BMW F900R (2020 – on) Review | MCN

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The BMW F900R naked roadster was launched alongside the half-faired F900XR adventure sports version in 2020 and, although good, in many ways the naked bike is the slightly poorer relation – although that’s no criticism of the R, it’s just a reflection of how brilliant the XR is.

The XR was the intended outcome when BMW converted their F850GS parallel twin into a pure road bike – the point of the project was to build a little brother for the S1000XR and by so doing create a bike that could steal customers from Yamaha’s hugely successful Tracer 9 (formerly 900, which is massively popular in Europe).

As a result, the XR feels like a wonderfully well-developed and together bike – it’s not just the old F850GS adventure bike dressed up to rival Yamaha’s hugely popular Tracer 900, nor is it trying to be a mini-S1000XR. Instead, by using a big-bored F850 engine and the same frame, the XR is a fabulously composed and usable road bike.

BMW then reshaped its new adventure-sports XR into the ‘dynamic roadster’ F900R.

What’s the BMW F900R like, then?

Both bikes share exactly the same platform, which is based around an enlarged version of the proven F800/F850 parallel twin engine. The naked F900R, however, has slightly shorter-travel suspension, a more aggressive riding position, no fairing  and more front-biased weight distribution. The roadster R is still as sure-footed and stable as the XR adventure sports, but with more weight on the front end its steering feels heavy and its chassis is less nimble.

Despite the growth in capacity and power, the enlarged parallel twin engine doesn’t always feel desperately fast, nor has the three-cylinder thrum of the Yamaha – but the BMW makes up for it with flexibility, efficiency and just enough character. Its handling is light and agile, it’s well-built with proven reliability and it also has balanced ergonomics and decent ride quality.

Clearly, if you’re after a twin cylinder naked bike with a BMW badge, the F900R self-selects and you won’t be disappointed. But it’s worth remembering that the XR adventure sport version is far better – not just because its fairing means greater all-round ability, but because it’s dynamically far superior.

Being so new means used examples are rare and there’s been no modifications to date. That said, reliability should be good, quality is second to none and the options list enviable. Find one still under warranty as a BMW ‘Approved Used’ in the spec you want (ESA is recommended) and you won’t be disappointed.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The F900R’s sister bike, BMW’s brilliant F900XR adventure sport, shines so brightly that it was always likely that the less mainstream, more niche and likely less popular R roadster would struggle to compete – and that’s certainly the case when it comes to ride quality and handling.

Although the R’s by no means bad, where the XR feels like a wonderfully well-developed and together bike, the R, which was created when BMW then reshaped the XR into a ‘dynamic roadster’, certainly feels like the lesser bike. The transformation hasn’t worked as effectively as BMW probably would have liked, despite changes to the R’s geometry, suspension and riding position.

The R’s steering is weighty compared to the XR, its handling is far less agile, despite giving the impression, visually, that it should be the other way round and, in short, the R feels like a best effort from the leftovers.

Cornering on the 2020 BMW F900R

Also like the XR, the R’s slightly shorter forks are unadjustable, while the similarly lesser travel rear shock apes the XR with adjustable rebound damping and a useful remote preload adjuster. It’s not glitzy kit, but the shortage of adjusters and gold bits doesn’t mean it’s ‘budget’, either – the action is good and the mix of control and comfort is without criticism.

While although larger BMW’s, including the hugely popular R1250GS, have recently drawn criticism for relinquishing Brembo brakes for lesser known items by Hayes, that’s not the case with the two 900s.

They both have big twin discs with matching, four-pot Brembo radial calipers and, although not the Italian company’s top spec stuff, as you might expect to see gracing WSB grids and more, there’s nothing about them worthy of criticism. Cornering ABS, meanwhile is an option that comes with the SE model while another option is ESA.

Comfort-wise, and perhaps inevitably, the naked R can’t quite match the plush, easy mile-eating ability of its XR sister, either – although for a roadster it’s certainly not bad. Being unfaired means you have to put up with wind blast, naturally, but the slightly revised balance also puts more weight than you might be comfortable with on  your bum. Expect 45minutes to an hour in the saddle before you’ll need a break.

Engine

Next up: Reliability

4 out of 5 (4/5)

As with its sister bike, the F900XR adventure sports, the F900R roadster’s engine is a big-bore job on the old parallel twin from the F850GS, now displacing 895cc and making 68 pounds-feet of grunt and peak power of 105bhp. 

It feels free-revving and crisp under hard acceleration in first and second gear, though the sparkle fades in higher ratios; however, the new engine makes up for this with roll-on flexibility and accessible thrust of normal riding.

The deep rumble from the new 270˚ crank also makes the 900 the best-sounding parallel twin BMW have built so far. Throttle response in Rain mode is super-smooth; there’s a tiny off-on step in Road mode, but you get used to it within a few miles. Get the Riding Modes Pro option and the extra Dynamic mode gives more direct response but brings a snatchy action, too.

BMW F900R engine

But overall, although effective, flexible and versatile, the F900R’s twin also somehow lacks the dynamism you expect in this roadster format. Its 105bhp conspicuously doesn’t match the thrilling 113bhp triple of Yamaha’s MT-09, nor does its exhaust note. 

While the German bike’s gearchange is noticeably stickier and clunkier, too. Don’t rule it out, however. The F900R may not be conspicuously exciting, aurally thrilling or brim-full of character, but it is genuinely effective, versatile, reasonably fuel efficient and, for most people, most of the time, more than quick enough.

For relative novices, that more genteel output will be welcome and less intimidating. Its more progressive delivery is just as, if not more useful, more of the time, such as when simply carving through city congestion. It’s also worth mentioning here that BMW also makes, as with the F900XR, an A2 licence-compliant version which ‘only’ produces 94bhp which qualifies it to be legally restricted to 46.9bhp for A2 licence holders. 

BMW F900R exhaust

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value

4 out of 5 (4/5)

The donor F850 parallel twin engine (and the F800 before that) as enlarged and used in the F900R is proven and dependable, even though it’s been increased in capacity and its firing order changed, so we wouldn’t expect any reliability issues with the new 900, in either R or XR guise. Its specific power (bhp-per-cc) is modest and it’s not a highly-strung unit, all of which bode well for reliability

Chassis parts are good quality, too, such as the Brembo brakes, the F900R’s switchgear and slick colour TFT dash are the same as used across BMW’s range, and the general level of finish is like you’d get on a specced-up R1250GS costing almost twice as much.

Left bar of BMW F900R

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment

5 out of 5 (5/5)

BMWs are normally expected to premium, prestige bikes with the lofty price tags and running costs to go with it – but that’s not so with the Bavarian brand’s F900R and F900XR, at least, not in bog standard trim anyway, so what’s going on?

List price for the base model at launch was dead in-line with rivals such as Yamaha’s popular MT-09, and the F900R, even in bog basic trim, matches, if not beats it, on equipment levels, too. That said, it is worth pointing out here that few buyers will buy the bog standard version of the BM, simply because many of its options are so tempting…

Optional extras are tempting on the BMW F900R

Day-to-day running costs on the F900R are better than you might expect, too, thanks to a combination of good mpgs and a less aggressive, performance-driven persona (plus relatively light weight) that means we’d expect the F900R to be better than most rivals on fuel, tyres, brake pads and all the other usual consumables.

Insurance isn’t bad, either, and BMW residual values are traditionally strong as well, so the German bike won’t depreciate as much as a Yamaha MT-09 when you come to change your bike.

Which brings us to rivals. The best-selling Yamaha MT-09 is the closest, but a three-cylinder and both more performance-orientated and slightly more basic. Triumph’s Street Triple 765 is worth a mention, but is also a triple and pricier and then there’s KTM’s looney tunes 890 Duke, which is also a twin, but smaller, madder and less versatile. You pays your money…

Equipment

Although the R is keenly priced for a BMW (list and PCP are nigh-on identical to a Yamaha MT-09) this isn’t a budget offering. 

Quality and finish are as good as any BMW, and you get the colour dash used on the 1250s with phone connectivity and switchgear control, riding modes, traction control, a great two-height screen, LED lights and many ex-works seat height choices.

However, as with pretty much any BMW, it’s when you start to look beyond the standard fitting and fitments and explore what’s possible via the Bavarian marque’s ever-impressive extra cost options list, that things get really interesting.

BMW F900R riding on road

Among those options (available either in factory-fitted form or over the counter from  your local dealer, depending on the type of item) and grouped for convenience into a variety of ‘packs’, are things like extra modes including a Dynamic mode which is recommended, BMW’s brilliant, semi-active electronically-adjustable suspension, called Dynamic ESA, quickshifter, dynamic traction control and cornering ABS, which, for the performance minded, is pretty impressive.

On top of that there’s the usual BMW heated grips, luggage, cruise control and suchlike options. And on top of THAT are luxury modern goodies such as keyless ride.

Of course, none of these are exactly cheap, if you tick too many boxes you’ll quickly transform your keenly-priced R into a lesson in overpriced excess and it’s dubious that you’ll get your money back when you come to sell. But as a used bike option, find an example with exactly the spec you want and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Cornering quickly on the BMW F900R naked roadster

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