Published on May 13th, 2021 | by Boris0
2021 BMW F900R & F900XR REVIEW – THE F-TROOP
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ME BECAUSE NICK WAS AWAY CELEBRATING HIS 60TH BIRTHDAY. SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LEAVE ME, BASTARD?
Once upon a time, the upright twin was one of the most exciting engine configurations available. Not only was it pleasing to the ear when it was being valve-bounced in fury, but the chances of it exploding and scarring your youthful good-looks was quite high.
Yes, I am looking at you glorious bastards on old Nortons and Triumphs, and sobbing gently while missing my much-abused 1979 Triumph Tiger…
And then, somehow, the upright twin became the cardigan of the motorcycle world. It became the engine for people seeking gentleness in their ride. It became the engine you opted for if you were unsure, frightened, too new, too old, or missing the lunatic gene I find so crucial to the proper enjoyment of motorcycling.
But the world is always changing, and a very welcome part of this change is the advent of new upright twin engines, which are intent on changing the cardigan aspect of that engine configuration and replacing it with a hoodie…with maybe some skulls on the sleeves.
Behold the new BMW offerings in this class, the F900R and the F900XR, which I managed to ride back-to-back, with verve and brio – despite the fact the blinding white and fully-panniered XR looked like an Italian police bike.
At the end of this exercise, I felt more love for the R than I did for the XR, for reasons I will explain, and which have nothing to do with the XR looking like a cop bike. Some people will dig that look, for sure. I am not one of them, but I’m guessing you know that. And it doesn’t have to come in white, you know.
I liked the R over the XR because for me there can only be one XR, and that is BMW’s all-conquering S1000XR. This, smaller, lighter, and gentler version of that delightful monster may only be 100cc down in capacity, but it is certainly light-years away in terms of performance.
Does that make it a bad bike? Not at all, the F900XR is a great bike. And folks who can’t see the purpose of 226kg, 114Nm and 165bhp, will certainly be happy with the F900XR’s 219kg, 88Nm and 99bhp.
This is, by the way, the same specs the F900R has. Same engine, same specs. But I found the F900R suited my kung-fu better than the F900XR.
What makes both the F900R and the F900XR such intriguing and enjoyable offerings is the ease with which they can be punted hard through corners. So if you’re not chasing the nuclear punch-fest of BMW’s larger beasts, then certainly consider the F-Troop.
They are an absolute hoot in terms of handling. They both make most of their torque at 4500rpm. And while you will derive a great deal of pleasure from the seamless up-down quickshifter, you can easily flub about at 60km/h in top, and then just power on without the twin missing a beat.
There’s quite a surprising amount of punch to the acceleration, and BMW has gone to some effort to make the first three gears quite more exciting than they were on the previous incarnations of the F series. It even sounds quite throaty when you give it some, and because it’s such a forgiving and genial beast, you will certainly be giving it some.
Because that is where the true joy of the F-Troop lies. Sure, we can and must and do love BMW’s hypersonic monsters. But not everyone in motorcycle land is quite up for what those bikes offer. A gentler, less intimidating variant, which will still give you unrelenting joy in corners, is a great and good thing.
Both bikes draw styling cues from their bigger siblings. Both bikes carry the full suite of luscious BMW rider-aids and electronic wizardry, including all that iPhone pairing stuff some people deem so crucial to their enjoyment of the ride. All the normal BMW rider modes are available, and the navigational menus are quite simply some of the best on the market. You can easily disable or enable the stuff you want or don’t want on the fly with a button-push, rather than an extensive Menu-search. Yes, Lean-Angle-Sensitive ABS is there, but Cruise Control is absent on the R, while present on the XR.
There are also minor ergonomic differences and some slight variations in suspension travel between the two – ie. More travel and more upright body position on the XR. And this is why they feel rather different to ride.
I also felt some slight buzzing through the ’bars at cruising speed (120-odd) on the XR, which was entirely absent on the R. This may be a one-off thing. I have no way of knowing without riding another XR. But I did find the more aggressive riding position on the R suited my kung-fu better than the fully upright, back-like-a-policeman ergos on the XR did.
Both bikes do make excellent mile-eaters – and while a touch more petrol capacity in the R (13-litres) would be nice (the XR, carries 15.5l), I don’t think it’s a biggie. I’m looking for a place to stop every 200km or so anyway.
The guiding paradigm of BMW’s two new F900 is obvious, and very relevant in today’s Highway Patrol challenging times. They are both hugely able corner-blasters, combining comfort with ease-of-use, and can still manage to be quite competent and accomplished tourers. They are electronically sophisticated, and rewarding to ride fast without resorting to terror-inducing heights of power.
Their looks are subjective. To my mind, the F900R is easily the more handsome of the two, offering a modern set to its haunches without entering weird-land. The F900XR doesn’t do it for me aesthetically – and it ain’t just the police-white paintjob and bulbous but practical panniers. I’d look askance at it even if it was black.
But let me close this with a little story, lest you think you should discount BMW’s F bikes as being somewhat unworthy of your mighty and manly abilities…
The fastest and most amazing road-rider I know and have had the privilege of riding with, is a bloke called Dino. Dino has more kung-fu than a Shaolin temple. A successful BEARS racer, astonishing dirt-bike maestro, a humble, accomplished and unassuming gentleman, and one of my closest friends, Dino’s the kind of bloke I could win money on by betting he’d be able to do things on a bike at speeds normal people just can’t. I guess we all have mates like him, and he’s mine.
Dino rides a battered old F800GS. He’s shod it with even older Shinko road-dirt tyres, and keeps it running with wire, cable-ties, and ingenuity.
And no-one I know, and no-one I have ridden with, can keep up with him, let alone catch him, when he decides he’s going to have a go. Sure, it’s easy to hunt him down on a straight. But we all know that true kung-fu lives in the corners. And Dino has all of that.
He is of the view that BMW’s F series offers some of the best-handling bikes on earth – and then backs his view up with repeated demonstrations of just that position.
And one of his primary delights is shaming blokes on sports bikes with his ratty old F800. He has not been booked in forever despite having no concern for the Motor Traffic Act at all. It seems like no policeman on earth can even believe his old German dunger is even capable of exceeding the speed limit.
That, friends and relatives, is the world the F900R and the F900XR offers you. You may not be Dino, and you may never be Dino, but you will find these two mid-sized Beemers are more than up for pretty much anything – including rampant hooliganism.