2010 BMW S 1000 RR | Review

BMW S1000RR Test

BMW has a solid reputation for building, um, "solid" motorcycles. They are well-engineered, completely reliable and, if you are thinking of traversing an undeveloped continent or two, frankly, the GS is pretty much your only choice.

But, as Pieter de Waal, the man in charge at BMW Motorrad USA opined, "Our motorcycles lack the dynamic brand image of our cars-and that was a problem for us." So, about five years ago, using their wundercar M3 as inspiration, BMW motorcycle management decided to build the ultimate riding machine.

Valuable data gathered by the World Superbike race team’s inaugural 2009 season has trickled down to the new street bike, and powering it around the highly technical circuit of Portimão in southern Portugal, it was clear to me that the new BMW S 1000 RR was absolutely in its element. It is toweringly powerful, it is light and compact, and its precise, balanced handling swept me around lap after lap with surefooted elegance.

Cresting over the blind hill and dropping into the final right-hander at over 100 mph was scary as hell, but the secure handling of the BMW and Metzeler street tires kept the bike precisely on line. As I came back hard on the throttle for the final short uphill chute on to the straight, the traction control held the greasy-feeling rear Metzeler in check and allowed me to tuck in tight and fly over the hill to the front straight.

Flat out in fourth gear, the feeling is difficult to describe, as the addictive, colossal power thrusts me over the rise at a good 140 mph, and lazily lofted the front wheel, but you probably get the picture. The combination of supreme engine power and precision electronic control is a confidence inspiring, mainline endorphin rush that had me craving for more after the first hit.

Incidentally, there is no wheelie-control, per se, on the S 1000 RR, so be careful that the wheelie up-flip is not too quick-Troy Corser said he uses a light stab at the rear brake rather than coming off-throttle to control the front over that rise-but once you are on the back wheel alone, as the front slows down, the wheel-speed sensors will allow the engine management to tame the power and bring the front back down gradually.

I then barreled along the straight, flat on the tank with the engine howling up to the flicker of the shift-light at a lofty 14,000 rpm. Clicking up into fifth gear was effortless and absolutely sure-simply the smoothest and most precise gear shifting I have ever felt on any motorcycle, bar none. Thanks to BMW’s remarkable Gear Shift Assistant, which can be combined with optional HP sports footrests, clutchless upshifts are engaged seamlessly without having to come off the throttle.

Downshifts still need the clutch lever, but the slipper clutch is set just right and contributed to the bike’s excellent stability under braking. I have already waxed lyrical about the optional Gear Shift Assistant when I sampled it on the K 1300 S, but on the superbike, and on a busy circuit like Portimão, you will want this little piece of magic.

Talk about shock and awe-the RR’s engine power is so monstrous that the bike should be unrideable. But, in actuality, that ordinance is so precisely managed that it is absolutely useable in the real world. Four selectable riding modes-Rain, Sport, Race and Slick-provide a combined Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and ABS safety net that allow the rider to explore the outer limits of the astonishing 193 horsepower, and the tires’ ability to handle it.

Don’t get me wrong, the electronics cannot change the laws of physics, but when the limits are reached-typically by either over-braking or over-enthusiastic use of the throttle-the safety aids do not just clamp everything down. Instead, in tiny increments, the computer seamlessly and almost imperceptibly, holds the tires perfectly on the edge of traction. It is the difference between a crude explosive device and a precision-guided missile, and the S 1000 RR has the technical sophistication to make you a track day hero.

Portimão’s huge elevation changes and blind corners intimidated me enough to start off in Rain mode and ensured that I white-knuckled my way through the initial laps of my first session. Limited to the gentle delivery of a mere 150 horsepower, I floundered my way around for a couple of laps; frankly I was so focused on just figuring out what was coming next I can’t tell you too much about those introductory laps on the RR. What I can report is that it kept me safe while my mind was elsewhere.

Soon, my confidence increased enough to toggle up one into Sport mode where full power is allowed, but with a soft delivery. The increase was noticeable, but when exiting corners the somewhat lethargic motor seemed to take a while to come on-cam and, once it hit the powerband, the RR would take off. Unlike Ducati’s traction control, which does not use a gyroscopic bank angle sensor, the BMW electronics soften power delivery until the lean angle is reduced to less than 42 degrees.

Interestingly, I discovered that while holding the throttle open, I could increase or reduce the bike’s power delivery merely by lifting the bike upright or pulling it further down again. The change in power output was done with liquid smoothness; as the S 1000 RR came upright and the critical 42-degree angle was passed, the power would not flood in, but the bike definitely took off in a strong and yet controlled way. At the end of the session I pulled into the pits mightily impressed by the electronic wizardry attached to BMW’s new superbike.

Although the Sport mode eventually unleashes full power, it is clearly intended for street use where there is less grip, less speed, and less than 42 degrees of lean angle. So, for further track sessions, I upped the ante to both Race and Slick modes, where the electronic intrusion became almost imperceptible. Cresting over the blind rise of Turn 4 would drift the rear wheel slightly; in Race mode, the DTC would ease the power delivery just a tad, but the effect was so subtle I had to really feel for it to even know something was happening. In Slick mode, the push was more dramatic. We were running Metzeler’s very impressive Interact street tires, so that final mode was perhaps a little over enthusiastic for them. However, they coped admirably and by the end of the day the tires remained in excellent condition.

With its lightest-in-class (132 pounds), super-compact engine, the S 1000 RR achieves a very reasonable all-up weight of 455 pounds (with a full 4.5-gallon fuel tank)-some 12 pounds fewer than Honda’s brilliant C-ABS equipped CBR1000RR. BMW’s ABS adds a mere 5.5 pounds to the weight of the machine and is a generational improvement over their previous Integral ABS II. Designed specifically for racing, the four-sensor system integrates both front and rear brakes, and is helped by an elaborate rear-wheel lift-off detector that can distinguish between mere bumps in the road and a locked rear wheel. The radial handlebar pump activates the radially mounted Brembo four-piston calipers that bite down on 320mm discs at the front and a 220mm disc at the rear, with additional rear braking available by using the foot lever if required.

Like the Ducati system, the BMW race ABS works at different preset levels of sensitivity, depending on the selected riding mode. Rain mode allows for super-slippery surfaces, and Sport is geared up for riding "on country roads," according to BMW’s literature. In Race and Slick modes, the rear-wheel lift-off detector will not intervene, allowing hard application of the brakes everywhere, even on slightly undulating surfaces-as long as the motorcycle has adequate grip. In the Slick mode, the rider still has ABS on both wheels when pulling the handlebar lever alone.

My use of the BMW’s ABS was limited, thankfully, to just a couple of occasions where I overcooked my entrance into a turn. The front wheel maintained traction and the minimal pumping at the lever showed the speed and sensitivity of the BMW system. I could feel a mild chattering from the front end telling me that I was on the limit, but the RR remained stable and controlled, so turn-in was just as smooth as always.

This electronic wizardry is activated by a toggle switch on the left handlebar. Riding modes are selected by a button on the right handlebar and are indicated in the LCD instrument cluster. The print is quite small, so despite the anti-glare coating on the clocks, the modes are tough to read while moving

Other than this minor niggle, the instrument display is exemplary, with large, easily readable gear numbers, a digital speed readout, and analog rev counter. If you insist on changing modes on-the-fly, a quick flip of the clutch with the throttle off confirms your selection into either Rain, Sport, Race, or Slick. The last option is only available after an under-seat plug has been inserted into the control box-once in place, the Slick mode is merely another toggle of the button away.

The instruments present a wide range of functions. The rider may switch over the display to a track mode and, using the optional lap-time trigger, can receive information on his current and best lap times. The gearshift light is an impressive gizmo in itself, as both the light’s flash frequency and brightness can be adjusted, and set to trigger at any rpm. Additionally, the gearshift light may also be used for race-type starts, blinking at approximately 9000 rpm for an optimum takeoff. If the engine speed is too low, the light will turn off; if it is revving too high, the light stays on and blinking ceases.

Compact and light enough to feel more like a 600, the S 1000 RR handles very well. Front-end feedback is excellent from the extra-fat 46mm forks, and both rebound and compression damping adjustments are color differentiated and clearly numbered 1 through 10, which makes precise changes easy to track. The rear shock is adjustable for rebound damping, and compression is adjustable for both high- and low-speed damping action. This gives the rider a chance to allow for either undulating (track type) surfaces or bumpier (road type) surfaces.

The filigree ten-spoke pressure-cast aluminum wheels look pretty and are lightest in their class, partly because the brake discs do not come with a separate mount and the necessary additional bolts. Instead, the brake rotors are fitted directly to the wheel hubs; this design of the wheel is tailored to load conditions and reduces the weight of the wheel dramatically.

The S 1000 RR is the typical high-quality build from BMW, although the looks are not without controversy. Designer David Robb explains: "We realized we had to give the bike its own character. But rather than try to force the difference we decided to make the looks dependent on functionality. For example, more hot air needs to be extracted from the left side of the engine, and that gave us the shark-gills on the right and the large extraction point on the left fairing side. In terms of the lights, the main beam reflector needn’t be as big as the dip beam light so we just made the thing smaller to save weight and a little space, and space is important as well. Actually the lap-timer electronics are hidden behind that space. In the end the asymmetrical [or split-face] look is a shape that just came naturally."

The paint quality exudes that certain class expected of a prestige brand. The Acid Green metallic paint of the bike I rode in Portugal looks better in person and, although the bike’s also available in black, I will be surprised if most people do not go for the gorgeous optional red/white/blue Motorrad Motorsport Team paint scheme. Making the price as competitive as it is was apparently a huge challenge for BMW and its suppliers.

Fortunately, the bike does not look compromised; the quality castings and finishes are up to the standard one would expect. The Alpha Racing Performance Parts by BMW are a wide range of tuning accessories for the S 1000 RR, and the new DoubleR Collection of a color-matched one-piece leather suit, helmet, boots and gloves, complete the ensemble should you be so inclined.

BMW’s first foray into the world of street-going superbikes is an impressive one indeed. Traditionally, the Japanese dominate with this type of engine, yet BMW has done its homework and the S 1000 RR is every bit as good as you hoped it would be.

2010 BMW S 1000 RR Motorcycle Specifications

Type: Water-cooled 4-stroke in-line four-cylinder-engine, two camshafts, four valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 80 mm x 49.7 mm
Capacity: 999 cc
Rated output: 193 hp (142 kW) at 13,000 rpm
Maximu torque: 83 ft-lb (112 Nm) at 9,750 rpm
Compression ratio: 13.0 : 1
Mixture control / engine management: Electronic intake pipe injection/digital engine management including knock sensor (BMS-K-P)
Emission control: Catalytic- 2 Closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-4 ready

Performance / Fuel
Maximum speed: Over 125 mph (200 km/h)
Fuel type: Unleaded premium, octane number 91-93, automatic knock control

Electrical System
Alternator: three-phase alternator 350 W
Battery: 14 V / 10 Ah, maintenance-free

Clutch: Multiple-disc clutch in oil bath, anti hopping clutch, cable operated
Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox

Chassis / Brakes
Frame: Bridge-type frame, cast aluminum, load-bearing engine
Front wheel location / suspension: 46 mm Upside-down fork, rebound and compression adjustable
Rear wheel location / suspension: Cast aluminum swing arm, Continuously adjustable rear inbound-rebound damping, high and low speed
Suspension travel front / rear: 4.7/5.1 inch (120 mm / 130 mm)
Wheelbase: 56 inches (1,432 mm)
Castor: 3.7 inches (95.9 mm)
Steering head angle: 66,1 °
Wheels: Cast aluminum
Rim, front: 3.50 x 17"
Rim, rear: 6.00 x 17"
Tires, front: 120/70 ZR 17
Tires, rear: 190/55 ZR 17
Brake, front: Twin disc, floating brake discs, radial-fixed 4-piston calipers, diameter 320 mm, 5 mm thickness
Brake, rear: Single disc brake, one-piston floating caliper, diameter 220 mm, 5 mm thickness
ABS: DTC 4-mode dynamic traction control adjustment, only avalibale with Race ABS, disengageable
Race-ABS: 4-mode Race-ABS adjustment, disengageable

Dimensions / Weights
Length: 80.9 inches (2,056 mm)
Seat height: 32 inches (820 mm)
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled: 450 lbs (204 kg), 455 lbs (206.5 kg) incl. Race-ABS
Dry weight: 403 lbs (183 kg)
Permitted total weight: 859 lbs (390 kg)
Payload (with standard equipment): 412 lbs (187 kg)
Usable tank volume: 4.5 gallons (17.5 l)
Reserve approx: 1 gallon (4.0 l)

MSRP: $13,800.00
Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) Combined: $1,480.00
Gear Shift Assistant: $450.00
Anti Theft Alarm: $395.00
Motorsports Paint Scheme: $750.00

* MSRP excludes destination, freight, license, registration, taxes, insurance and options.