Article by: Andrew Scott
If I were to describe my relationship to motorcycles, I would probably use one word more than any other; adventure. Like a lot of other riders, I love chasing that road further and further ahead, seeing how far I can get, taking that unknown side road, just a few more turns until I get a bit farther from home and discover something new. This never-ending quest has taken me across our beautiful country and back again. However, living and working in downtown Toronto, I am forced to squeeze most of these adventures into the smallest slivers of opportunity, picking the perfect non-rush hour moment to race out of the city with a million other high-strung city dwellers competing to find our little corner of paradise. If I could somehow just find a way to live that lifestyle all the damn time… but that silly thing called ‘life’ just keeps getting in the friggin’ way.
Enter my good friend Kendall, who is quite literally the girl next door. We have been bonding over our love of all things motorcycle for years. Both of us live in the concrete jungle, yet she always seems to be living the adventure life of my dreams surrounded by trees, fresh lakes, rivers, and the open road. When she approached me to ride the Grand Algoma Tour through some of Ontario’s very best roads along the eastern shores of Lake Superior and north of Lake Huron, I jumped at the chance, “I’ll figure out the vacation time with work later.” Luckily, I did. When I later found out that the trip would involve riding and reviewing a 2017 BMW S 1000 XR, well, I think I quite literally teared up a little.
My daily ride is a KLR 650, a bike chosen for its ability to go pretty much anywhere, but also for its lack of, shall we say, flair? I think I can sum it up with a short anecdote. One day, a lack of parking at work forced me to ignore a row of traffic cones and park with a bunch of film production vehicles across the street. As I walked away, a security guard quickly chased me down. I was in a hurry, so I humoured him but mainly shrugged him off for half a block until he threatened me with “Well, maybe I just go push over your bike!” to which I replied “Go ahead, it’s a KLR.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the KLR; its reliable, big enough for the highway, small enough with enough suspension for some trails. It will take you anywhere, on a budget, and you can beat the #$%^ out of it, which is nice.
The interesting thing is that, for all their differences, the S 1000 XR and the KLR 650 both occupy the vast and growing adventure riding market; however, they take a decidedly different approach. The KLR 650 comes from more of an enduro/dual-sport angle, it has a single 650cc cylinder engine that vibrates like crazy and tops out at a measly 36 HP @ 6,200 RPM. It has a large skinny front wheel that begs to go off road but the bike will plod along the highway just fine, getting you from 0 to 100 km sometime. It is a bit like a tractor, it looks and operates at a pretty basic level, but, it does the trick. The S 1000 XR, which shares its inner workings with BMW’s inline four-cylinder 1,000 cc racing bike, the S 1000 RR, has every bell and whistle you can think of, it has two 17” wheels indicating more road oriented intentions, and it tops out at 165 HP @ 11,000 RPM (increased from 160 HP in previous years). It is the fastest bike I have ever ridden, hands down, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Performance-wise, you cannot even compare the two bikes, as the S 1000 XR, at a MSRP of $17,700, occupies more of an adventure sport market that, until I rode the XR, I had yet to enjoy.
Even so, for all the vast differences between the two bikes, the first time I climbed onto the XR, it felt strangely familiar. It is an adventure bike, after all, even if it has the heart of a racer and what initially looked to me like the wrong tires (sticky Bridgestones of the slick variety). The ergonomics still matched closely to the style I am used to. It sits a bit high, pretty much perfect for my 6’ frame with my feet firmly on the ground (though flexible seat heights are available from BMW). Bar height and seating position is extremely comfortable, and allows you to stand up easily when you need to. It lacks the knobby tires, engine guards, and skid plate that I am used to from my KLR, but, how often does the average adventure touring rider really need those things? The XR is obviously meant to put down some serious miles for the thrill-seeking adventurer/touring riders out there, and over the next few days I would put that to the test over around 1,000 km and all kinds of different terrain.
First impressions of the bike. It looks like a BMW, and I reeeeeally like that. It is sort of industrial looking and sexy all at the same time. It looks, engineered. I personally really like it when form follows function, and BMW has a habit of doing just that, but doing it a little more beautifully than most. The bike does not sacrifice any comfort for those good looks either; adjustable wind protection perfect for my long torso, generous sized panniers, and for 2017 an increased payload capability of 979 lbs for some serious two-up touring comfort.
The route we tested the bikes on could not have been any more perfect for the bike. After flying up to Sault Ste. Marie we would spend five days riding the Algoma Loop; first out to St. Joseph island, then up gorgeous highway 129 to Chapleau and across to Wawa on the coat of Lake Superior, followed by a trip down the picturesque coastal highway back to the urban comforts of “the Soo.” Along the way we would ride perfectly paved roads, not so perfectly paved roads, twisties, dirt and gravel logging roads, sandy beaches, through sun, rain and a bit of fog. As we rode I was having visions of scenes from group of seven paintings and Bill Mason documentaries popping into my head.
I was never uncomfortable on the bike, it breezed through the miles and I was happy to ride along with it. The power delivery was incredibly smooth and immediate, and never ever lacking. One common criticism of past models was the vibration felt in the mid RPM range, but BMW addressed this with the 2017 model and I can honestly say, I never felt any bad vibes. Bar ends would be an easy fix for anyone bothered by this. It was also nice that the features gave me some flexibility to adapt to the various conditions on the trip.
The bike has BMW’s standard Automatic Stability Control and Brembo ABS brakes. Also included are a number of riding modes available at the push of a button:
Rain mode—meant to reduce torque somewhat and engage some of the safety features a bit earlier for a smoother delivery.
Road mode—with higher torque for a more responsive ride and safety features reacting slightly later. This is the mode you use most of the time.
Dynamic mode—safety features even later and the throttle is more responsive. The suspension tightens up a bit for better response in the turns.
Pro Modes—which augmented each mode with a more direct engine response, more dynamic traction control.
ABS pro—which can sense the bike’s angle to adjust ABS and stability control to suit. I imagine you might want to use the pro modes if you get into a police chase, or something.
So, here I was playing motorcycle journalist for a few days, eating up miles with a buddy on a beautiful machine through idyllic and rugged terrain. If we were on some twisties, I might throw her into dynamic mode and really lean in, but most of the time I was happy coast along in road mode just until some bad weather came blowing in off the great lakes requiring rain mode for a bit. Fancy! The sound of the bike was unlike anything I had ever ridden before. Apparently, a valve in the exhaust allows the bike to remain quiet at low speeds, so we could be the polite Canadians we are whenever we would ride through a town, but when you open things up on the highway it screams like a banshee, in the best way. I absolutely loved it.
The ride would not be all fun and games. I would get the good/bad fortune of testing the Brembo ABS brakes to their full potential, twice. First when a panicked moose running into the ditch pulled a perfect one eighty and ran right out in front of me, and next when a family of protected Sandhill cranes crossed the road in what can only have been an attempt at a mass suicide. Both times I was thanking the BMW gods/engineers for adding those beautiful Brembos: two large 320mm discs up front and a single 265mm disc in back.
I have been into bikes my whole adult life, like a lot of bike guys/gals, I am a bit of a collector and someone who tends to compartmentalize things. I have ended up with a few; this one for the commute, this one for the trails, this one for touring, and so on. However, insurance costs and maintenance schedules being what they are, I have often dreamed of simplifying, perhaps thinning the herd and investing in just one beautiful bike that I would baby and own for the rest of my days. The S 1000 XR would be at the absolute top of my list; horsepower for days yet totally smooth and direct power-band, effortless shifting with BMW’s Gear Shift Assistant Pro allowing clutch-less up-shifts and downshifts, immediate response and smooth riding which can adapt to almost an riding situation. Comfortable, and capable of lugging all the extra personnel and luggage you need. BEAUTIFUL. The S 1000 XR does almost everything, but it adds a fun element that I did not realize I was missing. Want.