Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Popular Mechanics South Africa|Popular Mechanics September/October 20 21
BMW believes its new F 900 XR is more than a super commuter. Challenge accepted – we took the high road and put it to the touring test.
Peter Frost
My morning commute is, as AA Gill might have said, as predictable as a cheese sandwich. Trevor in his M3 – I know this from his personalised number plate – not happy until his organs are jostling for space inside him, is lane hopping and usually ends up back where he started. The Renault Megane incubus, in a puffer jacket, has a rictus grin as he checks in every morning for his traffic jam Zoom meeting. The Fortuner tailgater tribe, reliving the weekend’s Cederberg obstacle heroics. The hands-free make-up artist in an Audi Q2, the counterpoint khakis in 30-year-old bakkies held together with hope and desperation. But most predictable of all is the peloton of BMW F 800s that crawl carefully past me, a tightknit, button-down platoon, 6:15 am alarms synchronised so they all appear at the R26 traffic light together. These Five-GoAdventuring types are always in spotless dayglo all-weathers, headed to a brace of sit-ups at the gym, a low-sodium packed lunch dug out of their Thule backpacks and the rigours of a cost-benefit analysis report ahead, due Friday.

For these Everymen did BMW make the biking equivalent of a spagbol – the absolutely predictable, entirely familiar family of adventure commuters known as the F-series. These paralleltwins helped the maker sell more than 180 000 bikes in 2019. But even as the dad bikes were flying out the showroom, BMW Motorrad CEO Markus Schramm was hinting that the sector needed something of a hot curry to wake it up. That kick turned out to be 2020’s F 900 R and XR. Spagbol in the hands of Gordon Ramsay. Take the recipe and play. F 900 XR, suggested BMW, could tour as well as commute.

It’s 7 am on a freezing-cold Karoo morning. Out on the R27 heading east beyond Vanrhynsdorp on the F 900 XR, I’m wondering if this was such a good idea. Months before (see the May/June issue of PM) I’d aced the Northern Cape on the 900’s (much) bigger brother, the addictive S 1000 XR, a stellar achievement as certifiable as it has been successful. It’s far colder now, wetter too, a strong westerly whipping across the Knersvlakte and I’m missing the large fairing of the S 1000. The F 900 XR, unlike its naked brother, the F 900 R, has an adjustable two-stage fairing, but it’s battling to keep the tempest at bay.

I check the bike’s rear-view mirror. Nothing. Or at least a whole lot of everything – huge sky, a brindle of complementary earth tones. Ahead, Vanrhyns Pass, snaking up the West Coast escarpment into Nieuwoudtville and clivia country. Beyond the little town I would breathe easier and easier; Calvinia with its silly postbox and glorious Hantam range; the loneliest turn-off in the world to Kenhardt up the R27; and straight on, past whitepainted stone corbelled houses, the sweet, sweet R63 getting ever rarer, a black ribbon through a convex landscape of endless space. Free of taxis, trucks, load-shedding and COVID anxiety.

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