S1000XR – Ultimate bike of many hats or a tale of two halves?

1400w S1000XR outside STV

I’d somehow managed to avoid the S1000XR, not intentionally just accidentally. I’m a fan of BMW’s Legendary R1200GS, heck I even own one, my motorcycling roots are firmly planted in the mid-nineties running around on ZXR750’s and ZX-7R’s and I’m a well-known fan of sports tourers. So with that background in mind I should be seeking out a class leading Sports Adventure Tourer. All that said I’d just not got around to riding an XR, well all that changed today.

I approached the bike with a sense of trepidation, rumours of iffy handling and savage engine vibrations circulated my mind. However, it was a choice between the XR with heated grips or a Tiger Sport without and it was cold. First impressions were not good, the gearshift assist pro with playing silly buggers (I’ll come back to this) and the vibrations through the handlebars when I got on the motorway were making my fingers numb after only 5 minutes.

The route was my usual one, set off from the shop, meet up with the gang in Basingstoke and then head off towards Alton on the A339. Once at Alton we head down the A32 to Fareham passing Bahnstormers and Loomies on the way, when you get to Fareham take the B3385 to Lee-on-the-Solent. Once at the sea front find out the Penguin Cafe and enjoy one of the finest breakfasts whilst watching the boats sail past, they also make a mean cup of tea in a mug!

penguin cafe lee-on-solent penguin cafe - lee-on-the-solent hampshire

Back to the bike.

With just two suspension selections via the optional ESA system (Only choices were Road or Dynamic, is this right? – Yes Ed) I chose Road, this is due to having a back made from fine china and prone to breaking down at the slightest provocation.  I thought Road would be the softest setting and give me the best comfort, in my head Dynamic sounded stiff. Heated grips set to level two, rain riding mode selected and my music playing through my headset I set off, waving a sad goodbye to the Costa coffee shop.

As we got up to speed on the twisty A339 I noticed two things; one, the gearshift assist pro was working fine providing my inputs were quick and gentle, any prolonged gear change action or aggression on the gear lever resulted in a jerky shift or no shift at all. Two, the vibrations were present, but I had some thoughts on how to manage them.

The bike was comfortable at speed but tended to crash about a little whilst travelling through the villages and the 30mph zones. The progress was swift but slightly reserved as the roads were wet and the sun was low making visibility difficult.

The S1000XR was a Sport SE model so it had cruise control which I used on the way down to Fareham, this allowed me to lessen my grip on the throttle to give my right hand a break from the vibrations which were becoming a problem. Whilst the arrival of the warm sunlight was welcome, it made seeing the dash virtually impossible, some form of back-lighting would have helped. The lack of dash lighting may have been caused by my selection of the daytime LED running light. You have two choices either the daytime LED strip in the middle of the two front lights or traditional dipped main beam headlights.  As it turns out the selection of which daytime lighting you choose has no bearing on the dashboard illumination.  You do have the ability to adjust the brightness of the dashboard via the menu, but given it was already on the highest setting we’ll just leave it that in certain light conditions you may have an issue seeing the speedo clearly.  The bike also has a light sensor which automatically selects normal dipped headlights when light levels go low, neither of these selections will affect the dash board illumination.

At this point in proceedings we had arrived at the coast and breakfast!  To say I was under whelmed with the S1000XR is an understatement!  As we ate a fantastic Big Breakfast in Penguin’s we discussed the bike, everyone was a shocked as I was regarding my initial assessment.  After a lengthy discussion I put the situation down to a few things;

  1. I was tired when we set off.
  2. I was also cold.
  3. My headset/iphone was playing up meaning the music was intermittent, which was annoying.
  4. I wasn’t used to the bike.
  5. The roads were greasy.
  6. The morning sun made progress difficult.

With breakfast consumed and too many cups of tea drunk we headed back towards Alton following the same route back just with a stop in Loomies planned.

Normally I ride at the back of the pack (anywhere between 2 and 6 of us most weeks) but for the return leg I said I was going to lead, give myself a chance to stretch the S1000XR’s legs.  I decided to change two settings for the return trip, selecting Road for the riding mode and Dynamic for the ESA.

When we set off three things had changed in the two hours we were by the coast, firstly the sun had risen making visibility much better.  Secondly, the higher sun had dried the roads considerably and finally it was warmer!  I can’t say which combination of changes had the most effect, but the ride home was a revelation, it felt like a different bike.  The change in rider mode has given the engine an immediacy and punch which when combined with the dry roads meant progress was swift.  The change in pace meant I was hanging onto the lower gears and carrying higher revs which dialled out the engine harshness and vibration.  The bike felt suddenly all together and the ride flowed, so much so I barely noticed the ride, the increase in pace probably also helped with this in terms of riding over the broken surfaces quicker but I like to believe it was the damper settings in Dynamic mode.  The difference in riding style also meant I didn’t struggle once with the quickshifter on either up or down shifts.

I was in love with the bike as we arrived at Loomies. I was even contemplating a discussion with the Overlord to seek permission to change one of my permanent bikes for this one.  The S1000XR just felt sure footed and comfortable. Yeah I’d need to suss out which gear was best for cruising around at lower speeds to help with the vibration but everything else was spot on.  The bike can take a fitment of panniers, top box or both so touring with the bike is a possibility.

The performance of the S1000XR is stunning and probably had the edge on my other favourite sports adventure bike the Multistrada 1200S, that combined with its slow speed tractability and high-speed handling, I would go so far to say it’s the best Sports Adventure bike available, well until I ride the next sporty number else that impresses me!

Details of the BMW S1000XR are;

  • Straight-four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 999 cc. Output 118 kW (160 hp) at 11,000 rpm, maximum torque of 112 Nm (83 lb-ft) at 9,250 rpm.
  • BMW Motorrad ABS as standard (semi-integral, disengageable).
  • Automatic Stability Control (ASC) as standard for accelerating safely even in low-grip conditions.
  • Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) with banking sensor for supreme performance and active riding safety when accelerating (as part of the Pro riding modes optional extra).
  • Two riding modes that can be selected by the rider at the push of a button as standard (“Rain” and “Road”).
  • Spring elements with long spring travel for excellent agility and high damping reserves.
  • Electronically controlled suspension system, Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) for optimum adaptation to the prevailing conditions as an optional extra.
  • Light-footed handling and raised seating position.
  • Multifunctional instrument cluster with a wealth of features.

Breakfast was provided by Penguin Café;

The Penguin
6 Marine Parade W,
Lee-on-the-Solent PO13 9LL
023 9255 2354


Our route;


Details of the actual bike used for the trip, which is for sale;


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