First ride: BMW S1000RR superbike stuns us at Portimao
December 8, 2009
For a company which has never built a four-cylinder uncompromising sports machine before, this first effort is incredible. With its combination of breathtaking power, agile handling and incredible rider assistance technologies, BMW’s S 1000 RR could well become the benchmark sportsbike against which all others are compared. Where better to take a first ride of this monster than the glorious Portimao racetrack in Portugal, with a wet morning to test the amazing Race ABS and traction control systems, and a dry afternoon to open BMW's sportiest bike ever up to its full 193-horsepower motherlode - Cycle Torque's Nigel Paterson reports from the world press launch.
The BMW S 1000 RR is, of course, the basis for the model Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus have been riding in the Superbike World Championship. As such, some will dismiss the bike as a ‘loser’ because neither rider has been able to put the bike at the top of the podium, but unless you’re considering building a bike to put on the grid next to Troy and Ruben, you’d be crazy to do so; after all, it took Yamaha over 20 years to win its first SWC title, but that has never stopped the R1 being an awesome supersport machine.
Rider Assistance Technology
BMW has long been in front of the pack in the use of technology to make riding safer and more accessible to a greater number of riders. The most obvious example is anti-lock braking, which is either standard or an option on nearly all BMW’s road bikes. With the K 1300 S BMW introduced its Gearshift Assist, which most of us call a quickshift - no need to back off the throttle when changing up, just bang it through and the unit will back off the power just enough to swap cogs.
Also introduced with the K 1300 S was DTC (Dynamic Traction Control). This system monitors the relative speeds of each wheel and reduces power output when slip is detected – thus reducing the intensity and length of a throttle-induced slide. While it can’t prevent all highside crashes, it’ll prevent most of them.
For the S 1000 RR, BMW is taking these technologies a few steps further. The DTC and ABS are a option which adds about AU$2,500 to the base price: so it’s around AU$25,000 plus on road costs.
DTC offers four modes - Rain, Sport, Race and Slick. Out of the crate the system doesn’t offer slick - it’s designed for slick tyres, after all - but it can be activated easily by your dealer (and is essential if you want to pull big wheelies).
Modes are controlled by a button on the left handlebar, and can be changed on the move, too, and the system retains the mode you were in last when re-starting.
Here’s what BMW says about each mode:
“When riding on a wet surface with reduced grip, the Rain Mode automatically reduces maximum output to 110 kW (150 hp). This mode also provides a particularly homogenous power and torque curve, with engine response and power build-up by the engine being extra-smooth and soft.
When riding on a dry surface the Sport Mode provides full engine output of 142 kW (193 hp) in combination with even more spontaneous and direct response to the throttle. This mode is intended above all for use on country roads.
The Race Mode has been developed specifically for racing the S 1000 RR on race tracks using street-legal supersports tyres. Here again the rider benefits from the full power of the engine, with an even more direct and significantly more dynamic response at all speeds.
The Slick Mode is intended exclusively for racing on the track using slick tyres. Like the Race Mode, this mode not only provides full engine power, but also ensures very direct engine response for racing or riding under race-like conditions. Contrary to the Race Mode, the Slick Mode allows DTC Dynamic Traction Control to cut in permanently only from a side angle of 20 degrees. This, in turn, allows the rider to wheelie for up to five seconds when leaning over to an angle of less than 20 degrees, ensuring optimum acceleration and pulling force when accelerating out of a bend.”
At the launch we certainly had the chance to test the systems, but there’s a lot to learn and anyone who thinks they can fully understand the implications of all these systems in a single day is kidding themselves, but with a wet track early in the day, we certainly were able to learn a lot about these new technologies. Firstly, let me say I have never ridden so fast with so much confidence on a wet race track.
On a bike I’ve never ridden, on a track I hadn’t seen and with water all over the surface, I was grateful it wasn’t still raining. But I was having a ball, driving the latest Interact Metzeler tyres hard out of turns and letting the DTC tame down the power delivery. The result was forward momentum which was shockingly quick for the conditions.
I’ve always respected BMW’s ABS systems for road use, and even on a big, heavy bike like the K 1300 S, it’s OK on a track for ride days. On the S 1000 RR though it’s unobtrusive - there if you need it, transparent if you don’t. I squeezed the brake lever hard to try to activate the ABS without outbraking myself into a turn or crashing, but all that happened was the bike would slow down, not do anything untoward.
How does it all work? This is from BMW’s press kit: “Pulling the handbrake lever, the rider activates the double-disc brake at the front, while brake pressure on the rear-wheel brake remains at a low level. Pressing the footbrake lever, the rider then activates the rear-wheel brake as well. In the Race and Slick Modes, the rear-wheel lift-off detector does not intervene in the rider’s braking action, allowing him to apply the brakes even harder whenever required, for example on slightly undulating surfaces and where the motorcycle has adequate grip.
In the Slick Mode the rider still has ABS on both wheels when pulling the handbrake lever alone. Then, pressing down the footbrake, the particularly experienced rider is able to go into a brake drift without having to forego the benefits of front-wheel ABS. In other words, ABS no longer cuts in on the rear wheel when pressing down the footbrake lever. As soon as the rider pulls the handbrake lever, the pressure sensor integrated in the front-wheel control circuit switches on the brake light and the pump, the latter immediately delivering brake fluid through the open valve to the rear wheel circuit.
The pressure set in the rear wheel circuit is measured by a second pressure sensor and is controlled according to the distribution of brake power required and the brake force generated by the rider. The third pressure sensor in the rear control circuit, finally, measures the brake pressure activated by the rider‘s foot.”
The brakes themselves are twin floating 320mm steel discs gripped by massive radially-mounted Brembo calipers. Serious stopping power, folks - so much early bite it really took me a while to get used to them. The rear brake is a 220mm disc with a single piston caliper– but as I didn’t like the position of the pedal, I didn’t use it much.
Pressure sensors, wheel speed sensors and a myriad of other technology is used to make all these systems work and during the launch they certainly did their job. I wouldn’t buy an S 1000 RR without the Race ABS and DTC.
The specifications sheet makes the S1000 sound almost conventional. Four cylinders inline, DOHC, four titanium valves per cylinder, fuel injection, large bore and short stroke for high revs - this is the formula of the Japanese contenders since they started adopting injection over a decade ago.
But BMW didn’t copy, it innovated. Intake velocity stacks alter the length of the intake manifold depending on engine rpm, boosting top-end power without crippling bottom end. A very high compression ratio of 13:1 without problems has contributed to the high performance, but be sure to use premium fuel to get that top performance.
There are lightweight single-cam followers opening the valves which are in turn controlled by a cam driven via an intermediate gear to keep the top-end as light as possible for higher revs. With a redline at 14,200rpm, BMW appears to have succeeded.
Air is feed into the machine between the headlights, through the frame to the the airbox. This ram-air effect increases horsepower at high speed by pressurising the airbox and force-feeding air into the engine. Butterfly valves in the exhaust system control back pressure and noise there’s a pair of catalytic converters in the collector box near the stumpy muffler.
The net result is a claimed output of 193HP at 13,000rpm. Go to the top of the class BMW. There might be a lot of horses available, but they are tightly controlled ponies. On a wet circuit - admittedly in Rain Mode, which cuts output to 150HP - there’s usable power down low and a flexible midrange. Combined with the Dynamic Traction Control and the Race ABS, the S 1000 RR is a very fast motorcycle when there’s water where you’d rather it wasn’t. As the track dried out I switched to Sport mode, and the boost in performance - especially at the top end - is immediately apparent. The S1000 goes from being fast to being a rocketship, launching out of turns and eating up the undulating Portimao circuit.
With the dry track came more revs - it was nice to get out of the midrange and into the blistering top end. At Portimao the entry to the straight is a long, long downhill righthander which dips down near it’s entry - you’ve already got the bike leaned over, hard on the power when you go over this hump, which makes the whole bike go light, making the tyres fight for traction. And did I mention the entry is blind?
The fast guys through here have large titanium you-know-whats, and I wasn’t one of them, but by my own more modest abilities I was still going fast enough to know I was alive and would prefer to stay that way. But the S 1000 RR underneath me didn’t care. It just gripped and drove as hard as I would twist the throttle and by the time we’d completed the turn, gone back uphill a little onto the straight and headed under the start-finish lights there was close to 250 registering on the big digital speedo.
This bike is seriously fast, in a straight line and around corners.
Flicking through the gears on an S1000 is even more fun than it ought to be, thanks to the quickshifter, which is standard on Australian models but not overseas. There’s a six-speed ’box with a slipper clutch, all pretty standard form these days in the class. I didn’t miss a shift during the launch: the quickshifter makes going up as easy as a flick of the boot, the slipper keeps the back end in line if you’re ham-fisted with the lever under brakes. Both features make getting around a track that little bit easier and will slice a little off your lap times.
Chassis & Suspension
The powerplant is hung from an alloy chassis. The main structure of the frame is a pair of large beams joining the swingarm to the steering head. They go almost vertical before bending once and making a straight line to the steering head.
The suspension is also good. Made to BMW specifications by Sachs, the fat 46mm forks, fully adjustable rear shock and awesome, massive, banana-shaped double-sided swingarm which rides in an eccentric mount so it’s position can be adjusted. To me, it’s a beautiful thing. I want to hang one in my office, so I can look at an example of elegant engineering every time I come to work. Yes, I know that makes me sound like someone who indulges in too much self-pleasuring, but if I wasn’t passionate about the bikes, I wouldn’t be writing this now…
BMW has learnt from others’ mistakes - the suspension is clearly marked with numbers so you can see at a glance what the setting is. No more counting clicks, and you can make some of the adjustments with the bike’s key, to boot. Oh, if all suspension was so easy to adjust…
I was disappointed to discover the rear shock’s preload wasn’t so easily adjusted - although BMW assured me there’s a tool supplied with the bike which makes the job, well, less of a pain. Personally I think the slight weight penalty paid for an hydraulic adjuster would be worth the few hundred grams, but then I’m someone who does actually adjust their suspension.
Having said that, I didn’t play with the suspension settings during this launch, at least not enough to come to any conclusions. With just a handful of track sessions available on a brand new bike on a track I’d never seen before and the first two of those sessions being wet, I decided fairly early in the day that if the suspension felt OK, I wouldn’t mess with it much, leaving that sort of fine tuning to my local launch of the bike, which is slated for February. It was and I did: the bike’s suspension felt fine, and for someone of my ability - quick road rider, competent on a track, not a racer - it felt like a little tuning with the clickers and preload would make it excellent.
In the real world
The launch of the S 1000 RR didn’t include any riding away from the track, but I’m willing to make a few predictions. Firstly, this is typical Supersport, not typical BMW - the riding position, aggressive with low handlebars and high footpegs, won’t suit everyone. The fairing, for all it’s wind-tunnel developed penetration, will offer little weather protection. And the compact nature of the S1000 will make it less than perfect for anyone tall - I am, and found the riding position on the track to be OK. I reckon I’d prefer a K 1300 S for most road use though.
As a ride day bike the S 1000 RR has gone to the top of my ‘most desired’ list. The combination of high performance, useful technology and active safety make me want one for those high-speed road rides and track use.
What about racing, you ask? Not sure yet, is my answer right now. It will be interesting to see if the optional DTC and Race ABS is permitted by the racing authorities in the Superstock class, and if so it will make this machine very competitive, especially in the wet. On the other hand, it’s a new bike from a manufacturer not known for its race bikes, so development could be difficult and frustrating: in that sense it could be a bit of a gamble.
From a value point of view the BMW is more expensive - but not excessively so - than the Japanese machines but cheaper than the higher-specced Italian sportsbikes. As such, I think it will find a market. BMW Australia had taken 100 deposits prior to the Sydney Motorcycle Show and isn’t likely to get more than 200 units for the whole year, so if you’re keen you might have to make a decision fast. It's not clear what stock levels will be like worldwide.
Demonstration models should be in dealers during February for you to check out.
Nigel Paterson is the Publisher of Australia's Cycle Torque magazine.