Long-Term BMW S1000XR Goes To The Track

BMW’s XR Chews Up Chuckwalla

BMW S1000XR on the track
As you can see, the S1000XR is phenomenally good fun on the track.©Motorcyclist

Wrist: Marc Cook
MSRP (2016): $19,790 (as tested)
Miles: 15,520
MPG: 38
Mods: none

I'll take a break from all the travel-related modding and such to ride the Long-Term XR in ways that BMW might not have considered were a key part of the bike's mission. Or maybe they did.

Recently, our company held a track day at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (goracecvr.com) , an event to say "thank you" to supporters and to give editors tired of staring at computer screens a bona fide reason to get outside. This is the time of year when we scramble to find supersports ready for track work—and I not-so-secretly envy Ari and Zack for having a KTM RC390 and Yamaha YZF-R1, respectively. But, as usual, life got in the way and the best option for blasting around the track was the XR. "Do it, boss," Ari told me. "You're going to love it on the track." Zack nodded. "He's right. Trust us."

So I did. Appreciating that the Michelin Pilot Road 4s on the bike at the moment would be turned into charred rubble by a day at the track, I nabbed a set of Dunlop's Sportmax Q3s from our tire rack. This set had been on the Ducati Multistrada when it and my XR were at Laguna Seca for an episode of On Two Wheels. With the ride up and back to Laguna, a day at the track, plus some other photo duties, this set of Q3s were, ah, fairly well traveled, even though the tread looked fine.

Dunlop Sportmax Q3 on the BMW S1000XR
Dunlop’s Q3 is an amazing tire. This set survived about 1,000 miles of road use and two days on the track on two very powerful bikes. And while this set had turned greasy at the end of the second day, they’re still okay on the road.©Motorcyclist

Off went the Michelins, on went the Dunlops. The remainder of my prep for the track consisted of removing the mirrors and the hand guards, which are secured by the base of the mirror stalks, making it easier to remove them than to find a better way to bolt them down. I pulled the flat-repair kit from beneath the seat, put the stock windshield in the low position, reduced tire pressure to 30/30 psi (cold, as a quick-and-dirty baseline), punched up Road mode, and took to the track.

On the first stint, the bike was good. Traction was a non-issue, even though I later found that the pressures were 34/36 after the tire got hot, and the bike felt really fast and responsive. I’ll admit that the high/tall riding position felt odd on the track, making it difficult to get low and forward on the bike. But in Road mode, the BMW’s rider aids kept the front wheel on or close to the ground and gave me ample margin on the Cornering ABS. In fact, I pinged into the ABS a few times on about the third laps as I reacquainted myself with Chuckwalla. (We were running clockwise, as viewed from above, making the little kink at the end of the front straight seem about 2 feet wide at the velocity the BMW was able to achieve by then.) I was starting to drag the toes on my otherwise slim Alpinestars Supertech boots despite hanging off moderately, and made a mental note to see about adding some ride height via suspension adjustments.

For the next stint, I dropped pressures to 30/30 hot, punched in maximum preload on the shock—the XR has three settings, nothing on the fork—and switched to the Dynamic mode. On the XR, as with most BMWs featuring Dynamic ESA, changing ride modes also scales the suspension-damping curves. I wanted to work my way through them all, so I started the second stint on Dynamic ride mode and Road suspension mode. (You get Road and Dynamic for choices on the suspension.) The bike was definitely firmer and had more cornering clearance, and I could tell that the raised thresholds on ABS and traction control were allowing the bike to wiggle and squirm more than it did in Road mode. I could tell by the feel and, later, by looking that the Q3s were happy at 30 psi hot, so I checked them periodically during the day and kept them there.

BMW S1000XR on the track
As I relearned Chuckwalla and became more aggressive, I found myself dragging the pegs more and more, while also dinging the sidestand foot a few times.©Motorcyclist

For the next stage, I went to fully Dynamic modes (ride and suspension) and worked harder to get hung off the bike. As I relearned Chuckwalla and became more aggressive, I found myself dragging the pegs more and more, while also dinging the sidestand foot a few times. I don’t think I got anything but footpeg on the right. As the day wore on, I worked harder to get my body mass to the inside of the bike, but the tall handlebar always works against you. It doesn’t feel particularly natural to get forward and down, and there’s a definite limit to how far you can go before impinging the low hand against your chest. I did a few laps where it felt like my chin was over my low-side elbow, though the photos don’t show it.

All of that sounds like complaining. It isn't. Truth is, the XR is phenomenally good fun on the track. Coming down the front straight, I was getting well into fourth before banging two quick downshifts for the little left/right kink that makes up Turn 1-2 combo. A quick squirt on the gas down the short straight, set up a good line for the exit of Turn 3 and blast down the 1,000-foot straight before the tricky double-apex Turn 4-5 complex. I kept finding time and pace through here, finally discovering just how late you can brake toward the late apex of Turn 4. Thankfully, the XR is more than happy braking very hard while also turning in here, and I made up lots of ground on my fellow track riders here. I continued to struggle getting the rhythm of the Turn 4-5 transition until I realized just how far out toward the dirt you need to be in the short section before Turn 5.

Chuckwalla racers don’t seem to like Turn 7, which seems really a lot tighter than Turn 6 even though it’s not, but it’s important to get the exit right for the trip up to Crash Mountain, as it’s called. Again, the BMW’s fantastic ride-by-wire throttle control made it simple to pick up power from the apex, and the TC made it so easy to just keep it pinned down this straight, the back tire nibbling and the bike yawing rhythmically, the TC light blinking in your peripheral. I actually laughed out loud a few times as the XR clawed for speed, front end light, the howl of the devil coming through the bodywork beneath my chin. The quickshifter barks slightly on the 2-3 upshift, and again on the 3-4.

Then, bam, back down two gears for Turns 8 and 9, where I cheated a bit by popping my head up to find the exit line, then a smooth right around Turn 10 for the longest straight on the track, 1,330 feet long. This straight leads to a right/left kink that you can take very, very fast, so I became more comfortable through the day topping out fourth gear here and braking very hard on the tip-in to the right. Then you’re in the bowl, banked 10 degrees, where the BMW felt marvelous. One advantage of wide handlebars is that you can feel the front end, and I had a very good sense of just how hard I could push the bike here. In fact, every time the bike would begin to slide or nibble, I felt it coming, and could eventually predict what the TC was about to do in most corners.

The remaining corners aren’t terribly challenging, and I kept working to find the best line to straighten out the exit of Turn 16 and the slight kink that is Turn 17, all for the purpose of blasting down the main straight. That I knew the bike sounded like a refugee from the World Superbike paddock as it blew by the pits made me feel very slightly adolescent. Okay, more than slightly. But I got over it.

After lunch I switched to the Dynamic Pro mode, which fundamentally changes the XR’s character. Here, the ABS and TC thresholds go quite high, and both wheelie control and rear-wheel-lift inhibitors are essentially disabled. Now it’s the real deal, and the bike starts to show its S1000RR roots, scrabbling out of corners with the rear tire audibly spinning up, and with the ABS allowing a fair bit of squirm going in on the brakes. At first, I wasn’t as confident in this mode, but came to trust that it wouldn’t let things get too far out of whack. But by then the tires were showing their age and the XR had become just a bit unruly, never enough that I didn’t trust it but enough that I was now splitting my attention between managing traction and refining my lines. This is a track day, not a race, I kept telling myself.

In all, I put about 130 track miles on that day and had a couple of other Bonnierites do stints; both of whom came back with wide eyes. “Man, that thing is crazy fast.” Yes, yes it is.

The following week, as I changed back to the Michelins and cleaned the bike (finding little bits of balled-up rubber here and there), I fantasized about having a second set of wheels so that I could do an impromptu track day with little more than an hour’s preparation. Considering how good the XR is on the road, the fact that it was also a total blast on the track is pretty amazing. Turns out Ari and Zack were right. Don’t tell them I said so, okay?