2015 BMW S 1000RR
The sportsbike world was in a spin recently over the arrival of Yamaha’s all-new YZF-R1. It’s a bike with electronic features never before offered on a production motorcycle, and breathtaking performance.
I even asked myself how much better a 1000cc production sportsbike could possibly get.
Then, before the rubber laid by the new R1 around the Eastern Creek circuit had a chance to fade, I got the keys to the new BMW S 1000 RR.
Unveiled to the world in late 2009, the S 1000 RR was a game-changer, offering big horsepower, ABS and traction control specifically tuned for sport riding. It didn’t just edge ahead of the competition, it made it look dated and kicked off a game of high-tech catch-up.
Until the latest R1, nobody was in the hunt. Sure, Aprilia RSV4 Factory and Ducati’s 1299 Panigale are impressive but, in standard trim, neither could hold a candle to the S 1000 RR around a racetrack.
I’ve no doubt Yamaha engineers had the BMW firmly in their sights when taking aim with their new weapon. Credit where it’s due: the R1 has gone from zero to hero. BMW, on the other hand, had a very solid starting point in 2009.
It rolled out an updated version of the S 1000 RR around three years ago, followed by the HP4 performance flagship last year, but this year’s iteration is more than window dressing.
Going through the list of changes, you can see BMW identified the bike’s weak points and started from there. If the S 1000 RR did have an Achilles heel, it was its low- to mid-range power. This has been addressed by internal engine upgrades to the inlet camshaft, inlet valves, cylinder head and airbox duct geometry.
NEW, LIGHTER FRAME
Improvements outside the liquid-cooled, inline four include a larger airbox and intake design with shorter intakes. To finish off the mechanical upgrades is a new exhaust system that no longer has an under-frame silencer – just a rear muffler. This alone shaved three kilograms from the overall weight, bringing the bike in at a claimed 204kg. And that’s with a full 17.5-litre tank.
I’ve previously been quietly critical of the S 1000 RR lacking front-end feel on corner entry, and rear-wheel grip could also be an issue. Neither of these characteristics was especially noticeable in daily use but they were apparent on the track.
A new, lighter frame with refined geometry has been used to offer more flexibility and feedback to the rider. Fork rake is 1mm steeper at 23.5 degrees and there’s 1.5mm less trail at 96.5mm. The wheelbase is up 8mm to 1438mm. This was achieved not through months on the drawing board but simply by adding an extra chain link.
Both front and rear suspension units have been fitted with heavier rate springs and re-valved to suit. All this has been topped off with an upgraded electrical system with more memory and faster processing times.
HIGH-SPEC IS STANDARD
BMW Australia has found its customers usually option up their bikes and, as a result, the base specification for Oz-bound bikes includes many options not fitted to overseas models.
These include race ABS, an up/down quickshifter, pinstripe wheels and on-board computer. The race package is also included, featuring dynamic traction control, an extra riding mode (Pro) and cruise control.
The bike’s styling has been revisited, with the bodywork taking on a more slender silhouette. A new headlight and larger screen offer both function and form. When ordering, you have the no-cost option of a pillion seat and footrests or a pillion seat cover with no footrests.
Visiting Australia to be on hand for the launch was BMW Motorrad product manager Josef Maechler.
Josef has been based at BMW headquarters in Munich for eight years and has been a major player in the development of the S 1000 RR project.
Having the main man behind this model close by to answer questions was brilliant as information came straight from the source.
When the bike was released in 2009, the dreaded Global Financial Crisis hit the sportsbike market hard and 1000cc models were collecting dust on showroom floors. I asked Josef what BMW had in mind for the model given the difficult circumstances. He explained that when the S 1000 RR began development in 2007, the sportsbike market was booming, with around 100,000 models sold in that year.
BMW had hoped to sell 10,000 units in its release year to make the bike viable and it did just that. Since its release, the S 1000 RR has owned 20 per cent of the sportsbike market.
These figures confirm current trends that, despite declining global sportsbike sales, buyers want high performance and high technology. As a result, top-end sportsbikes have never been more performance-focused.
I asked Josef if there was any room for future development of the S 1000 RR or if the machine was at its limit. He said BMW could already offer more power in a package just as reliable. But why would it when the latest model is already able to match or better the rest?
“We must save something for later,” he said, giving the distinct impression BMW is in a good place.
Josef also hinted that the new model may have been available for some time but BMW did not see the need to offer it earlier. I bet the impending R1 release made the timing decision for them.
Unlike the R1 that spent time being secretly tested and developed at Eastern Creek, BMW stayed closer to home, using European circuits for research and development.
I was surprised at how complimentary Josef was of the new Yamaha, as he believes it’s all positive for the high-end of sportsbikes. The bikes are developed through competition and he’s excited about the challenge.
Our test location for the launch was the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on a sunny day with light winds – perfect. After riding the Yamaha R1M only a week earlier and with impressions of that fresh in my mind, I was keen to get riding.
There are four pre-set riding modes available (Rain/Sport/Race/Slick) plus a fifth mode that allows you to tailor each setting. ‘Sport’ mode seemed most appropriate for my first track session.
Apart from ‘Rain’, all modes deliver the full 199 horsepower.
What changes when you switch between modes is the intervention threshold of ABS and traction control. Rain mode previously offered ‘just’ 156hp but now it gives you 186hp.
It won’t, however, deliver that power until the bike is upright. This is not only a wet safety feature but a handy tool for less-experienced riders to learn a new track. Smart computer.
Our test bikes were fitted with the optional Dynamic Package ($1050) comprising semi-active electronic suspension (ESA) with damping adjustment via the dash. Consequently, a mode change also affects the suspension movement.
After parking the bike at the end of the first session and giving myself a moment to let my heart rate settle, I couldn’t stop smiling. This bike is fast and, with the throttle wide open down the straight, it feels like you’re strapped to a missile!
It wasn’t just the power that had me smiling – it was the clever quickshifter. Such technology have been around on many models in recent years. Hold the throttle open and tap the gear lever – job done with a clutchless upshift. But how about clutchless downshifts? This is now a standard feature on the BMW. As you enter a turn or approach a stop with the throttle closed, just tap down on the lever. The bike will calculate the amount of throttle blip required and match the engine rpm perfectly.
MV Agusta introduced a downshifter a few years ago on its F4R but it was terrible. BMW has its system spot on.
Even going from sixth to first, it will downshift as fast as you tap the lever.
I found my fingers reaching for the clutch lever for a few laps but, once accustomed to the clutchless downshift, it’s brilliant. Your left hand stays gripped to the handlebar, leaving you to focus more on the ride. As the sensors involved are super sensitive, any pressure on the clutch lever or throttle opening will disengage it. It’s a very cool gizmo and it works – whether or not you use it is up to you.
Once I built speed and began braking later into slow corners, I could feel the ABS releasing front brake pressure. A quick mode switch to ‘Race’ and this didn’t happen again. I also felt the power delivery begin at a greater lean angle.
Talking of lean angles, the digital dash records your previous ride’s lean angle so you can see how many degrees you cranked over. I found it interesting that as my lap times improved I was actually using less lean angle. Be warned if you go past 62 degrees on a flat surface, you’ll be ordering new bodywork.
When track riding, I’ve always found analogue the easiest to read. It’s also handy if it incorporates a shift light that prompts you to change up.
With a pit lane speed limiter, race start launch control, data recording ability – I could literally write pages on the S 1000 RR’s features but, cutting to the chase, how does it go?
We all know the S 1000 RR is fast-accelerating but it used to falter slightly in its power delivery between 5500 and 8500rpm. This pause is all but gone with an extra six horses and 10Nm produced in that range. It now pulls cleanly all the way to the 13,500rpm limiter (which can be raised to 14,200rpm if needs must).
The extra few ponies up top is not so noticeable but how the engine gets there is. Improved electronics deliver a smoother power curve with flawless throttle connection.
If you feel you require more or less traction control, you have 15 settings at your fingertips. The traction control, or DTC, switch is at a left thumb’s reach.
Chassis changes have had the desired effect and I felt more feedback from the front tyre on turn entry. This is vital on a sportsbike as your confidence is built from the front’s connection to the track.
We used both the Pirelli Supercorsa SP and SC2 treaded supersport tyres. For a tyre offering more longevity, the SP still offers a high grip level.
Braking power is epic. Floating 320mm rotors are stopped by radial-mounted, four-piston Brembo calipers.
After working my way to ‘Slick’ mode, I was braking as late as my brain would allow me. There was no lever pulsing and no wheel lock – just brutal stopping power.
This braking system, combined with anti-wheel lift, shift assist and a slipper clutch all work in unison to keep the RR stable during deceleration.
Was there anything I didn’t like about the RR? One minor annoying issue was the lack of engine braking in Slick mode on corner entry. I raised this with Josef and he had it sorted in seconds. Selecting User mode, I could select the Race engine setting (more engine braking) yet still retain the Slick ABS, traction and suspension settings. This may sound confusing but it’s like your first smartphone –you’re soon working it with your eyes closed.
With partially and fully optioned models to explore, this gave me the opportunity to compare the standard cast wheels and the optional forged wheels. At $1850, they’re not cheap but the saving in unsprung weight can be felt on the track. It was noticeably easier to change direction at speed. It’s easy to see the difference in wheels as the standard items have the pinstripe.
On each session I found more to like about this bike and how it does its job. It’s without doubt the most powerful production sportsbike I’ve ridden.
Thanks to a well-refined electronics package, it’s also one of the easiest to ride. Considering BMW no longer has a factory-backed involvement in motorcycle racing, it sure makes one heck of a race bike!
So, you’ve had a blast on your S 1000 RR at a track day, improved your circuit personal best and hosed your mates. Now it’s time to ride home. Did I mention the cruise control and heated grips? More reasons to smile.
So in just a week, I again find myself asking how much better can a sportsbike get? Josef already gave me a hint on that one: ABS combined with a gyro-sensor, allowing you to turn into a corner with maximum brake pressure.
In this high-performance, two-wheeled poker game, Yamaha just laid down an impressive hand. I think, though, BMW may have replied with one more card in its strong suit.
– Smart technology
– Value for money
– Didn’t win WSBK
– I’m racing against them at the IoM
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