2013 BMW HP4 Test
The frantic flag waving from the course marshal flashes through my peripheral vision and I quickly dispatch it; I‚’m on mission as I swerve off of pit lane and aim the bike toward the bumpy corrugated cement apron outside the paddock garages.
At 30 mph, I click the gearbox into neutral and switch the ignition off. Immediately, the HP4 bucks and jumps and transfers the moonscape-like surface through the handgrips and to the wrists with the final outcome a jaw-numbing acoustical resonance threatening my recent dental work.
Switching the ignition back to the on-position, but not starting the engine, brings an instant overall calm to the chassis; a peaceful silence that connects me with the ground but filters out the undulation. Absolutely unbelievable!
Just to ensure that I haven’t lost my grip on reality or ridden through some sort of cosmic wormhole into a dimension filled with unthinkably advanced motorcycles, I switch the ignition off again and the chatter returns. It’s real, and I realize that the future has arrived.
The venue for this other worldly experience is the Circuito de Jerez, tucked away in the western corner of Andalucia in a region long-famed for its horsemanship and sherry making. It is also host to the Gran Premio de Espana, the second stop on the MotoGP world tour.
The machine is the 2013 BMW HP4, kitted with the ultra-trick Competition Package, and touted as the lightest most advanced production four-cylinder liter-bike ever produced.
BMW made its entrance into the World Superbike scene in 2009 with factory veteran riders Ruben Xaus and Troy Corser, who were charged with the task of developing the BMW S1000RR and establishing the Bavarian marque as a perennial competitive threat to the Japanese and Italian incumbents.
Now in its fourth year in world competition, and with race wins bordering on normalcy, BMW feels it has established the necessary context to unleash the high-performance HP4 version of its groundbreaking S 1000 RR to the world stage.
Utilizing the HP4 as a homologation platform for pursuing the World Superbike and Superstock titles, BMW Motorrad has torn a page from the late Steve Jobs’ Apple playbook. BMW has concentrated on designing and constructing the bike in-house from the ground up, with the objective being the ability to guarantee seamless interoperability between chassis components, motor performance, suspension modulation, and the data collection software that ties it all together.
The result is a production bike on the showroom floor that is virtually a software flash away from being able to compete on the World Superbike circuit.
Still rolling, I hit the start button and fire up the 999cc in-line four and politely genuflect to subdue the course marshal, and park the HP4 on its mat to catch my breath and soak in the moment. Evaluating aesthetics is a personal matter, and the asymmetric styling of the HP4 strikes a chord with my inner bad boy. Undeniably German, the bodywork is a modern vestige of the Bauhaus movement, minimalistic, smart and precise – not free and flowing, but aggressively cut and with purposeful edges that give it the teeth and gills of a predatory Great White shark.
The Competition Package blankets the HP4 in carbon and titanium. The Akrapoviç 4-2-1 exhaust system is fully integrated, and the overall aesthetic is complete with the auditory experience of the throaty scream perfectly matched to the visual input from the optic nerve.
A fully adjustable anodized billet aluminum footpeg system and hinged control levers complement the blue metallic forged alloy wheels to round out the Competition Package. They contribute to the 15-pound weight reduction from the S 1000 RR.
While traction control and race ABS have become standard equipment on up-spec European sport bikes, the innovative new Dynamic Damping Control is the defining feature of the new HP4 and a production first on any motorcycle.
Although previous versions of BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) and Enduro ESA found on the BMW R 1200 GS provided for suspension profile changes at the push of a handlebar button, DDC takes this one step farther and dynamically measures and adjusts compression and rebound damping every 10 milliseconds based on throttle position, wheel speeds, and suspension position.
Four modes of engine mapping are offered (Rain, Sport, Race, and Slick) and the full 193 horsepower at 13,000 rpm is available in all modes, with the difference being the power delivery. Both Dynamic Traction Control and Dynamic Damping Control have 15 individual settings, ranging from -7 for full soft or less electronic intervention, and +7 for more stiff or more electronic intervention.
The Race ABS is integral in Rain, Sport, and Race modes. The rear brake is automatically applied when the front brake is engaged, except in Slick mode. In Slick, integral braking and rear wheel lift detection is disabled to allow for trail braking and more aggression in controlling the bike with the rear wheel.
Again, the course marshal is frantically waving his flag, and I realize that my track session is about to start. I am not sure if I have been staring at the HP4 for two minutes or two hours, but I quickly download the track data from my previous session and configure new settings.
I had been in the Slick mode with the default Dynamic Traction Control (level 0), so I bump up the Dynamic Traction Control to +3 to provide a little more intervention in the event my wrist decides to outpace my cornering ability.
The Jerez circuit is a serpentine beauty, with 2.75 miles of porous tarmac flowing through eight right- and five left-hand turns, and an absolute thrill to ride.
Out on the track, the initial impression is that the HP4 is a completely integrated machine, with the DDC working in perfect harmony with the ABS and traction and wheelie control to ensure a high level of performance, regardless of riding ability, offering an equalizing rider experience.
Exiting Curva Ducados and accelerating onto the front straight, I’m impressed by the power delivery. It feels completely linear and electric-smooth, while the shift assist allows me to keep the throttle pinned as I click through the gearbox.
It is apparent that all of the electronics are conspiring together to ensure maximum forward thrust given the amount of available grip. The wheelie control is effective and allows me to loft the front wheel without fear of looping it backwards; when the wheel gets too high and the electronics intervene, it’s a nice smooth landing.
Screaming past the scoring tower, I quickly jam the shifter down from 5th to 2nd gear and set-up for the 100-degree right hand turn 1. The slipper clutch works flawlessly and, although the big 200/55 ZR 17 Pirelli Supercorsa race slick slithers around, the Race ABS keeps the rear end from stepping out.
The front brake lever provides positive feedback and a progressive feel. I never reached the point where it felt numb or mushy, even when the ABS was intervening.
Rounding Curva Michelin and setting up for a 3rd gear left hand sweeper, the perfect opportunity arises to engage the HP4 traction control. At full lean, I can grease the throttle all the way to the stop and accelerate on the side of the tire faster than I previously felt comfortable, eventually feeling the DTC engage to prevent a slide and the ensuing high side. For me, I felt the +3 setting was perfect, but I’m sure a few more days at Jerez and I would be backing that down and freeing up the rear tire for controlled slides.
Curva Angel Nieto is a classic 90-degree right hand turn that you approach after turn 8 and you’re still on the left hand side of the tire. In a split second, I need to transition from left to right and unload the rear, transferring all of the inertia to the front tire while extending down to full lean. This is a situation where the Dynamic Damping Control intervenes and continually adjusts through the corner to maximize the edge grip of the tires.
I’ve already mentally purchased the HP4 and designated my pneumatic bike lift in my garage shop as its trophy perch when I’m not riding it, but I have yet to grasp all of the potential that the HP4 package has to offer. The Race Calibration Kit is the ultimate Data Acquisition Technician’s dream in a software package. It allows for a nearly infinite amount of setup parameters that can be fine-tuned for each corner of the track.
Based on the bike‚Äôs proximity to the scoring beacon, rather than GPS, the package allows for individual settings ranging from the abundance of handlebar-mounted controls – DDC, DTC, etc. The system also allows for specific parameters, such as the amount of engine braking in each gear, in each deceleration portion of the track. And, in today’s digital world, professional race support is only a subscription and a few mouse clicks away.
BMW Racing offers race kits and downloadable bike setups, gleaned from its factory support efforts, that are available for specific race circuits, as well as individualized for unique combinations of tire selection and rider weight.
This potentially makes the HP4 the highest performing, most cost-effective way to race at world-class levels. The support and kits are offered in three different tiers that up the massive 193 stock horsepower to a mind-bending 212 bhp.
Unlike other stock production sport bikes, the harder I pushed the BMW HP4 around the Jerez Circuit, the more it came to me. The feedback that it provided was absolutely intuitive, but more importantly, that feeling was channeled unilaterally as a complete package rather than an amalgamation of high performance components bolted onto a stock production sport bike.
BMW Motorrad’s strategy of ground-up development done completely in-house has resulted in a motorcycle that works with the rider to provide a riding experience that is completely harmonic and balanced, and doesn’t stray from you when you really put it to the test.
Back in the paddock, I experimented with additional setup parameters. I kept returning to the Slick mode and DTC +3 as the setup that provided me huge amounts of confidence and an immeasurable level of rapture while I circulated the racetrack.
The HP4 breaks the mold of the high-performing European sport bike that bucks and snorts its way through city streets while leaving one with numb hands, rattled wrists, and arms that feel like overcooked vermicelli.
To the contrary, the new BMW HP4 is a highly refined race machine that is easy to ride and allows the vast majority of sport bikers to ride at higher levels of performance and with more confidence than ever before.
The BMW HP4 presents a new era-benchmark in on-track performance, ease of operation, and blistering high-speed enjoyment. This is, quite literally, a quantum leap in terms of wholly integrated electronics that shatter the old paradigms of compromise.
We no longer need to set up our suspension for the most difficult parts of the track; our suspension now thinks for us and adapts faster than we can blink an eye.
Racers have spent entire careers developing the skill to carefully modulate the input to rider controls while on the ragged edge of possibility. The BMW does that for you. Of course, dubious minds stuck in the 20th century ponder questions such as, “Is this unfair?” and “Is this cheating?”
I simply refer to it as a technological advantage – my equalizer if you will. A very wise and trusted friend once told me the secret to happiness, and it was surprisingly simple. He said that we are happiest when we feel that we are reaching our true potential. The BMW HP4 makes me happy.
Photography by Daniel Kraus and Alberto Martinez