BMW F 900 XR review: Tracer bullet

Leow Ju Len

The F 900 XR is a versatile bike that does it all, but BMW wants it to do just one thing…

Almeria, Spain – This being the first ever F 900 XR, you might be scratching your head about it, but there’s one easy shorthand for understanding this new BMW: it wants to terminate the Tracer and, to a lesser extent, trample the Tiger. Look out, Yamaha and Triumph.

How do I decode “F 900 XR”?

You’ve seen the “XR” tag before — BMW first applied it on the S 1000 XR, a wild “adventure sport” bike that’s less off-road capable than the classic R 1250 GS, but way more sporty. It gives the older, saner rider something to buy after he’s done with his Gixxer 1000.
This new XR is similar, in that it’s also a sporty adventure machine, only it’s built around the architecture of the new F 900 parallel twin cylinder engine, which also supports the F 900 R.

The idea here is that you can happily do everything on the F 900 XR except set lap records at Sepang (or maybe you can, because you’re just that awesome).

Daily rides to work, the iron butt slogs to Phuket and spirited blasts up Cameron Highlands are all well within its design brief, but who knows, if you’ve got the gumption for it, you can go ahead and explore that dirt road, too…

Slim LEDs light the way on the BMW F 900 XR

It does look a bit unusual, come to think of it…

Think of the F 900 XR as the super all-rounder that’s designed to be fun and easy to ride. If it were a car, it would probably be a BMW X2, which is practical and comfy but a bit sporty around corners.

The styling certainly hints at that versatility. With slim lamps and a narrow build, the F 900 XR is as unintimidating as a bike can get.

The wind protection and lengthy saddle hint at its touring potential, and when you clamber aboard what’s immediately obvious is that BMW paid plenty of attention to ergonomics.

How so?

Believe it or not there are six different seat heights, ranging from 775mm to 870mm, with the standard saddle set at 825mm.

The tupperware that flanks the engine looks genteel, but it’s surprisingly effective on the highway, where it prevents the wind from trying to spread your legs into something out of a yoga manual.

The windscreen looks small, too, but you can raise it with a twist of your wrist, even while riding, so it’s a useful piece of kit.

Grab, twist and the screen goes down…

Wind protection aside, the seating position is comfortably upright, with relatively low footpegs and handlebars set higher up and further back than on its sister bike, the F 900 R.
If you can’t ride this all day long, you’ll likely struggle with anything on two wheels.

But would you want to ride it for hours and hours?

As long as you’re on the right road, you will. The F 900 XR directly replaces the old F 800 GT, which was as easy to ride as a bike can be, but it’s more agile yet just as stable.

Getting it to divebomb for a corner takes little effort, and once it’s settled for a bend it stays that way. Hit a bump mid-turn? The BMW doesn’t wallow or try to buck you off, because the suspension is forgiving, with a soft yet well-controlled setup doing wonders for the rider’s confidence.

The brakes (two 320mm rotors up front with four-pot calipers and a 265mm disk with a single-pot caliper) are effective, and the cornering ABS seems to do plenty to keep you from slithering off in a shower of sparks if you arrive at a tight corner on the wrong line in greasy conditions, and grab the right lever while leaned over good and hard, like an idiot (ask me how I know).

Anyway, the bottom line is, through bends the XR is like a dance partner, taking you by the hand and guiding you through with its arm around your waist if you’re tentative, or helping you put on an enjoyable show if you know what you’re doing.

So it has legs, but does it have heart?

If you’re asking about the engine, it’s much, much more characterful than the F 800 parallel twin unit ever was. OK, that’ll depend on whether you liked the boxer-like thumping the old engine made, but this new one has a 90-degree offset crank, so its exhaust makes a more exciting beat that’s almost Ducati-like.

A nice aftermarket muffler should magnify that music a bit, but then it seems like a shame to ditch the stubby stock item; Michael Zweck, the F 900 XR’s project leader, told us he had to cajole, badger and then bang tables at the engineering department to get it down to the size that it is and still be legal. Look closely and you’ll see that lots of the muffler itself is actually under the bike.

Stubby? Yes. Small? No. Look under the bike…

Anyway, the 105 horsepower engine isn’t scarily powerful, but it’s a torquey thing so you’re not constantly kicking up and down the gearbox in search of useable grunt (though the quickshift system makes clutchless gearchanges a breeze).

It’s now throttle-by-wire, so the F 900 XR offers different riding modes (choose “Rain” to cut power for, wel, when it rains). In terms of response, it’s not quite as snappy as the old F 800 unit, but once it pulls it just yanks you along noticeably harder.

It’s also much smoother, apparently because it has two balancer shafts as well as dry sump lubrication (meaning the crankshaft doesn’t dive repeatedly into a bath of oil).

BMW claims the F 900 engine uses less fuel than the old parallel twin, which is really saying something because the F 800s were incredibly efficient. (On a related note, the F 900s have plastic fuel tanks so they can’t rust and don’t dent as easily).

The Tracer 900 GT does have more power on paper, but it’s hard to find something to complain about with the F 900 XR’s twin. It’s smooth, brawny, sounds good and has a small appetite.

But I still don’t see a reason to choose BMW over Yamaha…

How about equipment? That’s where you can tell BMW is trying seriously hard with the F 900 XR.

The price (S$33,800 with a certificate of entitlement offset) includes a surprising amount of equipment. It has keyless ride so you can just jump on and wheelie away as long as you have the key on you, and there’s even an active LED headlamp that lights up the inside of a bend when you tip the bike in. It uses speed and lean angle sensors.

Then there’s the 6.5-inch digital dashboard, which brings all sorts of connectivity along with it. It’s easy to read in bright sunshine, and even to a digital-phobe like myself it’s easy to control with the scrollwheel/toggle switch on the left handlebar.
And there’s a companion app to pair your F 900 XR with, which lets you use it for a satnav display — enter your destination in your phone, and let the bike tell you which way to go. The app also lets you track and share your ride, and analyse blackbox stuff like speed, lean angles and ABS or traction control events. Using that, I discovered that for someone who continually bleats about the virtues of smooth riding, I have my bacon saved by traction control and anti-lock brakes with embarrassing regularity. Oh well, criticism makes you better. Or maybe you’ll use it to show your friends what a badass rider you are.

Doesn’t a real badass (at least, among BMW riders) straddle the mighty R 1250 GS?
Well, lots of people think of that as the quintessential BMW, and it’s still the brand’s global best-seller. But BMW has clearly moved on from that bike and its Long Way Round fame. The BMW range now includes everything from a retro roadster (the R nineT) to a scorching sportsbike (S 1000 RR) with plenty in between, and the F900 XR is a middleweight addition that actually provides a hearty taste of what motorbiking is like, BMW-style.
Whether or not you were scratching your head about the F 900 XR, after riding it for a bit you won’t be. As a bike, the BMW makes perfect sense.

BMW F 900 XR
Engine 895cc, 8V, twin cylinder
Power 105hp at 8,500rpm
Torque 92Nm at 6,500rpm
Gearbox Six-speed
0-100km/h 3.6 seconds
Top Speed More than 200km/h
Seat Height 825mm
Agent Performance Motors Ltd
Price S$33,800 with COE
Available Now


bmw bmw motorrad f 900 f 900 xr

About the Author

Leow Ju Len

CarBuyer Singapore's original originator, Ju-Len in person is exactly how he is on the written word and behind the wheel. Meaning that he darts all over the place and just when you thought he's lost the plot, you realise that it's just you not keeping up with his incredible rate of speed and thought.

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