Costa Mouzouris flies off to the sunny Algarve to ride BMW’s new S1000RR on the track. Have BMW just raised the bar on their first attempt?
BMW took a bold step by jumping into the open-class supersport foray with the new S1000RR; it will, after all, be put up against uber-refined Japanese machines that have at least a decade of development under their bodywork, and it will have to compete in a market that demands hi-tech at a relatively low price — an unenviable task indeed.
On paper alone the S1000RR is well positioned to make some of the Japanese engineers worry. Riding it only confirms this.
For starters BMW claims the best power-to-weight ratio in its class, with a remarkable 1.06 kg per horsepower — and that’s on the heavier ABS-equipped model (which tips the scales at 206.5 kg (455 lb) wet. That’s a whole 4 kg lighter than the ABS-equipped CBR1000RR and even 2 kg lighter than the ZX-10R, which isn’t even weighed down with ABS gear.
Impressive. And although the BMW isn’t the lightest in class — its weight puts it right in the middle of current supersports — its 193 claimed horsepower places it on top of the heap for power output.
Now that’s a lot of power.
To help mere mortals like us handle all those ponies, BMW has incorporated dynamic traction control (DTC). This is a true traction control and uses a combination of electronic throttle manipulation, ignition-timing variation and fuel cut-off to control rear wheel spin.
Unlike the system available on some of Duacti’s street superbikes that senses front and rear wheel speeds, the BMW system also compensates for lean angle — just the way race bikes using traction control do.
Add to that four riding modes (rain, sport, race, slick) selectable via a handlebar-mounted switch that adjusts power characteristics, as well as DTC and linked ABS intrusion levels, and you not only have the makings of a supersport bike that is light and powerful, but likely very civilized too.
AUTODROMO IN FOUR MODES
BMW chose to launch their S1000RR at Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal, with its 15 technically challenging turns, and numerous elevation changes — some disarmingly steep — and a 300 km/h front straight.
To allow us to get accustomed to the new racetrack (and likely save some costly embarrassments) our hosts at BMW set all the machines to rain mode for our first session.
Rain mode, for those who haven’t guessed, is designed for wet conditions. It limits engine output to 150 hp, softens throttle response at low throttle openings, and sets the DTC and ABS to trip at low friction coefficients.
It’ll stop you from a sphincter-clenching slide or costly lowside on greasy roads, but on a dry racetrack, it allowed the throttle to be hammered open from full lean, but all the while keeping the revs restrained until the bike straightened out.
Although we didn’t get a chance to use the system on wet pavement, I can see it serving as a safety buffer for inner city riding even when it’s not raining, yet grip varies due to other factors, like oil-stained asphalt, streetcar tracks, and in Montreal, a combination of cobblestones and horse poo.
We upped it to street mode for the second session, which releases maximum power (max power is available in all but rain mode) and provides a more aggressive throttle curve, while setting DTC and ABS levels a bit higher, to capitalize on the increased grip provided by street tires on dry pavement.
At a fast pace, DTC intrusion was less deliberate than in rain mode (regardless of which riding mode is chosen, DTC operation is nearly flawless and very smooth), but was noticeable mostly as the bike straightened out of a corner past a certain lean angle, where a slight surge in power could be felt.
BMW claims it is in this mode that 90 percent of riders will spend most of the time, and unless you take to the track, I see no reason to deviate from this formula. Intermediate level track day riders will probably like this mode because the threshold of the DTC makes fast riding almost effortless.
One drawback of the street mode was that the ABS was a bit too sensitive for a more aggressive pace, something I discovered when I braked a bit harder going downhill into a left-hand hairpin, tripped the ABS, and almost overshot the turn as a result.
Race mode provides an even more aggressive throttle curve, and sets DTC and ABS to trip at the higher friction coefficients capable by using DOT race tires. In this mode, braking functioned almost like a bike without ABS, though I could feel occasional pulsing in the rear pedal as the rear tire teetered on the edge of traction.
BMW’s race ABS is a linked system; the front lever operates the front brake, while providing a low level of rear brake pressure. The brake pedal operates the rear brake alone. It is a complex system using several pressure sensors and even a rear wheel-lift detector.
Despite all the gadgetry, the brakes worked and felt like normal high-performance brakes, so a rider doesn’t have to adapt to the system, while the electronics worked under cover to keep threat of unintentional lockup at bay.
The only anomaly in the three riding modes I’d tried until now was the tendency for the bike to hiccup on occasion under hard acceleration in a straight line. I mistook this for an EFI glitch, but was corrected by one of BMW’s test riders, who’d informed me it was in fact the DTC doing what it’s supposed to do.
This seemed a little odd to me. Why would the DTC trip at speeds well above 160 km/h in a straight line? I found out when I started session four in slick mode …
In slick mode, throttle mapping is set at its most aggressive, DTC and ABS are set to trip at the very high grip level offered by racing slicks, though the brake pedal is allowed to override the linked front lever so that a rider can lock the rear wheel and slide into a turn.
In the other three modes, if the front wheel leaves the ground the difference in front- and rear-wheel speeds trips the DTC and the bike remains mostly level. In slick mode, DTC is turned off for up to five seconds at lean angles less than 23 degrees — you know, to allow crossed up wheelies for the photographers or for that victory wheel stand.
Well, the first time I rode over the portion of the racetrack where I was experiencing the slight hiccup — about at the middle of a 300-metre-long straight — I shifted the bike into fourth gear at about 180 km/h and the front wheel took to the sky. That’s what 193 hp will do when you don’t have traction control keeping the front wheel at bay.
It’s hard to describe the exhilaration one feels exiting the circuit’s last corner, a very fast right-hand sweeper, at more than 200 km/h, accelerate up, and crest the short slope onto the front straight, and have the front wheel lift high off the ground, on the power … at well over 220 km/h.
One thing many journalists, including myself, noted was the ease with which one felt immediately comfortable on the S1000RR. Whether it was its precise steering, unwavering stability, or its advanced electronic riding aids, it was very easy to go very fast on the S1000RR.
Having ridden all the supersport machines out there I can say that this BMW’s overall performance is at the very least on par with the best of them.
It’s no surprise the S1000RR performs so well; during one of my later sessions, when I’d picked up the pace and was going quite fast, I was passed going into a high-speed right-hander by Stephan Zeit, who then gracefully pulled away.
Zeit works for BMW Motorrad. He’s not a test rider; he’s the S1000RR project manager. As far as I can remember, that was the first time I’d ever been passed by the guy who developed the bike I was riding.
Zeit rides track days regularly, and until recently, did so on a Honda CBR1000RR (he sold it to make room for the bike he conceived — wouldn’t you?). He told me his main influence in building the S1000RR was the 2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000, a bike that won its fair share of open bike shootouts.
The S1000RR is BMW’s interpretation of what works best in the class. The Germans certainly studied machines that are currently on the market and applied all their best features into one machine. It’s a daunting task to build a competitive open classer, and if you’re going to start from scratch, it’s only wise to adopt what works.
You can see influences of other superport machines in the S1000RR: variable length intake stacks, ride-by-wire throttle control, ram-air intake induction, stacked transmission shafts, a focus on mass centralization — even application of a high-performance ABS system like the one introduced on the CBR1000RR last year.
A keen eye will also pick up on the rear wheel adjuster that’s parallel to the ground like Ducati used on the 999, which doesn’t affect ride height when adjusting the drive chain (though the BMW’s fully adjustable suspension has provisions for rear ride-height adjustment as well).
THE BEST OF EVERYTHING?
Where the S1000RR surpasses the other offerings is that BMW has applied all the features that make those other bikes work well, improved on some (BMW uses a 46 mm inverted fork as opposed to everyone else’s 43 mm units — and don’t forget its heart-palpitating power output), and incorporated all the electronic controls I feel are neccessary on modern supersport machines capable of producing close to 200 horsepower.
For those hardcore riders who believe they can ride better without electronic assistance, DTC and ABS can be turned off independently.
Best of all — and I don’t know how the company pulled this off — it’s priced to compete head on with its Japanese counterparts. Sure, at $17,300 the S1000RR will set you back between $500 and $1,300 more than the latest from Japan, but for that you get DTC, race ABS and electronic gearshift assist as standard equipment (these are sold separately as options elsewhere in the world, but you’d be a fool to do without them).
Heck, the only other traction control equipped supersport is the Ducati 1198S, and that bike costs a hefty $27,000.
If you’re a serious rider who spends a lot of time at track days, the S1000RR is the most advanced supersport currently available; it’s affordable and it’s an almost indispensable go-fast tool.
Be it on paper or at the track, BMW’s first outing into the superbike world has just set a new benchmark in open-class performance.
|Bike||2010 BMW S1000RR|
|MSRP||$17,300 (DTC, ABS, Gearshift assist standard)|
|Engine type||Four-stroke dohc inline four, liquid-cooled|
|Power (crank – claimed)||193 hp @ 13,000 rpm|
|Torque (claimed)||83 lb-ft @ 9,750 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||17.5 litres|
|Carburetion||EFI with ride-by-wire throttle control|
|Final drive||Six speed, Chain drive|
|Tires, rear||190/55 Z17|
|Brakes, front||Twin 320 mm discs with four-piston radial calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 220 mm disc with single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||820 mm (32.3″)|
|Wheelbase||1,432 mm (56.4″)|
|Dry weight (claimed)||206.5 kg (455 lb)|
|Colours||Acid green metallic; white/red/blue (+$650)|