The everyday athlete—BMW F900R Sport

If your big bike budget is in the P600-800k range, there’s no shortage of choices. You have the Japanese liter bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 and Z1000, the Honda CB1000R, the Yamaha MT-09, -10 and retro-styled XSR900, to name a few. BMW have unleashed the F900R roadster into the mix, delivering a sophisticated combination of power, handling and refinement that will satisfy both novice and experienced riders. At P665,000 for the base model, and P775,000 for this “Sport” with all the options, it’s quite competitive.

The heart of the F900R is a watercooled, 895cc, parallel-twin engine rated at 105ps at 8,500 rpm and 92Nm of torque at 6,500rpm. With a 6-speed transmission and optional up- and down- quickshifter, power delivery is meaty from the get-go and the engine pulls lustily to the redline. Designed for enthusiastic, everyday riding rather than all-out performance, gear ratios are fairly close and maximize the broad torque curve. You can short shift just as you would in a car and the bike happily purrs along at a low 3,000rpm in 5th gear and 100kph. But drop down a gear or two, twist the throttle and the bike rockets forward with a delicious howl from the intake pipe.

Top speed is somewhere in the 200kph range according to the brochure, but there wasn’t a safe place for me to find out, and anyway, this isn’t a terminal velocity kind of bike.  Where the bike shines is in spirited highway and mountain riding, the kind where you’re constantly using the top 3 gears, zipping through gaps, and getting some lean angles in the curves without going into wannabe MotoGP territory.

The F900R’s suspension consists of a 43mm upside down fork and a cast aluminum, dual swing arm, central spring strut with adjustable preload and rebound. My test unit had the optional electronically adjustable suspension, for those who don’t like to get their hands greasy. Brakes are dual disc, 4-piston  320mm in front and a single disc, single piston 265mm at the back with ABS. Shod with 120/70 ZR17 front and 180/55 ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax rubber on those beautiful cast aluminum wheels, the F900R holds true to BMW’s philosophy of the chassis being up to the demands of the drivetrain.

The ride is taut without being harsh, sticking like glue on tarmac. The only unpleasantness comes around on broken pavement where the ride turns choppy. Ergonomically, the bike has a semi-crouched position with your legs slightly set back and forearms braced against the handlebar, café racer-style. It’s not super aggressive, but an hour threading SLEX traffic had my traps a little sore afterwards. The seat is firm and nestles you firmly in the trough between the tank and pillion, with a little room at the back to scoot back for a more aggressive position. A removable passenger seat cover gives the bike a sleeker profile.

A lefthand rotary dial manages the TFT screen; you rotate it and nudge it left and right to manage the displays. BMW being BMW, setting up the bike just the way you like it takes around 10 minutes for the new rider to familiarize. A dedicated button lets you set up the electronic suspension, and another sets the engine performance, traction control, and ABS for your riding conditions. “Rain” cuts back engine power and responsiveness to minimize the risk of wheel slippage, “Road” has a nice balance between everyday responsiveness and traction control, and “Dynamic Pro” uncorks all the power with immediate responsiveness.

One could argue that a bike without oodles of power doesn’t really need that much electronic wizardry to keep you rubber side down, but not all riders have precise throttle control. And anyway, for a bike that costs as much as small car it’s better to have these gadgets than not. There are several main display screens to choose from; one with the tachometer dominant for everyday riding, one with a smaller tach and speedometer as well as information for traction control and ABS engagement, and another with a lap timer. For track enthusiasts, there’s a lean angle indicator, too. It’s pretty neat for those who like to refine their line through the corners. Under all light conditions, the TFT screen is easy to see at a glance and, honestly, it’s fun to fiddle with the settings while you’re just parked.

As an all-around street bike, it’s quite a package. While it’s not especially light at 211kg fully fueled, the center of gravity is low. Seat height is 815mm, so riders of average height can at least flat foot the left while the right is firmly on the rear brake at stoplights. In low speed, city traffic, the clutch is light and the engine fuelling is smooth as you putter along at 3,000-4,000rpm. Like all big bikes with high compression, though, engine heat is noticeable at a standstill as hot air is wafted to your lower legs. I just shut off the engine at longer stops to save myself some discomfort.

When you finally hit some open road, it’s a joy to ride hard. The p-twin feels burly and just pushes you forward effortlessly, and the chassis stays on your chosen line with laser like precision and stability. With a 13-liter gas tank and fuel consumption in the 18-22km/l range depending on how frequently you pin the throttle, you get some decent range between fill-ups. The quickshifter, however, isn’t particularly smooth. While it does speed up your shifts by hundredths of a second, it clunks hard on upshifts. I prefer the tactile and aural satisfaction of blipping the throttle and preloading upshifts by myself, but if your goal is superfast lap times then it probably helps.

On the aesthetics side of the equation, as with most naked bikes these days, you either like it or you don’t. The F900R has a lean silhouette and avoids the chunky, big-bellied look of most other bikes in its category, but the angular styling is derivative. Take away the shuriken-like body panels down the front of the tank and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a Japanese bike. If style is the dominant factor in your BMW bike buying decision, the R Nine T is still tops.

For everyday performance and value, however, the F900R is an athlete loaded to the gills with features, always raring to be ridden as casually or as aggressively as you dare. Use it as a commuter and come in to work with a smile on your face that will last the whole day. Take it to the mountains on weekends and hone your skills with a machine that responds like it’s directly wired to your brain. The F900R is a bike you could ride year-round and without regret.

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