BMW isn't just a powerful global presence on four wheels. Its motorcycle department is a world-beater too.
Already dominant in the increasingly growing "Adventure" class, which the company more or less invented in 2004 with the introduction of its sturdy R1200GS, BMW Motorrad surprised the motorcycle world by adding the Adventure-style S1000XR to its 2015 lineup.
But the motorcycle world embraced it. Reviews of the S1000XR range from positive to positively gaga, heralding the new machine as the perfect combination of upright Adventure seating position and cafe-style sport bike performance.
Unlike its other big bore 1200cc touring motorcycles, which traditionally feature large, horizontally opposed twin engines, the S1000XR is powered by a 999cc inline four cylinder — a modified version of the powerplant found in the S1000R and S1000RR sport bikes.
It's lighter, and sleeker, built into a narrower chassis than the GS bikes. It lacks nothing in propulsion, producing 160 horsepower and 83 pound feet of torque — compared with 125 horsepower and 92 pound feet of torque on the current R1200GS — and has a claimed top speed of 125 mph. It's also lighter than a GS, weighing in at just over 500 pounds, dry — compared with about 525 on the big 1200.
On the pavement, it's a delight. Flickable in the corners, it makes easy work of the twisty sections and bolts from corner to corner. Acceleration is smooth and swift — maybe the closest thing to the magic carpet sensation of the electric motorcycles that I've ever ridden.
The inclusion of standard ABS, stability control and traction control are great confidence builders. So is the stopping power provided by the twin 320mm discs on the front wheel and the single 265mm disc on the rear. You don't have to be a great rider to ride well.
The S1000XR has the fit and finish of its BMW brothers. It is a finely polished, perfectly engineered motorcycle. The ergonomics are a little tighter than on the GS, but the sit position is considerably more comfortable than the racier S1000R or S1000RR. While the thinly padded seat wouldn't suit an all-day ride as well as the deeply comfortable R1200RT or K1200GTL, this bike sat under me for a six-hour spin and didn't wear out me or my backside.
New on the S1000XR is BMW's Gear Shift Assist Pro, a device that, once the bike is underway, eliminates the need for traditional shifting. The electronic service needs only an upward or downward nudge from the foot — no clutch required! — to shift gears instantly. This feature is particularly sweet under heavy acceleration and, as long as the traction control is engaged, the front wheel stays on the ground.
On the downside — and as a BMW fan and owner, I'm surprised there is such a big one — the S1000XR has a vibration problem. Many reviewers, and many of my rider friends, have noted as I did that the handlebars are incredibly buzzy — buzzy enough to cause the fingers to go a bit numb.
Various testers have tried various treatments, including bar end weights and other tricks, with mixed results. I'm guessing BMW is working on this, and will have a fix, because they're smart like that.
Some of those testers have taken the S1000XR off-road too, also with mixed results. By general agreement, a pair of off-road tires and some other amendments would make it an off-road prospect, if not a real off-road performer.
BMW makes so many motorcycles, and has sliced the differences between one and another so thinly, that there's almost no reason not to ride one. From scooters to roadsters to scramblers to Adventure bikes to sport bikes to touring bikes, the company has 23 models in its current lineup. With the coming arrival of the brand-new G31 R, they'll even have a small motorcycle in the barn.
They do everything, in fact, except off-road. After getting its toes wet during a period when BMW owned Husqvarna, BMW doesn't make dirt bikes.
That's where the S1000XR is most notably different from the other Adventure bikes. The model currently is not offered with spoked wheels or any of the other options that would make it ready for the rough stuff.
That probably won't hurt sales, for a company that just closed the books on its best sales year ever.
But the GS line already has plenty of competition from the KTM Adventure and Super Adventure, the Triumph Tiger Explorer and the Yamaha Super Tenere. Riders less interested in hardcore adventuring have also chosen the Ducati Multistrada as an Italian version of an upright, high-performance, light touring machine.
And there's more competition coming. Ducati has just introduced its tougher Ducati Multistrada Enduro, and Honda is finally stepping into the arena with its adventure-ready Africa Twin.
So, what a smart time for BMW to step the other way — away from the dirt, solidly back onto the pavement, with an Adventure bike for riders who want to stay on the asphalt. Sales may be limited only by price: Like the GS, the S1000XR starts at just below $16,500.