2018 BMW HP 4 Race Tested At COTA
Story from the December 2017 issue of Ultimate Motorcycling; subscribe for free.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve set serious goals for myself. Professional skateboarder. Multi-platinum recording artist. Best-selling transgressive fiction author. MotoGP champion.
Of course, none of these ever happened, though I broke some bones skateboarding, recorded two music albums with my former band September Sky, wrote close to a million words of unpublished fiction, and rode many MotoGP circuits.
When I reached my late 20s, I quickly realized goals are nothing without action. And when you set goals high for yourself, relentless action is a must. My first truly achieved goal of becoming a East Coast moto journalist may not sound as glamorous to some as those others above, but for me it was. I submitted non-stop to the industry’s biggest publications for a few years, and Cycle World finally accepted two smaller stories in 2007.
From there I only got more relentless, which led to my career at Ultimate Motorcycling, and a few in-industry goals, as I like to say. One was to ride super-exclusive motorcycles on MotoGP circuits. I rode many of the world’s finest superbikes on the world’s finest tracks, and my experience at Circuit of the Americas in October aboard the 2018 BMW HP4 Race has topped them all.
The HP4 Race is a non-street legal, full-carbon framed/wheeled superbike with 215 horsepower based on the S 1000 RR, one of my all-time favorite liter bikes for both the street and track. The exclusivity is impressive; only 750 will be produced, the MSRP is set at $78,000, and just 10 percent of these motorcycles that rival the street-legal Ducati 1299 Superleggera in exclusivity will make it stateside.
Everything you need to know about the bike is included in our First Ride Review and YouTube interview with Josef Mächler, the BMW HP4 Product Manager known as simply Sepp. I’ll provide the needed details below, but this is all about the ride of basically a World Superbike class machine.
So what’s it like? (Expletive) gnarly.
This was my third time riding COTA. The first was in 2015 aboard an S 1000 RR, and the second this summer on the Aprilia RSV4 and Tuono V4 1100. At 3.4 miles in length, with a nearly three-quarter mile back straight, and a Turn One elevation change of 133 feet—half the size of the gorgeous spectator tower—its challenging layout is tough to learn.
I had some morning warm-up time on an S 1000 RR, riding with attendees of the Double R Festival that is hosted by official BMW bad-ass test rider and brand ambassador Nate Kern, an East Coast native. I was happy I had the lines down, considering I didn’t want to take the HP4 Race on any wild Texas rides into the grass or walls. Plus
My time was minimal on the HP4 Race, and I completed just six laps. I promised myself I would keep things at like 60 percent because I wouldn’t want to be that ass wrecking a top-tier limited edition superbike. However, by the second lap on Pirelli Superbike SC2 slicks, it was nearly impossible to not get a bit crazy.
Heading into the first of 20 corners at COTA—a slightly off-camber left that brings you quickly from the 133-foot ascent to a direct descent—the first thing noticeable is the HP4’s light weight, which is claimed to be 377 pounds wet. Its lightness arrives from a full carbon-fiber frame (just a hair over 17 pounds) that takes some design notes from BMW’s automobile division, and a self-supporting carbon-fiber rear frame and wheels, which are 30 percent lighter than alloy wheels and outsourced for construction. The only non-carbon chassis part is the Suter swingarm, developed by former factory BMW S 1000 RR pilots Marco Melandri and Chaz Davies. If something works good, why change it?
I’ve noticed the difference in lightweight wheels in the past. When I switched my Ducati 1198 over from the stock wheels to magnesium Marchesini M10RRs, it made more difference on turn-in than the Öhlins internals due to less rotating mass. Plus, the braking felt so much stronger. The same can be said about the HP4 Race, but 100 times better.
The HP4 Race’s full-carbon frame and wheels are paired with World Superbike Öhlins suspension components, including an FGR 300 fork and TTX 36 GP shock. Both provided optimal feel at COTA, allowing me to truly read every bump in the tarmac.
The other vital component is the is the Brembo braking system, highlighted by the Brembo GP4-RR monoblock calipers up front that squeeze 320mm calipers. The initial feel at the lever is soft, but you need the correct brain-to-finger connection because braking power is seemingly endless. The feel at the lever is darn-near romantic while trail braking.
After riding the S 1000 RR, which I’ve already attested as one of my favorites on the track, it felt somewhat sluggish compared to the HP4 Race. Initially, I was craving more time on the HP4 Race, but due to its speed and handling on the circuit, limited seat time was likely the best thing for me. Spending $80k on a motorcycle would take some justification at home. Stuff would be said like, “But it would be a wise investment, dear!”
Oh, and that engine. This is a race-ready 1000cc inline-four that takes design cues from BMW’s experience in the FIM Endurance World Championship and World Superbike. Power is endless in all four modes—Intermediate, Dry 1, Dry 2, Rain—with the engine producing 215 horsepower at 13,900 rpm, and 88.5 ft/lbs of torque at 10,000 rpm.
This type of power, especially on COTA’s back and front straights, needs every microsecond of your attention. Without electronics, this much power would be completely unusable, except at the top end. Thankfully BMW has its suite of latest electronic wizardry on it, including wheelie control, BMW’s slick Dynamic Traction Control and Engine Brake control, which are both programmable for selected gears at 15 levels.
The TC, as on the S 1000 RR, can be changed on the fly. However, the HP4’s TC is much less intrusive. Both have -7 to +7 settings (including zero), but +7 on the HP4 Race is equal to 0 on the S 1000 RR, so your hand-to-brain connection must be relaxed.
By my second lap, I was begging for more anti-wheelie control at COTA’s back straight. In the two Dry modes, wheelie control is only active in gears 1 through 3. There’s this little kink at the back of COTA’s straight that you hit well over 150 mph on the HP4 in fifth gear. The front starts pointing to the sky if you’re not thinking and letting your right hand be too aggressive.
In regards to all-out speed, there’s no speedometer. I was seeing around 185 on the S 1000 RR, and the HP4 pulled much stronger. Kern said it likely do around 200 mph—that’s with him on it, of course.
Again, I only rode for six laps, and didn’t want to change a thing in regards to the suspension or chassis setup. I rode Kern’s bike with GP shift, and the setup felt like it was built for me. A fully-customizable ride is available, as everything is adjustable, from the offset of the fork to the three-setting frame height.
Is there any comparing this to the base S 1000 RR? Nope. It’s like comparing an Indy car to a Formula 1 car. The influence is there, but the performance is far more. Most Race HP4s will be owned by collectors, and may see little time on the track. Though I love collecting—I’m at seven now—the HP4 Race needs to see the track regardless of its exclusivity.
The 2018 BMW HP4 Race will provide the owner with a ride of a lifetime, one that can bring the owner closest to a World Superbike experience. It is a motorcycle that can forever change your perspective on serious performance, and make you thankful for anti-wheelie control in fourth gear.
The one thing that will have us normal dreamers complaining is the required engine replacement. After 3000 miles, you will have to replace the engine, which costs around $20,000. However, if you can afford an $80k track bike, replacing the engine after 30 or so track days should not be an issue.
Action photography by etechphoto.com
Location still photography by Jon Beck
Studio photography by Arnold Debus and Markus Jahn
- Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
- Riding Suit: Alpinestars GP Plus
- Undersuit: Alpinestars Ride Tech Summer One-Piece
- Gloves: Racer High Speed
- Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R
For specs and a photo gallery, click to page 2 below.