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2015 BMW S1000RR Review | Forgiveness at COTA

2015 BMW S1000RR Review – First Ride Test

2015 BMW S1000RR Review
2015 BMW S1000RR

One look at the Circuit of the Americas’ track map, and my left knee begins to twitch. Back in October 2013, I suffered a street crash, and the doc scrapped 40+ “foreign objects” – aka pebbles – from beneath my left kneecap. The outcome was 93 stitches and pain after every track day since – especially on circuits that cater to left-handers.

COTA’s layout is not necessarily left-hand centric (11 of 20), but six of those lefts are hairpins. One arrives after the long 0.745-mile back straight that allows anyone with the nerve to achieve the industry-wide 186mph speed limiter.

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Besides the outcome of pain, the other challenges of COTA’s layout seem minimal. Long straights, a sweeping esses section, and a few double-apex corners. No problem, right, especially after all endless mental preparation completed by watching YouTube clips and playing video games.

Um, think again, Ronaldo. What the map doesn’t display are the true challenges of COTA – the blind turns and the multiple elevation changes that one quickly realizes after a sighting lap.

2015 BMW S1000RR red at cota towerThe largest hill arrives at Turn 1; it’s 133-feet high, roughly half the height of the gorgeous observation tower that hovers 251 feet above COTA’s Turn 17. Turn 1 also arrives at the end of the front straight, the accent appearing like a wall at full tuck deep into the triple digits.

Learning this massive 3.427-mile COTA circuit presents many challenges, but thankfully my first time here was aboard the third-generation BMW S1000RR with guidance from three gentlemen: BMW Motorrad USA Test Rider Nate Kern, the iconic Superbike Schooler Keith Code, and by far the craziest rider I ever rode with on a circuit, 1998 American 250GP Champion, Roland Sands.

To be blunt, the 2015 RR (say it like the Bavarians – “double R”) is the most-forgiving motorcycle I’ve ever ridden on a track – period. It allows speed without much physical effort – perfect for a rider with a few bummed body parts. It also quickly forgives when apexes are missed due to lack of focus  –  something I battled with for most of the morning sessions due to a foggy faceshield. This was my second bout with the 2015 RR; my first arrived at Spain’s Almeria Circuit during a Metzeler M7 RR tire launch, but those track sessions were plagued by endless rain.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review – Electronics and Engine

Much of the confidence came from the electronic rider aids. During BMW’s stateside launch of the RR at COTA, all bikes were fully equipped, including different Ride Modes Pro (Slick and User); Race ABS; Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) with bank-angle sensors that provide TC while leaning; Dynamic Damping Control (DDC); and the one that surely makes you feel like a championship racer: Gear Shift Assist Pro (clutchless upshifts and downshifts!). Working together in nearly perfect harmony, these aids (all part of the “Dynamic Package) made riding feel somewhat effortless, even after an entire day battling the mighty COTA.

The 2015 RR is completely redesigned over the second-generation model (2012-2014), which already impressed with its agility and 193-horsepower, 999cc inline four. The new S1000RR’s engine delivers six more horsepower (199 at 13,500 rpm) and arrives with a more linear-torque curve that peaks at 83 ft/lbs at 10,500 rpm. This increased power is attributed to a redesign of the air intake, cylinder head, camshafts, crankcase and exhaust system. For those who like screamers, the engine still has a rev limiter set at a lofty 14,200 rpm.

For improved agility and lighter handling, BMW also updated the 2015 RR’s chassis and suspension. The major changes that are immediately noticeable are a 0.1-inch (3mm) lower swing-arm pivot, and a 0.8-inch longer wheelbase for a total of 56.7 inches.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review at cotaThe 2015 RR also went on a diet, and weighs nearly nine lbs. less than the previous model for a total of 448.8 with a full tank of gas and Race ABS, though other upgrades add some girth. The new exhaust’s design helps shave 6.6 lbs. of that weight.

As stated, the bikes at the press launch were equipped with all the goodies that arrive in the Premium Package. But of course, this arrives at a price. The Premier Package adds $3,195 to the base MSRP of $15,500.

Let’s quickly break it down – the base model arrives with Race ABS, new Automatic Stability Control (ASC), and three rider modes (Rain, Sport, Race). The Standard Package ($16,795) arrives with all of base-model features, but the ASC is upgraded to Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), and bike garners Ride Modes Pro (Slick, User), Gear Shift Assist Pro, Cruise Control and Heated Grips.

The Premium Package ($18,695) gets all the upgrades of the Standard Package, but is further enhanced with Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) and Forged wheels that weigh 5.3 lbs less than the standard wheels. This is basically an HP4 – but BMW engineers say the DDC is further refined on the 2015 S1000RR. And this is the reason why the HP4 is no longer available – BMW engineers say the 2015 S1000RR with the Dynamic Package is actually better than the HP4, and arrives much cheaper.

For the rider who frequents the track, the Premium Package is a must. The unsprung weight from the lighter wheels further assists in agility, and BMW’s DDC gives stability under every situation, whether hard on the binders or WOT on exit. And if you make a mistake – as I did frequently at COTA – the DDC’s non-intrusive manner keeps the “oh-$***” moments to a minimum, and the mind in focus. DDC arrives softest in Rain Mode, and firmest in Slick Mode, and has the capability of +7 / -7 fork damping (rebound and compression) on the fly. Smaller adjustments are also made to the rear shock.

During the launch, BMW’s test rider Kern provided limitless knowledge on the electronic aids, along with endless riding guidance. We rode all day on Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa rubber, though by day’s end everyone would have welcomed a few laps on slicks.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review – Riding COTA

The first 20-minute session was basically sighting laps, and we were advised to use Sport Mode and Race Mode. The beauty of all the electronics on the 2015 S1000RR? Each adjustment can be made on the fly. Plus there was another electronic I fell for quickly – the heated grips. Initially I though it was absurd to have heated grips on a sportbike, but the 50-degree temps combined with full-vented Dainese race gloves had me praising the provided warmth.

In Sport Mode, the S1000RR uses preset maps that feature maximum power, Road ABS for optimum stability, Road DTC for optimal traction, Race ABS and Road DDC. Fun, but by the second lap I had already switched the bike into Race Mode, and the most noticeable changes were a stiffier chassis under heavy braking, and reduced intervention of DTC and ABS. In Race Mode, the ABS has reduced rear-wheel lift mitigation, which is noticeable during the faster braking sections.

2015 BMW S1000RR ReviewUnder heavy braking in Sport and Race modes, I felt some pulsating at the lever. Also, initial bite of the Brembo brakes on the dual-320mm discs is abrupt, and you quickly learn that light pressure is most effective. I’m a huge fan of trail braking – sometimes up to the apex – and I quickly learned that only one finger was needed on the new RR.

When the first-session pace picked up, I switched back and forth between Sport and Race modes, and noticed that the yellow light in the top left corner of the dash flickered less in Race mode – meaning far less intervention.

Though it didn’t have a bright yellow light, the one thing I tried to ignore was the real-time display of banking angles, and the ABS/DTC intervention. The banking angle remains displayed for a few moments after steep lean, and by the end of our first session I viewed 55 a few times. Not bad, and I’m sure things got better as the day’s pace progressed. But after wanting to see 180+ mph at the back straight, I totally blew turn 12, and ran off the track (no incident, thankfully!)–so I quickly went back to my “don’t look at the dash” principle, and relied on noise and the bright-white shift light for shift timing.

For the second session before lunch, and all three afternoon sessions, I would forget about the Rain, Sport and Race modes altogether, and only use Slick and User modes. Slick and User are part of the Option Rider Modes Pro, and also arrive with two cool features – Launch Control and Pit Lane Speed Limiter. I didn’t have a chance to use any of the latter – too much time was spent learning to fine-tune the DTC in Slick Mode.

Slick mode features Race Track ABS that shuts off when using rear brake in situations such as keeping the front end off the ground in bumpy sections (there’s no rear-wheel lift detection in Slick Mode), a track-oriented DDC, and a DTC that allows for +7 / -7 changes on the fly.

Everything is selectable in User mode, allowing you for example, to pair the Rain Mode with a firmer DDC and Race ABS. Though I experimented with User Mode, I felt no need for anything other than Slick Mode – it’s just that good. User Mode would have its advantages in racing, but for my single-day session at COTA, Slick was the most optimal mode.

The most appealing part of Slick Mode is changing DTC selections while riding, something that could help traction as tires wear down. Kern told me that during a recent endurance race, a BMW team was able to drastically extend the life of a beaten tire because they could make DTC changes on the fly.

My favorite selection was +4, which provided seamless intervention. As you descend towards 0 and the negative numbers, you can change your entire riding style as the bike allows for tire slippage/sliding. The least intervention I ever chose was -4, which allowed the back tire to spin up around a few of the hairpins, and allowed for massive wheelies. But to remain focused on perfecting lines and finding a rhythm, +4 became my crutch setting.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review full tuckThen there’s the Gear Shift Assist Pro – which BMW claims is the first for a production sportbike. This allows clutchless upshifts and downshifts, and can be switched to a MotoGP reverse shift pattern in under a minute (remember to use Loctite after switching, Kern warns).

Clutchless upshifts are nothing new, and BMW’s S1000RR was always a leader in seamless gear changes. But clutchless downshifts were entirely new to me. While learning, I lost focus many times, mostly for lack of trust on rev matching when banging down through the gears.

But once I was able to trust the automatic blipping, I completely forgot about the braking/blipping/downshifting process and was able to completely focus on the apex and exit. Part of this focus also arrives from the DDC’s reaction with the Gear Assist; the chassis remains completely stable while downshifting. Part of my issue in the beginning was keeping pressure on the shift lever when downshifting. After the first click down, you have to release pressure on the lever so the sensor can reset, and then click down again.

After spending the entire afternoon using Gear Shift Assist Pro, I went back to my normal way of downshifting for one lap. It seemed I could not match the smoothness blipping of the automatic shift assist. I’m anticipating a comparison of the 2015 RR’s Gear Shift Assist Pro with Ducati’s new 1299 Panigale S, which features the Ducati Quick Shifter that also provides clutchless downshifts. Another bike the S1000RR needs to battle with? The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1. Though it lacks clutchless downshifts, the new R1 has garnered much praise due to its integration of the latest electronics.

The changes in the engine are just as significant. Compared to previous-generation RRs, torque starts stronger – just before 5000 rpm – and ascends evenly to about 9600 rpm where it flattens until falling off around 11,000 rpm.

The mid-range power is – dare I say – V-twin like. I’m a huge fan of the V-twin configuration – I currently own four V-twins and one V4, and not one inline four. The 2015 RR’s engine is eerily similar to a V-twin, which was evident at COTA’s esses that run from Turn 2 through Turn 6; I was able to short-shift the bike into third, and optimal power was always on hand.

Along with this re-tune came a revised four-into-two-into-one exhaust system, which loses the front silencer. This exhaust has a sound like no other stock setup, especially when bouncing the rev limiter on some corners and straights. Pure music, and absolutely no reason to change it.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review – Speed with Comfort

The S1000RR was always known for its comfort, and smartly, BMW didn’t change a thing. Ergonomics on the track were comfortable for my 5’11” frame, and I know without a doubt the RR’s comfort will surpass most other sportbikes on the street. And the seat remains one of the most comfortable available on modern sportbikes.

As I stated previously, my banged-up left knee hurts regardless of what bike I’m on – pain just arrives after such bodily damage. The S1000RR was a bit more forgiving on my body because it really doesn’t take much effort to ride it – and ride it fast. I walked away with a limp, but it was only for a day. This says much; if I were at COTA on my Ducati 1198 – a personal favorite, but extremely unforgiving on the track – that limp would have surely lasted a week…or two.

Aesthetically, the RR’s bodywork is sharper than previous generations, and BMW swapped the headlights, the more circular one now on the right side. The gauges were also revamped, and feature a clean layout with easy-to-read information.

2015 BMW S1000RR Review left at speedFor the track-day rider, the RR has everything on its side – its looks are sharp, the engine has the mid-range feel of a V-twin combined with the upper power of an inline four, the electronics have nearly seamless integration, and the handling – on one equipped with DDC – is like no other. We’re waiting for the press fleets to become available to spend some time on the street with the S1000RR, and compare the base model to one with the Dynamic Package.

From a track standpoint, Roland Sands said it best. The RR provides “absolute speed with absolutely no drama.” When a bike is this good, a track rider can remain completely focused on learning the circuit and perfecting lines – even at the monstrous Circuit of the Americas.

I concur with Sands, though I would need at least a week at COTA to ride within 20 percent of Sands’ ability. The bike I would choose? Without a doubt the S1000RR – it’s just that good, and would allow endless hours of fun while playing a never-ending game of catch up with riders like Sands. And the post-ride limp would surely be worth it. Sign me up, please.

The 2015 BMW S1000RR is available in three colors – Black Storm Metallic, Racing Red/Light White ($250), and BMW Motorsport: Light White/Lupin Blue Metallic/Racing Red ($600). For additional information, visit BMW Motorrad.

Photography by Kevin Wing

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