I WAS GIVING in to the post-lunch slump last Tuesday afternoon when my phone rang and BMW asked if I wanted to ride to the BMW Motorrad Days event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, down near the Austrian border in the south of Germany.
Of course I did - the two main ingredients of Garmisch are bikes and beer (not necessarily in that order). Having never been before, donning my lederhosen for a few days of tyre kicking and liver beating sounded like an ideal way to spend a weekend.
But what to get there on? An R1200GS, suggested BMW. That’s not really me, but find me a 2017 S1000XR and we’re in business, I said. And with that, two days later, I was haring down the M20 at 5am on my way to catch the Chunnel.
Picking the S1000XR was a no brainer – I already knew it was fast and was willing to take a chance that it was comfortable enough that I wouldn’t be left a quivering husk of a human after banging out a few 600+ mile days on it.
BMW’s sporty, tall adventure sports tourer hasn’t changed since it came out in 2015 but this year, along with an update to make the engine Euro4 compliant, BMW has given the S1000XR a bit more horsepower, and a set of ‘vibration-free handlebars’; all good stuff for the rider that wants to make a rapid bee-line from Calais to southern Germany for several cold steins of Bavarian beer.
As I mentioned, the 2017 S1000XR’s S1000RR-derived 999cc four-cylinder DOHC 16-valve engine now compliant with Euro4 emission standards. How exciting.
Even better is the fact that BMW has also given it a 5hp hike, meaning it delivers 165hp at 11,000rpm. Its 84lb/ft torque remains unchanged.
I don’t know about you, but prior to riding the XR, looking at it told me what to expect – something that should devour miles in comfort. I knew what it was powered by, but until riding this 2017 model, I had no idea how much of a dominant force the engine is in the S1000XR’s makeup.
This a rampantly, hilariously quick bike – a proper intercontinental ballistic missile. Twist throttle and you get the most perfectly delivered, smooth power and the sight of the analogue rev counter rushing round to the redline as hard as you can open the throttle.
Keep the motor spinning between 7,000 and 11,000rpm and the XR is in its stride – it’s here that the engine pulls hardest, although it’s flexible and friendly enough that it’ll happily trundle along at low speed in a high gear.
With so much power on tap, passing cars at motorway speeds doesn’t require a down-change, but the howl from the airbox and exhaust (which pops and bangs a treat on a closed throttle) as the revs rise and the XR gets into its stride is so addictive that trundling along never seems like an option. Without doubt, the engine’s superbike lineage is always lurking just under the surface, ready to fire you towards the horizon. The XR’s engine is faultless and it endows the XR with so much pace that even with a fully loaded top box and panniers, it was eagerly pulling 150mph up hill on one unrestricted stretch of autobahn, and would have done more if I didn’t have to back off thanks to a speed wobble due to the luggage (which shouldn’t go faster than 110mph. Whoops).
From a distance it’s a tall bike and if you’re short like me, is taller still once you’re stood next to it (seat height is 840mm).
It’s also physically large, with plenty of mass around the tank and above the top half of the engine. It weighs in at 228kg fuelled and ready to ride, but my bike had a top box and panniers (which I crammed full of my shite for four days away) that contributed additional weight.
Considering its stature and weight, I wasn’t expecting the S1000XR to impress as much as it did when, with a full complement of packed luggage, I took the back road to the motorway and carved round some roads I know well, with no sense that I was riding a fully loaded, long-legged tourer.
It’s completely agreeable and manageable to ride round town and get around on too and with luggage removed, when I pointed it towards a winding Austrian mountain road, it really impressed with the agile and direct handling on offer. It’s as precise as you could want, changes direction quickly and with ease, and definitely sits on the sporty side of the fence.
Handling plaudits also need to go to the XR’s excellent ergonomics. The ride position puts you in touch with everything – you sit in the bike a bit and there’s very little reach to the wide bars, meaning levering the XR around is a piece of cake.
Being the Sport SE model, this XR comes with BMW’s semi-active Dynamic ESA suspension. It’s got two modes – Road and Dynamic, with dynamic firming the bike up a bit more, although the difference between the two didn’t feel particularly big.
Suspension performance is excellent regardless of what mode it’s in. For a morning’s razz on some twisty roads, I stuck the bike in Dynamic and cracked on with enjoying how poised and precise the handling is, irrespective of the long suspension travel.
Accelerating out of corners and getting on the brakes yields plenty of stability and progressive feeling travel, which instils the XR with confidence a speed.
It’s comfortable too, but just like the engine and bike’s handling characteristics, the XR’s suspension sits on the sporty side of the adventure tourer field so if you’re looking for the most sumptuous ride out there, I don’t think the XR is going to deliver for you.
Twin four-piston Brembo calipers and 320mm floating discs provide plenty of stopping power and great feel. Squeeze the lever and rather than the sharp and immediate bite from a more track-biased setup, you get plenty of progressive power and superb feel through the lever.
The brakes are also equipped with BMW’s cornering ABS system (ABS Pro) – a reassuring addition should you come into a mountain hairpin too hot because you’ve been too giddy with the power.
With this being a top-of-the-range Sport SE model, it’s got all the toys – quickshifter and blipper, cruise control, heated grips, an additional Dynamic Pro riding mode (with less traction, less wheelie control) plus luggage rack/fastenings as standard.
As I was going abroad, BMW also furnished me with its BMW Motorrad Navigator, which can be operated using the wheel control on the left bar. It was impressive – clear, easy to use and because it talks to the bike, can display heaps of information, although it comes at an extra cost.
BMW’s quickshifter/blipper - properly named BMW Gear Shift Assist Pro, is faultless. In the 1700 miles I covered on the S1000XR in four days, I never had one bungled, imprecise shift, or for that matter, any gearbox problems. Shifts are lightning fast, precise and consistent and without doubt, this is one of the best quickshifters/blippers I’ve had the pleasure of using. Crucially, it’s another thing that contributes to the XR’s sporty prowess.
Cruise control is simple to set and amend, as are the heated grips and the digital part of the dash displays plenty of information and is easy to cycle through although because of the amount of buttons on the switchgears, sometimes getting to them required shifting my hand to an odd position, but that’s no big deal.
The screen is effective too. It’s got two settings (high and low) but you need to be stopped to pull it up. Once in the high setting, it kept the wind off my body and directed it just over the top of my helmet. I was happy enough with that and after two of the longest days on the BMW, had no neck strain or discomfort.
How sporty and exciting the XR is – the engine is potent, smooth and always entertaining. Combined with the excellent suspension and agile handling, the XR is comfortable enough to hoon down to the best roads on Europe on, and then sporty enough to really enjoy them.
We don’t like
The vibes through the bars. The 2017 S1000XR has new ‘vibration-free handlebars’ to address one of the main criticisms of the old model, but the bars on the 2017 bike were definitely prone to buzzing in my hands. The worst vibes seemed to occur between 50 – 70mph, with things getting better above 70mph. I found the pegs quite buzzy too but again, this went as the I got up to speed and neither the buzz from the bars or pegs seemed to correlate much with engine speed.
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