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BMW F 900 R: Solid middle class

BMW Motorrad wants to lure buyers in the middleweight category with a lovely pair of twins.

BMW F 900 R.

BMW F 900 XR.

Almeria, Spain

APPARENTLY, European bikers all want to get naked around the summertime. That's not as enticing (or, depending on where you are in Europe, horrifying) as it sounds. It simply means the naked class of motorcycle is red hot at the moment.

That's where BMW's new F 900 R swaggers in, waving its mechanical bits for all to see alongside such popular bikes as the Triumph Street Triple and Yamaha MT-09.

As per the naked bike norm, it offers little wind protection and looks a bit like someone stole its fairings, and has a fairly aggressive stance. The low-mounted headlamp makes it look like a bull with its head down, snorting ominously and fixing to gore your rump good.

The F 900 R goes on sale this weekend in Singapore together with the F 900 XR, which is sort of its nicer sister.

The XR is more of an adventure bike, with what looks like a nicer saddle for two-up touring, plenty of wind protection and a more upright seating position, thanks to lower footpegs and higher handlebars than on the R.

The two bikes have the same 895cc twin-cylinder engine (that's why they're both called F 900s) and rear suspension, but are entirely different in terms of personality.

Straddling the F 900 R and grasping the handlebars makes you hunch forward slightly, as if you're getting ready to slug someone. It comes with different riding modes ("Rain" cuts power for slippery roads, for example), but it won't be long before you switch the thing to "Dynamic" to savour the lovely new engine.

The F 900 engine is strong, lively and characterful, with an offset crankshaft that gives it a slightly off-beat rumble full of bass. A throttle-by-wire system means it doesn't quite have the snappy immediacy of the old F 800 twin, but it's a far smoother engine and pulls noticeably harder through its rev range. Surprisingly, it uses less fuel, too, even though the F 800 engine had a mysteriously small appetite.

Anyway, the F 900 R is the kind of bike you ride with purpose. It takes a solid shove on the bars to get it to turn, but it's rock steady after that, and the suspension feels beautifully set up. Even if you hit a small bump mid-corner, the BMW doesn't try to shake you off its back.

For half a day on a twisty road the F 900 R is enormous fun, but the F 900 XR is a sweeter bike to ride overall.

It has the same brawny engine and the same reassuring stability through corners, but is easier to turn while being much comfier to sit on.

The XR hints at that friendliness with its styling, which pairs coquettish proportions with doe-eyed lamps. There's even a windscreen you can raise and lower with a flick of your fingers, which is the sort of thoughtful touch that BMW seems to prioritise.

Everyone thinks the R 1250 GS is the BMW motorcycle to have, but the F 900 XR has much of that legendary bike's appeal for roughly two-thirds the price. It's comfy, effortless to ride and makes corners fun instead of scary, and is far easier to push around the car park, especially if you're on the pipsqueak side like me.

For middleweight bikes, the two F 900s are surprisingly well equipped, too.

They come with keyless ride (meaning you can start and ride them as long as the key is somewhere on you), a quick-shifter system for clutchless gear changes, traction control, cornering anti-lock brakes, and even active LED headlamps that light up the inside of a bend when you lean the bike over.

Both also come with BMW's 6.5-inch digital dashboard, which in turn enables all sorts of digital wizardry. People my age usually run screaming from digital gimmickry, but the F 900s' dashboard is a treat.

For one thing, it's easy to read even in bright sunshine, and for another, it's surprisingly easy to use. There's a little scroll wheel and toggle switch, and using them is so intuitive a full-grown adult could handle it.

Because we live in the Instagram era, there is of course a companion app that lets you pair your phone with your F 900 and do all sorts of digital things. You can share pics from your ride and record your riding data throughout the route, like how fast you went through some bends and what your maximum lean angles were.

That latter feature will turn you into an annoying twit who insists on asking everyone else how far they leaned their bike over (45 degrees for me!), but it's one of the things that helps to lift the F900s above their rivals.

At their core, the F900 R and XR are jolly fun to ride, yet they come with the sort of equipment that you usually find on pricier machines, along with a five-year warranty. That suggests that they're meant to lure riders away from other brands, and that in the middleweight category, BMW wants to be a heavyweight player.

BMW F 900 R

Engine 895cc, 8V, twin cylinder
Power 105hp at 8,500rpm
Torque 92nm at 6,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed with up-down quickshifter
0-100km/h 3.7 seconds
Top Speed More than 200km/h
Seat Height 815mm
Agent Performance Motors Ltd
Price S$31,000 on-the-road (including COE, COE subsidy and Road Tax)
Available Now

BMW F 900 XR

Engine 895cc, 8V, twin cylinder
Power 105hp at 8,500rpm
Torque 92Nm at 6,500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed with updown quickshifter
0-100km/h 3.6 seconds
Top Speed More than 200km/h
Seat Height 825mm
Agent Performance Motors Ltd 
Price SS$33,800 on-the-road (including COE, COE subsidy and Road Tax)
Available Now

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