Two new bikes for 2015 from BMW. On the surface very different beasts: a horizontally opposed boxer twin in sports touring guise versus an inline four dressed up in the latest ‘adventure’ clothing, designed to take on the Multistradas of this world. So why contrast and compare? Because the application is one and the same: to whisk two people plus luggage across continents. That’s why we did this two up: the same road loop, the same pillion, the same rider. Early showroom reports suggests customers interested in one end up testing both – they do the same job in different ways.
Both of these machines are stuffed full of electronics, the array on offer depending on model spec / customer option. These include semi active suspension, DTC, ABS pro, quick shifter, auto blipper, ESA and engine management modes – all the variable parameters are customisable and can be stored as a individual user presets. What is interesting is that both bikes offer almost identical control functionality with one notable exception: the ‘cornering’ ABS pro featured on the XR is missing on the RS, despite the latter having the hardware on board ( the RS couldn’t run DTC etc without an inertial measurement unit, on which ABS pro depends: the XR’s unit is made by Bosch ). I asked BMW’s Scott Grimsdall about this discrepancy: Bikerglory was an early adopter of TC, and ABS pro has obvious, real world safety applications. He said:
Simplistically the existing systems on the boxer bike range could accommodate cornering ABS but each model needs individual software developed for ABS Pro and this takes some time. It is more of a software development issue rather than a supplier issue.
We set off on both machines with only cursory information and although we managed to switch some settings en route, on this type of machine a new purchaser would be well advised to work through the various options on offer – it is impossible to get the most out of either bike without knowing what they are capable of delivering. Nevertheless, popping the ESA and engine mode into a Road is a useful start point.
The XR makes more power (160 bhp vs 125) and is fractionally lighter at 228 kilos fuelled. Given that it also has the edge in terms of available technology – see above – you might think the bike has a definite performance edge on the road. You would be wrong. The fact remains (hype notwithstanding) that all high barred adventure bikes are at a disadvantage compared to the conventional sports tourer lay out when it comes to fast road handling: I have never ridden an adventure machine that felt as connected to the front wheel as the RS does in its ‘conventional’ sports tourer guise. The bike was simply more precise, something my pillion commented on: the RS felt like it was on rails. The XR was good in the twisties, but the RS felt better. It didn’t surprise me that our friendly Motorrad dealer told me that the vast majority of buyers who had ridden both opted for the RS (although obviously financial considerations come into play).
Which is not to say that anyone who buys an adventure bike is being sold a pup, especially if they are buying one of the few genuine dual purpose machines available and intend to go off piste from time to time. However, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of adventure styled machines stay exclusively on tarmac. Their rise has seen a concomitant decline in the sports tourer market, but get on a decent sporty tourer like the RS and I guarantee you’ll be wondering how on earth that happened.
Neither machine is perfect – show us a bike that is – but when you are expected to fork out nearly 15 large (for the top spec XR and a couple of k less for the RS) niggles can start to smart a little bit. The RS may have been the more convincing road conveyance but was let down by that traditional boxer failing: transmission. Our bike may have featured gear assist pro (quick shift plus auto blipper) but first to second required sensitive manual actuation, and the system worked less well, felt less integral, than on the XR. A BMW mechanic opined that contemporary boxers without the gear assist option generally felt smoother in the changes. It would have been interesting to test this theory but that will have to wait. Bikerglory is in the market for a sports tourer and we would have seriously considered the RS, and may still do so, but this issue was significant (and noticed by other testers on the launch, so the problem was not confined to this machine).
The problem with the XR was that when on the standard road suspension setting really hard braking caused major dive – but firming up in dynamic mode to prevent this left bike, rider and pillion feeling less than planted on poor surfaces. We tried a variety of combinations, but couldn’t find the ideal compromise. Surely the way forward is variable ESA, so that the ‘gap’ between modes can be adjusted by the user – in much the same way that levels of traction control can be moderated. For digital solutions to really work, they have to mimic analogue adjustment.
Same application, similar bike weight, different tyres: the XR utilises Pirelli Diablo Rosso rubber by default, the RS opting for Metzeler Z8s. The XR’s ability to pour on the power from the upped mid range to the limiter may explain why it was shod with the Rossos. It doesn’t mean it was the right choice: the Z8s engender huge confidence in wet and dry , and there is a suspicion that they would have worked at least as well on the XR as the Pirellis. The feel on the RS is superb, and for a sports touring tyre the Z8s do a remarkable job of feeding back the contact patch.
Where the RS scores as a superbly balanced, great handling machine the XR hits the spot when the revs climb and the induction snarl is matched by a new level of exhaust note. Opening up the XR yields a primal thrill that made this pilot whoop with exhilaration. The XR may have been tamed by comparison with it’s S1000RR incarnation, but for road use there is exquisite and plentiful power right where you want it – in the upper mid range. For all its torque laden thrust, the RS can’t manage to supply that particular high – but many might trade it for the absolute certainty the boxer brings to cornering prowess. It isn’t that the XR has handling problems per se – far from it: it is simply that when push comes to shove the Adventure concept struggles in the real world on tarmac compared to a sorted machine with more conventional geometry. Increasingly this seems to be a truth that dare not speak its name.
It does seem obvious that on the road that the quality XR mill, suspension and electronics would be even more foregrounded in a sports tourer guise, but that won’t happen: the XR is already the third member of the S club, and an S1000 ST would introduce range conflict. There is the option of modding the naked S1000R with a taller screen and doubtless any gap in the market will be filled for those wanting to accessorise that machine for ST mile munching. The truth is that BMW wanted a four cylinder GS on the market as a kind of conceptual, PR led marriage. That’s the XR’s raison d’être, and it is a very competent and sometimes thrilling machine: the quick shifter and auto blipper felt seamless utilised with the four cylinder engine, something that could not honestly be said for the RS. However….
… if you feel that the whole concept of tarmac based ‘adventure’ bikes is questionable, the XR will not change your view. And it isn’t as though the XR is obviously more comfortable or better looking than its boxer stablemate, subjective though those qualities may be. The RS ticks the same application box, and does it more precisely – flawed in comparison only by that gearbox issue, and the lack of ABS pro on its dynamic package. If you can get past the latter and change gear conventionally more often than you should have to, the RS could prove to be a great buy. Both rider and pillion agreed they would opt for it over the XR, that rush notwithstanding…