Popular Mechanics (South Africa)
WILL THE REAL S 1000 XR PLEASE STAND UP?
Tourer, all-roader or crazy superbike?Yes, says BMW. Really? POP MECH investigates.
BMW’S BREAD and butter is touring, mostly dirt-road adventuring – witness the success of the GS brand. It also has its lauded K and RT ranges, pure road tourers, though their heyday is over; as the world seeks out ever more inventive ways of getting away from it all, road-bike sales have dropped substantially. The rest of BMW’s line-up is a mix of retro bikes, commuters and out-and-out superbikes, unimportant in the larger
(sales) scheme of things.
All of which serves to ask the question: What the hell is this thing, sitting in my driveway, idling none too quietly in front of me?
The answer, suggest the Bavarians, is all of the above. BMW’s updated S 1000 XR is an adventure bike they say, the apparent love child of a R 1250 GS and the mad S 1000 RR superbike – use it to tour, drag race, commute, explore the platteland. This is not entirely true, I discovered. The XR has no off-road ability at all, so let’s get that straight right out the blocks. Bank that realisation and all will be well. Ignore it and
… well, let me tell you a tale.
Cederberg Ridge is a rather sophisticated lodge just outside Clanwilliam, in the Western Cape. It has much to recommend it: astonishing views across a mountain fynbos biome, cuttingedge contemporary design, expansive suites and superb cuisine, taken outside under a blanket of West Coast stars (cederbergridge.co.za). It also has a steep S-bend dirt road winding its way up from the old Klawer road entrance to the top of the ridge. In a car, on a dirt-road bike, it’s no problem. But on the S 1000 XR – especially coming down: a problem. A real ‘wake-up-in-themiddle-of-the-night-what-am-Igoing-to-do’ problem. I managed it, but not without a certain amount of brown-pant terror as the inevitable traction control warnings lit up the dash. Sideways and downwards at the same time, on dirt, on a road bike is no fun at all.
The palm-sweater experience was part of a larger tour up the delicious N7 to test the mettle of BMW’s updated blaster. The N7 is every biker’s dream – joining Cape Town to Vioolsdrif on the
Namibian border, it’s part autobahn, part mountain pass, well cambered, recently upgraded and, at least through Clanwilliam and around Kamieskroon, spectacularly beautiful.
Within 50 km, the penny dropped. The XR is a superbike in dirt-roader drag, wearing the clothes of a GS but wholly a road bike with enormous reserves of crazy to enjoy. Hit the cruise control, check your surroundings, sit back and enjoy, smug in the knowledge that given half a chance, volcanic excesses are possible at the twist of a wrist. Look to the engine to understand why. The four-cylinder 1 000 cc makes
121 kW and manages 114 Nm of twist, impressive figures indeed. But consider where it does that – the torque peak is at 9 250 rpm
(the redline is 11 000 rpm).
Pootling along on the cruise control at 120 km/h, you’re tracking 4 900 rpm, which means a stonking 6 000 rpm left to play with, should the whim take you. Open the throttle and the response is immediate; the wasps sing, the bike hunkers down and the countryside blurs in double-quick time. It’s then that you understand what BMW means by adventure. It’s not about chasing giraffes on dirt B-roads, it’s about emptying adrenal glands through the Garies switchbacks.
Things get even better in the twisties. They’ve lightened the bike and lowered the centre of gravity which, along with some fine Bridgestone rubber and those close ratio cogs, means the bike is chuckable, predictable, friendly and ready for almost anything you throw at it, including overcooked entries and over-excited exits. There’s a balletic element to the whole process, a choreographed dance of dip, drop, surge and sprint that puts a huge smile on your face, time and time again. Moving through space has rarely been this fun.
There are issues, however.
Most are simply nuisances, but some will irk into the future. The riding position is a sport/tourer compromise, mostly upright but with a degree of forward posture. On long stretches it becomes uncomfortable; backache will be an issue after 250 km. Adding to the discomfort is the saddle, a thin, slippery effort that doesn’t belong on a tourer and ends up numbing everything south of the belt. Good thing then that the bike’s relatively small tank (20 litres) needs filling every couple of hours if you’ve
ridden it as it begs to be ridden; regular rest ’n’ walkabouts are simply essential parts of an XR touring experience.
Heat circulation from the waterand oil-cooled engine is another bugbear. The effective two-stage, manually adjustable fairing does a good job of deflecting air away from the rider triangle at speed, but at low speeds in warm climes (Springbok in February is a very warm clime), things get decidedly uncomfortable, especially around the feet.
However, none of that matters when the XR hits its sweet spot out on an empty, fast intercity road. Sweeping through the granite bubbles outside Kamieskroon, the magic of biking was never so apparent. There’s a connection to the landscape – sounds, smells, temperature variations – that engage you like no car can, and the immediacy and sophistication of the big Beemer’s power delivery means that every mood can be indulged at the twist of a wrist, excited, laid-back, crazy, cool – it’s all possible. It’s not the ideal commuter, can’t do dirt for … well, you know, but as a distance superbike, it eats pretty much everything for breakfast. Kerouac indeed – ‘nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars’. Amen to that, brother.