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BMW S1000 XR

Shifting the goal posts

(by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Mar 2021)


BMW S 1000 XR 2021

BMW’s S 1000 XR and the transformation of sports-tourers

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

Somewhere between Omeo and the rest of the planet, I was quietly pondering motorcycle specs and how things had shifted well within my riding life. The platform for this little interlude was BMW’s latest iteration of the S 1000 XR, essentially a comprehensive remake of the 2015-19 original.

honda blackbird

It was the ultimate bragging rights number that sparked this train of thought: 162 horses (121kW). That’s a lot of mumbo in anyone’s language and almost identical to that of the great 1990s sport-touring icon – Honda’s CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, which claimed 164 horses before they stuck a cat on the third-gen.

Blackbird horsepower. That means a lot to those of us who were riding when the Honda was launched, given it was the fastest available production bike at the time, if only by a whisker and for a brief period. It was also seen as a standard-setter for the class.

The Blackbird and S 1000 XR were released near enough to 20 years apart and they highlight how much things have changed in sports-tourer world. While the Honda was also the top speed flagship for the range with a bespoke engine and chassis, the BMW uses a variant of its performance flagship engine (out of the S 1000 RR) with a bespoke chassis that brings in some adventure tourer thinking. Two very different approaches.

honda cb750-4 triumph t160

Go back another 20 years to the 1970s and you’re talking about a time when (for most people) one bike did everything – sports, touring, commuting, whatever.

However the whole specialisation theme wasn’t far away: Honda had released its first Gold Wing in 1975 and helped to popularise heavy tourers, BMW in 1980 launched the first G/S adventure tourer, and by 1985 Suzuki had launched the first GSX-R750, opening up the dedicated sports bike market.

Now I’ll hasten to add that all three models just mentioned had predecessors – but they were the landmark machines that either anticipated or arguably changed market behavior.

How about ballistic sports-tourers? That’s tougher to nail down. There’s no model I’d see as a clear landmark, though they were readily available through the second half of the 1980s. I’m thinking the likes of BMW K100RS, Honda CBR1000F, Kawasaki GPz1000RX and even Yamaha FJ1100/1200.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

Back on the road to Omeo, I’m pondering all of this and wondering where it has landed us. You have to say a pretty good place.

My primary ride on the S 1000 XR was a quick overnight strop from Melbourne to Omeo, 400km and about five hours each way. The routes give you a taste of pretty much everything: city snarl, freeway, highways and secondary roads, with some fantastic and sometimes unpredictable backroads action.

It’s one of those mixes that makes for a great ride, and requires your mount to cope with anything you can throw at it. In fact, you could argue we’re heading back to the seventies, where one bike had to do it all! Is this where specialisation has led us – essentially full circle?

There are plenty of other outlets which can give you a blow-by-blow breakdown of the updates to the latest generation XR, and one of the more thorough versions can be found here at Bennetts.

The short version is BMW changed most things: engine, chassis, electronics, styling. Despite all that it weighs near enough to the same (2kg lighter at a claimed 226kg wet) and has pretty much the same power output.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

When it comes to the engine, the company declined the chance to adopt the ‘shift-cam’ tech from the host S 1000 RR powerplant, saying there was little advantage in this application. However it did take the opportunity to update the internals sufficiently to meet ever-tightening emission requirements, while claiming a significant lift in fuel economy.

Gearing has also been altered, with taller ratios for the top three cogs.

From the rider standpoint, the seating position has been subtly reshaped, with the handlebar shifted and narrowed and the front of the seat trimmed for an easier reach to terra firma. All up the idea is to have a slightly less aggressive and more distance-friendly riding stance. I suspect you’d have to be able to hop off one and on to the other to pick up the differences.

There was a handlebar vibration issue that caused a bit of noise from owners of the very first models. This has been addressed for the second time with, among other things, alterations to the handlebar mounts. There is minor vibration there at highway speeds if you go looking for it, but nothing obtrusive.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

The bike you see here came with a lot of the fruit. Carbon-fibre panels, heated handgrips, an assortment of engine modes, cruise control, electronic shift kit, plus dynamic suspension with on-the-fly adjustment.

You can download an owner manual from the web and I reckon you’d need to put aside a fair amount of time to get your head around it. If, however, you have an aversion to reading instruction manuals, the controls are reasonably intuitive.

I managed to find the basics on the fly from day one, but really more time and a little experimentation would unquestionably pay benefits. And I’d be keen to download the corporate app, which enables you to hook up your wireless devices for entertainment and satnav.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

Which brings us to the giant TFT screen. It’s as clear as the proverbial. As much as analogue gauges are a sentimental favourite, you need something like this to access the motorcycle’s considerable electronic abilities.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

It very soon became apparent that changing this thing from Jekyll to Hyde mode was a quick and fairly easy process. While you can bury yourself in the detail of modes for engine, suspension and the assorted electronic safety nets, you can make significant changes in a matter of seconds, literally as you switch from freeway to backroad or from smooth to gnarly surfaces.

The suspension adjustment was particularly useful and, if you were determined to do a long stint in the saddle, made it a less painful experience. With one of the softer settings dialed in, I was intrigued to feel the bike using its full suspension travel through some rougher twists and turns, which at times felt a little ‘floaty’ but kept the whole plot on its intended line.

That’s a level of sophistication that you couldn’t get a couple of decades ago and it makes a huge impact on the experience. Combine the chassis abilities with the safety nets and the enormous performance on tap and you have a seriously quick piece of machinery. It may not be a top-speed king, but an XR would show a clean set of heels to most things on a real road with ropey corners and little surprises.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

Braking is sharp and powerful (as you’d expect), and the bike is running new calipers – Hayes rather than Brembo.

Steering is light with particularly good feedback. I’m a big fan of the front end, which is precise and feels well planted.

Performance? It’s about what you’d expect from a relatively light vehicle with over 160 horses – stonking. It likes a few thousand revs to get off the line cleanly. Once rolling, there’s power everywhere. You can be lazy and leave it in the upper gears most of the time, or it will rev willingly and play happy tunes on the tacho for you.

The power shifter works in both directions and is pretty slick. I’d rate it as a nice thing to have if you’re splashing out cash, but far from necessary as the trans shifts well enough the old-fashioned way.

Our example had the taller screen fitted, which was adjustable and, in combination with the flared front of the fairing, provided a lot of wind protection, including for the hands. At around 188cm, I could go a little higher again on the screen, but there was nothing to whinge about.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

A set of panniers would round out things nicely for long trips and of course the factory will cheerfully sell you a set. If you own the previous model, the bags do not transfer across as the mounting system (like pretty much everything else) has changed.

Fuel consumption? With the thing on cruise control (a must-have, I reckon) on the freeway, it was claiming low twenties per litre. Overall it was light on the juice and you’d easily expect well over 300km from the 20lt tank.

Now for the crunch – price. The closest spec to our demo bike is the Tour at $28,890 plus ORC of around $2400 (depending on state). Add in just shy of $2700 for the options and we’re talking of around $34,000 on the road. A lot of money.

At that level it’s got pretty much every electronic aid known to the human race, it’s seriously quick, comfortable, and will probably put a dirty great smile on your face.

BMW S 1000 XR 2021


honda blackbird

Old skool versus new skool

Looks and outright speed aside, it's not really much of a contest. Chassis technology has moved on since the Blackbird and by far the most significant gain has been with electronic aids.

While we loved bikes like the Blackbird as sports-tourers, the basic configuration of the new breed – essentially street crossover versions of adventure tourers – make a whole lot more sense for our road conditions. The more upright ride position with the potential for more forgiving suspension, without sacrificing handling ability, is a winner.

You might give points to the older bike for looks, particularly for those with a more traditional aesthetic. And of course, the monster could claim a 290km/h top speed, which means it should eventually whistle past the S 1000 XR, if you could find enough road to wind it out.

Back in the real world, the dynamic contest isn't even close. The S 1000 XR easily wins. Which is pretty much what you'd expect...


BMW S 1000 XR 2021

BMW S 1000 XR


Not so good
Not cheap

BMW S 1000 XR 2021

BMW S 1000 XR 2021


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four

BORE & STROKE: 80 x 49.7mm




TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Aluminium composite
FRONT SUSPENSION: USD telescopic fork, 45mm, electronic adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock, electronic adjustment 

FRONT BRAKE: 320mm disc with four-piston calipers

REAR BRAKE: 265mm disc with two-piston caliper


WET WEIGHT: 226 wet, 205kg dry

(790 optional)

FRONT: 120/70-ZR17
REAR: 190/55-ZR17


POWER: 121kW @ 11,000rpm

TORQUE: 114Nm @ 9250rpm

PRICE @$34,000 on road as ridden

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