components at either end, but no one’s ever seen one. The Standard Package, for $17,295, could work, since it includes heated grips, cruise control and Rain and Road modes. But BMW really wants you to buy the Premier package for $18,750, dripping with Gear Shift Assist Pro, Ride Modes Pro, Tire Pressure Monitor, Dynamic ESA, center stand, luggage rack … the whole nine yards except for the saddlebags (and of course there’s a slew of other accessories).

+ Highs

  • Best appearance ever by a Four-cylinder in an Adventure role
  • Feels really light and nimble
  • The electronic aids are approaching seamlessness

– Sighs

  • Encourages you to go faster than your talent alone would allow
  • The Base price must be a joke, since BMW apparently produces no base models
  • We’ll have to invoke the mercy rule if BMW keeps beating up on its competitors this way

Maybe we only think Sporty Adventure bikes should be powered by Twin cylinders or the occasional Triple because that’s all we’ve ever known? The new XR’s obvious competitors are the excellent new Ducati Multistrada and our reigning Motorcycle of the Year KTM Super Duke, both of which will be formidable contenders when the inevitable Smackdown Shootout Comparo occurs later this year. Or should it be KTM’s new Super Adventure?

With this class of motorcycles, we have to say the manufacturers are definitely on to something. It’s hard not to love a motorcycle that combines near-touring-bike all-day comfort with sizzling, 150-hp plus all-surface performance and the kind of cutting-edge electronics that keeps us safe(ish). It was a lovely whirlwind tour of Ontario, with all my Canadian stereotypes reinforced including attacking beavers, large moose and marauding mosquitoes – as a result of which I may be in the infatuation stage with the new XR. But I think I have a new favorite BMW. Maybe even a new favorite motorcycle.

Lake Rosseau, up there in Ontario, Canada, isn’t such a bad place after all, once the rain stops, the lake thaws and the mosquitoes retreat. This one’s the accessorized-out model complete with Akrapovic pipe, hard bags and Big Hair.

2015 BMW S1000XR Specifications

MSRPbase: $16,350, Standard: $17,295, Premium: $18,750
Type999cc liquid-cooled Inline Four-cylinder
Fuel SystemEFI; ride-by-wire; four 48mm throttle valves
Valve TrainDOHC, 4v/ cyl.
Horsepower (claimed)160 @ 11,000 rpm
Torque (claimed)83 lb-ft @ 9,250 rpm
Transmission/ Final drive6-speed/ chain
Front Suspension46mm inverted fork; adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.9-in travel; Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) optional
Rear SuspensionSingle shock; adjustable rebound damping; 5.5-in travel; Dynamic ESA optional
Front BrakeDual 320mm discs; 4-piston calipers, part-integral ABS (can be switched off)
Rear Brake265mm disc; 2-piston caliper, ABS
Front Tire120/70ZR-17 radial
Rear Tire190/55ZR-17 radial
Wheelbase61.0 in.
Rake/trail25.5 deg./ 4.6 in. (117mm)
Seat Height33.1 in.
Curb Weight (per BMW)502 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.2 gal.
Tested Fuel EconomyNA (BMW claims 44 mpg @ 56 mph)
Available ColorsRacing Red, Light White
Warranty24 months
John Burns
John Burns

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  • Andrew holobinko Andrew holobinko on Aug 09, 2015

    JB, not at odds with your assessment of the XR, it should and will make a lot of guys happy. 150hp always a good thing. Here's my gripe....I own a 2013 Pikes Peak MTS. I honestly believed it would be the ultimate bike of my dreams. The aforementioned 150 horse pressure, elec. gizmos, dynamic suspenders for any road, blah blah blah. But the tall suspension. Much as I try, I simply can not come to grips with hovering that far above the road when I'm scratching. It's all well and good for potholes I suppose, but having ridden many naked sportbikes for years (last one was MV Brutale 910S) it just does not feel "right" when flicking or hanging a cheek off. I want to love the thing, really. The motor is bonkers. But why oh why do the bike manufacturers insist on the long suspension and tall seat to present us with the "sport touring" platform? Does anyone short of Cyril Depres need that much height? If they'd of just put a decent pillion seat and short windshield on the S1000R why wouldn't that get 'er done? It has "soft" mode suspension. And why does the XR cost a whopping $5000 more than the bling'd out "R"? There's a famous Brit long distance rider who famously rode an R1 around the world.. an R1 ferchrssakes! Talk about your adventure tour.

  • Phil Klosterman Phil Klosterman on Aug 14, 2015

    Sounds like a Sales pitch Fronting as a review