Forty years ago, BMW invented the ADV genre with the R 80 G/S. The midsize adventure segment continues to grow, and BMW has expanded beyond the GS range with the 2020 BMW F 900.It is a heavily street-focused adventure-style motorcycle ready for everything from touring to commuting, along with the ability to work its way down a dirt road, should it become necessary. The F 900 XR features a new engine and chassis, and we took it out for some long-distance testing.1. The longish travel suspension and fully upright ergonomics give the 2020 BMW F 900 XR its adventure identity. It certainly looks the part of an ADV motorcycle, as it stands tall and looks ready for a savanna run. However, the 17-inch wheels shod with Michelin Road 5 GT tires, reveals its true nature—performance on pavement. Adventure enthusiasts may be disappointed, but the F 900 XR will satisfy the desires of those who want an upright sport-touring motorcycle.
2. In typical BMW fashion, upgrades for the F 900 XR come via various packages. The initial upgrade is the Select Package ($1000), which gives you heated grips, tire pressure monitoring, mounts for side cases, and prepping for GPS. Purchasing the Select Package gives you access to one of two more packages. The Premium Package ($925) adds Ride Modes Pro (more on that later), and up/down quickshifter, and keyless ignition. For the well-heeled, the Premium Tech Package ($1850) has everything in the Premium Package, plus semi-active electronic suspension, directional headlights, and an anti-theft system. Springing for the top of the line package array adds $2850 to the XR’s $11,650 MSRP. We tested the standard 2020 BMW F 900 XR, with the Ride Modes Pro feature installed.3. The 895cc parallel twin is all-new, and it’s a torquer. Tapping into the V-twin style power delivery via a 90-degree offset crankpin and 270-/450-degree firing order, the F motor offers a satisfying rumble to go with its muscle. Power tops out at 99 horsepower at 8500 rpm, with the peak 67 ft-lbs of torque revealing itself at an approachable 6500 rpm. The torque curve is a gentle arc, with the twin producing over 55 ft-lbs of grunt from 3000 to 9000 rpm. That means if the XR is running, you can twist the throttle and it will move out with authority. The engine is as friendly as can be, and puts out more power than the F 850 GS and old F 800 R powerplants at virtually every rpm.4. The standard XR has two power modes, but we were happy to be testing an XR with Ride Modes Pro. If you don’t cut loose for Ride Modes Pro, you don’t get access to the sportier Dynamic and Dynamic Pro modes. Ride Modes Pro also comes with upgraded ABS and traction control, wheelie control, rear-wheel lift mitigation, and dynamic engine brake control (prevents throttle blipping during braking). The standard Rain and Road modes are fine, and provide essential ABS and traction control. Still, you want the more aggressive Dynamic mode and the customizable Dynamic Pro mode, plus all the other electronic enhancements that come with it.5. The Dynamic mode is well named, as the throttle response is insistent, yet still smooth. The XR accelerates with authority, and well-represents its sporty side. The electronic aids are less intrusive, though they aren’t annoying in other modes. When ripping through the twisties in the Dynamic mode, you are most likely to hit the rev limiter, though motor vibration is always there to signal an upshift. Dynamic mode is so well behaved that you can use it on the open highway, giving you the power and responsiveness needed to pass another vehicle at a moment’s notice.6. Personalization is the purpose of Dynamic Pro. Simply switching to Dynamic Pro has a limited impact on your ride. You have to dig into the TFT display’s menus to access the features, which include the ability to turn off ABS Pro, disable rear-wheel ABS, and deactivate wheelie control. Dynamic Pro also allows you to strengthen the influence of rider aids, if you want additional oversight in addition to the more aggressive throttle response.7. If you know you’re going to have a relaxing ride, the Road mode is there. Far from doggy, the Road mode still has good throttle response and will serve less aggressive riders on twisty roads. Remember, it’s the most sporting mode in the standard version of the XR, so BMW didn’t neuter it. The electronic aids are programmed to be more intrusive, yet they perform pretty much transparently. Riders out to enjoy the scenery will be fully satisfied with the Road mode.8. Rain mode is a bit of a nice surprise. Instead of being a power killer, the rain mode tamps down the throttle response noticeably. However, once you start to get in the upper half of the powerband, the motor wakes up. BMW engineers likely decided that if you are spinning the motor up, the pavement isn’t likely to be wet at that moment, so they make the throttle more responsive. This makes for a useful mode in densely trafficked urban areas, if you know you won’t need blip of acceleration when you crack the throttle. As you would expect, BMW cranks all the aids up to the maximum, yet they still are never annoying—the main thing you will notice is the subdued throttle response.9. Compared to the electronic assistants for the motor, the standard 2020 BMW F 900 XR has basic suspension. The 43mm inverted fork is non-adjustable, while the non-linkage shock has spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustability, with travel at both ends just under seven inches. For typical street riding—in town, in canyons, and on the highway—BMW found a balanced suspension setup. However, on seriously deteriorating roads—the kind you look for on an ADV motorcycle—the suspension falls short. It’s choppy and stutters on repeated uneven pavement. For premium performance, if you hand over $2850 to your BMW dealer for the Select and Premium Tech Packages, your XR gets semi-active suspension with electronic adjustment. We didn’t test it, but we’ve been completely satisfied with BMW’s Dynamic ESA on other models.10. The clutch and transmission work perfectly, though there is one odd omission. The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly, though first gear felt a bit high. Up/down quickshifting would be nice, but it is optional, and our test XR did not have it installed. The clutch has a slipper function, which is a welcome safety feature. Strangely, BMW didn’t work in an assist function into the clutch package—a feature that is common in less expensive motorcycles, and we always appreciate a lighter clutch pull. Even though it lacks the assist function, the XR’s clutch pull is not excessive.11. Feel free to approach roads in a variety of manners. The 2020 BMW F 900 XR isn’t picky about how you ride. Casual is great, and the suspension won’t beat you up as you drink in the environment. Cornering stability is excellent, with appropriate credit to the Michelin tires, and the leverage provided by the wide handlebars allows corner corrections at will. There is plenty of cornering clearance, as the Dynamic TFT display told me I hit 50 degrees of lean angle with nothing touching down. Edge grip on the tires is good on high-traction roads, as the Road 5 GT is a slick near the limit. Cornering-aware traction control and ABS were always engaged, though I can’t definitively say if they ever bailed me out—regardless, I like that they’re watching over the proceedings.12. There is a two-position windshield that can be hand adjusted on the fly. In the up position, my helmet felt nicely protected, while the down position pushed non-turbulent air against my torso. If the windshield doesn’t work for you, taller and shorter options are available.13. Riding the F 900 XR is entirely intuitive and virtually effortless. The combination of the torquey motor, neutral handling, predictable tires, and comfortable upright seating position, all conspire to make the XR an ideal sport-touring platform—just add bags. The 6.5-inch TFT screen is a beauty and easy to read, plus it provides access to a wide variety of information. Once you understand the BMW interface mindset, moving through the modes and menus is painless.14. The F 900 XR gets its recipe just right on the first try. With the veteran F 850 GS taking care of riders who demand true off-pavement capability and the new F 900 R sportbike brother satisfying those requiring more rigorous road-going performance, the 2020 BMW F 900 XR slots itself in as a motorcycle that is ideal for touring, yet is still handy for commuting and café chasing. Consider the $11,695 MSRP to be a starting point, and let your wallet help you brew a final product that suits your specific needs.Photography by Kevin WingRIDING STYLE
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!