On yer bike: BMW F900 XR

A relief from COVID restrictions for FMM Curator Wayne Harley as he Beems himself to Rooi Els…

Well, this new year hasn’t started off too well with the COVID pandemic really getting out of hand and news having just arrived that this year’s Durban to Johannesburg (D-J) Run has been called off. However, getting out on a bike is still permitted and allows us an opportunity to put this crazy time to one side, even if it is just for a Sunday morning. I was fortunate recently to be offered a test weekend with the 2020 BMW F900 XR. I must say that this was a ride that I was looking forward to, because (as some of you may remember) a while ago I rode the F750 GS which didn’t really leave much of an impression on me. But a lot of other commentators have been rather impressed with F900 XR, even to equating it to the Yamaha Tracer that is currently seen as the yardstick in the sub-1000cc sport-touring bike segment.

The F900 XR is a sport-tourer and fits into both roles rather well in my opinion and follows rather closely in the tracks of its bigger brother, the S1000 XR. The F900 XR is obviously down on power with its 895cc motor making 77 kW when compared to the S1000’s 999cc that makes 121 kW. Power to the rear wheel is a standard chain and sprocket drive.  The two bikes almost weigh the same with F900 XR coming in some 4 kg lighter at 219 kg. But there is more than enough power and torque to comfortably cruise out to Rooi Els along one of the best roads in the Western Cape. Even two up,  the F900 XR pulls well in each gear and the 92 N.m of torque available at around 6 500 r/min preclude constantly flipping through gears. The six-speed gearbox is nice and precise. I especially like the new EBC engine braking control. EBC smoothes out the engine braking effect, so even a heavy downshift is taken care of and you never feel like the back wheel will lock up. The F900 XR also has DBC Dynamic Brake Control, which goes hand-in-hand in with EBC, ABS and the MotoRad Brembo brakes. Combined, these systems give this motorcycle phenomenal stopping power.

Top speed of the F900 XR is claimed to be around 200 km/h, but on today’s crowded roads you are never going to want to test this limit. Acceleration is both brisk and manageable, and if you twist her ear all the way, the F900 XR will definitely put a smile on your face. Overtaking is quick and safe. The model I tested came with two riding modes, Road and Rain, and there is a Pro option available. Pro not only improves the performance and throttle response, it also brings into play DTC dynamic traction control and ESA electronic suspension adjustment but I found the F900 XR capable in the Road setting. It impressed me with good performance and safe, predictable handling, the front suspension being an upside-down 43 mm diameter telescopic fork type, which is good and sure-footed but non-adjustable – not that it needs to be, even if you are pushing along. The rear suspension is a dual swing-arm system that is preload adjustable and, as mentioned above, has ESA. As a tourer the motorcycle can manage a payload of 215 kg. The F900 XR runs on 17-inch rims and my test model was running Michelin Pilot 4 tyres, which I really love and have great confidence in.

The riding position is typically upright as with most sports-touring bikes, nice, wide handlebars, easy-to-use instruments, and the TFT is clear with simple-to-read menus. Navigating the systems is easy, even for an old school rider like myself. A leading feature in this mid-range segment of the market is a new illumination package fitted to the F900 XR known as adaptive cornering light.

Of the few things I didn’t enjoy about the F900 XR, the windscreen is once more an issue. No matter which position it is in, up or down there is constant wind buffeting and one would think if BMW had got so much right with this motorcycle, they should have solved this issue. I would definitely fit an aftermarket screen as I don’t think it would affect the bike’s style and sporty lines, and would really add to an already great bike to ride. The seat is rather uncomfortable, and if you can manage more than two hours on the bike then you are a hardcore biker. I found myself shifting my weight around very early in my ride, and after about 150 km into my trip I was already looking for a coffee shop to stop and stretch my legs.

All that said, the F900 XR is a very capable and sporty motorcycle with good, modern styling and excellent safety features. The price is a little more expensive than the Tracer, and it lacks in the performance area, but does offer great safety features, top electronic riding modes and excellent brakes. I really enjoyed my weekend with BMW F900 XR.