2016 BMW S 1000 XR: A Hint of Adventure With a Dash of Sport

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Kevin Wing, Jonathan Beck

BMW’s S 1000 XR is the fourth model in its lineup of inline, four-cylinder motorcycles. They call the XR an “adventure sport.” It’s not really “adventure,” but there is quite a bit of “sport.” Nevertheless, it’s a great combination for the twisties.

I tested the S 1000 XR in the Muskoka Lakes region in Ontario, where sweeping curves and dirt roads abound. Steady rain and wet roads put a damper on the otherwise spirited test ride. The conditions, however, highlighted the XR’s superb electronic assistance features.

BMW’s success with the S 1000 R and S 1000 RR, which brought a new genre of riders to the company, was surely a big reason to introduce the XR. Let’s take a step back and look at comparable models. The GS is still the flagship and competes against the Ducati Multistrada, KTM Adventure, Yamaha Super Ténéré, etc. The XR isn’t here to compete against the GS or the others; it’s out to capture a new type of rider for BMW, while trying to steal some customers away from the Yamaha FJ-09, Kawasaki VERSYS, etc. crowd. It’s a sportbike with an upright seating position. 

Powertrain and Performance

The 999cc engine comes modified from the S 1000 R. Four cylinders produce 160 hp at 11,000 rpm and 83 lb-ft of torque at 9,250 rpm. In the low and mid-range it provides more than enough pickup, which translates into a lot of fun throttling out of curves. BMW states a top speed exceeding 125 mph. Of course I can’t claim to have confirmed this, as Ontario charges heavy speeding fines. Try up to $ 10,000 for a violation of surpassing the speed limit by 50 kph (31 mph) or more! 

Above 65 mph I felt significant buzz through the handlebar, especially on the right grip. For long distance touring, this could become uncomfortable. Two ride modes come complimentary: Road and Rain. BMW’s traction control, ASC (Automatic Stability Control), and ABS also come standard. During testing they worked flawlessly, preventing rear wheel spin and lockup on wet roads and slippery dirt roads. The Dynamic and Pro settings are optional for an upcharge. 

An X-ring chain connects the six-speed transmission to the rear wheel. Throttle response is spot-on thanks to the ride-by-wire. I tested the Gear Shift Assist Pro feature, which automatically matches rpms for a clutch-free gear change. Shifting up works very well, whereas downshifting still required me to be at least in the neighborhood of the correct engine speed for a smooth shift. This feature can add that little extra for sporty (or lazy, depending how one views it) riding.

Chassis and Handling

Riders will feel right at home on tight mountain roads and open sweepers on the XR. Low speed cornering provided the most entertainment. The wide handlebar, upright seating position, and steering geometry all contribute to having a blast when the road starts to twist and bend. 

The engine is used as a stressed member in the aluminum-composite bridge frame. A pentagonal aluminum rear frame provides extra rigidity. A double-sided swingarm attaches via a central spring strut with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. Dynamic ESA is offered as an option.

Lightweight, ten-spoke die-cast aluminum wheels add to the sporty appearance and smooth handling. The 17-inch Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires stick to the road, increasing cornering confidence, but they also perform well on wet dirt roads. Even though it’s still a more street-oriented machine, it’s nice to know play time doesn’t have to stop when the pavement ends. 

Braking power was easy to apply and modulate, requiring minimal lever effort. Out front are dual 320mm floating disc brakes with radial four-piston calipers. In the rear, a single 265mm floating disc with two-piston caliper does the job.


At first sight from the front, one will notice the asymmetrical headlights. It’s not just styling but a different way to project the light beams, which are, in fact, symmetrical. 

Further back in the cockpit, the instrument panel is easy to read, although there’s a lot of information to take in. This probably speaks more to the “sport” rider than the “adventure” rider. Indicators like shift flash (when it’s optimal to shift) and lap timer aren’t all that useful in everyday riding. Most importantly, the analog rev counter is quite obvious. A 12v outlet is located in the dash area. The Touring Package includes Dynamic ESA, heated grips, saddlebag mounts, GPS preparation, centerstand, and a luggage rack. 

Flo’s Lowdown

The XR made its first appearance in the U.S. market on the IMS circuit last fall. With the increasing availability of travel enduros in North America, this motorcycle has a lot to live up to. The XR doesn’t evoke a lot of passion, as it doesn’t have much of a personality. It’s wicked fast, and the electronics work exceptionally well, though. 

The XR is a comfortable motorcycle for the operator, and it definitely lends itself for road trips. However, the small passenger area isn’t ideal for two-up touring, especially for bigger people. 

It will probably win comparisons against the V-Strom and the VERSYS, but the XR’s touring capacity doesn’t live up to the big enduros. It’s just a completely different cup of tea. It’s a sportbike one can ride day after day without neck and wrist pains.