Travel test: BMW F 900 XR

When BMW announced the brand-new F 900 XR at the end of last year – at the same time as the updated S 1000 XR – several questions immediately popped up for me. Will the 900 be an adrenaline bomb like the 1000? Or will it be a kind of entry-level variant? Or a watered-down version?

The previous S 1000 XR was my favourite test motorcycle of the year in 2015. I loved that combination of performance and comfort. I have not tried the new 1000 yet and it is still at the top of my test wish list, but I did get the opportunity to try out the 900 in the meantime.

The original plan was to take it on a road trip to the Alps, but corona forced us to change our plans. We stayed home and toured around Belgium for a week, with little outings to the Eifel and northern France. Not always, but often with luggage on the back. We clocked some 2,500 km; that should suffice for an informed opinion.

Visually, the BMW F 900 XR has a lot in common with its big brother. The close family ties are clearly recognisable, so much so that the untrained eye might even mistake them for two identical bikes. The biggest give-away is possibly the rear end, which is cut off kind of clumsily right behind the seat. On the 1000 XR, the rear end has a more solid look, which is more pleasing to the eye. My test motorcycle, however, was equipped with a luggage rack, which turned out to be an excellent solution for this – at least in my eyes – design flaw.

Other than that, there is not a lot you can say about the design of the 900 XR. It looks attractive and dynamic, although I’m absolutely not a fan of the gold paint option and I would go as far as to say that it is more handsome with panniers than without them. The finishing is immaculate and overall it comes across as a very mature motorcycle. But it is not quite as muscular as the S 1000 XR.

That feeling is reinforced in the seat: there, the 900 XR suddenly seems a lot more compact than it looks. This greatly increases its accessibility for the beginner or less experienced rider. It also boosts confidence: sitting on the 825mm-tall seat, I could place my feet flat on the ground. Although, personally, this is not the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night: on my own F 800 GS – which sits 70 mm higher with its comfort seat – I can only reach the ground with the balls of my feet. It’s all about where your comfort zone is (or where you want to put it).

The cockpit of the BMW F 900 XR feels familiar. The 6.5” TFT colour display with intuitive menu, the dashboard with the well-known dial: we have praised it all before, for its ease of use. Yes, there are a lot of buttons, but they prevent you from having to click through endless menu options on the display.

The adjustable windshield does not have a rotary knob like the 1250 GS, but the same handle as the 850 GS. This allows you to easily adjust the height of the windshield while riding. It has two positions: high and low. Honestly: I wasn’t crazy about the standard windshield. In the low position, it offers very little wind protection and you get quite a bit of pressure on the top half of your body on the motorway. Long highway trips will be hard on your shoulders. You can set the windshield on high, which takes the pressure off the shoulders, but then you have to deal with the turbulence around your helmet that this causes.

I wasn’t too excited about the seat during the long day trips either. My butt started to protest after just a few hours. Fortunately, the seat does offer enough room to move around a bit, but you will definitely need to plan on taking a short butt-break every once in a while during a day trip.

Your legs will also appreciate that break because it feels to me like they are at an angle that is just slightly too sharp. The general sitting position on the 900 XR is good though. You’re leaning forward a bit, but without putting any strain on the wrists or back.

From the minute you take off with the 900 XR, you notice that its accessible sitting position and the compact feeling that it already had when standing still, translates into a similar riding experience. The “small” XR is remarkably manoeuvrable and easy to control. No manoeuvre seems too difficult, which gives it the impression it is easy to handle. Again, something that beginners or less seasoned riders will appreciate.

On the bottom and in the middle, the 895 cc two-cylinder has a soft character. For some probably too soft. It will not easily surprise you, much less startle you. Something that happens much more with the 1000 XR.

If you want to bring out the sport in this sport touring motorcycle, you have to boost the revolutions. It will reach a torque peak of 92 Nm at 6,500 rpm and all of the 105 horses only wake up at 8,500 rpm. Adrenaline junkies will not be satisfied until they get into this zone. Butterflies in your stomach? Ride at high rpm and make sure you stay there.

Damping is generally good – my test unit was equipped with the semi-active suspension Dynamic ESA at the back – and the difference between the Road and the Dynamic settings is noticeable. Road is comfortable for riding distances, but too soft for sports riding. The Dynamic setting makes the XR less bumpy and wobbly, although it could have been even tighter as far as I’m concerned. Especially if you start to look for the edge, the XR lacks in rigidity.

Despite that, the 900 XR is more than decent in cornering. That is due to it being so manoeuvrable and easy to control. It dives into the corner very easily and predictably and lets you correct it without complaint. If you want to accelerate out of the corner at high speed, you have to have all your wits about you: if you’re not in the right gear, you will miss the fun zone of this twin.

The bike comes with standard Rain and Road riding modes, which control e-gas, traction control and ABS at the same time. For the optional Riding mode Pro, Dynamic and the adjustable Dynamic Pro are added. With Dynamic you clearly experience a more direct gas supply.

The brakes are decent, but the transmission seems to drop a few stitches here and there. It turned out that neutral is often hard to find – much to my chagrin but to the amusement of my motorcycle buddies – and to get from 2nd to 1st, you sometimes have to use a lot of persuasive powers. The optional quickshifter can act pretty rough sometimes too. Especially when gearing down, you have to know where to find the sweet spot.

Conclusion

From a tall sports touring bike like the BMW F 900 XR you expect comfort and sportiness. It did not really convince me with either one of those characteristics. However, it’s not a motorcycle that will exhaust or hurt you, but the seat and the windshield really score too low. And if you’re looking for sportiness, you’ll have to rev it up firmly.

Still the F 900 XR absolutely isn’t a bad bike. It depends on what you want from a two-wheeler. The XR is remarkable due to its friendly character and accessibility. Neither sitting on it nor riding it feels intimidating and sometimes this is exactly what you want. With this and its neat, mature look and remarkable manoeuvrability, the 900 XR undoubtedly has some strong arguments.

So, if you’re a thrill-seeker, you should look elsewhere. But if you want something that is easy to handle, this German bike could be just the bike for you.

Pros

+ Friendly, accessible character
+ Mature look for a “small” XR
+ Surprisingly light and manoeuvrable controls

Cons

– Not for someone looking for an adrenaline kick
– Sitting comfort and wind protection could be better
– When are we going to see a flawless transmission on a BMW two-cylinder?

Tech specs

Engine

Type: Water-cooled 4-stroke in-line two-cylinder engine, four valves per cylinder, two overhead camshafts, dry sump lubrication
Bore / stroke: 86 mm x 77 mm
Capacity: 895 cc
Rated output: 77 kW / (105 hp) at 8,500 rpm
Rated output (A2): 70 kW (95 hp) at 8,000 rpm
OE output reduction: 35 kW (48 hp) at 6,500 rpm
Max. torque: 92 Nm at 6,500 rpm
Max. torque (A2): 88 Nm at 6,750 rpm
OE output reduction: 66 Nm at 4,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 13.1 :1
Mixture control: Electronic injection
Emission control: Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-5
Maximum speed: over 200 km/h
Maximum speed (A2): over 200 km/h
OE output reduction: 170 km/h

Electrical system

Alternator: permanent magnetic alternator 416 W (nominal power)
Battery : 12 V / 12 Ah, maintenance-free

Power transmission

Clutch: Multiple-disc wet clutch (anti hopping), mechanically operated
Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox integrated in crankcase
Drive: Endless O-ring chain with shock damping in rear wheel hub

Chassis / brakes

Frame : Bridge-type frame, steel shell construction
Front wheel location / suspension: Upside-down telescopic fork, Ø 43 mm
Rear wheel location / suspension: Cast aluminium dual swing arm, central spring strut, spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable, rebound damping adjustable
Suspension travel, front / rear: 170 mm / 172 mm (OE suspension lowering kit: 150 mm / 152 mm)
Wheelbase: 1,521 mm
Castor: 105.2 mm
Steering head angle: 60,5°
Wheels: Cast aluminium wheels
Rim, front: 3.50″ x 17″
Rim, rear: 5.50″ x 17”
Tyre, front: 120/70 ZR 17
Tyre, rear: 180/55 ZR 17
Brake, front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, Ø 320 mm, 4-piston radial brake calipers
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, Ø 265 mm, single-piston floating caliper
ABS: BMW Motorrad ABS

Dimensions / weights

Seat height: 825 mm (OE suspension lowering kit: 775 mm, OE low seat: 795 mm, OA high seat: 840 mm, OA comfort seat: 845 mm, OA extra high seat: 870 mm)
Inner leg curve: 1,840 mm (OE suspension lowering kit: 1,765 mm, OE low seat: 1,795 mm, OA high seat: 1,870 mm, OA comfort seat: 1,880 mm, OA extra high seat: 1,900 mm)
Usable tank volume: 15.5 l
Reserve: ca. 3.5 l
Length: 2,160 mm
Height (excl. mirrors): 1,320-1,420 mm
Width (excl. mirrors): 860 mm
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled: 219 kg
Permitted total weight: 438 kg
Payload (with standard equipment): 219 kg

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