BMW S 1000 XR Review | From the Alps to the Track

BMW S 1000 XR turn

BMW S 1000 XR Review

When I rented a BMW S 1000 XR for a six-day trip riding the Dolomites in Northern Italy with my two amigos, I had no idea when I signed the rental agreement and threw a leg over the big bike for the first time that I’d be so enamored with the bike. Five days after landing back in Los Angeles, I beelined it over to Irv Seaver BMW and bought one.

But wait! Maybe I just wasted a nice chunk of change because of context rather than reality. Maybe I’d be enthralled riding anything on two wheels in the mountains of Italy and the BMW S 1000 XR was going to feel mediocre on familiar roads. Nope! That didn’t happen.

BMW S 1000 XR Review in the Alps
First ride on an S 1000 XR that I rented in the Alps…I knew I needed to own one immediately.

If you’ve read any of my articles for Ultimate Motorcycling, you know I’m not a journalist. I’m just a guy who is fortunate to have a friend who lets me write for his magazine, loves to ride, has invested copious amounts of money and time on training/coaching, and spends his seat time primarily in the canyons, on multi-day tours, and at the track.

My opinions and perspective are specific to my riding preferences and not one of a trained, seasoned, technically proficient journalist. Okay, disclaimer done.

I am also the proud owner of a 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S and a 2016 Suzuki GSX-S1000 (which I reviewed for this website). However, upon purchasing a 2016 BMW S 1000 XR, it was the Suzuki I sold to my very good friend Dennis at Beach Moto, and not the Multistrada.

At this point maybe you’re asking, ”Why would you buy two bikes that are basically in the same sport-touring category?” As you’ll read, the XR was to become my new (semi-) naked bike for the track and canyons.

At my 600-mile service, I decided to clean up the XR a bit. The facelift was cosmetic in nature, as the guts of the bike need no help from me or any after market manufacturer in my humble opinion.

BMW S 1000 XR Review in California
The BMW S 1000 XR – first ride in the canyons before the mods.

The BMW S 1000 XR hauls the mail directly out of the crate. However, if I’m going to take it to the track I certainly did not need a top case rack, side case mounts, touring screen, handguards, or passenger pegs. Thanks to R&G Racing, Evotech Performance, and Puig, I streamlined things.

When I chose to rent the XR in Italy, I thought that the Multistrada was a competitor, and they very well may be if you ask the marketing departments of both Ducati and BMW, as well as the thousands of buyers of both bikes around the world. After riding and now owning both, I decided to take the road less travelled with the XR (see what I did there?). I felt the BMW S 1000 XR would fit in nicely with my buddies who ride Aprilia Tuonos, Yamaha FZ-10s, and KTM 1290 Super Dukes, even if they did not think so.

So here’s my take—today’s bikes, tires, electronics, chassis, engines, and overall performance capabilities are improving at warp speed. I’d argue almost any bike in the naked/sport/sport touring segments are going to be more bike than 99.9 percent of all riders’ skills (mine included) when riding on challenging roads and/or the track.

Unless you’re racing or 21-years old, or both, you really don’t need a sport bike to enjoy the track at pace, or a safe but fast ride in the canyons. Most of my buddies—some former racers, current racers, and just everyday riders—are beginning the migration away from sport bikes and towards the amazing naked class of bikes that forgive our age and waistline, yet don’t compromise on performance and outright fun. I say give your lower back and body a break and get a comfortable motorcycle with sport bike DNA.

BMW S 1000 XR Review track bikeFor me, that bike was the XR. It’s all-day comfortable, has a full suite of 21st century electronics, a screaming S 1000 RR engine, monster Brembo brakes, and a giggle-inducing clutchless up and down shifter. Part of me thinks I bought the bike just for the shifter. Kidding—wait, am I?

Almost all of the rider coaches I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past six years since I moved to Southern California from New York have taught me while riding street bikes such as the Yamaha FZ1, Yamaha FZ-10, Triumph Speed Triple, and Honda CB1000R, to name a few.

For any of you who think you can’t go well on track unless you have a full race spec sport bike with slicks and tire warmers, I’d invite you to head on over to YouTube and check out instructors and former racers Ken Hill, Nick Ienatsch, Lee Parks, Chris Peris, Jason Pridmore, Michael Gilbert and others flying around a racetrack on basically bone-stock street bikes with street tires.

So now maybe you’re saying, “But, hey, you could have done all that with the Multistrada, too, and it would have been just as capable.” Here is where I think the line in the sand between the BMW and the Ducati is drawn—these are far different motorcycles at the track or in the canyons at pace. Drilling down a bit further, I’d say the gap in DNA widens at the track versus canyons. So, while I’ll probably split time in the canyons on both bikes, the BMW will be my track option.

Underneath all those luggage racks, and behind that fancy OEM-integrated GPS mount, lives the beast that is the BMW S 1000 XR. While the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S is no slouch of a bike in terms of power and handling, the XR is at another level of outright performance.

BMW S 1000 XR Review seat height
The BMW S 1000 XR – after the mods and turned into a true super naked.

There’s a video floating around YouTube that shows a world-class rider and former racer riding the S 1000 XR and the RR back to back at the track. The lap times are just one-second apart, and the rider longs for the XR over the RR for its comfort, intuitive chassis, and overall fun factor. I could not have said it better myself!

The BMW S 1000 XR laughs at you when you lean it over and use all of the tire, as if to say, “Relax, this is a walk in the park, I’ve got you’re back.”

The electronics suite delivers as advertised. Highlights include:

  • Linked brakes are a revelation—a little rear without having to think about it for the win!
  • Cornering ABS is voodoo witchcraft and I don’t ask how. I’m just grateful to have it.
  • Smooth traction control interrupts when necessary, but it’s polite and well mannered.
  • The non-intrusive and dynamic suspension, all the while making adjustments in real time based on your riding style and road conditions, feels like it should feel.

The chassis ushers you into the tight stuff with a nimble cadence for a bike that is not light by any means. I hear my journalist friends say “confidence inspiring” when they like a bike.

I spent a few days at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, California recently. After not being at the track for a year, I beat my personal best lap time by over four seconds on the BMW S 1000 XR. I was running a pace that would have put me mid-pack in a CVMA Amateur Formula Middleweight class race on an “adventure” bike with street tires, no tire warmers, and taped mirrors. This bike is confidence inspiring!

What an era to own a motorcycle!

BMW S 1000 XR Review on race trackI’ve now ridden both the BMW S 1000 XR and the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S at a few track days, on some long tours, and countless day trips full of twisty roads. My Suzuki GSX-S1000 has given way to the S 1000 XR. I’m keeping the Multistrada and the BMW—I love both bikes but for different reasons.

I think BMW got the marketing a bit wrong—the XR is not an adventure bike. It’s, well, I don’t actually know what it is categorically. What I do know is it’s a fantastic, refined, comfortable, and fast motorcycle. It’s way more super-naked than sport-tourer and that’s why I customized it in the way I did—think FZ-10 on performance enhancing substances.

The Ducati Multistrada 1200 S is classic sport touring, and when I have a long trip I’ll grab the key fob with the Italian logo without hesitation. When heading to the track, it’ll be the German missile formerly disguised as a redundant ride in my garage—my BMW S 1000 XR.

Photos by David Bober and CaliPhotography

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