When given the chance to try out the revamped 2023 S1000 XR, why would anyone say no?
The 2023 BMW S1000 XR is a superb example of how the DNA, engine, and handling of a superbike can be translated into an adventure tourer. With an absolute gem of an engine in the 999cc inline four, the power is immediate, progressive, impressive, and the cornering manners of the XR are second to none. It is not the most practical of bikes, however, and while the upshifts on the quickshifter are silky smooth, if you even glance at the throttle and think about turning your wrist a little during downshifts, it dumps a huge amount of engine braking into your lap and makes the bike jerk around. There is also a very annoying thumb wheel on the left grip that is extremely easy to toggle accidentally and take you to a settings menu on the dash while riding.
Price: Starts at $16,945 USD / $19,995 CAD
One of the best seats I’ve ever sat in. Comfortable, supportive, communicative.
Accelerates like a bat out of hell, corners like a demon, and has superbike level brakes with superb feel
999cc inline four with 165 HP is buttery smooth at all revs, no vibrations at all through the frame of the bike
Not the most practical adventure tourer: Rather compact, very thirsty on gas, and there are better options for proper sport or adventure touring up and down the BMW model range
Quickshifter downshifts need some work, only really seem shift and revmatch properly when both brakes are on. If no brakes are on, it will dump engine braking into your lap and if you aren’t ready, it could surprise you
Annoying as hell thumb scroll wheel on left grip that could have just have easily been an extra rocker button on the button box itself
The 2023 BMW S1000 XR
The BMW S1000 platform has, in its many guises, been one of the most popular and best selling platforms that BMW has released in recent history. Of course, there is the S1000 RR superbike with ~200 HP, the original release of the S1000 platform that was considered in 2009 to be the best-equipped and most advanced liter-bike in a generation. Halfway through the 2010s, the naked sport version, the S1000 R, was released, with a lower price point than the superbike and, critically, the engine tuned to be much more street friendly at 160 HP. A year later, the adventure sport version, the S1000 XR was released with that same street friendly tuning.
Reviews were mixed at the start, with many praising the bike for its full complement of rider aids, a comfortable standard seating position, and responsive throttle, but were concerned with the bike feeling a little numb under them, as well as the whole bike buzzing as the revs climbed into the high thousands. To some, they even made comments as to how it felt like BMW had rushed the bike to production sooner than expected, to combat the rising popularity of the KTM Adventure and Duke series of bikes.
With all of that in mind, I was recently given the opportunity to ride the new 2023 BMW S1000 XR for half a day, and while that is definitely not long enough to give a full review, it is enough to give a decent set of first impressions. This is also the first time since the 2021 MY update that any of us here at webBikeWorld have ridden the S1000 XR, so I will do my best to highlight the biggest changes and details. As with webBikeWorld’s review policy, I am going to go over the good, the bad, and the ugly, in full detail, so that you will get my 100% honest opinion.
I must pause here to thank both BMW Motorrad Canada as well as Barnes Powersports Blackfoot here in Calgary, Alberta, for putting on a BMW demo day on June 8, 2023. I had let them know ahead of time that I was riding for a first impressions review, and I am honestly quite happy that I was treated no differently than any of the other 10 or so riders that had come along to demo other bikes.
With all that said, on to the review!
Initial Impressions Before Riding
The first thing that I feel is important to say is that unlike the other S1000 models, the XR comes off as almost subtle. With the S1000 RR and the M1000 RR and their angry, hunched up stances ready to attack a track or the next twisty corner, the XR sits tall, relaxed, and doesn’t really jump up and down and shout. It’s not as aggressively angular as a KTM Adventure, nor is it utilitarian like a Suzuki V-Strom, it is just simply an adventure bike, in a very understated German way.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some really special details about it. The first thing that really grabbed my attention was, of all things, the seat. There really isn’t any other way to say it except that I have a rather large posterior, and I was expecting to find a more ADV or dual sport thin saddle on the bike. Imagine my surprise, then, to find a saddle that wouldn’t look out of place on a cruiser, with a thin front for thigh clearance that sweeps back into a wide seat, before lifting up to join the appreciably large pillion seat.
I then went over the handlebars and dash. Put simply, the TFT on the S1000 XR is mint. I’ve ridden some of the newer Kawasaki bikes with their screen, and if you get the sun on them at the right angle, they can be a bit difficult to make out. Not impossible, mind you, but bright green does tend to hide under bright yellowish-white. The entire time I was going over the bike before the ride, I was trying to get an angle where I couldn’t see the display, and through either some kind of polarizing coating or just through using deeper blues and reds, I could see it from every angle.
The handlebars are where I found my first real issue with the bike. The left hand button box has no more buttons and switches than any other modern motorcycle, but BMW opted to use a scroll wheel between the grip and the button box that is just big enough that one clips it any time they reach for the signals or horn. Depending on what is selected on the dash, this will either do nothing or scroll the screen to the settings menu, which takes away the important things like speed and RPMs. Maybe I have big hands, and if I had the bike for multiple days to review, sure, I would get used to it, but it was a bit ungainly.
Moving around to the front of the bike, the only really aggressive part of it shows itself in the sportbike style headlights and central air intake, and being honest, I really like the way it looks. It flows well into the low windshield (there is an optional accessory windshield that is taller), and just fits with the whole angular aesthetic of the front of the bike. The rear is a bit more understated, but the oshit handles for the pillion look like little stabilator fins on the back of a missile, which, as I found out when riding the bike, is a very appropriate analogy.
One thing that might not come through in the pictures is just how narrow the bike looks, despite it being as wide in the frame and fairings as its R1250 GS cousins. Those bikes look wider because of the boxer cylinder heads poking out each side, but their actual frames are the roughly of the same style and size as the S1000 XR.
Inspection done, I then decided it was time to get familiar with the bike, and, stepping on the peg and tossing my leg over as I stood the bike up and flicked up the kickstand, my word that seat… it felt like it had been made for me. It had just enough give to support, but was also firm enough to tell me what the bike was doing under me, even without the engine on. This is important to note for later in the ride review, it allowed for some simply ridiculous cornering confidence.
The only other issue I could find before the ride, as the BMW rep made the “fire ‘em up” signal, were the mirrors. I am a rather broad-shouldered individual, just about 22 inches across, and despite fiddling for an angle on the mirrors to show me at least some bits of the road on either side of me, I was mostly looking at reflections of my shoulders. I hope there are mirror extenders as an accessory, to move them even further out over the handlebars.
Those handlebars were just a bit wider than I am used to, but still came to hand very comfortably as because of those wide shoulders of mine, I am used to having my hands a bit more inboard. They were angled just enough to keep the wrists straight and relaxed, and they were high enough that my forearms were parallel to the ground, another thing that I am not used to riding a sport tourer. Overall, for the wider guys and girls out there, BMW has made pretty much the perfect set of handlebars on the XR.
Now that I was settled on the bike, had it in normal road mode for the rider aids, and was getting to grips with the slightly-wider-than-I-am-used-to handlebars, we moved off from the parking lot and onto the road proper. Coming from a cable-operated wet clutch, the hydraulic wet clutch on the S1000 XR is quite numb, much to my surprise. The previous BMW I rode, an R Nine T Scrambler, had superb feel through the lever, but here on the XR, I couldn’t feel the engagement at all. In fact, the only way I was able to tell at first that I was even slipping the clutch was by listening to the revs dip, and set that amount of lever in my brain as the engagement point.
The throttle was the next bit of the ride that took a few seconds of getting used to, as it is throttle-by-wire. It’s really weird twisting science in one’s hand, but once you get a feel for how quickly the system responds, and how much throttle to twist on to get the response you want, it is damned near telepathic. Also, the XR absolutely catapults you down the road when you put on more than about ¼ throttle.
Fall back a little from the group? Twist on a little throttle and you will catch back up like you’ve jumped to lightspeed, without going over any speed limits (cough). The brakes are just as ferocious, and have great feel. You can use two fingers and a gentle squeeze to slow down, or all four fingers with a bit more firm application and the bike sheds speed faster than you would believe, without any squeal or fade even after a few hours on the bike.
Now, it might sound like I am singing praises of the highest order of the S1000 XR, but my left foot encountered the first thing that not just disappointed me about the bike, but aggravated me. Quickshifters are a very convenient thing to have, but either I was on a bike that was having an issue or it was set in a menu somewhere to be at its most “newbie friendly” level, as this was a demo day, as it was annoying. Upshifts were smooth and instantaneous, but it was with the downshifts that things were sketchy.
If I had any throttle on when I requested a downshift, if there was room in the revs, it would downshift but also buck the bike a little, in the same way when you manually downshift and release the clutch too fast so you get a sudden burst of engine braking. I tested this out by doing a couple of manual downshifts with the clutch and rev matching with my wrist, and it was smooth as glass. The only time I was able to get a smooth shift going down was when I was completely off the throttle and had both brakes on, such as slowing for a corner, and then it was smooth, auto-revmatched, and rapid. If there was any throttle, even a whiff of it, it would dump a load of engine braking in and it was, in a word, unsettling.
In mentioning the engine, I must say that the 999cc inline-four slung right at the bottom of the frame is an absolute gem of an engine. It produces 165 HP in the XR, and part of the 2021 MY update on the bike brought over the FlexFrame mount system from the RR. No matter how many revs, absolutely no buzzing or weird vibrations came through, even when revved up to 9,000 RPM. No handlebar buzz, no seat vibrations, nothing. The only “buzzing” I could feel, if it could even be considered that, was through the pegs, and that’s because they are on the same part of the frame as the engine. Even then, I had to think about it to feel it, even at freeway speeds.
One of the things that really surprised me about the S1000 XR was the way it felt under me. Some bikes, you get on and ride and it feels heavy, it feels like there’s a big hunk of metal on two wheels under you that needs to be manhandled a bit. Other bikes, like the XR, once you’re rolling you can barely feel the 500 lbs that the bike weighs. Not to use a trope, but the BMW is honestly the first bike I’ve ridden in a long time that truly felt like it was an extension of my hands, feet, and ass, and I honestly put that down to the seat that looks like it wouldn’t be at all communicative, but gives you all the information you need to confidently corner, accelerate, maneuver, and the like without being uncomfortable.
Perhaps the best thing about the way that the S1000 XR feels, though, is when you show it some corners, as the superbike DNA that has been caged and controlled will suddenly come to the fore. The way you can absolutely hurl the bike into a corner is frankly unbelievable, and on some of the twisties on the ride route that the group took, I was getting lean angles on the XR that I wouldn’t even think of attempting on my Ninja 650.
Quite literally, higher speed corners need little more than a tip of the helmet and a thought in the direction of the corner, and suddenly the bike is 25 degrees leaned over, your head down and tucked to the inside of the turn, and the smile so big under your helmet your cheeks hurt. Even moderate speed corners, like turning off a main road to a side road, you can just feel how communicative yet planted the bike is.
The counterpoint to that responsiveness and planted feeling is that when ridden over rougher roads, while the front fork does an admirable job eating up the bumps, the rear is a touch stiff. Not spine-shatteringly so, but more than once it gave my tailbone a little tap to remind it that there was superbike DNA under the skin. That front suspension, however, with the Dynamic ESA stability and damping control was excellent. I never felt like I lost touch with the road surface, but I also didn’t have my wrists shattered from even the most aggressive of bumps. It lets through just enough, without being numb or overly jarring.
As we came to the end of the ride route, I had to think rather hard to find negatives about the S1000 XR apart from the horrendous downshifts on the quickshifter, but there are two things about the bike that I didn’t like.
The first bad thing about the S1000 XR is that damned annoying left hand scroll wheel. More often than not, I’d whap it with my thumb when reaching for the left button box, and it did scroll the dash to the settings screen more than one while riding. This moved the speedo and tach to the top of the screen in a mini bar, and I had to take the time to think about it, scroll the wheel back up, and had the dash back. Not catastrophic, but also really bloody inconvenient.
The second bad thing about the XR is that despite the fact that it can be fitted with pannier lockers and a tail box, it still isn’t the most practical of bikes. Yes, it will take saddlebags and/or luggage, and the oshit handles for the pillion can be used as tie down points for cargo on the seat, but it’s rather compact for an adventure tourer and feels much more built to be a superbike in an adventure bike’s clothing. Even the recently released R1250 RT has a longer tail and more practical pannier lockers, and it’s a dedicated sport tourer.
Overall, the 2023 BMW S1000 XR is in my list of top 10 bikes I’ve ridden. It does have a few aggravations in the quickshifter and that idiotic scroll wheel, but that is mitigated by the sheer, raw fun that can be had once sat on its very comfortable saddle. Its standard, upright seating position is absolutely perfectly balanced, at least for someone that’s 6’1”, and the handlebars do come to the hands naturally, but with a history of being the company that pretty much invented the adventure touring and ADV styles of bikes, that is almost a given.
More mitigation comes with the superb front suspension, and the way that the bike feels light and, dare I say, flickable under you. It accelerates like a bat out of hell, corners like a scalpel, and I found myself leaning forward as if it was the RR, not the XR, more than once. I had to remind myself, actually take those milliseconds of thought, to sit up more. A few bumps and kicks to the tailbone from the stiff rear suspension was a fairly easy invoice to pay, as it does keep that rear wheel firmly on the road and adds to the overall planted feel of the bike.
In terms of overall practicality, the S1000 XR is a solid “meh.” To me, at least, this feels like a bike that you’d want to buy if you’re looking for supersport and superbike levels of fun, without needing to sacrifice your spine and wrists to get it. Yes, it can fit luggage, pannier lockers. saddlebags, all that, but it really feels like that is there more as an add-on, not a core feature. If you’re wanting a practical adventure tourer, there are several options in the BMW range, such as the superb R1250 GS ADV bike. Another option exists in the F900 XR adventure tourer that is the little brother to the S1000 XR, which is far more fuel efficient due to having two less cylinders, but has 90% of the features and feel of the S1000. Fuel efficiency does count when you’re riding long distances!
999cc inline four from a superbike, restrained to 165 HP, that is unbelievably smooth and predictable with its power
Almost telepathic levels of communication about what the bike is doing and the road beneath it
One of the best saddles I’ve sat on, ever, on any bike
Accelerates like a bat out of hell in any gear to get you out of any situation
Excellent brakes with superb feel
Dynamic ESA suspension adjusts constantly so you feel planted and confident during any maneuvers or cornering
Flickable, yet precise
Settings scroll wheel on the left handlebar is just big enough to get in the way when you’re trying to reach the button box
Quickshifter downshifts are rough and buck the bike if you even look at the throttle, let alone twist any on
Absolutely numb clutch, no feel for the engagement point at all
Not the most practical of bikes, with better options existing at higher and lower price points in the BMW lineup
Priced like a BMW, and you definitely feel the badge premium when looking at the options list.