BMW World Superbike
Racing to win is a very hard game, indeed. Completely unreasonable, it requires absolute commitment. It has been said, "Winning only takes one thing-everything you’ve got," and that is no exaggeration.
The end benefit for the consumer is two-fold. Not only do we get the entertainment value of watching our heroes battle it out on track, but as riders we also benefit from the research and development that manufacturers are forced to accomplish in this high-speed pressure-cooker. One recent example is the superb cross-plane crankshaft developed by Yamaha for its MotoGP racer-now found on the street-going YZF-R1.
The motorcycle arm of BMW has now plunged headlong into the competition deep-end too. It started in late 2004 when the management team concluded they needed a superbike. "We wanted to attract some youth to the brand, but also we were concerned that our motorcycle image didn’t match the dynamic image of our car brand," Pieter de Waal, Vice President of BMW Motorrad USA recalls. "And it didn’t take us long to spot the huge, juicy market segment that is superbike." The goal was obvious-BMW would build a street motorcycle that could compete head-to-head with the Japanese. To accomplish that objective, first BMW had to go racing.
The outrageously competitive World Superbike series was the obvious venue, and Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus-both proven World Superbike winners-were hired to ride BMW’s new machine for 2009. The results showed early promise, and although the scorecards since have not necessarily reflected how well they have done, in lap times, BMW has been tantalizingly close to the front-runners. Berti Hauser, BMW Race Team Manager, is sanguine about the progress so far and went into this most recent round of the championship in the USA with some optimism. Sadly, his buoyancy proved a little premature, and Team BMW floundered.
Struggling for rear end grip, the superbike’s traction control was cutting in too early and ruining the bike’s drive off the corners. For the first time this season, Troy and Reuben found themselves starting from the last two rows of the grid. By race day, Hauser confided, "I’m not angry; I can’t even say I’m disappointed. My overwhelming feeling is just of complete surprise. This problem came out of nowhere, so now we have to go back to the factory, analyze the data and figure out a solution."
Although the weekend was not great for the race team, for the consumer, it was a memorable one. BMW unveiled the street version of its superbike for the first time on American soil. The fully rideable, pre-production S 1000 RR is certainly a head-turner. Unconventional looking, it is essentially divided along its length into a so-called "Split Face."
Love it or hate it, the short and low front end, the high and compact rear, and the slender fairing definitely give the bike a very sporting appearance. Head on, the visual differences between the main and high-beam headlights echo an endurance racebike where the numbers form one half, and a projector headlamp the other. This asymmetric design also creates a machine with unmatched sides. The left side of the fairing has a large hot air exit, while the right side has an unmistakable shark-gills look.
The 999cc across-the-frame four-cylinder engine is ride-by-wire, develops a claimed 193 horsepower, and tops out at a shrieking 14,200 rpm. Maximum torque of 82.5 ft/lbs, booms in at 9750 rpm. Leveraging BMW’s Formula 1 experience, the four titanium valves per cylinder are operated by lightweight cam followers, and the camshaft is driven via an intermediate gear that enables the sky-high rev ceiling. The motor, with its six-speed gearbox, is light and compact, and the short engine length allows for a long swing arm for optimum traction. The optional Gearshift Assistant facilitates clutchless upshifts, and the slipper clutch has a magnesium cover. Advanced exhaust management with controlled three-way catalytic converters keeps things green.
Weighing a claimed 455 pounds in road trim, BMW claims the S 1000 RR to be the lightest production liter-bike available with ABS (Honda claims 461 pounds for the new CBR1000RR ABS). BMW’s optional proprietary Dynamic Traction Control system measures and evaluates not only wheel speeds, but also bank angle, and thus controls wheelspin by retarding the ignition as well as reducing the throttle butterfly position.
For different grip conditions, the S 1000 RR engine management offers four riding modes. Rain Mode provides a soft torque curve and reduces power output to 150 horses. Sport Mode allows full engine output and a tighter connection to the throttle. Specifically for track use, the Race Mode also has the full power of the engine available, as well as a throttle response that is significantly more dynamic.
The Slick Mode is intended exclusively for racing on the track using slick tires. Like the Race Mode, this setting not only provides full engine power, but also brings in the traction control permanently at extreme lean angles. This, in turn, allows the rider to wheelie for up to five seconds and ensures optimum acceleration on corner exit.
The first three modes are activated by a handlebar switch but Slick Mode must be activated by a code plug inserted into the control unit beneath the seat.
BMW is aiming to price the S 1000 RR "within $1000 of the competition," which will prove interesting. Of course, the race livery is an extra cost option.
With typical aplomb-and armed with the core belief that German engineering is at least superior to anything else out there-BMW has decided to not only produce a top-level street and racing motorcycle, but to design and engineer almost every part of it in-house. That is a daunting challenge, indeed. There are certainly quirky aspects to the design, but it’s absolutely spectacular. One thing is for sure, the factory’s stubbornness will ensure that they keep at it with all the commitment they need, until they achieve success. The top racers in the world never, ever give up, and BMW will not be any different.