Zimbali, KwaZulu-Natal – BMW’s S1000 XR, released in South Africa this week, is the third model in the company’s transverse four-cylinder S1000 series, following the 150kW S1000 RR superbike and the 118kW S1000 R naked.
The maker classifies it as an adventure tourer, which at first glance seems an unlikely concept, given its racetrack heritage. But the engine, re-tuned as per the naked S1000 R with smaller valves, revised porting and 48mm throttle bodies for a quoted 118kW and 112Nm, will pull fuss-free from just above 2000rpm in any gear and, especially in ‘Rain’ mode, is tractable enough to cope with most gravel roads.
But that’s not what it’s for. It’s a tall, comfortable, long-hauler with a deep, ploughshare-shaped saddle, a relaxed, slightly forward-leaning seating position, more than adequate protection from its narrow fairing and shield-shaped (hand-adjustable) screen – and a beast in its belly.
It’s a big, boisterous Rottweiler of a bike that’ll bite you if you get silly with it, with enough instantly accessible power that in an afternoon of serious hooning across the the KwaZulu Midlands I never once got the throttle pinned.
Short-shifting at 6000rpm is enough to catapult the XR past anything with four wheels, but there’s a acute uptick in both power and torque curves at 6500rpm that manifests as a sudden tugging at the leash and a feeling that the horizon may not be far enough away. Two-twenty comes up quicker than it takes to say it and BMW’s claim that the bike is electronically limited to 255km/h becomes entirely believable.
Above 6500rpm an intrusive secondary vibration starts coming through the bars, accompanied by an angry blare from the airbox – reminding you that, insectoid styling notwithstanding, this is a serious performance machine.
At least half the fun, however, comes from quickshifter. I’ve taken issue in the past with quickshifters on street bikes; mostly they just make the shift action uncomfortably jerky and punish the gearbox.
But on this bike, being able to hold the throttle half-open and snick through to the next gear with nothing more than an explosive cough from the airbox is not only quicker than you can do it for yourself but also safer, since there’s no need to judge your throttle and shift timing. You can concentrate, instead, on the road and the mobile chicane that’s now suddenly behind you.
Likewise, being able to simply step on the lever and get controllable, lock-up free rear wheel braking on the way into a corner is a life-saver on roads you don’t know, especially as the XR has wide, motard-style tapered handlebar and its steering is quick enough on trailing throttle to catch you out if you’re not ready for it.
It’s not perfect; the system disengages when you pull the clutch for normal gear-shifts in slow traffic and comes back on with a distinct jerk as you let the clutch out. The clutch pull is also uncomfortably heavy, with a take-up like a light-switch, making the bike embarrassingly easy to stall - but none of that matters once the bike is moving faster than walking pace.
The S1000 XR comes with a comprehensive suite of electronic aids, starting with four riding modes – Rain, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro. Rain mode smoothes out the power and torque curves, dropping their peak outputs to 109kW and 106Nm; the top three all give you the full monty, but differ in how they apply it.
Road mode will back off the torque instantly if the front wheel leaves the ground, or if the rear wheel even thinks about spinning or stepping out. Dynamic mode will allow mild wheelies and a little rear-wheel hooning, while Dynamic Pro mode (“purely for excellent grip conditions”, says BMW – i.e. track days) will pretty well let you make your own mistakes, although it won’t disengage the ABS Pro.
This is a development of Bosch’s industry-standard module that not only prevents stoppies, but also uses yaw and lean angle sensors to modulate brake pressure according to the attitude of the bike – although, as with the traction control, it will given you a bit more elbowroom in Dynamic Pro mode.
The dynamic electronic suspension adjustment defaults to Road mode when the riding mode is set to Rain or Road, and to Dynamic mode when in Dynamic or Dynamic Pro; in either case it can be overridden from the handlebar switchgear. Preload is similarly set for solo, solo with luggage or two-up riding.
In Road mode the suspension constantly adjusts itself, front and rear, for rate of change, yaw and attitude, stiffening the rear under acceleration and the front under braking. In Dynamic mode it does the same but with a lot more initial damping, particularly under braking as a form of anti-dive. Dynamic mode is, however, so stiff that on the bumpy, rippled KwaZulu-Natal backroads it was prone to patter under hard usage and Road mode was in fact the more ‘dynamic’ of the two.
None of which is apparent to the rider. The bike simply holds its line like an old-fashioned Italian sports bike, even on bumpy roads, without jolting your kidneys loose, brakes like a Grand Prix machine and comes out of corners like a guided missile. The only misbehaviour I could induce was a tendency to mild head-shaking at very high speeds on bumpy straights and long sweepers.
At R226 900 the S1000 XR is eye-wateringly expensive, but that includes the full electronics package, a main-stand, heated grips, hand guards, luggage brackets and rear carrier, Riding Modes Pro and cruise control.
BMW is renowned for inventing a niche and then building a vehicle to fill it; we’ll just have to call this the first adventure sports bike.
BMW S1000 XR
Engine: 999cc liquid-cooled four.
Bore x stroke: 80 x 49.7.
Compression ratio: 12:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 118kW at 11 000rpm.
Torque: 112Nm at 9250rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with four 48mm throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 46mm Sachs inverted cartridge forks adjustable for compression and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: Sachs monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm floating discs with Brembo four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 265mm petal disc with dual-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 190/50 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 840mm.
Kerb weight: 228kg.
Fuel tank: 20 litres.
Price: R226 900.