BMW had plenty to show at EICMA 2019, but the two motorcycles that had the most relevance to India are the new F 900 R and F 900 XR. The F 900 R is the naked while the F 900 XR is the semi-faired one, and they both have a lot of mechanical similarities. Both run BMW’s new 895cc parallel-twin, which is essentially the motor that debuted in the F 850/F 750 GS, but with a 2mm increase in the bore and a small bump up in the compression ratio.
Where the detuned F 750 GS made 77hp/83Nm and the F 850 GS produced 95hp/92Nm, the new motor generates 105hp/92Nm in both F 900 models. The similarities extend to the chassis as well, and both the F 900s use the same main frame and swingarm as the F 750 and the F 850 GS.
New parallel-twin makes 105hp.
Both F 900s are quite feature-packed and get LED headlamps with a cornering function, bi-directional quickshifters, and an electronically adjustable rear shock. Keeping the F 900s relevant for the younger generation is BMW’s Connected app that lets you analyse a plethora of ride data, like maximum lean angles, maximum speed achieved at any particular point on the route, and even when the ABS was triggered.
While it may seem like the F 900 R and the F 900 XR are very similar under the skin, the bike have very distinct characters when it comes to the riding experience. And that’s why we’ve split them into two separate bits.
BMW F 900 R
The F 900 R makes a lasting first impression because it looks like it’s all set to punch you in the face. The angry, broad-chested stance is far more aggressive than the F 800 R it replaces – that bike never came here but it was famous for being stunt legend Chris Pfeiffer’s weapon of choice. The F 900’s fat fuel tank and large side panels make it look more like a litre-naked than the Street Triple/ 790 Duke rival it actually is, and this will no doubt appeal to many big-bike enthusiasts in India. Strangely, the rear section is quite bland in comparison with the rest of the bike, aside from that interesting-looking exhaust.
Swing a leg over and you’ll appreciate the reasonable 815mm seat height as well as the crisp TFT display, which is part of the standard equipment. This one brings in more functionality over the screens in the GS, and it even gets an S 1000 RR-style dynamic display with a lean angle indicator. The display is controlled via BMW’s peculiar scroll-wheel system on the left handlebar that takes some getting used to.
The F 900 R’s riding position is a bit sportier than I was expecting. The bar is set at a reasonably sporty position, but the foot pegs are quite high up, and the riding position is certainly more committed than on something like a 790 Duke. That doesn’t mean it handles like the KTM though, and while the F 900 R is effective, it feels more like an old-school roadster. Where the KTM and even the Triumph Street Triple are deliciously light and nimble on their feet, the BMW is a lot more front-heavy. The bike feels as big and heavy as it looks, and that’s no surprise because this thing tips the scales at 211kg.
Once you get the hang of how it wants to be ridden, the F 900 R is quite a bit of fun. There are four riding modes to play with in the top-spec SE model – Rain, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro. Switching to Dynamic Pro firms up the electronically adjustable rear shock (the 43mm USD fork is non-adjustable) and sharpens up the throttle response. The first set of roads we hit were narrow, occasionally gravelly and peppered with sudden sharp corners, with unforgiving drops just a few feet away. The F 900 R wasn’t very enjoyable here, partly due to the extra muscle required to change direction, but also because the ride-by-wire throttle felt a little abrupt, especially when moving from open to close.
Keyless start is another luxury touch.
Once we got to the more typical wide, fast and flowing mountain roads of Spain, the bike felt much nicer. You could even call it fun, and like with most other BMWs, you’ll silently applaud its talents, but never to the extent of shouting with sheer joy in your helmet. On the faster roads, the F 900’s meaty midrange is something to appreciate and the engine feels just a little more smooth and flexible than the 850’s motor, which was no slouch itself. Outright refinement is quite good at normal speeds but a mild buzz does creep in as you approach the top of the rev ceiling. As for the quickshifter, it’s a familiar affair and it works well at high RPMs, but is clunky if you plan to use it at city speeds. The sound from the exhaust, meanwhile, is quite a deep and pleasing note, and it tends to blend well with the look of the bike and the way it rides.
BMW says the previous F 800 R was used by its customers across a variety of scenarios, including some light touring. They want to keep that going with the 900, so there’s a number of accessories available, including a windscreen, soft panniers, and you can also get creature comforts like cruise control and heated grips. There are five different seat height options on offer, from 790mm to 860mm. If you need to go even lower, BMW provides a special suspension lowering kit that brings the seat height down to 770mm.
LED headlamp gets a cornering function.
The F 900 R is an expensive and polished feeling motorcycle, but it does nothing new. Instead of pushing the limits of performance, BMW is trying to offer a premium badge, along with some segment-leading features like the cornering headlamp, keyless start and the electronic shock absorber at a relatively reasonable price.
However, BMW has taken a different approach for India and we only get the F 900 R in the Standard variant. This gives you basic ABS and traction control, LED lighting, two riding modes and TFT display. All is not lost, though, and if you’re willing to tick a lot of boxes, you can option many additional features, including everything you’ve read about above. Naturally all this will have a significant impact on the price.
Regarding the price, with a badge like that, it's no surprise that the F 900 R is not cheap, especially considering the fact that it comes as a CBU from Berlin. At Rs 9.9 lakh ex-showroom it will face strong competition from the likes of soon to be launched bikes like Triumph Street Triple R and the BS6 versions of the KTM 790 Duke and the Ducati Monster 821. Then again, this is now your most affordable ticket into the exclusive world of big BMWs, and that alone will be all that matters to some riders.
BMW F 900 XR
The drama of a postponed connecting flight from Dubai to Madrid meant that we missed out on a half-day’s worth of riding at the BMW F 900 media launch. Fortunately, BMW was able to manage an extra F 900 XR for us to briefly ride along with the F 900 R, and I’m grateful they did, because the XR is a rather excellent motorcycle.
With a naming system following the S 1000 XR, this bike aims to offer a similar riding experience – a sporty motorcycle with just the right amount of touring abilities. You could say that the F 900 XR is an F 900 R with a quarter-fairing and a windscreen, but that would be a gross oversimplification. Firstly, the XR packs in 170mm and 172mm of front and rear suspension travel, respectively, which is far more than the F 900 R’s 135/142mm. In fact, those numbers are right up there with the F 750 GS’ suspension and that’s something I find interesting, because the F 750 is the nicest parallel-twin BMW I’ve ridden so far on our roads.
XR gets as much suspension travel as the F 750 GS.
Unlike the F 750 GS, the F 900 XR runs 17-inch rims at both ends and has the same steering rake angle as the F 900 R; although, a slight fork offset has increased the trail and wheelbase a little. Okay, that’s the end of the technical jargon and all the terribly confusing alphanumeric name comparisons. Let’s get to how this bike feels already!
Things feel rather different from the 900 R from the moment you climb on board. The 825mm seat height may end up being a climb for some, but fear not, for there are multiple seat height options that range from 790-870mm. Once aboard, you’re immediately greeted by a much more open and relaxed riding position, with a wide handlebar and noticeably lower-set foot pegs than the naked bike. I instantly liked this, but concerned that it might just be the old man in my head again, I asked fellow journalist Anosh Khumbatta what he thought. He agreed and it’s worth noting that while Anosh is theoretically five years older than me, the reality is that he has the, err, ‘youthful’ mindset of an 18-year old with a brand-new licence. So, we can safely agree that the XR has the nicer riding position.
Exhaust gets a sleek and aggressive design to go with the rest of the bike.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking this bike is a compromise in the corners. If anything, the XR is easier to ride fast, thanks to the extra leverage from the wide handlebar. Aside from the fact that the foot pegs kiss the tarmac a little easier (but not too easily), you’ll cover ground on the XR as fast as on the naked bike, but in much more comfort. The extra suspension travel is very well controlled and you only really notice it under very hard braking; and even then the fork dive isn’t too dramatic. I had a blast on my brief stint with the XR on Spain’s phenomenal mountain roads, but the bike’s real advantages showed on the motorway ride back to the hotel.
Quickshifter clunky at low speeds.
With the temperature hovering at a chilly 10degC, the XR’s windscreen, hand guards and heated grips were suddenly the greatest features ever fitted to a motorcycle. The two-step adjustable windscreen doesn’t block out every bit of the breeze, which should be nice in warmer climates. The XR also gets a different seat that is definitely more comfy and supportive over long durations. The 15.5-litre fuel tank holds 2.5 litres more than the R, and this will help its touring aspirations. Naturally, the ride quality feels a lot more plush and I think that will be the XR’s biggest trump card in India.
Top F 900 models get an electronically adjustable shock.
It bodes well for the XR that it wears a handsome design and even though it’s inspired by the S 1000 XR, this bike feels much smaller and far more manageable in comparison. At 219kg, it weighs five kilos less than the F 750 GS adventure bike. However, the XR’s pillion seat is only decently sized and not massively spacious, which might be a turn off for those looking for a serious two-seat tourer.
The BMW F 900 R didn’t make much of an impression, but I thoroughly enjoyed the XR. This is the ideal motorcycle for someone who wants a fun, comfortable and premium touring machine, but doesn’t want to go down the ADV route. I think it’s a bike with a lot of promise for our market, and it has just gone on sale here at Rs 10.5 lakh for the Standard Variant and Rs 11.5 lakh for the Pro variant
. For the extra 1 lakh, you will get cruise control, the bi-directional quickshifter and the electronically adjustable rear shock. However features like cornering headlamps, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro riding modes and keyless ignition will cost you extra. At this price, the F 900 XR is quite unique for our market, and the closest competition comes from the likes of the Kawasaki Versys 1000, which is much faster, but also much bigger and heavier on its feet.