The BMW S 1000 XR is all-new for 2020 and pushes the term “sport touring” to the very edge of just sport.
Photography by Kit Palmer
Pinning the throttle on a four-cylinder BMW is one of life’s great joys. When a Beemer four is on the pipe, there are very few two- or four-wheel machines that can stay with it.
It’s been this way for years.
Those who have been fortunate enough to experience the luxuriously bonkers K 1300 R will attest to the pupil-dilating experience that naked bruiser offered. The same for the S 1000 RR superbike, which set new levels of tech and sheer in-yer-face acceleration for the superbike category back in 2010.
The XR variant is equally mind-warping in how it will get you from A, straight past B, and hurtling towards C quicker than a machine with the word “touring” in its tagline has any right to. Unleashed to the world in 2015, the original BMW S 1000 XR had a few niggles—namely an almost intolerable ability to send a rider’s hands, feet and bum to sleep thanks to sundry vibrations—but it was still an absolute gem of a motorcycle, capable of blitzing corners and drag strips, all while retaining the sophisticated demeanor of a retired (but still very much in shape) heavyweight boxer.
I had one in my garage for 18 months in 2016 and simply adored it, to the point where I became used to the vibrations (sort of). But that was then, and for 2020, the XR gets the full BMW makeover with new chassis, motor, suspension, body and electronics. Lots of electronics.
2020 BMW S 1000 XR Review
Side One: Motor and Chassis
The XR needs to be looked at as two sides of the same coin—the mechanical and the electronic. Let’s go over the mechanical first. The motor has come in for a pretty thorough overhaul but is interestingly not fitted with the variable Shift Cam technology that made its debut in the GS and S 1000 RR last year, which is a little odd when you consider the XR’s motor is directly derived from the RR’s.
Cost and overall complexity of the Shift Cam design are the primary reasons for its exclusion, so the XR gets its own camshaft setup with a 250 rpm lower rev ceiling of 12,000 rpm than the RR’s. As such, power has been moved from the top of the rev range—where it resides on the RR—to the mid-section, with BMW claiming a peak of 165 horsepower at 11,000 rpm (a 5-horsepower increase over the 2015-19 model). Max torque is quoted at 84 lb-ft at 9250 rpm.
Thus, the new motor gets to peak torque faster than before, so you won’t have to pull as hard and as long on the throttle for the same result.
It’s smaller and lighter across the board—12mm slimmer side-to-side, six percent lighter, and 10 percent lighter exhaust, even though this motor passes Euro 5 thanks to the massive catalytic convertors under the frame.
The gearbox now houses longer ratios for gears four to six, giving a quieter ride and reducing fuel consumption by a claimed eight percent, and a revised slipper clutch has been fitted to stop you from hopping the rear all over the place under heavy braking and downshifting.
When it comes to the frame, it’s all new. Stiffer, smaller, lighter is the name of the game, with the rear shock now mounted directly off the swingarm with no linkage. BMW claims the advantage is three-fold: less unsprung mass, less friction over bumps and more usable suspension travel, thus a more comfortable ride. It also enables a lighter swingarm and makes for better feel through the seat of the pants in action.
The motor is a stressed member of the chassis as before, but the frame itself is skinnier where the rider sits, and the new front-end bracings contribute to a lower center of gravity and increased stiffness for more feel under brakes and through the corner.
The rider now sits closer and lower to the front with a handlebar that’s one-inch narrower end to end, but they are also sitting on a seat that’s one of the more odd-shaped units I’ve ever used.
Much like a racecar bucket seat, the XR’s new pew is dish-shaped, and not the most comfortable. It’s designed to hold the rider in place, which it does, but it also pushes against your bum, so if you’ve got a size 34 or above ass, you’ll end up getting skid marks on your shirt.
Compared to the 2019 and back model, you sit much more in the cockpit than on it. The overall position is exceptionally comfortable, save for the seat shape—you get no weight on your wrists, and the peg-to-seat gap is rangy for a 6’1” rider like me. The seat height of 33 inches is 0.1 inches less than last year, although there’s a high, low and optional M seat you can get as an accessory (there are lots, and lots, and lots of accessories for the new XR).
Gone are the asymmetrical headlights that are a carryover from the first-generation S 1000 RR and XR. Now you’ve got sleek LEDs with Cornering Lights and a Daytime Running Light (DRL) as optional Headlight Pro extra. These let you light up the corner at 12° of lean at a minimum of six mph, and work whether or not the optional auxiliary lights (like fog lights) are on or not.
LEDs also extend to the indicators and the brake lights, which are housed in the indicators. Sound strange? BMW has opted not to use a singular brake light and instead put the brake lights in the indicators, which is a neat little design feature that really ties up the back end.
2020 BMW S 1000 XR Review
Side Two: Electronics
Okay. Now the hardware is done, let’s look at the software. The 2020 XR gets the almost compulsory six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit that—like similar systems on a Ducati, Honda or Yamaha—sends signals to the ECU about the motorcycle’s position on the road (angle of lean, speed, brake and throttle pressure, etc.), which the ECU interprets, and adjusts the various systems accordingly.
Those systems now include four power modes, three-stage wheelie, and three-stage engine brake control, four-stage traction control, and five stages of ABS control. Exceptional as they are, that level of adjustability is almost par for the course when you’re talking a $20,000-plus sport touring motorcycle these days.
Where it gets interesting is the new Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) and Dynamic ESA Pro. The bike comes standard with Dynamic ESA, which only offers one damping mode of Road, and manual selection of how much weight (preload) you want for the rear, be it rider/rider with luggage/rider and passenger.
Move up to the optional Dynamic ESA Pro, and you get two damping modes of Road and Dynamic, the latter of which automatically adjusts load compensation on the shock. It’s also got a neat setting called “Min,” which holds the load on the shock as your passenger gets off and thus stops the shock from springing back too quickly.
Dynamic ESA Pro monitors the suspension in real-time, monitoring and adjusting suspension performance every 10 milliseconds. The shock itself houses larger piston diameters, more oil and lower pressures, so that when combined with that new linkage-less swingarm we spoke of earlier, it gives a smoother and more controlled ride than before.
The Dynamic ESA Pro is just a software update, which is a bit of a bummer considering all you’re paying for is the BMW tech to switch it on. BMW says that virtually none of their bikes come just as base models, anyway, be it for Dynamic Pro electronic suspension, quickshifter, cruise control, heated grips, whatever. As such, BMW says the take-up rate for the Dynamic ESA Pro is expected to be at a whopping 99 percent.
Another new factor is the Dynamic Brake Control linked braking system, which works by reducing engine power and increasing rear-brake pressure under emergency stops. The system is triggered when the rider grabs a handful of brake at anything above six mph with more than five-percent throttle, and can only be deactivated by the rider intentionally changing the ABS setting to level one.
And just as a throw-in, BMW’s fitted the XR with the Hill Start Control Pro (HSC Pro) feature that allows for the bike to be held on hills when taking off. This comes from the BMW touring line of bikes that weigh way more than this XR, but it’s a nice feature anyway—just so you know, no, it’s not a park brake, just something to get you moving smoother.
2020 BMW S 1000 XR Review
Side Three: Riding it!
In practice, it’s amazing how a motorcycle so complex can give you a feeling of complete connectivity with the road. The 2020 BMW S 1000 XR isn’t a quantum leap from what we’ve had before, but everything is beautifully refined, and the ride offered by the new suspension is far plusher than it was previously.
Interestingly, the electronics in the suspension don’t feel as vague as what you get on an S 1000 RR. Partially, I feel this has to do with the fact that sport-touring bikes don’t rely quite as heavily on the innate feel from the springers as sportbikes do, but, regardless, the XR has pulled off that ultra-difficult trick of being almost entirely electronic yet still gives the rider a tangible feel at the handlebar of what’s going on beneath them.
You can make the ride as soft or as stiff as you like—Road mode, for sure, gives the most pleasant ride, but Dynamic will offer more composure when you really start wailing, which seems like a God-given right on something like the XR. If you’re not really going for it, however, Dynamic is pretty stiff and high-speed compression can be a bit on the harsh side from both the fork and shock.
The S 1000 XR motor is nothing short of magnetic in how it just wills you into going faster. One complaint is the initial throttle opening feels too soft, and the motor doesn’t really get going below 3000 rpm. From fully closed, you have to twist the grip quite a long way before a very soft delivery of power can be felt, but eventually, it’s something you get used to.
As I said at the start of this test, pinning a four-cylinder BMW is pure sex, especially when it’s mated to such a great induction roar. Throwing gears via our optioned-up quickshifter is about as good as it gets when on the power—once the motor is signing at 5000 rpm or more, hold on. Amazingly, this thing is considered a sport-touring bike, especially when it’ll vaporize most bikes of any class up to 1000cc.
Despite having a conventional front master-cylinder, the braking power is absolutely superb. You barely need to squeeze the lever at all for huge stopping power, and the feel at the lever, plus the behavior of the Dynamic ESA system, allows you to trail brake right through the corner. And when you get off the brakes and on the gas, the electronics limit rear compression and increases the rebound to keep the front planted for acceleration. Very cool.
After a few weeks with the 2020 Honda Africa Twin, which has almost as much electronics as the BMW, it’s interesting to note the execution of both models. The Honda doesn’t do a great job of making the electronics user-friendly, partly down to the fact (in my opinion), they haven’t been at the game as long as BMW has. BMW practically invented rider aids/electronics for motorcycles, and it shows in an interface that’s much more user friendly, yet just as, if not more, complex.
The BMW S 1000 XR is indeed a worthy successor to the original 2015-19 XR. Although I’m really not a fan of the seat position, it’s still a bike I could ride all day in touring mode, but that would be doing the bike a disservice.
The XR is a sportbike in a tuxedo. Stylish in appearance, the XR will slap most bikes around in the canyons and get there in more comfort. Only when you get to the track will it start to be outclassed, and even then, with a good rider on board, will embarrass many 600cc and 1000cc sportbike riders.
That’s part of the appeal of such a bike. This really is a do-it-all sportbike. CN
VIDEO | 2020 BMW S 1000 XR First Ride Review
2020 BMW S 1000 XR Specifications
||Inline 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, 16-valves, DOHC
|Bore x stroke:
||80 x 49.7mm
||165 hp at 11,000 rpm
||84 lb-ft at 9250 rpm
||Aluminum composite bridge frame
||45mm inverted fork, electronic self-adjusting rebound/compression damping (Dynamic ESA)
||Monoshock, double-sided aluminum swingarm, central spring strut, electronic preload adjuster, electronic self-adjusting rebound/compression damping (Dynamic ESA)
||Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston fixed caliper, ABS Pro
||Single 265mm disc, 2-piston caliper
|Steering head angle:
|Weight (wet, measured):