BMW F900R (2020) review

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
bennetts_bike Consumer Editor of Bennetts BikeSocial, John's owned over 20 bikes, is a member of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators and part of the Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group

 

Should Yamaha be worried? The hugely popular MT-09 has been the default mid-range street bike for many thanks to its aggressive performance and what was, at launch at least, a pretty low price. But with the new BMW F900R on review here, the Germans want a piece of the action. The performance figures exceed those of the MT-09, and it’s got a more tempting price… things are about to get very interesting.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

2020 BMW F900R Price

Back in 2017, the MT-09 was £7,799. Now it’s £8,745 because, well, everybody knows that bikes are getting more and more expensive. Or are they? A naked Suzuki Bandit 1200 cost £5,399 when it launched in 1996; with inflation, that’d be £10,211 now.

The problem now for Yamaha is that BMW – a notoriously premium brand – is offering the F900R from £8,660.

Go for the F900R SE, with semi-active suspension at the rear, and the price jumps up to £9,780. The Yamaha MT-09 SP, with its fully-adjustable Öhlins rear shock, costs £9,745… but you have to adjust the preload on that with your own hands. How last decade.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Power and torque

Spec sheets make for pub bragging rights, and while the 103.3bhp@8,500rpm that the BMW F900R makes is 10.2bhp down on the MT-09, it produces it 1,500rpm earlier in the rev range. It also makes 68lb-ft@6,500rpm, which is 3.5lb-ft more than the MT-09, 2,000rpm earlier. Impressive from a Euro5-compliant parallel twin.

But beware when buying – especially if you pick one up second-hand – as there is also an A2-compatible version of the F900R available. It costs the same, but it ‘only’ makes 93.9bhp@8,000rpm, so that it can be legally restricted to 46.9bhp for A2 licence holders… those with a full licence will be unlikely to want to forego that extra 9.4bhp, and there’s no way at all to get it up to the full 103.3bhp.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

After the first 30 miles I’d made my mind up; Yamaha had nothing to worry about.

It was cold, wet and we were riding extremely tight, loose-surfaced blind mountain roads. The precipitous drop off the edge wasn’t protected by even a few rocks to act as a barrier, and at one point a dark black skidmark traced a line straight across a bend, disappearing over the edge. On unknown roads in bad conditions, my confidence always drops significantly; I wasn’t using more than about 30% of the throttle, my arms were tense – not helped by the weight forward riding position – and I rarely got the chance to get out of second gear.

The throttle is choppy. There are four riding modes on the full-spec bikes; Rain, Road, Dynamic and Dynamic Pro. Roll fully off the right-hand grip in any of them and the F900R can feel almost like you’re hitting the kill switch. Usually, switching to a lower mode like Rain would cure it, but here it just slightly reduced the effect. As I came into a corner and rolled off, the bike felt like it was lurching forward. Rolling back on and it lurched back. I wasn’t smooth. The bike wasn’t smooth.

I hated it.

And then we got onto a smoother stretch of tarmac. Things improved a little as more dry patches appeared. I still wasn’t that impressed though; while carrying a little more speed and rolling off more carefully reduced the choppiness, opening the bike up as I came out of corners just wasn’t that exciting. Leaving it in third made for a much smoother ride (I wish I’d done that earlier), and the bike clearly had more than enough power all through the revs to happily drag me and the bike up the tight, twisty roads in that gear. But where was that punch you experience when you wind on the gas with an MT-09?

We stopped to wait for the next group to finish their photos and I got talking to Bike magazine’s Mike Armitage; “Use all of the throttle,” he said. “It’s a lot better then.”

While the Yamaha has immediate punch with just a tiny twist of the throttle, BMW has set the F900R up in such a way that it doesn’t give you full go until you really ask for it. It’s not struggling or lacking for 80% of the throttle’s twist, but it’s in that final 20% that the ECU gives you everything the parallel twin has.

The F900R comes alive.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Some bikes make their power low in the rev range, some make it higher up; that’s not what’s happening here. The BMW has plenty of power all through the revs, but you have to open the throttle wide to go from ‘useful’ and ‘unintimidating’ to ‘thrilling’. Do that, in any gear and from any speed, and this thing excites.

The BMW F900R engine mapping is focussing more on a rider new to bigger bikes, so while many experienced bikers will rave about the instant throttle response of the MT-09, it can be intimidating. The F900R is not intimidating. But it’s not slow either.

It is a shame that the choppiness spoils the experience at times, but when you’re enjoying yourself you don’t notice. When you’re cold, wet and – frankly – a little scared, the easy nature of that throttle would be outstanding if it wasn’t for the roll-off jerkiness. Having said that, the last time I rode an MT-09 it was in the pouring rain and I was moaning about the instant throttle response.

I’m sure Euro5 won’t have helped BMW with the F900R’s fuelling, but my suggestion would be to try one – once you’re used to that choppiness, it’s far less of an issue.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

The clutch caught me by surprise as we pulled away for the start of the test; it’s rare to see any of the experienced journalists at a world press launch bunny-hopping away from the engineers, but I managed it. I didn’t struggle again with it though; maybe it was because I’d just jumped off an S1000XR.

The gearbox in this engine, which like the previous F800R (and many other motors since 2005) is made for BMW by Loncin in China, is a little harsh. While there’s a quick-shifter fitted to the SE (a £330 option on the base model), the engine needs to be spinning fairly fast for it to feel particularly smooth. Otherwise there’s a fairly noticeable clunk between each cog.

The exhaust sounds good. Unlike the S1000XR for instance, this doesn’t get noisier with each riding mode, but it has got a pretty good rumble. It doesn’t have the character of the MT-09’s triple, but Euro5 hasn’t ruined things yet.

 

Two dash views are available if you opt for ‘Riding Modes Pro’ – the sport one shows lean angle, DTC intervention and braking force

 

2020 BMW F900R Economy

I saw 45mpg on this ride; that’s more than the 36mpg I got from the launch of the MT-09, but there was slightly more opportunity for spirited riding there. Still, I’d expect the average rider to see better with less stop-start riding, and even at that figure the 13 litre tank would get you 129 miles before it ran out. The MT-09 would have done 111 miles (and that’s with its one-litre bigger tank).

Realistically, the BMW F900R will see most riders looking for fuel after about 110 miles, to be on the safe side.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

While the BMW F900R SE boasts Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (Dynamic ESA), it’s a £375 option on the base model, and it’s only on the rear. The front suspension is a conventional – and unadjustable – upside-down fork.

Dynamic ESA give you the choice of ‘Road’ or ‘Dynamic’ damping based on your riding mode. It also allows you to adjust the spring preload through three positions via a button on the bar (a LOT easier than using a C-spanner). Given that the BMW has a huge 219kg payload capacity (that’s including rider and pillion), there’s the potential here to carry a lot of luggage, so tweaking the preload easily is truly useful.

On the road, the damping is pretty good; it’s got a decent spread of automated adjustment in ‘Road’ that goes from a bit too bouncy at times to a bit too firm at times, but over 95% of any ride it’s great; you simply don’t notice it’s working for you. In ‘Dynamic’ it’s firmer, and while it can feel a little harsh, the F900R still performs very well for the majority of time. Certainly at this price point it’s very good.

It’s just a shame that the front-end doesn’t offer the same damping adjustment, relying instead on damping that has to strike a compromised balance. Still, when we got a dry section of road and my confidence was up, the bike felt great cranked over – it was easy to get the ‘Sport’ dash (which you only get with ‘Riding Modes Pro’) reading over 40° of lean on roads I’d never seen before.

The steel frame and aluminium swingarm make for a 211kg mass when fully fuelled and ready to ride. It doesn’t feel heavy, and the bars and steering lock – not to mention the ease with which I can get my 32” inside legs around the narrow bike and my feet firmly on the floor – make for a superbly easy bike to turn around in the road and weave through traffic. Check the spec sheet and it’s 18kg heavier than the MT-09, but you wouldn’t know it. And remember, you can safely carry a lot more luggage on the BMW if you want to do some distance.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

2020 BMW F900R brakes

The Brembo brakes, which look similar to those fitted to last year’s S1000XR (but aren’t the same) are very easy-going; there’s a fair bit of lever travel before they start to bite, and when they do, they’re not aggressive. They’ll stop you very quickly though, and the ABS is unobtrusive when it does feel the need to ease off the brake pressure. It’s tempting to brake as hard as you can when the ‘Sport’ dash shows your maximum braking pressure.

Cornering ABS is an option that comes with the SE model, and while I’ve never had cause to use it, I always choose to have it on a bike if I can.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Comfort over distance and touring

I have a sensitive bottom; while others are happy sitting for hours on many bikes, I seem to get an achy rear fairly quickly. And the F900R makes me ache – just a little – after about an hour in the saddle.

While wind blast will be noticeable, it’s still a good place to be, with no noticeable buffeting. The saddle’s just not the pinnacle of comfort.

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

Cruise control is optional on the F900R

 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

Buy the base-model bike and you’ll only have access to Rain and Road riding modes; only with the Riding Modes Pro option (standard on the SE or a £320 option) do you get Dynamic and Dynamic Pro. But unlike BMW’s more powerful machines, there’s not a really obvious difference between them; the throttle does get sharper as you progress through them, and apparently it won’t wheelie in Rain, but the difference won’t blow you away. I’d most likely use Dynamic Pro most of the time, then Road if it gets wet. The biggest differences will be in the levels of intervention from the ABS and traction control.

The mirrors give a wide view behind, though they do blur as the revs build. You don’t notice any significant buzz through the bars, seat or pegs.

There’s some space under the rear seat, which will be handy for a disc lock, and the TFT dash is very clear and easy to use. I also really like the ‘Sport’ version of the display, which gives current and max DTC, braking force and lean angle, as well as lap times. It’s a shame that when you turn the bike off, those figures are automatically reset, and it’s also a little annoying that it will always default back to the standard display mode.

 

BMW F900R cornering headlight

A demonstration at the launch showed how the headlight works

 

The SE comes with some very nice additions that will tempt prospective MT-09 buyers, like the adaptive cornering headlight, which adds extra light to the apex as you turn, helping to stop it disappear into darkness as the bike leans.

Both models have the TFT dash with connectivity as standard – using the iOS and Android BMW Motorrad Connected on your phone means you can get turn-by-turn navigation and speed limits displayed on the dash. Plus every ride can be automatically recorded on your phone to play back the journey on a very clear map while showing acceleration and deceleration G-forces, lean angle, speed (you can tun this off) and other data. You can also check the trip and service details, as well as battery condition and fuel level. It’s by far the best motorcycle connection app from any manufacturer. And unlike some, it’s completely free.

 

These are screen grabs from when I rode the F900XR, but the app shows the same information for either bike (and for the new S1000XR)

 

The brake light flashes when you’re hard on the brakes – a good safety feature that’s standard – and every bike also has the option of a free Datatool TrakKing tracker, which your dealer will fit for you. You’ll still need to pay the annual subscription, but it can be well worthwhile. For more information on trackers, click here

F900R from £8,660

F900R SE from £9,780

BMW Motorrad ABS

BMW Motorrad ABS Pro (cornering ABS)

Automatic Stability Control (ASC)

BMW HSC Pro (hill start), DTC (traction control), MSR (Motor Slip Regulation, for hard down-changes)

TFT with connectivity

TFT with connectivity

Riding modes: Road/Rain

Riding Modes Pro: Rain, Road, Dynamic, Dynamic Pro

LED Headlights

Headlight Pro, Adaptive Headlights, Daytime Running Light

LED Indicators

LED Indicators

LED Dynamic Brake Light

LED Dynamic Brake Light

Adjustable Brake & Clutch Lever

Adjustable Brake & Clutch Lever

12V Socket

12V Socket

 

Dynamic ESA (electronic suspension)

 

Daytime Running Light

 

Gear Shift Assist Pro

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

It’s great to see enough space under the seat for a disk lock

 

2020 BMW F900R verdict

Anybody considering a middle-weight roadster should look closely at the new BMW. But the choice isn’t easy; while the partly semi-active suspension of the BMW F900R is much better than the suspension on the standard MT-09 – and the fact that you only need to press a button to adjust the preload means it’s far more appealing than Yamaha’s offering – the Öhlins unit on the MT-09 SP is tempting. Then again, the BMW has a lot more modern tech on it.

The thing is, the MT-09 is more immediately exciting thanks to a very different throttle experience; to some, it’s awesome. But others will prefer BMW.

Yamaha bills the MT-09 as a ‘hyper naked’. The Japanese needn’t worry about the F900R taking sales from people looking for an aggressive middle-weight naked. But for those after more features and an easier-going riding style (with a thrill when you want it), the BMW might prove tempting. Only a test-ride of both will help you make a final decision.

Would I buy this or the MT-09? Neither; I’d go for the new F900XR, which despite having the same engine, frame and brakes, feels a totally different bike…

 

Full review of the new 2020 BMW F900R, the naked roadster that the Germans hope will win over buyers of Yamaha’s hugely successful MT-09…

 

Three things I loved about the 2020 BMW F900R …

• High spec equipment in a relatively entry-level bike

• Plenty of grunt through the rev-range

• Easy-going can quickly become thrilling

 

Three things that I didn’t…

• Snatchy throttle spoils the power delivery

• Front-heavy riding position

• It’s not quite as characterful as the MT-09

 

2020 BMW F900R spec

New price

From £8,660 / From £9,780 for SE

Capacity

895cc

Bore x Stroke

86x77mm

Engine layout

In-line two-cylinder

Engine details

Water-cooled four-stroke. Four valves/cylinder, two overhead cams, dry sump.

Power

103.3bhp (77kW) @ 8,500rpm

Torque

68 lb-ft (92Nm) @ 6,500rpm

Top speed

XXXmph

Transmission

6 speed, chain final drive type

Average fuel consumption

67mpg claimed (45mpg tested)

Tank size

13 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

192 miles claimed, 129 miles tested

Reserve capacity

3.5 litres

Rider aids

ABS, traction control, rider modes

Frame

Steel bridge with cast aluminium swingarm

Front suspension

43mm upside-down fork

Front suspension adjustment

None

Rear suspension

Single shock

Rear suspension adjustment

Hydraulic preload adjustment and rebound damping

Front brake

320mm disc, four-piston radially-mounted Brembo calipers

Rear brake

220mm disc, single-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 Bridgestone S21R

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 Bridgestone S21R

Rake/Trail

60.5°/114.3mm

Dimensions

2,140mm x 815mm x 1,130mm (LxWxH excluding mirrors)

Wheelbase

1,518mm

Ground clearance

n/a

Seat height

815mm

Kerb weight

211kg

Warranty

n/a

Website

www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk

Looking for motorbike insurance? Get a quote for this bike with Bennetts motorcycle insurance

 

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BikeSocial takes and in-depth look at the new for 2020 BMW F900XR – which goes head to head with the Yamaha Tracer 900 – and the BMW F900R, a challenger to the Yamaha MT-09. A full and honest review of the two bikes, and which you should choose...

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