2021 BMW S1000R review – is the 160hp naked bike as sensible as everyone says?
Overlook it at your peril
The world of motorbike journalism is a funny old place – a glance at magazine group tests of powerful, unfaired supernaked bikes will usually suggest that the BMW S1000R is a bit of a grandad machine. It has heated grips. It has cruise control. It has a slightly unsexy inline four-cylinder engine. Its price is even unsexily affordable – you can get one for £11,760, which is some £9,000 less than its rival from Ducati. Surely that must mean the BMW is less exotic, less exciting and just a bit… well, sensible?
As usual, journalists are full of crap. The BMW S1000R is one of our favourite supernakeds of 2021, and you can find out why by watching the video below or reading on with your eyes.
What is it?
It's an all-new-for-2021 version of BMW's high-performance upright bike. It takes most of the bits of the S1000RR sports bike, chops one of the Rs off the name and puts those special sporty bits into a bike that won't give you backache and throbbing knees within five miles of leaving the dealership.
The biggest visual change is the move from quirky twin headlights to a more conventional single unit
The £11,760 entry price gets you an S1000R that lacks the seriously brilliant electronic suspension of the £13,705 Sport model – and if you want the M colours, titanium Akrapovic exhaust, forged wheels, M Seat and maintenance-free (supposedly) M Endurance chain then you need the £2,800 M Sport package. That means the bike you really, really want (and the one we tested), will set you back £16,500. Or about the same as a KTM SuperDuke R with some options. Still, it's £1,500 less than an Aprilia Tuono V4 and £4,000 less than a Ducati Streetfighter V4S. If you really want to push the BMW boat out, you can pay an extra £2,100 for a set of carbon fibre wheels.
The £2,800 M Sport pack gives you lighter wheels, that iconic paint scheme, an Akrapovic exhaust and more
Anyway. For 2021 the S1000R gets an all-new chassis, with a delicious bronze trellis rear subframe supporting the pillion seat, and a 165hp engine that will thrash its four cylinders to 12,000rpm, delivering 114Nm of torque at 9,250rpm. It's not the same engine as the S1000RR because it doesn't have BMW's variable-valve-timing technology, but one twist of the single-R's throttle shows that 165hp is plenty – and that torque is what really matters on the road.
It's fast then?
Well, not initially. The beauty of an inline four engine is that the power builds almost exponentially yet smoothly throughout the revs, so at low revs the S1000R is docile and easy to thread through lines of traffic without any jerkiness. But once you're up to about 4,000rpm the S1000R's torque quickly builds and soon makes you aware that you're on something Very Fast Indeed. There's enough grunt to mean you don't need to downshift for most overtakes (which is nice, because although the quickshifter/blipper works well, the gear lever action is a bit dull and stodgy), but once you're above 6,000rpm on full throttle the world starts buggering off over your shoulders with an exciting urge, and the engine note takes on a hard, industrial howl.
One oddity is that there's no conventional brake light – the indicator units do the same job. We're not sure they're as visible though…
If you've left the bike in the standard road mode then you can happily enjoy full throttle in all gears – even first – without the fear of looping the thing. The S1000R's cutting-edge electronics suite means the bike will just accelerate without any histrionics. That said, stick it in Dynamic Pro and you'll be treated to deliciously smooth, controllable power wheelies in first, second and third gears, while still maintaining positively rabid forward momentum. Special mention goes to the M Sport pack's Akrapovic exhaust, which sounds a bit naughty and delivers beautiful pops on downshifts and upshifts.
Does it handle like a supernaked?
Yes – the S1000R flicks from side to side with minimal effort, yet feels solid, planted and as if its 194kg mass is being pressed into the road, which is exactly how you want a bike to feel when you're cornering hard. The electronic suspension is worthy of note – in standard road mode it gives you a smooth ride, masking most bumps in the road while still feeling supportive enough for faster riding. Flick the spring button on the left-hand switchgear and you can firm things up. It gives a more direct feel of the road through the handlebars, and it can get annoyingly jiggly on broken roads – but the trade-off is that you feel ready to rip through corners as if you were on a racetrack.
On the far left is the iDrive-like control wheel – the spring button switches between soft and firm suspension regardless of your rider mode
This Jekyll and Hyde character helps make the S1000R probably the most cosseting supernaked on sale for longer trips – helped by the fact you get heated grips, cruise control and a 16.5-litre tank that'll get you about 150 miles between fill-ups if you're just cruising along steadily. The 2021 bike gets longer 4th, 5th and 6th gears to make cruising a bit less buzzy (and more economical), and we didn't notice any of the tingly handlebar vibrations that have bugged previous four-cylinder BMWs.
What don't you like?
Not a lot, truth be told. There's a certain roughness to the casting of the bike's frame that feels a bit cheap, and the general view of the bars and levers isn't quite as posh feeling as the much-more-expensive Ducati – you get a sense things have been built to suit the base S1000R's £12,000 entry price.
Keyless ignition is great (unless you're in race leathers and have no pockets), but then having a keyed fuel cap is a bit weird
That said, the digital dashboard screen is ripped straight from the rest of BMW's range, meaning it's the best in the business – bright, clear, easy to navigate using the iDrive wheel on the left handlebar and you're never far away from the info you're looking for.
This is the sport dash display – it records your maximum lean angle, brake pressure and traction intervention for each ride
The only other niggle we noticed was that higher-spec versions of the S1000R use a keyless ignition system, but you still need to find the key and flip the blade out to open the petrol tank – apparently there wasn't enough space under the tank to fit the keyless fuel flap gubbins.
Should I buy one?
We found the M seat to be perfectly comfy, but more sensitive backsides may want the regular seat
If you're in the market for a modern supernaked then you really shouldn't overlook the S1000R – despite being a practical naked bike and a comfortable naked bike, it can still thrill and has a certain yobbish four-cylinder charm that really got under our skin. Factor in the potential cost saving over its competitors and you've got a fantastic all-round package. It's about as far from boring as you can get.