With the introduction of the BMW F 900 XR sport/adventure/touring motorcycle taking care of the fully upright fans, the new 2020 BMW F 900 R has been repositioned as a more sporting motorcycle.Compared to the 800 R it replaces, there is more power and the ergonomics have taken a turn toward performance. We took to the mountains north of Santa Barbara for some sporting action on some seriously twisting roads.1. The F 900 R’s parallel twin is an upgraded version of what we first saw in the F 850 GS last year. This is a sweet powerplant—it is pumped up to 895cc and enjoys a new firing order. To give the R some rumbling power, the cylinders fire at 270 and 450 degrees of crankshaft rotation. The new 900 motor has considerably more power at all rpm than the outgoing 800. It offers a substantial increase over the 850 from 6250 rpm on up the rev limit at 9250. The 900’s torque curve is flatter, giving it more cranking power at almost every rpm than the 850, though they both have the same torque peak of 67 ft-lbs. It’s all upside, and no downside—just how we like it.
2. A new frame with more aggressive ergonomics has been employed to harness the additional power. The most significant change for a rider’s perspective is the altering of the rider triangle compared to the 800 R. The footpegs get moved up about a half-inch and back about a quarter-inch. Also, the grips are now an inch forward. This puts the rider in a more forward-leaning position, though it is still an upright seating position and completely comfortable. Additionally, the fuel tank is back between the rider’s legs, rather than under the seat as on the 800.3. BMW shortened the wheelbase by a hair, with a radical change in the geometry. The 900’s wheelbase is shaved 0.2 inches compared to the 800—no big deal. However, the rake has been extended a jaw-dropping 3.5 degrees to 29.5 degrees—that’s cruiser territory. To compensate for that, the fork offset was cut almost in half, down to less than an inch. Also, the F 900 R’s suspension gets longer wheel travel, lengthening the front by 0.4 inches with the resulting trail now 0.6 inches longer at 4.5 inches. Rear-wheel travel with the non-linkage semi-adjustable shock is up 0.7 inches to 5.6 inches. It is indeed an unorthodox approach to frame geometry, but BMW routinely does things differently.4. The 2020 BMW F 900 R is offered in three different flavors, though we tested the standard version with the Ride Modes Pro option. If you want to upgrade the F 900 R, you have to go through the Select Package ($1000) first. That gets you cruise control, heated grips, side case mounts, and tire pressure monitors. Once you’ve purchased that, you gain access to the Premium Package or the Premium Tech Package. The Premium Package adds Ride Modes Pro, an up/down quickshifter, and a keyless starting system for $925. Spring for the Premium Tech Package ($1850) and you get all the Premium Package goodies, along with semi-active electronic suspension, a cornering-aware headlight, and an anti-theft system. Remember, to get either of the Premium Packages, you must first buy the Select Package. Going all-in with the Premium Tech Package adds $2850 to the standard R’s approachable $8995 MSRP.5. We did get to test the $350 Ride Modes Pro option, and we’re glad we did. The standard R comes with two Ride Modes—Rain and Road—that adjust the power delivery, ABS, and traction control. If you’re a new rider or an undemanding returning rider, those are plenty, but we don’t think this is a place to cut corners. Ride Modes Pro upgrades everything across the board. You get Dynamic Pro mode, which offers more aggressive throttle response—something most sport riders will want. Additionally, with Ride Modes Pro, ABS and traction control become corner-aware, and you have more configuration options, including the introduction of adjustable engine braking.6. BMW makes it easy to navigate the Ride Modes, thanks to user-friendly buttons, dials, and switches, plus a fantastic TFT display. The Ride Modes get their own dedicated button on the right handlebar, and that simplifies the process considerably. On the left handlebar, you’ll find additional single-purpose buttons, along with BMW’s spinning multi-controller. It’s easier to use than it is to explain—rest assured that you will quickly be best friends with it.7. Regardless of the Ride Mode, the 2020 BMW F 900 R’s motor is a joy to ride. Even in Dynamic mode, the F 900 R is smooth and controllable. Yes, Road is less aggressive, but Dynamic never feels overwhelming. While the engine spins up more quickly, it never gets notchy—it is just smoother at a faster rate. In the tightest or dirtiest of canyons, you might want to switch to Road mode, though it won’t truly be necessary unless you need some serious practice with your throttle control. Road mode is great around town, and if it started raining, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the engine into Rain Mode—the extra traction control and ABS intrusion are useful in wet conditions.8. Although we always enjoyed riding the F 800 R, the F 900 R kicks it up to another level. The 900’s breadth of torque output can’t be underestimated. The F 900 R pulls more confidently at all engine speeds, and that allows you to concentrate on your riding form. When riding hardest, you will appreciate the extra 750 rpm of overrev before hitting the rev limiter. It most cases, you’ll want to shift by 8000 rpm, though there’s still another 1250 rpm of headroom available. More power everywhere is what we like, and it is presented in an easily exploited manner.9. While you don’t have to shift often with the broadband torque, the six-speed transmission is at your beck and call. Even though we would have liked the optional up/down quickshifter on the F 900 R, the gearbox never hesitated or protested. The clutch has a slipper function, though oddly not an assist feature.10. The ergonomics put you in the mood for a sporting ride. Leaning forward a bit more than on the 800, the 900 reminds you that this is a sporting upright more than an upright standard. Along with the slim seat and the compact, forward-slanted rider triangle, you are encouraged to be just a bit more aggressive. BMW does allow some tailoring of the ergonomics via two optional seats—one taller, one shorter.11. Handling is effortless and forgiving. The 2020 BMW F 900 R is not a 10/10th sportbike. Instead of it reacting with lightning-fast reflexes to your slightest input, the F 900 R is more about light handling and stability. The 29.5 degrees of rake—still an unbelievable number, but BMW insists—and long 59.8-inch wheelbase gives the 900 an undeniable surefootedness. What is difficult to understand is why it doesn’t feel ponderous, especially with a curb weight of 465 pounds. The F 900 R goes where it’s told, without any complaint. The aggressive Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 tires are a great choice, and they might have a louder say in the handling than usual. Without a doubt, the BMW F 900 R reminds us that we have to ride a motorcycle to judge it—not merely look at the spec sheet.12. The standard suspension is nothing special, and it doesn’t like rough roads. The fork on the F 900 R is non-adjustable, so if you don’t like it, you are going to have to upgrade to the BMW Motorrad Dynamic ESA. The shock has spring-preload adjustment, as you would expect, along with adjustable rebound-damping. The suspension does fine on smooth roads, and that will be the primary determiner on how satisfied you are with the action. When the road isn’t a challenge, the suspension does its job to help the 900 make short work of canyons.13. When it comes to commuting or urban duty, the F 900 R is ready to go. Anytime you have an easy motorcycle to ride, it is going to be great on city streets. The 900 R works its way through traffic without a hitch, and only the lack of an assist function on the clutch could be considered a drawback. Freeway riding up to triple-digits is comfortable, with credit due to the more aggressive ergonomic posture.14. BMW brings the 2020 F 900 R in at an attractive price. Usually, you expect to pay a premium for a BMW. In the case of the F 900 R, it is four dollars less expensive than the MT-09. For that, you are getting a twin from BMW rather than the Yamaha’s triple, though the F 900 R has a 48cc displacement edge. For that same $9k, roughly, Kawasaki has the Z900 inline-4 and a 949cc motor. It’s a good time to be interested in a slightly sub-liter sportbike, and we’re working on getting all three in one place for a showdown.15. BMW is rarely predictable, and the F 900 R is no exception. BMW brings in a 900 twin with a V-twinish firing order to the class with eccentric chassis numbers. Once underway, expectations get tossed overboard and it’s about enjoying the ride. Getting the 2020 BMW F 900 R right for you is about which add-ons you feel like you need, and which ones you can pass on. It’s tempting to go all-out with the packages, but then you have an $11,845 motorcycle. The basic package is just that—it’s a few-frills, to the point sportbike. We’ll implore you to get the Ride Modes Pro feature, and consult with your loan officer for everything else.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!