The BMW S1000RR has been with us for three years now, but when it was launched in 2010 it marked a new era in the Sportsbike market. The original bike cost £12,500 (£11,190 standard model) and the 2010 models still fetch around the £8,000 mark now, but you can’t deny that in the M-sport colours it is a cracking looking machine. There are a couple of nice examples on ebay right now.
Electronic adjustment and rider aids are almost common place on motorcycles now, just 3 years later, but it was a different story when the S1000 came out. So what did we make of the Bavarian beast? Below is the launch report from Jon Pearson from the February 2010 issue of SuperBike magazine.
Four and a half years in development and 300 bikes
later, BMW finally releases its S1000RR. So look out
Japan, the Germans are… CATCHING UP FAST
Words: Jon Pearson Pics: Jason Critchell
It’s funny, but I thought there was a recession on. Buoyed by as many households owning a 1200GS as own a Nintendo Wii, * BMW is ignoring the economic doldrums we’re in and carrying on like it just doesn’t care. *Facts totally made-up at the time of writing. A world bike launch doesn’t come cheap and it wasn’t the only one either, with enough pre-launch ‘launches’ creating more hype than most companies generate for three models. Other facts suggest BMW is doing OK: being one of the few major manufacturers at the 2009 NEC show, running a full-scale World Superbike team plus the Munich mob hasn’t been in much of a hurry to get the bike into the showrooms to try to recoup on its investment either. Four and a half years in development adds up to an age of expense. In a climate where Honda, the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, is holding off new models and pulling funds from race teams both on and off road in domestic and world championships, BMW looks to be sailing on different seas. With so many GS Adventure bikes sold, it’s true to say BMW is probably sailing with the wind in its sails rather than against the current but, judging by the positive and confident air of BMW bods at the Portimao world press launch, it’s probably a BMW designed wind turbine blowing them all along. While BMW might not be as big as Honda, it does have enormous resources to put behind a project like the S1000RR and its development team. BMW ‘divisions’ in Munich have a scale unbelievable and no doubt enviable to bike manufacturers like, for instance, Triumph. BMW’s intention with its 1000RR is to move on and, in doing so, attract new customers. The thing is, there are a lot of BMW owners in the world and there are a lot of sports bike owners out there too. So if it can a) get some of its existing customers to buy something sporty it’ll sell more bikes and b) if it can rob some customers from other sportsbike manufacturers will, hopefully, enjoy some double-bubble. Thus, the S 1000RR is a brand new model from the ground up but you probably knew that since we’ve been reading about it for years. The project began in 2005 and we’ve been seeing spy pictures, being drip-fed snippets of info, going on non-riding launches, seeing more images, learning that BMW employees were riding them as test mules – the list goes on. There’s a couple of them in the World Superbike paddock too in case you hadn’t noticed. BMW means business with the S 1000RR and it has been trying to make you, yes you, sit-up and take notice.
Much like Honda’s CBR1000RR, I had to ignore the slightly ugly front end and poor choice of colour (there are prettier ones in the range) when I first stepped on it. I’ll confess I wasn’t quite sure how good the bike was going to be either. I’ve never ridden a BMW road bike that actually worked in the way my sport oriented brain expects a bike to. I want and demand forks and brakes which react normally when I ask them to do things under me. As a rule BMWs don’t do that. This one does. Right from the start it feels good, normal, right and conforms to none of the usual BMW traits, and just like the Fireblade, it inspires confidence. The most immediate thing you feel is a lack of weight and agility, even if you only sit on it and move it side to side between your legs. Out on track for the first time six-foot me fits on it nicely and the lithe nature makes it quick to hit lines around the Portimao track. Within a lap I stop messing about and crack on. I’m wary of heaping too much praise on it so early on in the day but I’m finding it hard. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been on a new model launch and ridden a bike only to find a slightly more sorted machine appear two years later. This doesn’t feel like a brand new model, there aren’t any slight niggles I can find and BMW was quick to point out the long gestation period was always the plan to make sure the S1000RR was “as good as we could make it” according to BMW Development and Model executive, Christian Landerl. 300 BMW staff of all shapes and sizes on 300 bikes have been doing the job that most manufacturers would have let us get on with. After doing all the design, research and development the Munich firm’s employees (having signed a strict contract to speak to no-one) have been riding around for much of 2009, clocking up “over a million kilometres” and getting those final gremlins ironed out. Gremlins like the slight edge being knocked off the tank so you feel it better on the inside of your arm in a corner.
With more time and laps under my belt the S1000RR continues to impress and I’m conscious of those million kilometres contributing to my comfortable riding position. What I can’t help noticing is how little time I’m spending riding ‘normally’. Each time out on track I can’t help myself and manage about half a lap before setting off like I’m in a qualifying session (fortunately the new Metzeler Racetec Interacts are up for it on the warm Portuguese Portimao circuit. It’s hard not to feel totally confident because it’s stable and rarely gets in a flap. Portimao has some blindingly fast off-camber corners, which (already!) have some decent bumps in them. The last corner is the worst. It comes up on you quickly, rising slightly before falling away fast, bumpy and off-camber as you try and turn and get on the power for the long, long straight. A heavy or cumbersome chassis would be hard work to turn in and keep on line as the track falls away from you, as speed increases and the unsettling bumps try to make it as hard as possible. The S1000RR deals with all these questions of its chassis with confidence; it’s agile turning in, settled and accurate as the track falls and is un-flustered across the bumps leaving you free to only worry about getting on the power as early as you dare. Of all its litre sportsbike rivals I’d say the Fireblade and Aprilia RSV4 Factory are the two which answer each of those questions as well as that.
The net result, and what Honda’s Fireblade likely won’t be able to do as strongly, is exiting a corner with astonishing speed. Letting the Dynamic Traction Control, Metzeler Racetecs and the quickshifter do all the hard work, all you have to do is open the throttle and hang on. Down Portimao’s long, long straight finally sees 280kph (175mph) click past on the dashboard. It went higher still, judging by the engine note, but I was too busy worrying about braking for turn one by that point. I had a K7 GSX-R1000 which was blindingly fast in standard trim, with a lighter exhaust system and Power Commander fitted, it turned into a rocketship on track.
The S1000RR has all the eye-opening character of my tweaked GSX-R. BMW’s claimed 190-plus bhp is optimistic, but 10 less might not be out the question.
Traction control has been in car racing for decades, in MotoGP for half a dozen years or so to great effect and these days is as much part of a racing team’s package as having a kettle in the corner for tea. Ducati was the first manufacturer to do it properly on a road sportsbike with the 1098R and then its 1198. Several manufacturers have been playing with electronic power ‘options’ for a few years, most visibly Suzuki on the GSX-R with its three-mode handlebar switch. It’s reasonable to imagine that there’s more going on underneath all our bikes these days than we know about, but BMW has decided to go the whole hog with variable intakes, traction control, anti-wheelie (though we can’t call it that), variable ‘sport’ ABS and onboard gyroscopes.
A la mode
I rode what will be called the ‘Sport’ model in the UK which comes with all those optional extras fitted (for 1,400 quid more than the standard bike at £11,190). I suppose all that matters is whether it all works or not. Whether it intrudes on the riding experience or hinders it, or whether it helps it and makes you ride better. I tried all the various modes, setting off in ‘Rain’ mode for a few laps before switching to ‘Sport” for the rest of the session. There’s also ‘Race’, ‘ Slick’ and quite rightly the ‘everything turned-off’ option. The options are intend to give you choices depending on conditions, experience or tyres with each setting subtly tweaking the level of ‘control’ the bike has over your intentions (or lack of). The way it works and feels on track is pretty progressive, with the rain mode being too intrusive in the dry conditions here but arguably the ‘turned-off’ mode being harder work. Between them Sport, Race and Slick provide ever decreasing amounts of intrusion on your braking and/or accelerating. So in Sport mode if you out-brake yourself you’ll likely feel some pulsing at the lever where-as in Slick mode you’d be hard pushed to notice it on a warm tyre on a dry track. Similarly the traction control is very noticeable in Rain and Sport but into Race and Slick modes you start to feel the back drifting (see separate box out on how it all works). Race mode turned out to be the best on this track test I reckon. Like the Ducati 1198 here a year ago I quickly got used to the idea of nailing the throttle hard out the corners and just letting the back tyre drift slightly (and the traction control hold it there). The difference is the BMW doesn’t have quite the same poise or easy nature the rest of the time. It’s great fun and very addictive when you get the confidence to do it. It’s slightly smoother than the Ducati system though, particularly early in the corner when you first get on the throttle. Like I said earlier, it’s hard not to feel totally confident on the S1000RR. The ABS is as sophisticated as it currently comes on road bikes and for 99 per cent of the time perfectly competent. Lighter than Honda’s very effective sport ABS on the Fireblade, it’s arguably cleverer with the amount of ABS intervention varying depending on the ‘mode’ you’re in. In the lower modes it’s too intrusive on this dry track and interprets the tiny amounts of air you get braking over bumps as the wheel slipping. The ABS kicks in, lets off the brake pressure for a few feet and you inevitably end up running wide in the corner. In ‘Race” or ‘Slick’ modes though it is barely detectable, especially as in ‘Slick’ it only operates on the front wheel.
It won’t come as a surprise for you to learn BMW has made a very good job of the S1000RR. Maybe you were expecting a bike for a bearded blokes who wear daft-looking helmets with clear visors. Let me tell you it isn’t. A decent road riding was lacking on the launch and the proof of the pudding will definitely be next spring when we get it alongside some of its rivals. It’s hard not to compare the S1000RR with its litre rivals but I don’t really see it. In the flesh it looks more like a combination of the RSV4, the ZX-10R and Triumph’s old 955i Daytona. The truth is it compares with all the current models; in a nutshell, it’s smaller and more agile than the GSX-R but as settled; it’s as easy to get along with as the ‘blade, as exciting as the ZX-10R but has all the electronic gizmos and stonking brakes of the Ducati – what’s not to like? Of course, prices are important and at £12,500 the cost of this Sport model looks like a lot alongside its Japanese in-line four rivals, despite them all being at least a year old. The Yamaha R1 is just over £11,000, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 roughly £10,000 while the three year-old Kawasaki ZX-10R and Honda Fireblade are £9,499 and £9,221 respectively. But you’re getting more for your money, a chunk more than similarly priced Aprilia RSV4 R (at £12,499). It’s hard to tell how residual values will hold, but you’d suspect a 2010 S1000RR will be a better bet than a 2010 CBR1000RR (basically a three year-old model) in a year’s time. However, the real crux of the matter is how it works and while there was a lot oftalk about it being a replica of this or that I certainly didn’t feel it. The ‘feel’ is light and agile, planted, confident and very, very fast. It’s a list of words I definitely want to find in a sportsbike bike. There’s also a lot of technology to play with and enjoy, especially on track. If there are comparisons lurking in the character, spec-sheet and performance then they’re in some of the best bits from across the litre sportsbike class – Japanese, Italian and Austrian alike.