2020 BMW F 900 R/XR: Not-So-Identical Twins

Text: Brian Shaney • Photography: Kevin Wing

Since the introduction of its first motorbike, the R32 in 1923, BMW has been known for designing and manufacturing quality machines. With the extremely popular GS being its core business, in November the brand unveiled a pair of new middleweight street machines, the F 900 R and the F 900 XR. The models are designed not only to attract current riders to the BMW badge with its relatively low and competitive price point, but also to entice new and returning motorcyclists.

When One Becomes Two

Both the F 900 R and the XR are based on the current F 850 GS parallel twin engine and frame. By boring out the engine and altering the rake, effectively increasing horsepower and quickening steering response, BMW created a new platform for the street. While the 900 R replaces the rather outdated F 800 R, the XR model offers more suspension travel front and rear (+1.4-inch and +1.3-inch, respectively) and is designed as a touring model. BMW marketing refers to the XR as an “adventure sport” and is perhaps playing the “GS” card a bit.

The R model has a forward sport-riding position as well as an aggressive stripped-down look, while the XR has a more upright riding position, adjustable windscreen, and fairings up front. Both models feature 17-inch cast wheels and sport-oriented tires front and rear as well as 43mm USD forks. The XR’s increased suspension travel results in a 10mm taller seat height. That said, both bikes are available with a factory-installed lowering kit and/or a low seat option.

Two electronic riding modes (Road and Rain) are standard, and the optional Pro modes (Dynamic and Dynamic Pro) add two more sport choices. ASC (automatic stability control) and ABS are standard on both bikes.

Riding Impressions

Outward appearances aside, the first thing that will likely strike you about the F 900 is the unexpected but “beautiful noise” when you hit the start button. The rather unassuming-looking inline twin has a surprising growl, something that my inner 12-year-old rather enjoys. BMW says this is by design and credits the parallel twin’s offset crankshaft, firing at 270°/450° for producing a sound quite similar to a V-twin.

Out on the road, throttle response is fluid and as expected, while gear changes are smooth and effortless. Braking is more than adequate, and while ABS is standard, it can be turned off if desired. Both clutch and brake levers are adjustable, as is the windscreen on the XR. Both bikes have a 6.5-inch high-resolution TFT instrument panel that features two display modes. I found the display to be very easy to read and navigate.

Having a 30-inch inseam, I personally had no issues with the standard seat height on either bike. However, BMW recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all and offers optional low and high seats for both models. As well, there are several OEM accessories available for both models, including luggage carriers, hard and soft luggage, various windscreens, spoilers, and handguards to name a few.

The “X” Factor

Having spent ample time with both bikes, I think what really sets them apart is the riding position. While the R looks—and more importantly feels—like it was made for canyon carving, the XR has a more relaxed but still sporty feel about it, and is just as capable in the twisties. The R is no slouch, but the XR offers a bit more flexibility (albeit at a price) by allowing for comfortable long-distance riding and likely greater length of ownership (aka return on investment).