Finally, it’s here–BMW’s first-ever superbike for the road, the new 2010 BMW S 1000 RR. In my book, it was always on the cards that BMW would do a very decent job on the first try. That it would in fact be this good, I couldn’t have predicted.
I decided to let loose the full power of BMW’s new superb sports package from the word go. Hence, I turned off both race ABS and the DTC traction control and chose the "slick" option with the mode button. Sure enough, the BMW S 1000 RR felt very powerful and agile through the first corners, but it wasn’t until I accelerated down the Portimao straight for the first time that I really understood that there might just be a true 193 horsepower available underneath me. The BMW raw acceleration through second gear, third, fourth, and fifth just blew me away. Through third and fourth, helped by the little hill taken in fourth, it was difficult to keep the front wheel down on my first couple of laps. The BMW S 1000 RR growls with a little bit of character than, but BMW’s new in-line four 1000cc engine is smoother and less raw than BMW’s in-line four 1300cc engine. Nothing else in the BMW model lineup can prepare you for the S 1000 RR. But, if you’re used to Japanese sportbikes of the highest caliber, then you’ll still feel right at home. If you are looking for the best Bavaria has to offer, the name isn’t HP2 Sport, K or R any longer–it’s now spelled BMW S 1000 RR. As far as the big four Japanese goes, I predict that in a couple of years we’ll be referring to the big five: BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha. The BMW test motorcycles were equipped with the most important optional extras, which are the Race ABS, DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) and the HP Gearshift Assistant (Quickshifter). The most impressive of these are the 4-stage DTC that can be adjusted whilst riding. The mode button located on the right side of the handlebars allows you to change between Rain, Sport, Race and Slick modes. Rain mode is the most restrictive mode and the only mode that also reduces horsepower from 193 to 150. The next step is Sport mode, where the throttle is slightly more aggressive, full power on top, and with wheelie control. For track days and dry riding conditions, the Race mode with full aggressive throttle and power but with some wheelie control still. The fourth and final mode is the Slick option, designed for full on racing with slicks. In the Slick option the traction control will also allow a five-second wheelie at high lean angles for maximum drive out of tight corners. With slicks and a professional rider, this is deemed safe at the highest level. If Race ABS is switched on, only the Slick mode intervenes and shuts ABS on the rear wheel off, but in Slick mode only. Both Race ABS and DTC can be turned off completely, and I rode more than half the day with ABS/DTC off before I tested all the different settings. The traction control and ABS can also be turned off individually. The DTC is definitely the most useful feature on a racetrack, but the Race ABS is also very good. I found it to be a very good idea to ride with the Race ABS and a slightly more intrusive DTC mode such as Race when you are doing the warm up laps on new tires. Because it takes at least 6 seconds to change the ABS or turn DTC off, I went into the box to do this. Changing the DTC modes is done with the button on the right handlebar almost instantly so no need to stop to change riding mode.I really liked BMW’s traction control, and when I finally decided to test the Rain mode, it was evident just how much intervention is provided by the DTC. After riding a whole day in full power mode the S 1000 RR felt like a moped, even with 150 horsepower on tap. The thing with the Rain mode is that the system intervenes even before it has to enabling a perfectly smooth and very safe ride in the most slippery of conditions. The idea is to build confidence and some riders would be put off even with a small slip of the rear or front tire. With BMW’s Race ABS and DTC set to Rain mode, this simply doesn’t happen, as the system is "smart" enough to pre-empt any slip. On Portimao, this was very annoying, so I stopped after two laps to change back to a more "free" setting. There is no doubt in my mind however that the Rain mode will be very useful on the roads in treacherous conditions.Sport mode BMW claims were designed for the exciting back roads many motorcyclists cherish more than anything. We share these roads with all sorts of farm vehicles, gravel in corners, and more, so the intrusion from the DTC is still quite a lot more than the two racing modes. The good thing about the Sport mode is first and foremost the fact that you can still use the throttle quite freely without worrying too much about the varying grip levels, as the DTC will help you with the worst of it. Along with the Race ABS, this should make the countryside just as pleasant as it always is in nearly all conditions–simply good for the blood pressure I dare say.In Racing mode, the throttle is instant but features a little more wheelie control than in Slick mode. The DTC uses the ABS sensors to determine wheel spin even at great lean angels. That’s also the difference between normal ABS and Race ABS by the way and a sophisticated gyroscope provides the data necessary to determine the lean angle. Even the more inexperienced professionals, I was following at Portimao exited corners with wheel spin laying down rubber. In the rider’s seat, you hardly even notice the rear wheel spinning slightly out of corners. It speaks of a very good traction control system.Slick mode is where I spent most of my sessions, as it is the least intrusive selection available with traction control. In Slick mode, the ABS on the rear tire is automatically off if ABS is on at all. It enables racers to slide the rear wheel and apply their own wheelie control by stamping on the rear brake pedal. At the greatest lean angles, the traction control will kick in but will allow a 5-second wheelie for maximum drive out of corners. I loved the traction control in this setting as it does allow really aggressive appliance of the E-gas (ride-by-wire) throttle, but the rear wheel still never goes completely out of shape. I think it’s more exciting to ride high-powered sportbikes without any rider aids, but I’m also pretty certain that I’ll be faster around a track with traction control than without it.I started out with both DTC and Race ABS turned off, and inevitably that meant long wheelies down the straight and careful appliance of the throttle out of the corners. Portimao is a very busy and exciting circuit. On a 193 horsepower sport bike, it’s even busier as there’s hardly any time to relax in between corners. For that reason, the traction control allows a little more brain power to be concentrated on how to tackle the braking marks and racing lines rather than risking too many mistakes from applying too much throttle. Nevertheless, it was fun to sample BMW’s new engine in unrestricted form. The S 1000 RR is a very powerful motorcycle, and I give kudos to the engineers for enabling us to sample such a vast amount of horsepower on a road bike.All the test bikes were equipped with another optional extra in the HP gearshift assistant, which essentially is BMW’s own quickshifter. Around Portimao this was very useful, as there are several places where you want to shift up on maximum lean with high revs. The gearshift assistant works in a very smooth and effortless way. It’s only a matter of feeding the gears by a slight movement up with the left boot, using no clutch. The 6-speed gearbox is very solid. BMW’s S 1000 RR handles like a dream, and it really needs to in order to look good at Portimao. Yet, in the tightest corners, there is a slight unwillingness to get that last inch of ground clearance spent. This was evident on most of the bikes after a couple of passes as the footpeg grinders were pretty much spared of any harm. Perhaps more rear ride height (adjustable by 10mm) would have done the trick for me giving even more confidence in the front enabling me to enter hotter. And before anybody comes to the conclusion that I didn’t ride fast enough, I did let Troy Corser do 5 laps on my bike for the onboard shoot and still no damage to the grinders. In other words, the BMW S 1000 RR still has more corner speed hidden somewhere within the chassis setup. When I tested the Ducati 1198 S on this very track one year ago, I recall that I had more mid-corner confidence than on the S 1000 RR. On the brakes, the forces are transmitted faultlessly through the 46mm Sachs fork and, even without the Race ABS, there’s plenty of confidence aspiring grip and feel. With the Race ABS turned on, I felt a lot more confident in braking hard down from 165 mph or so than I felt on the Honda CBR1000RR ABS earlier this year on Almeria. Whilst I had to brake earlier on the Honda than on other non-ABS bikes, I didn’t do a thing to change my braking markers on the BMW whether ABS was on or off. I will confess right here and now that I still don’t like using ABS on a race track, but BMW’s Race ABS is really good and I would definitely recommend it for ordinary road riding. The BMW suspension, both front and back, is fully adjustable and even with easy to remember numbered stages on the fork. The standard settings worked fine for me, and the mono-shock provided enough feedback for long black lines out of corners. The radially mounted Brembo brakes had to work very hard all day, and they provide all the power you need to stop a motorcycle capable of 186 mph. I did experience fade towards the end and had to go from adjustment level 3 to 2 to maintain the same initial bite. There’s no doubt in my mind that a pair of Brembo monoblocks will find their way to this bike eventually. Race ABS adds just over five pounds to the overall weight, but because the DTC relies on the ABS sensors, I’d recommend both even if you don’t intend to use the ABS that much.BMW’s new 999cc engine explodes with the force of a compacted volcano over 10,000 rpm, and I love it. With the option to turn off both Race ABS and DTC, the true beast is let loose and the S 1000 RR is a formidable sportbike. Virtually everything is adjustable beyond what’s currently on offer from any Japanese manufacturer. I am going to follow the developments closely next year, as I believe the 2010 BMW S 1000 RR will give us plenty of excitement.Photography by Arnold Debus and Daniel Kraus