Today is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The GT is in for a service (50,000 miles), and I’ve arranged a test ride on the new top of the range S1000XR to see whether BMW’s much lauded new steed is good enough to persuade me to part with “old faithful”.
The sales guy isn’t sure initially how to set up the ESA for rider and pillion, or whether the quickshifter works on both up and downshifts, but a quick check of the users manual confirms which button to press, and now the suspension is showing the familiar two helmets for rider and pillion settings, which I need as my better half is along for the ride too, as no purchase of a bike will ever go through unless she’s comfortable on it!
I don’t know the roads or area around by the dealer, but get lucky when I spot that the GPS mount is for BMW’s equivalent of my Zumo 660, and sure enough my GPS slots in perfectly. The only negative is that it isn’t operable via the thumb wheel on the left bar, but hey, at least I can find my way back now.
Sitting on the XR for the first time I’m taken by how tall the seat height is, I’m on tiptoes to hold it upright. Next to hit me is the bar position, it feels like riding a chopper in comparison to my GT. The bars seem high and wide, but the benefit of this position is soon evident in the ease with which nudging them drops the front into bends. The bike itself is quite slim, the seat slightly dished and very comfy, and my knees fit perfectly into the cut-outs on the tank, so ergonomically it’s ticking all the boxes.
The ride starts with some 40mph limited town roads leading to a roundabout and onto a dual carriageway. Turning onto it, I’m shocked, and so is Sue, with the ferocity of the acceleration as it leaps forward, taking us both by surprise and forcing Sue to hang on for grim death. Taking it up through the gears the speed increases rapidly, but I’m surprised to see that although the red line starts at 11,000rpm, and the shift light starts flashing at around 8ish, at 9000 it’s banging into what must be a rev limiter. I’m going to assume this is because the bike only has 993 miles on the clock and is still being run in, so perhaps limiting the revs during the running in process is the reason for this restriction?
Tired of the limitations of 40mph A roads and lines of traffic, I’ve overshot a promising looking turnoff down a small country road. Signalling to pull over into a layby to turn round, I’m suddenly faced with a combination of seat height and high bars which make doing a turn back a somewhat less comfortable proposition than it would have been on my lower GT, back pedalling on tip toes doesn’t feel very reassuring!
Once onto the small lane I’m immediately comfortable, entering unknown bends quickly but feeling in full control and comfortable with the excellent light handling. The bike turns in nicely and gives a lot of confidence, and it turns out it’s wearing the same Bridgestone T30’s as my GT, so perhaps this helps? What isn’t so great for me is the brakes, or rather the diving on the brakes. I’ve ridden for 7 years and over 100,000kms on BM’s tele and duolever forks which all but eradicate dive under braking, so suddenly finding the front dipping and Sues weight sliding forward is a bit of a shock.
Deciding to switch from Road mode to Dynamic, I had the sensation that the power delivery was smoother, but for some reason the feel and handling seemed to change too, and not for the better. The confidence of throwing it into the bends I’d enjoyed a few minutes earlier had evaporated and I have no idea why, but I felt more at ease once I’d switched it back to Road.
I was finding the suspension more compliant than my GT (which gives the impression of steamrollering over bumps), but it wasn’t the case for Sue, the ride translating into a choppy one for her on the back. She also wasn’t too comfortable on the seat either, which was digging into her inner thighs a little. Whilst higher speed road suspension for me as a rider is fine, the lower speed isn’t quite as good. Round town later on I find the front is crashing over manhole covers, giving another example of how the bike operates better at speed.
The engine is the thing everyone will talk about. It is a little rough at tickover but will pull from as low as 2000rpm in top. I tried it down to 1500rpm and it didn’t like it, but add just 500rpm more and it pulls away cleanly. In fact it runs better at this artificially low 2000rpm in 6th than it does in 4th or 5th, which I reckon is because in the lower gears it just wants to rev its nuts off and disappear into the distance! Late in the ride I managed to set off onto a roundabout in second instead of first, only spotting it when I saw the gear indicator, so more proof it’s a smooth and flexible engine. I’d heard some complaints of vibration, but I only felt this once at around 6000rpm but couldn’t replicate it.
One slightly negative point is that at 70mph on the motorway, with the the rev counter showing 5000rpm, the motor feels as if its just coming onto the cam and wanting to pick up and go, so you either need to slow the pace a little or take it past this point to get a smooth ride, either way you’re not going to want to hold it at that speed.
Whilst the engines growl and acceleration will keep you involved, there is another noise which intrudes a little. Round town I’m aware of a humming coming from the tank in front of me, which turns out to be the fan which seems to activate at around 90 degrees, which it will constantly run at, or higher, in traffic or moving slowly. In all honesty, town riding isn’t where this bike works best. It, and the quickshifter (which does work both ways up and down the gearbox), work better the faster you’re going. Using the clutch for downshifts confuses the gearbox, it just take a little getting used to to not use the clutch when going down into first! Generally the quickshifter is great, although I have to say the shifts were not always super crisp or consistent, but the fact you only need the clutch to pull away in first is a real boon, I need one for my R1 racebike NOW!
Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the ever present wind noise. The low screen does a pretty good job deflecting wind, but it isn’t going to offer you a silent ride.
So what are my final thoughts? Well if I were looking for a bike for myself only, I’d probably buy one, but I’m not, it needs to double up for two up riding, and this is where it drops a few demerit points. I have to say from my perspective it was ok, but Sue was less than impressed, a fact backed up by the sales guy who informed us that those who rode it solo raved about it, those who rode it two up universally didn’t rate it.
The engine is great, the quickshifter a useful addition, the GPS mount and luggage fittings well made, the plastics a touch thinner than perhaps you’d expect, but acceptable nonetheless, and it handles extremely well. I was very happy riding unknown roads at a fair old lick, which is indicative of the confidence the bike instills. Overall I’d rate it as an 8 1/2 / 10, but if I hadn’t come from 8 years of riding a duo lever suspension bike without fork dive, it might have had a 9!