The temperature readout on the bike’s digital display says 112 degrees. I’m sweating like a nun in a sex shop as I set cruise control at 80 mph, unzip my jacket, and rest my right arm on the huge gas tank of the brand-new 2016 BMW S 1000 XR. I’m barely halfway through a six-hour ride south through California, looking at dusty, drought-ridden fields being watered down by huge sprinklers through the tall, clear windshield of BMW’s sportiest adventure-tourer to date.
BMW established the adventure-touring class in the early ‘80s. Its Motorrad division was in a bad way but started to turn things around with its then-new R80G/S. G/S stood for Geländstrasse, which roughly translates from German to “forest and pavement”—fitting for a bike that felt at ease both on- and off-road. The R80G/S helped bring BMW Motorrad back from the brink of death and birthed a segment that would soon be filled with competitors’ takes on adventure-ready touring bikes. BMW Motorrad has since amassed a diverse portfolio bookended by the best-selling R 1200 GS adventure bike and the S 1000 RR superbike. Between those two are fifteen different models including burly but road-friendly bikes like this all-new S 1000 XR, which takes the best features from both ends of the motorcycle spectrum.
From the adventure side, the S 1000 XR takes high ground clearance, fantastic ergonomics, and proportions Sir Mix-A-Lot would love—a wide chest, tiny waist, and big, fat ass when fitted with optional $1,000 hard-shell saddlebags. It has easy-to-use cruise control, heated grips, and pre-wiring for an integrated navigation system (the nav unit itself is an extra $800). Its electronically controlled suspension takes into account whether you’re riding solo, with bags, or two-up with your girlfriend and adjusts accordingly. Then there’s the really good stuff that comes from the superbike side of the spectrum, like the reengineered, low-compression, 160-horsepower version of the 1.0-liter inline-four engine from the S 1000 RR superbike and the RR’s sophisticated automatically rev-matched downshifting system.
Bimmer did a bang-up job meshing the best pieces of its best bikes together, but it hasn’t synergistically crafted some all-conquering demigod. The S 1000 XR feels big and heavy, which it is at just over 500-pounds. A lot of vibration comes through the grips on its low, wide handlebars, and the bike’s personality is very serious and severe, which can be off-putting. The bike also costs a whole lot, starting at $16,350 and quickly climbing toward $20,000 when you start ticking option boxes. But it’s a very well-rounded motorcycle. Its suspension is soft enough to soak up bumps but firm enough that it feels confident in fast turns. Its engine hums quietly on the highway but screams going from stoplight to stoplight, and the riding experience is always enjoyable, regardless of what you’re riding on.
Sweat is falling from my face and onto the S 1000 XR in 3/2-rhythm when I pull off the highway and onto a service road, which is completely devoid of people, cars, and, most importantly, cops. I pull into the middle of the side street and stop to put the S 1000 XR in Dynamic mode, which mutes the traction control system and makes the throttle snappier. I build the revs, pop the clutch, and the S 1000 XR’s front tire lifts a few inches off the ground as the bike burns forward. When the tire sets back down, I shift to second gear. The S 1000 XR hits 60 mph in about three seconds, triple digits a few seconds later, and tops out at a speed I don’t care to share here. I brake, looking down at the big bike beneath me, unable to believe something so enormous can be so quick.
I’m sweating even more now, so I pull off my gloves and unbutton my shirt. I see the huge sprinklers spraying down the field just to my right and decide to ride the ragged edge between road and dirt, letting the ice-cold water hit the bike and me. Adaptable adventure-touring motorcycles like this are amazing when pushed just a little beyond the pavement. The S 1000 XR is best on the street, where its superbike engine can stretch its legs, but it feels great here, too, even though its temperature readout still says 112 degrees.