Dubbed an Adventure Sport by BMW, the S 1000 XR was the Germany manufacturer’s answer in 2015 to Ducati’s game-changing Multistrada, and it has always been amazingly capable. Heck, I even know one fast guy who regularly does track days on his XR. The differences between the 2020 BMW S 1000 XR and previous editions is striking, as the motor, chassis, and suspension have all been completely redesigned. The new XR is lighter, more powerful, more compact, and better handling—a dramatic improvement, and I absolutely loved it.
Overall weight is down by 22 pounds to 491 pounds. That is a very impressive weight saving, taking into consideration the 2020 BMW S 1000 XR is now Euro-5 compliant. The XR’s engine alone is six percent lighter and nearly a half-inch slimmer, while the drivetrain sheds seven percent of its weight. Weighing less than 500 pounds at the curb is a respectable weight for a sport-touring machine, and BMW claims the XR is almost 40 pounds lighter than the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S, and a whopping 66 pounds lighter than the Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+.
The engine’s peak horsepower is not increased as much as its low-rpm torque. Still, the 2020 XR is no slouch—it puts out 165 horsepower at its peak, on the way to a 12,000 rpm redline. I was impressed by the sheer mid-range grunt from the XR motor coming out of any corner, as it put out a peak of 84 ft/lbs of torque at 9250 rpm. The re-worked S1000RR superbike engine simply doesn’t bog down or feel lacking in any way. It is a subtle but useful improvement over its predecessor.
The top three gears have longer ratios for reduced fuel consumption and sound output. Gear by gear, BMW raises the rations—two percent for 4th gear, four percent for 5th, and eight percent for 6th gear. Regardless, there was no lack of performance in the higher gears compared to the previous model that I could detect. With the lower revs at any given speed, the XR is quieter—a great way to reduce fatigue on a touring-capable motorcycle.
The engine feels relaxed at high speed, and there is minimal buzziness from it. Perhaps this is because the motor’s rotating masses have been centralized for less inertia, but either way, the engine was not only powerful, it was pleasant on long rides.
The gearbox, with up/down quickshifting, is butter-smooth. The transmission clicked into the next ratio so effortlessly, sometimes I wondered if it had actually happened. I have yet to discover a false neutral, and the gearbox is simply a joy to use.
The clutch now has a slipper design for reducing back-torque on rapid deceleration. I’m a little surprised the XR did not already feature a slipper clutch, but it does have one now. There is no assist function, however.
There are four riding modes on the 2020 S 1000 XR—Dynamic, Road, and Rain, plus Dynamic Pro. The three standard power modes affect engine power and throttle response; engine brake level, traction control intervention, wheelie control, and the ABS level of intervention. Dynamic Pro allows individual adjustability within those various functions. Dynamic Pro requires a Settings-based virtual coding plug to activate, as it puts safety software settings in the hands of the rider.
The fueling is impeccable on the XR. It is smooth in every gear, and the throttle was super-easy to modulate.
The 2020 BMW S 1000 XR’s chassis is nine percent lighter—almost five pounds—and is much narrower at the waist. Despite the XR’s adventure-level height, the narrower waist makes it easier to reach the ground with your boots. This motorcycle has some height to it, and I didn’t love climbing on and off compared to standard street bikes. This is clearly down to personal choice. Certainly, if you’re on the taller side, then the XR is definitely for you.
Ergonomically, the new XR is slightly more aggressive. The rider is three-quarters of an inch farther forward, and the handlebars are narrower by three-quarters of an inch, and lower by 0.4 inches. This gives more front-wheel feedback, and improved weight distribution. Overall, the XR is very comfortable, and the riding position feels intuitive and natural.
The seat is an improvement over the predecessor. I don’t love the new, standard sculpted bucket seat on the XR, as it isn’t any more comfortable than other seats I’ve used, and it restricts body movement a tad. However, it is less committed to the buttock-cradling bucket concept than before, so that is a definite improvement. There are actually five seat-height options available ranging from a lowered 31.1-inch seat, up to a 33.5-inch high comfort seat that reduces the gap to the pillion by 0.6 inches.
The ESA Pro electronically adjustable suspension has two damping modes—Dynamic and Road—and differences in damping is not just noticeable, it is dramatic. Dynamic (the equivalent of Sport or Track on other machines) is clearly designed for the smooth surface of a track. I find it uncomfortable and, in all practical sense, unusable on the street. It makes the XR harsh—jarring even—and difficult to manage, especially at the front. Once set into Road mode, the XR becomes one of the sweetest handling, most capable street bikes I’ve ridden. I’m sure Dynamic mode will pay dividends on track, but unless you’re in that environment, I’d keep it in Road mode.
Suspension spring-preload is either set to Auto or Min (the softest setting). Gone are the ‘helmet+passenger’ (and so on) selection icons. Preload requirements are automatically sensed, and adjusted accordingly. While the spring-preload setting can only be changed when stopped, switching between Dynamic and Road damping is possible on the fly.
The all-new, electronically adjustable suspension is a dramatic improvement. The XR’s new control-valve technology is based on the shim package from racing. It allows soft, comfortable, compression damping, with the firm rebound damping that gives the XR its incredible handling. An electronic damping valve acts as a bypass in real time. At any given instant, the damping is optimum no matter the conditions. The handling of the XR is absolutely exemplary. I have total faith in the front and can whip the bike around really tight, technical corners with as much ease and precision as I can on fast sweepers. In Road mode, the XR was completely confidence-inspiring no matter what the road conditions.
The new brakes feature lean-angle sensitive ABS Pro, which limits the amount of braking pressure depending on the lean angle. The level of intervention depends on each riding mode, and in Dynamic Pro, the rear-wheel ABS can be deactivated to allow supermoto-style cornering slides. The brakes on the XR are absolutely fantastic—no two ways about it. Enormously powerful, and yet with tons of feel, I can feather the brakes at high speeds, as needed, with complete faith. Trail-braking into corners never upsets the chassis, and the level of feel in the brakes combined with my confidence in the front-end allows me to get extra-aggressive through tight and twisty sections. I have yet to feel the engagement of the ABS; I’m slightly surprised by that, as I certainly have used the brakes very hard on more than one occasion.
The XR also features Dynamic Brake Control for shorter stopping distances and improved brake control. If emergency braking is detected at speeds above 6 mph, the DBC increases brake pressure at the rear wheel. Any throttle input over five percent is ignored. The dynamic brake light is also activated; the brake light flickers and the hazard warning flashers come on, warning following traffic that the rider is slowing rapidly.
The 2020 BMW S 1000 XR’s new Hill Start Control Pro function, when enabled, causes the rear brake to hold the bike stationary on a gradient when either the hand or foot lever is applied. At a standstill on an up or downhill grade with any brake is applied, the HSC Pro automatically applies the rear brake and holds the motorcycle stationary until pull away is detected. The HSC Pro can also be activated or deactivated manually.
The XR’s completely redesigned bodywork is seven percent more aerodynamic, according to BMW, and 6 dB quieter at 62 mph. The windshield has two (manually adjustable) positions, and I find both to be useful. The bodywork gives improved upper-thigh and lower-leg protection. In quite severe crosswinds, the XR is absolutely stable. At very high speeds, well into triple digits, the wind buffeting is minimal.
Using the color sport instrument cluster from the RR superbike model, the XR version sees some specific adaptions. The instruments are comprehensive with all the usual information, and effortless to read. A vehicle Status Overview screen is also available, and that includes tire pressure monitoring. I love the cool way the dynamic red zone extended down when the motor was cold, and then gradually retracted up the range as the engine warmed up.
BMW has gone to all-LED lighting, making everything smaller and much nicer looking—especially the turn signals. The improvement to the XR’s looks is dramatic to my eyes. Cornering LED headlights and daytime riding lights are available as options.
Uncompromising wheels and tires add to the sport feel of the 2020 BMW S 1000 XR. The XR now uses the exact same wheels as the S 1000 RR supersport machine, so sticky rubber for the track—even slicks—are an option should you choose. The use of two 17-inch wheel underscores that this is a sport-based motorcycle, rather than an ADV mount.
The XR does have some integrated storage, and there are accessory tank bags, side cases, and top cases available. The XR is very much a sportbike, but it is multifaceted and can fill a lot of roles. So, the XR is a real-world sport-touring machine should you want it to be.
BMW is now doing away with the ‘HP’ nomenclature, replacing it with the car-division-consistent ‘M’ branding, denoting limited-edition parts or models. For example, the M-labeled carbon fiber parts on this test bike are breathtakingly gorgeous.
The new 2020 XR starts out at an MSRP of $17,645. There are three packages that up the price, and you’ll likely want their features—the performance-oriented Premium Tech Package ($2075), the touring-friendly Select Package ($1175), and the convenience-focused Premium Package ($1100), which is a subset of the Premium Tech Package.
The Adventure Sport category gets an even stronger competitor to the Ducati Multistrada. When Ducati launched the Multistrada with clear street-focused intentions, BMW replied with the XR. The inline-4 motor and 17-inch wheels are unmistakable signals that the 2020 BMW S 1000 XR is an adventurous-looking very, very sporting street bike.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.