The BMW S1000RR is an enraged cheetah and purring pussycat rolled in one. The bike combines excellent performance with comfortable rideability that defies both logic and physics. In 2017 this amazing machine has undergone some relatively minor updates ,but it still retains its high level of technology and tremendous power. However, around town it is an easy-riding smooth city commuter. We tested this superstar of the motorcycle world Tasmania for two days.
Each time I ride a modern superbike on the open road, it feels like I have gone back to school. Regardless of the amount of fun I am getting from riding these bikes, I always get the sense of total unpreparedness.
It is the seemingly unimportant things such as how much that apt riding position strains your core and legs and the heaviness on your wrists when you brake going downhill. Sometimes it is the important things too such as when you accelerate forcefully and how fast you are moving when you get back to the normal braking zone.
It was a delight to take the 2017 version of the BMW S1000RR for a ride in the fascinating island of Tasmania, the motorcycling heaven of Australia. Among the group of journalists, I shared the trip with was John Rooth one of my favorite old school heroes. These days he writes about 4WDs, and this was the first time he was riding on a modern-day superbike since the 90’s.
BMW's Miles Davis was on hand to bring us up to speed on the state of the bike, and you could hear gasps from the audience as we ran down the highlights and specifications of the highest tech superbike that one can buy in 2017.
Starting from the power, the bike generates 199 horsepower (148 Kw) at 13500 rpm. That has not changed since last year in spite of the fact that the bike has been modified so as to adhere to the famously stringent Euro 4 standards. In terms of torque, it makes 83.3 pounds per feet (113 Newton-meters)and this is delivered between 9500 and 12000 rpm. These outstanding numbers were enough to make Roothy go a little pale in the face.
Talking of the electronics, they are now so complicated and customisable that many of the riders will be happy with just picking mode and leaving them alone.
The Race and Sports versions of the superbike come with 5 riding modes-Sport, Rain, Slick, Race, and User, which is extensively configurable. These modes are used to control power output, electronic throttle response using the computerized ride-by-wire system, angle-sensitive traction control, and a complicated array of functions that are directed by the ABS Pro system.
Under Slick mode, you can add or minimize intervention by the traction control system using seven different settings. It also disengages the ABS Pro which monitors your lean angle and riding speed before determining how much you can break if you mash the lever while cornering. The idea behind this is that Slick mode is meant for the race track, where you should be capable of looking after yourself.
The bike has launch control which enables you to stand still, activate its system, keep the throttles wide open until you are revving at maximum torque before dumping the clutch. If you attempted this on a 100cc scooter, in one second you would find yourself wearing it- whereas, on a 200 hp superbike, it becomes a struggle to mute the self-preservation instincts that scream at you through every pore of your body. Just for our amusement we attempted to get Roothy to try it, but he flatly declined.
All these features put the S1000RR in the same range as today's premier superbikes such as the Kawasaki ZX-10R, the Ducati Panigale 1299, the Yamaha R1, the Aprilia RSV4 and the Suzuki GSX-R1000.These bikes are so extreme, fast and focused that one may be tempted to wonder if they should be on the road at all.
You get the answer to this question immediately you get on the S1000RR and go on a ride around town. Its road manners are absolute top-notch. At low revs, the inline four-cylinder engine has a gentle purr, showing some of the most impeccable fueling I have ever experienced on a bike that is Euro4 compliant. You can do the 186 miles per hour (300 km/h) in sixth gear, but the bike can also smoothly roll at 19 mph on the same gear with no chugging. Comparable superbikes such as the EBR and Ducati complain bitterly about doing such speeds when in first gear.
The bike is also equipped with an up/down quickshifter, which enables you to lay off the clutch lever when you get rolling. It upshifts immaculately at any point on the tachometer, as long as you have got some throttle on. Similarly, it downshifts delightfully when the throttle is closed and it is almost undetectable at low speeds. But when you step on it harder, the revs are up and you are charging fast towards a corner, you will hear its aggression. You can then blip the throttle perfectly to match the revs and hold the rear wheel steady as you slam it down through the gears.
BMW has embraced the quickshifter so much that it may feel a little sloppy when you attempt to use the clutch. Do not bother with it since the computer does it better than you and it is a great feeling when romping through the cogs. It is also lovely for your brain to have extra space so you can concentrate on your lines, throttle inputs, braking or even what you are having for lunch .
The standard S1000RR has terrific suspension. For some strange reason, the BMW is one of the brands where I always ride without needing to change the suspension setting. Upgrading to the Race and Sports version makes the whole experience even more exceptional due to the Dynamic Damping Control (DDC).
DDC can be likened to taking a miniature suspension technician along with you, frantically tweaking the shocks and fork in response to your lean angles, brake and throttle inputs, the bike’s front-rear weight balance and the road surface.It figures out what must be changed a hundred times per second, and the changes are carried out in one tenth of a second.
For instance on a bumpy part of the road the compression damping need to be softened. Hit a huge dip in the middle of a corner and you suddenly need some added rebound damping so you do not bounce out of your seat as you exit. Lean too much on the bike in a smooth corner and you require a firmer setting. Brake very hard and you will need to control the fork dive with some additional compression damping on the bike’s forks. Lift up the front wheel and you will need to drop the fork’s compression damping to almost zero in order for the bike to touch down as gently as you can.
On the track it is very evident especially when the rear or front wheel is returning onto the deck. Conversely, it is really subtle on the road and it seems as if the road smoother. It feels like it is less of a concern on bumpy and rough patches. Throughout, suspension has always been a balance between comfort and grip, but this type of continuous adjustments ensures that the bike is nearly always in control of its weight in the rear and the front.
The top range radial Brembo monoblocs brakes provide immense stopping force, but I do not like the feel of the lever which feels a little nebulous. Over and over again I found myself hitting them too hard due to the fact that I was not getting as much feedback with the lever as I was from the feeling of deceleration. It took time to get used to the fine control, but the ABS system functions so well on dry or wet surfaces that I was never concerned about safety.
BMW appears to have been keen to imbue a sense of character into the bike. When you open the throttle the engine acquires a neatly- controlled throatiness to its soundtrack throughout the middle range. And if you make it to the acclaimed top third of the tachometer when the throttle is open, prepare for an immensely rush of stunning stomach-turning acceleration as the motorbike roars a song of freedom.
There is a road in Tasmania that begins with some good, hard, continuous radius cornering before opening out into wide sweepers that absolutely places you into attack mode, then sets you onto a nice smooth straight that cuts across a remote valley. It is the type of place where you can stick the throttle to the stop, quickshift the bike at the redline before hurling yourself at the distant horizon and allowing the bike to show you what it was made to do.
The feeling is one of complete control and precision, undermined by a quickly multiplying figure on the dashboard that you know should make you feel terrified and a hazing of vision as the scenery speeds past you. It is odd to feel so calm in the midst of such violence, but the bike handles both tame road speeds and total top-gear lunacy-you can also throw in wet mossy bumpy or slick roads, as far as that is concerned-with similar sense of unpretentious confidence.
In my view, that is kind of magical. And when we start getting used to how brilliant these bikes are, we are reminded of this each time we pull to a stop especially since Roothy is almost going crazy each time he gets off the bike.
He is in a continuous and irresistible state of joyous incredulity. First when he experiences the superb acceleration; and then when he realizes you can press the brakes hard when cornering with no repercussions; again when he finds out how hard he can open the throttle while it is raining, gassing it on slippery corners so intensely that the front almost lifts up; again when he discovers he can give his aging wrists a rest by flicking on the cruise control; again when he sees that the dashboard gives a readout of the maximum angle you can lean to the left or right when riding.
Actually, as we eat up the miles and tiredness sets in and the weather grows worse, while most of us are scrambling for keys of the S1000XR and the K1600GT tourer, old Roothy still prefers the S1000RR, the sports edition to boot-fitted with lightweight wheels.
Whereas it is not the most comfortable motorcycle for a long road trip, it is still cozy enough for a superbike. The S1000RR is a technological wonder, a level of performance, precision, intelligence and refinement that was completely beyond a rider’s craziest dreams only two decades ago. I wish everybody would experience just how it can be sure-footed and manic at the same time.
I guess Roothy is saying to himself that he is here to have a good time, and this may not last long so he may as well take the bike that provides him with most thrills. That, in my view, is a great way of approaching life.
The standard model of the S1000RR is priced at AU$21,990(in Australia). For AU$23,990 one can get the Sports pack (equipped with Launch Control, Heated grips, Cornering ABS, Cruise Control and several other goodies) while the Race model(with light a single seat and weight forged wheels) costs AU$25,690.
In the US, the model range varies, but prices start at US$15,695 for the base model. For US$18, 845, one can get the Premium Package that comes with Dynamic Damping Control, DTC, Forged wheels, ABS Pro and cruise control together with other goodies.