BMW rolled out a handful of (largely expected) surprises at EICMA 2019, including the R 18 concept bikes (the ‘R,’ of course, stands for ‘refrigerator’ – an object comparable in size to the R 18’s colossal 1800cc boxer twin engine), but for some reason the German bike that’s grabbed and held my attention has been the humble F 900 R.
PUT ME IN, COACH
Get Your Mitts on a TMO Baseball Shirt
I guess I can sort of understand how I got here. Owning and living with/commuting with a modern classic naked bike (Triumph Bonneville T120) has changed my overall view of naked bikes, having previously held the opinion that as a Texan in Britain I needed all the weather protection I could get. It turns out, though, that I can survive sans fairing and screen as long as I’m equipped with really good gear (exuberant review of the Gerbing heated jacket liner coming soon). And the benefits of going naked help even out whatever annoyances come from having to do more gearing up. Naked bikes are a hell of a lot easier to clean and service at home, and they navigate traffic infinitely better. And because it feels like your head will be ripped off when travelling in excess of 80 mph, they naturally encourage a riding style that: a) keeps your driving record clean; b) doesn’t see you aching for astronomical horsepower figures.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. If someone wants to give me a 177-horsepower KTM 1290 Super Duke R they will encounter zero resistance. But, truthfully, I don’t need more than, say, 65 hp to do all the stuff I want to do and be happy doing it.
So, the foundations are there for me to show interest in an 895cc parallel-twin-driven naked bike capable of a claimed 105 hp. But I still don’t understand why I am so interested in this one.
The F 900 R was unveiled in Milan earlier this month alongside the internally identical F 900 XR (which I generally like the idea of, but not the styling). It is, of course, the evolution of the stalwart F 800 R that’s been transporting penny-pinching old dudes since 2009. That is to say: hitherto the F 800 R has been about as vanilla as a bike can get, with owners who are the type to always have a multitool on their person, along with a meandering lecture about how kids these days are useless because they don’t know how to restring a Flymo.
It was such a “popular” bike that, for a while, BMW effectively sought to give the model away as part of a rider training course package (these days it instead offers up the G 310 R in a similar sort of scheme). By and large, just looking at the F 800 R makes me feel sad and bored inside.
But the F 900 R is a different beast entirely. First of all, it looks considerably better. There are still elements that strike me as a little too plasticky – over the past few decades BMW has rarely met a plastic fairing it didn’t like – but in adopting an aesthetic akin to the R 1250 R it has a more muscular stance. It looks more like a bike that I’d want to be seen on, more like a bike that doesn’t get the word “just” thrown in front of it when someone asks you want bike you ride, eg, “Oh, you know, it’s just a Honda CBF600.”
I’m a fan of the low exhaust that looks like some kind of sci-fi arm cannon and although the engine sounds just a bit too neighbor-friendly I like its bassy tone. I’d hope that it’s something that the rider can hear and enjoy even if no one else does.
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Speaking of engine sound, the powerplant has been overhauled from its use in the F 800 R. Not only does the F 900 R have more capacity, delivering more power and torque, it now has a 270-degree firing order. I’m not much of a specs guy, so I’ll admit I don’t totally know what that means – if you asked me to explain firing order and draw diagrams and such I would just point behind you, then run away when you turned and looked – but what’s important is that a 270-degree firing order mimics the character of a V-twin. Why not just use a V-twin? I don’t know. But experience has taught me that V-twins and V-twin-mimicking engines are my favorites.
Delivering 105 hp at 8,000 rpm and 92 Nm or torque at 6,500 rpm, the engine’s numbers suggest it will be a lot of fun. In the video below product manager Dora Mangold charmingly states that that the engine “has performance too much” and explains that the engine has been tuned to deliver torque at lower revs and mapped to offer a more responsive throttle.
The bike comes with an alphabet soup of rider aids, including “MSR, DTC, DBC and ABS Pro,” according to a BMW press release. I assume DTC stands for ‘Dynamic Traction Control’ but I’m not sure about the others. Based on the previous acronym I would have guessed that DBS is ‘Dynamic Brake Control’ but if that’s the case, how is it different than ABS Pro? And why does BMW insist on throwing the word ‘pro’ on the back of so many of its features? Case in point, the Headlight Pro that’s to be found on the F 900 R.
“Lookee here, Maynerd. Got me one o’ dem professional headlights. I guess it’s better than the duct-taped Maglite I was usin’ before… Though, you cain’t pull this one off and hit no racoons with it.”
The ‘Pro’ aspect of the F 900 R’s headlight, in case you’re wondering, is the fact that it’s adaptive. At a lean angle of more than 7 degrees, the system will attempt to throw a little more light on the corner into which you’re riding. Meanwhile, if you’re willing to pay extra you can also get ESA and RDC, the latter of which has something to do with tire pressure. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that from the acronym. But, according to the Google machine, the German word for tire pressure is ‘reifendruck,’ so, uhm, now I’m even more confused about all the other acronyms.
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Personally, I feel RDC is pointless. I will never change my opinion that tire pressure monitors are a colossal waste of time and money. It’s an imperfect feature that has a tendency to suffer from glitches. Even if BMW has managed to improve its tire pressure monitoring from a few years ago, it’s still a given that a certain percentage will fail. No manufacturer is able to offer a mass product that is 100-percent fault-free; if you make 30,000 versions of a thing at least a few of them are going to break. And it is always going to be the case that replacing a tire pressure monitoring system will be more expensive and more of a ballache than picking up a £10 digital gauge at Halfords and doing the damn job yourself.
Hmm, it appears I am capable of old-man ranting. Perhaps this also explains my attraction to the F 900 R. But helping me to feel like I’m still down with the kids is the fact the F 900 R has all-LED lighting and a 6.5-inch TFT screen to which one can connect a phone via Bluetooth. This screen, along with the archetypal BMW wünderwheel on the left grip suggests the options menu will be borderline limitless.
WHAT ABOUT THE STUFF THAT MATTERS, THOUGH?
One feature that I do not see listed as being either standard equipment or an accessory is cruise control. There is no mention of it on either BMW’s website or in the press release that was issued at EICMA. Poring over a (computer generated) image of the dash and handlebars, I see no button for it. In ye olden days of life before the Bonnie I would have thought that cruise control on a naked bike was about as necessary as tire pressure monitoring, but experience has taught me that it helps tremendously when covering the sometimes long distances between where you are and where you want to ride. Not having to maintain constant throttle input allows you to shift around more and loosen up in the wind blast.
If BMW has failed to offer cruise control as an option on the F 900 R it’s seriously missing a trick. Especially as, I would assume, it will be offered on the F 900 XR (though I can’t find any evidence of that). However, hope springs eternal because I’ve also not been able to find evidence of heated grips. And since that’s a feature offered even on the humble G 310 R I feel it’s safe to say it will be available here, too. Bolstering this optimism is the fact I can see several additional buttons on the actual F 900 R featured in the EICMA video above.
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That all said, I suppose it doesn’t actually matter to me. As thoroughly charmed as I am by this bike, I’ll admit I probably won’t ever spend my own money on one. Probably. Maybe. BMW’s given the F 900 R a very attractive £8,365 starting price, though. That’s Suzuki GSX-S750 money, man*, and probably a solid £4,000 less than what Harley-Davidson will end up charging for its new Bronx naked bike, which has similar power output to the F 900 R (105 hp for the BMW vs 115 hp for the Harley-Davidson).
The F 900 R also costs less than the outgoing Kawasaki Z900 (pricing on the upgraded 2020 model hasn’t yet been announced) and Yamaha MT-09, whilst looking markedly better than both and offering more bells and whistles. Aye, but there’s the rub, see. This is a BMW we’re talking about. So, to get all the bells and whistles you’ll need to pay extra, at which point I’d guess the asking price will be closer to £10,500. Still a decent price for so much bike but this sees you wandering into the territory of bigger, markedly faster bikes like the Kawasaki Z1000.
Additionally, that’s a price that almost certainly sees owners financing via PCP deals (‘personal contract purchase’ for those of you playing along outside the UK – not be confused with phencyclidine, though both are painfully addictive) rather than paying outright. Hypocritically, I’ve become very anti-PCP lately (I’ll discuss this in a future post), in part because it’s really just a hop skip and a jump from financing a £10,500 bike to signing up for the £14,799 of the aforementioned 1290 Super Duke R. Then you get a real V-twin, rather than a parallel-twin engine that mimics one, and enough power to rip off limbs.
But still, the F 900 R seems to have captured some part of my heart. I’m not pleased by its 13-litre tank but I can still very much imagine living life with one. You know, with a top box added… and handlebar muffs… and reflective tape down the back to make me more visible… and Oxford heated grips rather than OEM jobbies because there’s nowt reason to pay three times as much to get exactly the same thing, lad. Yeah, I’m getting old.
* Uhhhh, sort of. The current asking price for a GSX-S750 is £6,999, inclusive of a promotional £1,000 rebate. Which means the bike’s recommended retail price is supposedly £7,999 – just £366 less than the better-in-almost-every-way F 900 R. However, that RRP is bullshit. The bike did not cost that much a few months ago. Somewhere along the way Suzuki quietly jacked up its asking price on a number of bikes by several hundred pounds and promptly countered it with this £1,000-off promotion.