A little bit of a BMW S1000RR based #throwbackthursday special today. A couple of seasons ago we were invited to Imola to ride the Goldbet BMW WSB, Superstock and road going bikes. The aim was simple, I wanted to find out what happened when you put a very average track day rider on a very unaverage BMW S1000RR. How much faster could I go on Melandri’s bike compared to the road going version. Here’s the feature in full.
Most of you think that most of us are spoilt bastards. Normal people like you don’t get ridiculous jobs like mine. Getting paid to ride free motorbikes and write about it! Pfft, you can only get a job like that if your parents are minted enough to send you to the right school, or you know someone that knows someone that gets you a job because you once lapped Cadwell so fast that when you took off over The Mountain, it was 1955 when you landed.
Neither of those things apply to me. I didn’t quite grow up living under a bridge, but I know what shovel blisters taste like. I also know how to do that thing where you pretend your cash card got declined because it must be scratched, when you know full well its because there’s no money left. Does that make me normal? Does that make me just like you? Maybe. In fact, most of you probably own your own road legal bike. That’s one up on me, you bunch of spoilt bastards.
So how in the holy fuck did I find myself being handed a World Superbike, at Imola? More importantly, what does it feel like when a decidedly average fast group slugger swings a leg over one of the top five fastest superbikes in the world?
The mid season press test is a pretty bold move by BMW. Journo rides traditionally happen once the season has finished, that way it doesn’t matter so much if a bike gets crashed. Kind of like streaking at Twickenham two hours after the final whistle. Imola is only round seven, which, for all the brainiacs out there clearly isn’t the end of the season. BMW and the Goldbet team think that by the end of the season, people have lost interest in racing, so they leave the garages set up and the hospitality keeps a few beers on ice after the Imola round, in preparation for us lucky souls.
Four steps to madness
Before I’d get the chance to experience the Superbike, I had to suffer the indignity of getting my eye in on a standard BMW S1000RR, the HP4 version and then a World Superstock championship-leading bike. This would not be an average Tuesday in the office.
As if getting to ride the bikes isn’t enough, we got to spend the evening before with the team and the riders. Chaz Davies hosted my table like a champ, chatting in as much detail about the test session he’d finished hours before as he thought we could stomach. He didn’t once jam an energy drink in my face and he could call his bike ‘my bike’ without first saying the name of five sponsors. Mr Davies made it straight onto my list of racers that I hate even more because they’re nice guys as well as fast as ten men.
A sleepless night followed, running lines in my head around a circuit I’ve only ridden once before. Imola is a beautiful place. Take Cadwell Park and stretch it to the size of Donington Park. Now chuck in a few lottery-winner’s houses on some of the best corners, then replace most of the ugly bearded marshals we get with pretty ladies. Honestly, it’s an amazing place to ride any bike, let alone this lot.
The circuit brief is hilarious. An Italian grandma translates for the shouty man with the creepy preened eyebrows ‘Thee grass is a not so grippya’. Righto, cheers, Sherlock. ‘Thee firsta sector is a beautiful grip, justa like Mewjello!’ Perfect, if you’ve ridden Mugello, which I haven’t. We’re told all the bikes will run a race pattern shift and that the superbike will be on slicks. All seems fairly straightforward. We’re then told that it would be a bad thing if we crash the race bikes as they only have one of each (Davies and Melandri Superbikes and Barrier and Gildenhuys Superstocks), I’ll admit I gulped a little at that one. Looking round the room I could see forty odd journos all looking for the bloke in the room that could cock this up for everyone. Most of us spotted him straight away.
We’d each get four laps on each bike. Sixteen laps in quick succession, starting with a standard RR and finishing with the big bike. Goody gumdrops. My time slot doesn’t begin until 14:28pm, it’s 09:37am. Five hours! Five hours hanging around watching every motorcycle journalist in the land potentially ruin my day during their four lap stints. The Brit riders had all backed one of the lanky Russian guys to crash and sure enough he dropped like a toilet seat at the left hand hairpin, its called Tosa, funnily enough. The superstock bike he was riding had cracked a few bits, but he picked it up and carried on riding, then flatly refused to apologise and generally guaranteed that no Russian magazine will ever get an invite to anything like this ever again. Nice job, Dostoyevsky. The team put it back together and the test continued.
After what felt like weeks of sitting in the scorching heat (there was ice cream), I got the nod to kit up and get ready. My plan for the day was simple. See how much faster I could go on Marco Melandri’s Superbike than I could on a bone stock road bike. Then try and answer the question of whether I think the faster bike is worth the difference in price, providing the more expensive bike is the quickest of course.
The 16 laps that follow contain most of the best and some of the worst track riding I’ve ever done.The S1000RR is a rod, we all know that. I don’t need to bore anyone with the technical blurb. The combination of one of my favourite circuits and one of my favourite sports bikes is a good one, despite me not really remembering where to turn, or brake, or get on the gas. I got the feeling that the bike was bouncing around on the tyres, like someone had put a cold pressure into a hot tyre, then stuck some more air in for luck. With an out lap and an in lap, we’d only get two flying laps on each bike, so I sure as hell didn’t want to waste any of mine coming in to adjust something. My technical data analyst (Scott, the BMW UK PR man) stood on the pit lane with a stopwatch and cheered me on, at least I think he was cheering. Anyway, My fastest lap was a 02:28. When you consider that Meerkat Marco did a 01:47, its clear that I’m no racer. It’s also clear that I didn’t remember much from the Ducati 848 EVO launch I did here a few years back.
The HP4 comes next. The difference feels huge. That DDC (dynamic damping control), is no gimmick and I feel settled and relaxed within two corners. Ticking off apexes and generally feeling like I’m completely in charge of what’s going on. I don’t know about you, but I’m a real confidence seeker when I’m on track. If something doesn’t feel right, I stop trying. If I scare myself, most of the time I stop trying. The HP4 steamrolls any confidence issues I have and I have what most riders would call ‘a hot lap’. The faster I go the happier I feel and when I pit I’m tingling. A 02:24 lap on the HP4. Some of which has no doubt come from knowing the track a little better, not all of it though. The motor response and the gearshift feel largely the same on the HP4 and the RR. The brakes and suspension feel miles better everywhere. My notes have the words ‘Flow, Faith, Trust and Fun’ scrawled across the HP4 page. In hindsight, it’s clear that the HP version of the S1000RR is great, possibly the best road bike I’ve ever ridden on track. Judging by my notes, it’s also clear that I was suffering from dehydration and had become slightly delusional.
Sylvain Barrier’s Superstock bike was waiting for me when I got off the HP4. I resisted the urge to jump straight on, instead I grabbed a glug of water and wrote those stupid notes I just made. The journalist that has just finished his slot on it warned me with wide eyes that the front end is as hard as a rock and that I’ll need to climb all over it to get it to turn in. Ooh.
I grab the bike from the team of bored-looking BMW spannermen, jump on like I own the gaff and confidently stride down pit lane in first gear. Inside, I am shitting my pants. My experience with race bikes is fairly limited. I spent a day at Snetterton riding a British Superstock bike, I managed to stall Barry Sheene’s RG500 Suzuki in front of Mick Doohan and about 5,000 people at Goodwood and owned Valentino Rossi’s Ducati MotoGP bike for six point five seconds last year. I also got a controlled lap of the Southern 100 road course on a superstock-spec BMW two years ago. I watch racing on the telly all the time, though.
I’ve honestly never gone so quickly so soon on any other bike I’ve ever ridden. Yes, the front end is rock-solid. Turns out I really like rock solid front ends and by turn three my knee is down and I’m concentrating like a pilot on final approach. The motor feels like a sharp HP4, nothing more. The seat is covered in the grippiest fabric I’ve ever felt and once I’ve set my body position, all I need to focus on is getting the gas back on. The pegs and bars are exactly where I want them, the gearshift a touch high for me but I don’t care. I could have stayed out there all day. Each corner gave me a chance to push my luck with the front end, every time it reassured me and willed me on. From Piratella to Acque Mineralli I feel untouchable.
I’m not, but I feel like it, which is good enough for me. I’m not going to get carried away and say that I could be a racer on a bike like this. But within four laps I’d found the bike and setup of choice if I were ever in a position to buy my own track day bike. It left me salivating, laughing, shaking and confused. The stopwatch said 02:22. That’s only two seconds faster than the HP4, which I could have ridden to the circuit on, but it’s also two seconds quicker than a HP4, which is a freak of road bike science as it is. That two-second gap would grow if I were able to spend more time on the superstocker, I have no doubt about that.
Lap of luxury
Finally, the superbike. I spent a huge portion of my youth sitting on a wall with my best friend, Luke. We’d spend hours talking about riding our dream bikes. For him it was always MX, for me it was always WSB. Until about a week ago, despite being the editor of a magazine like this one, I always assumed there’d be little chance of me getting to ride a bike like this. But here I am, playing it cool with my freshly-painted helmet in my hand, drinking a bottle of water and kicking my feet while I patiently wait for the fresh slicks to cook up in the warmers. Inside I’m waiting for the talent police to arrive at any moment, make an arrest in the name of motorcycling journalism before hauling my ass back to the real world. They don’t show. I’m in.
It has the same profile as the other bikes, but nothing else is the same. From a distance the forks and brakes look busy, up close they’re beautiful. Dry line couplings and bits that you just want to reach out and touch. I do exactly that and the crew look at me like I’m on day release. One of them asks me if I’ve ridden a World Superbike recently, I look at him like he’s on day release and he laughs. He explains the gearbox and how I only need to use the clutch to pull away. I’m used to quick shifting up, but not down.
I think because I didn’t have long enough to work out how to worry about it, it wasn’t an issue, far from it. No, my issues were the brand new slicks and the pegs that were impossibly close to my ass. How the hell does Marco fit on this thing? Ah yes, because he’s a midget, that’s how. The stats I’m handed on Marco say that he’s five feet four. That’s a dirty lie. His head barely reaches my chest, which would make me six foot four, which I’m not. However you look at it, it’s a real struggle to get my feet on the pegs, but once they’re on, we’re off.
I don’t feel anywhere near as comfortable as I did on the previous bike. I think I thought it was going to fire me into the gravel the second I did anything, so for the first half a lap I don’t really do anything and we just roll round together. Coming out of Tosa, I wind it up in second, it feels similar until about two-thirds through the rev range, then it goes mental.
I clap my foot over the gear lever and add another gear, this makes the bike feel normal again and we carry on. Within a lap I have to trust that the tyres are good to go and wind up the pace. I don’t like the feel of the front end, I don’t like the feel of the slicks, I know that I’m going reasonably quick, but I don’t feel like I’m pushing. Those pegs being too high means I can’t get the right foot position, which has a knock on effect with body position. What I end up doing is a 2013 version of Mike the Bike Hailwood and end up running loads of corner speed without sticking my knee out. It’s a weird sensation but it’s working. That gearbox is an absolute peach. Coming down the box without using the clutch makes complete sense to me and I get it straight away. Coming out of Tosa for a second time I know what’s coming, I wind it open and hang on. Second, third and fourth gear are eaten up in the same way that first gear is on the standard bike. The superbike feels nothing like the other three bikes. It’s the scary side of exciting and as I barrel into Piratella I’m completely silent. No giggling or shouting like I usually do. Actually I notice I’m not even breathing, something I used to do when I first started track riding years ago. I’m trying really hard to try hard, something that any track-riding instructor will tell you not to do.
This bike is pissing its pants at my efforts. It doesn’t flatter me like Barrier’s superstock bike. That said I love what it feels capable of doing though and we fly round, my laps over before I know it. Before I say the lap time, I’ll admit to one thing. After seeing Melandri hold my (by now) old mate Chaz Davies off to the line on the telly two days before, I did try and replicate what Marco did coming off the last chicane on one of the laps. Running all the way out to the paint I gas it as hard as I can in first, not much happens until I shift to second, when we pull an unexpectedly sweet wheelie. Chaz would have kicked my ass to the line.
The stopwatch doesn’t lie. It says 02:14. I’m fourteen seconds faster round Imola on a World Superbike than I am on a bike you can ride to Ikea. The price difference is nearly two hundred thousand Euros, the lap time less so unimaginable. If I could somehow gift you all the same day I had, you’d agree with me when I say that a superstock bike is the average man’s superbike. For me it had the perfect balance of power and feel. Not so aggressive that I was scared to ride it, but sharp enough to will me on to push myself. I don’t need cartridge forks and 230hp. I don’t need a bike that only feels happy when it’s being beaten to death by a man that lies about how tall he is. I don’t need geometry anymore aggressive than what’s currently available on finance from Vines in Guildford, providing I don’t get knocked back for the finance, that is.
The BMW S1000RR is still one of the most potent road and track ready bikes that money can buy, more importantly, in my opinion it’s the most flattering litre bike on track for road riders like me and you. Click here to find your nearest BMW dealer and go see for yourself.
Words: Johnatsuperbike Images: BMW