BMW HP4 Race Test At Buttonwillow Raceway Park

At our recent Ultimate Motorcycling/JETT TuningTrack Event at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, BMW offered me a session riding the 2018 BMW HP4 Race. Needless to say, I was intrigued to find out how well this track-only motorcycle performs.

The BMW HP4 Race comes with Pirelli Diablo SC 2 race-slick tires, and they were nice and hot before I headed out. BMW HP Race Support consultant Steve Weir had kindly put in a couple of shakedown laps to bed everything in, and he was also then happy to show me the various controls and systems around the motorcycle before I headed out.BMW HP4 Race Test - Arthur Coldwells Buttonwillow

It’s very difficult to justify a “from $78,000” price tag on a motorcycle, especially if you’re talking about a bike that can only be ridden on a track and therefore has limited pose value. The HP4 is a selfish investment; it’s not one you will be able to easily share with others. You will have to ride it, and with a knowing smile congratulate yourself quietly on money well spent.

Sure, BMW claims a mouth-watering 215 horsepower output and 378-pound curb weight, but those are just numbers. The value to the owner is really based on how it makes you feel when riding it, and perhaps when drooling over some of its detail parts. But, whichever way you slice it, I can’t help but ask: Who will actually buy this motorcycle?

Putting price aside for a minute, this ultimate iteration of the BMW S 1000 RR superbike is nothing short of spectacularly good. In a nutshell, every single thing on the RR works absolutely, outstandingly, phenomenally well. Every. Single. Thing. It is fluid precision, yet it is not difficult or twitchy to ride. If it doesn’t actually make you a better rider, it will surely bring out the best in you.

Thanks to exotic materials advances in manufacturing made by the automotive division, the HP4 Race is the first and only motorcycle in the world to offer a seamless, fully carbon frame that is one continuous component from the fully adjustable steering head, to the swing arm pivot.

At 17 pounds, the HP4 Race’s frame is almost nine pounds lighter than the RR’s traditional frame. Fully carbon fiber wheels complement the frame, and are attached via a MotoGP-spec Öhlins FGR 300 inverted fork (this alone is a nearly $15,000 component), and an Öhlins TTX 36 GP shock.BMW HP4 Race Test - 3/4 right

The brakes are also MotoGP (wet) spec, with a Brembo radial master pump operating front Brembo GP4-PR monoblock brake calipers that bite on 320 mm floating T-rotors. At the rear, a four-piston fixed caliper with titanium pistons works on a floating 220mm disc.

The liquid-cooled World Superbike spec 999cc inline-4 has (among many other things), 16 titanium valves, double overhead racing-spec camshafts, and a milled oil sump. Weight-optimized Pankl connecting rods, plus a precision balanced and lightened crankshaft, enable the engine revs to rise and fall incredibly quickly.

Redlined at 14,500 rpm, each HP4 Race engine goes through final quality control and is broken-in on the BMW test bench so that customers can use the bike on the racetrack immediately. While running, measurements are also carried out to ensure the motor outputs at least 215 horsepower (peaking at 13,900 rpm). This is around 16 horsepower more than the S 1000 RR. Peak torque output is 88 ft/lbs at 10,000 rpm. Finally, the valve opening times and clearances are once again checked and adjusted as necessary before the engine is installed in the chassis. It is then given new oil and sealed.

The exhaust is an Akrapovič 4-into-2-into-1 titanium system—even the manifold flanges are made from titanium. The system is tuned for optimum torque in the medium engine speed range, and maximum peak power output at higher revs.BMW HP4 Race Test - 3/4 back left

The race-optimized six-speed gearbox has longer first and second gears than the RR, and closer, shorter ratios for gears four, five, and six. The shifting is race-style, with a one-up, five-down pattern.

The phenomenal electronics are by MotoGP supplier 2D, and they are at a completely different level than the normal electronics suites found on street motorcycles.

Okay, so the specs are bewitchingly impressive, but what really strikes me is how the HP4 Race as a whole feels so much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, the spec-sheet makes for some golly-gosh reading, and most of the visual details are highly drool-worthy However, more than that, as a complete motorcycle, all those carefully chosen exotic parts have been meticulously integrated and finessed to create an at-one motorcycle with a capability way beyond the norm that most of us are used to riding. The BMW HP4 Race does just one thing—make it deceptively easy to go fast around a track. The machine is startlingly capable; it is so forgiving, so easy to ride.

When first throwing a leg over, and wiggling it side-to-side, the HP4 feels light. But more than that, it is extremely well balanced. The ergonomics are comfortable and, although the clip-on racer handlebars are fairly committed, the reach across the short, polished aluminum tank feels natural and comfortable to me.

The footrests are likewise very committed and set a little more aggressively than I’m used to, so they aren’t 100 percent comfortable for me. Fortunately, they are fully adjustable, and with a little extra time I’d have adjusted them slightly to better fit my gangly frame. Because they are rigid-mounted rather than folding footrests, it was nice to note that there was no way they would touch down.

The on/off switch on the fairing mount just to the left of the gorgeous 2D carbon-fiber LCD instrument pod, illuminates the electrics, and a thumb of the middle race-style buttons on the right handlebar lights up the motor. The throaty burble from the full Akrapovič race exhaust system sounds powerful and authoritative. Blipping the throttle in the pits causes the BMW HP4 Race to emit a loud, quick bark each time the revs rapidly come up and down. Clearly, this motor is very, very precisely tuned.BMW HP4 Race Test - dash

Part of the weight-saving regimen means that (as with all track-only machines) the radiator-cooling fan has been deleted; this bike isn’t ever going to sit in traffic. To partially compensate, coolant pressure in the HP4 Race runs at a higher pressure of around 1.8-bar (26 psi), compared to the 1.2-bar standard radiator. This increases the boiling point to well over 100 degrees Celsius, resulting in much improved engine cooling. Regardless, it is inadvisable to sit around with the engine running in neutral for too long, especially in the heat of the Southern California Central Valley.

Before pulling out of the pits, Weir pushes the black right handlebar button and activates the Pit Lane (speed) Limiter; that will keep my speed down to 60 km/h (37 mph) maximum while traversing the paddock. The 2D instruments flash rhythmically to alert me.

As I click into first gear the Launch Control system automatically activates. That function is an aid for racing starts, and ensures maximum drive off the line and through into second gear. Weir tells me that both these functions will automatically deactivate once I’m underway in earnest.

Releasing the light clutch I find it has just the right amount of feel—not that it really matters, as moving off the line and coming to a stop are the only times the clutch is actually used.

Rolling through the paddock towards pit lane, the off-beat exhaust pulses coming from the hesitating motor makes it sound so racetrack legit I feel a surge of adrenaline. This is cool. Very cool.

Once on track, I accelerated briskly down the short first straight to Buttonwillow’s Turns 4 and 5. I’m immediately comfortable riding the HP4. The machine is so ridiculously responsive and yet it’s also controlled and intuitive, I feel as though I’ve been riding it all my career. The power is strong but it’s not overwhelming. Clearly this tiger has been tamed.

The gearbox has a short lever throw and, like everything else on the HP4, feels absolutely smooth and precise. Forget the phrase ‘blip-downshifter’ which we’re now starting to see regularly in the showroom. The HP4 Race downshifts so fast and smoothly, I couldn’t tell if the engine was actually blipping—although it had to have been. Thanks to a double-declutching function that precisely matches the revs for the next ratio you’re shifting to, the HP Shift Assistant Pro swaps ratios perfectly without having to use the clutch. I cannot remember ever using a gearshifter as smooth—especially when downshifting.BMW HP4 Race Test - carbon fiber

Coming off Buttonwillow’s front straight and braking hard for Turn 1 and dropping down two gears, the HP4’s engine braking and downshifting is so smooth that the bike stays stable and planted; it is truly confidence inspiring. The HP4 maintains its directional stability and stays on line even if I have to shift in a corner.

Likewise, the TC is amazingly smooth. I couldn’t feel it per se, but as I built speed on my faster laps I could hear it for sure with it set in the default medium intrusion (8 of 15 levels).

After my initial warm-up lap to get familiar with the HP4, I could hear the off-synch crackling through the Akrapovič pipe as I came hard on to the gas and the TC did its thing. Still, the HP4 didn’t feel held back or damped down at all. It was simply smooth, seamless, monster power.

I didn’t get as far as experimenting with different TC levels as I was too busy enjoying the ride. In retrospect, I wish I’d gone up or down a few levels just to see the differences.

The seamlessly smooth 15 levels of traction control, fabulously managed engine braking function (likewise with 15 levels), and the clutchless up and down gearshifting on the HP4 are all an absolute revelation.

My first real taste of the extraordinary Brembo braking system is consistent with the feeling around every other part of the HP4 Race—the surprising thing is that there are no surprises. The brakes are super-powerful, yet there isn’t a violent initial bite. Instead, the HP4’s deceleration is smooth and easy to predict. Later on in my ride I find I can lean on the brakes as hard as I want; or I can smoothly finesse them while trail braking to the corner apex if I need to.

For instance, coming down from well into triple-digit speed into the infamous Buttonwillow Sweeper on the northwest corner of the circuit, the HP4 Race slows super-rapidly while remaining totally predictable. The brakes have so much feel I have the confidence to trail brake quite deep into the turn.

At Cotton Corners (a slow right then left before cresting over the hill to the Grapevine), I find the HP4 Race turns in rapidly, though it is a neutral turn-in without an intimidating drop-in feeling at all. The motorcycle simply goes exactly where I want, absolutely precisely. I’m amazed that marks I normally aim for, and often just miss, are easy to make on the HP4 Race. Clearly, I’m not stretching this machine. Some of the incredible handling credit certainly goes to the Pirelli SC2 racing slicks. They perform flawlessly with tons of feel and a level of grip that’s beyond my ability to really explore.BMW HP4 Race Test - Price

However, it’s the amazing Öhlins suspension that is the secret sauce that allows the BMW to simply float around Buttonwillow. The HP4 Race seemingly turns on a dime, and yet it also effortlessly hooks up for maximum drive on each corner exit.

The Öhlins suspension makes it much easier to get on the throttle early when the motorcycle is placed on the right part of the track, and the HP4 Race appears to be making me a much better rider than I really am. I typically know where my line should be, but if I’m honest with myself I know don’t always get it completely right. Happily, the HP4 is so accurate steering that it’s improving my success rate exponentially, and I’m feeling way more accomplished than normal.

Pushing through the bumpy exit of the 110 mph Riverside turn on other bikes has them chattering and wanting to push wide, forcing me to stay on a neutral throttle until I’m past the bumps. Not so the HP4 Race. The Öhlins suspension simply absorbs the shocks fluidly enough that although I’m aware of them, they don’t upset the chassis or cause the usual minor headshake or push.

Weir was following me on a stock S 1000 RR outfitted with slicks, and later said that he couldn’t get his bike to stay on line over the bumps and complete the turn the way the HP4 Race did. It was not possible for him to get on the gas when I was able to, as the HP4 just hooked up on the exit and apparently just drove away from him. I know that on equal machinery he’s a faster rider than I am, so the HP4 Race is clearly bringing a lot to the table.

Coming on to the straight in second gear, the BMW can easily loft the front wheel if I choose to do so. Wheelie Control has intervention ranging from level 1 (least) to level 5. With the 2D system, the level of wheelie intervention is set differently for each gear, and is obviously a bit more in the lower gears. The IMU is constantly sending roll, pitch, and yaw data to the 2D electronics, so there is a definite element of wheelie mitigation that I could feel.

Weir had the wheelie control set on 2, so the HP4 was quite happy to bring the front up as desired. Still, I never quite had the confidence to simply wrench the throttle hard coming on to the straight just to see what might happen. This was partly because the mechanic prepping the HP4 forgot to bleed the rear brake and there was very little there. Without my usual rear brake insurance policy, I wasn’t about to push the HP4’s true acceleration/wheelie potential.

Although I did find the front wheel would loft easily, I confess there was a bit of on-throttle kangaroo hopping as I tried to explore the motor’s astonishing acceleration. With a little more time to personalize the 2D settings and a properly operating rear brake on the motorcycle, I’m confident I’d be fine. Even with a slightly hesitant right hand, the HP4 Race simply gobbles up Buttonwillow’s straight in what feels like mere seconds. Holy moly, this thing is blindingly fast.

Despite the crazy power available, the motor doesn’t feel rowdy or unmanageable. There is no abruptness in the lower gears or a hard-to-read power surge. The power is simply massive, everywhere, and yet it is highly predictable, right up to the nice soft rev-limiter at 14,500 rpm. It was easy to keep the pot boiling at all times.BMW HP4 Race Test - Akrapovic

Having said that, there was one exception. The surface at Buttonwillow’s Turn 3 is heinous. There is no other way to describe it. It’s very slow, and clearly all the race cars churn up the exit tarmac as they accelerate hard as the corner unwinds. To the track management’s credit, they try to solve the problem by adding asphalt patches and even what looks like a concrete Band-Aid on the surface. Kudos and thanks—but no; it’s still horrible—and that’s being kind.

I always tiptoe through the corner in second gear at around 35 mph, and then try to get a decent drive once I’m past all the junk. Yes, I should be changing down to first gear, especially on the HP4 with its long first gearing; however, old habits die hard and I stuck to my usual way. Point being, second gear on the HP4 Race is noticeably taller than on a typical sportbike, so the engine was revving really slowly—at little more than idle—and yet the acceleration was still very linear and very strong. The motor didn’t bog or falter at all. Fast guys will be shaking their heads in disbelief at hearing me admit this, but I mention it as a great example of how seamless and forgiving the HP4 motor and fuel mapping is to a slightly less committed pilot.

Ultimately, I think that’s what sells the HP4 Race to me so readily. Sure, if you’re a world-class rider you could enter this bike as-is in a round or two of the WSBK Championship and you’d likely have a very respectable finish depending on your talent.

Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, if you’re simply a competent rider who knows how to ride quickly on track without necessarily flirting with the edge, then the BMW HP4 Race will definitely bring out the best in you. It did that for me.BMW HP4 Race Test - 3/4 back right

Yes, the rather eye-watering $78,000 price tag is a bit gulp-inducing for normal-sized wallets such as mine. Yet, I got off the machine at the end of my ride and realized that the BMW HP4 Race is actually quite cheap for what you get.

The BMW HP4 Race will bring out the absolute best in your riding. Even if you’re just a mid-pack A Group track day kind of rider, you will find that the HP4 Race is not a cantankerous, flighty, or nervous machine that requires pro-level skills to extract its potential. No, this is one of those rare machines that will improve you as a rider and take you to the next level. For me, while I was riding it, I felt like anything is possible.

At the start of this story, I asked who might buy the HP4 Race. The answer is, someone who loves to ride track days. It is for a rider who seeks the purest form of that art—a rider who, corner by corner, seeks perfection. Someone who realizes that the BMW HP4 Race can bring a rider tantalizingly close to that ideal.

RIDING STYLE
Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
Suit: Alpinestars GP Pro
Gloves: Cortech Impulse RR
Boots: Alpinestars SMX Plus

BMW HP4 Race Specs
MOTOR
Type: Inline-4
Displacement: 999cc
Bore x stroke: 80 x 49.7mm
Maximum power: 215 horsepower @ 13,900 rpm
Maximum torque: 88.5 ft/lbs @ 10,000 rpm
Compression ratio: 13.7:1 to 13.9:1
Valve train: DOHC; 4vpc
Fueling: 48mm throttle bodies
Fuel: 98 octane (RON)
Transmission: 6-speed
Final drive: Chain (kit includes three countershaft sprockets and five rear sprockets)
CHASSIS
Type: Carbon fiber monocoque w/ adjustable steering head angle
Swingarm: Adjustable pivot
Steering damper: Öhlins SD052
Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Öhlins FGR 300 Superbike World Cup fork; 5.1 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Öhlins TTX 36 GP; 4.7 inches
Wheels: Carbon fiber
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17
Front tire: 120/70 x 17; Pirelli Diablo Superbike Slick SC2
Rear tire: 200/60 x 17; Pirelli Diablo Superbike Slick SC2
Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ Brembo GP4-RR 4-piston monoblock floating calipers and radial Brembo pump
Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ fixed Brembo calipers
ABS: None
Footpegs: 8-position adjustable
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 56.7 inches
Rake: 23.5 to 25.5 degrees (adjustable in half-degree increments)
Trail: 3.7 to 4.4 inches (adjustable)
Seat height: 31.7, 32.7, or 33.3 inches (three-position adjustable)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gallons
Curb weight: 378 pounds
BMW HP4 Race Price: $78,000 MSRP

BMW HP4 Race Photo Gallery