ESTORIL, Portugal – By now you probably know how much the new BMW HP4 Race costs. If you don’t, the price is $95,000. If you find that to be outrageously expensive, this bike is really, really not for you. What you’re getting for almost one hundred large is a bona fide, better-than-World-Superbike-spec racing machine. It’s a bike that can line up on a WSBK grid, and in capable hands race competitively.
The irony is that despite being hand built at BMW’s factory race shop in Berlin, using many of the same components found on the Althea BMW S1000RR race bike competing in the FIM World Superbike championship, the HP4 Race cannot be raced. Homologation for most racing series dictates that competing machines must be based on commercially available street bikes. And the HP4 Race is no street bike.
BMW held a launch for this bike here in Estoril, Portugal, where we got ample track time on this exclusive machine.
What it’s made of
Despite resembling the S1000RR, the limited-production HP4 Race (only 750 will be produced) shares nothing with the street bike other than engine castings. It’s therefore not a street bike modified to superbike spec like the race bike, but is rather an entirely new machine, at the base of which is a carbon-fibre frame.
The frame weighs just 7.8 kg, which is 4 kg less than the street bike’s aluminum frame. Handling the bare frame feels more like handling a toy than a key component of the 200-plus horsepower superbike. It could have been made lighter, but according to Elmar Jaeger, the guy who designed the frame, BMW had to account for longevity, setting, and even corrosion resistance — things that are not really issues on a race bike used in competition, where parts have a brief lifespan and are replaced regularly.
To handle the “setting” issue, where material compresses with time due to assembly at mounting points, aluminum inserts are used at all of the frame’s mounting points. Since carbon fibre contains carbon, it reacts with the aluminum to cause corrosion, like when aluminum mates directly to steel. The inserts are moulded into the frame instead of being pressed in so that no oxygen gets between the two materials, thus preventing corrosion. Frame wall thickness is also optimised to benefit longevity. Also made from carbon fibre are the wheels, subframe and bodywork.
All this lightweight trickery drops wet weight to 171 kg, which is 37 kg lighter than the street bike and 8 kg less than the full racer.
Comparing chassis geometry with the S1000RR is kind of pointless since the rake angle (23.5-25.5 degrees), trail (95-112 mm), tripleclamp offset (26-32 mm) and swingarm pivot height (+/- 4 mm) are all adjustable, and all the necessary inserts are included with the bike. Ride height, seat height and footpeg height are also adjustable. You also get three different countershaft sprockets and five rear sprockets.
Ohlins provides the suspension components, and they’re the real WSBK deal. The fork is the FGR300 World Cup, which is designed so the brake calipers need not be removed to remove the wheel; the shock is the TTX36 GP. Both items are fully adjustable and identical to the parts found on the Althea race bike.
Brakes are race-spec GP4-PR Brembos up front, with a cute little four-piston caliper at the rear (single-piston on the street bike), and there’s no ABS.
The racing parts don’t stop there. If you read my story about riding BMW’s race bikes last year, you know about BMW’s racing support program, and the three different race engines the company sells to racers. The HP4 Race uses a combination of the 6.2 and 7.2 engines — the altered cylinder head, race cams and valvetrain from the 6.2 engine, and the bottom end with a lighter crankshaft and forged connecting rods from the 7.2 engine.
It also uses a close-ratio gearbox, with only third gear being the same ratio as on the street bike. Each HP4 engine is run in on a dyno, and confirmed to produce at least 215 horsepower, which is just 5 hp shy of the WSBK engine and 16 more than the street engine. If the numbers aren’t satisfactory, the engine gets torn down.
Okay, by now you’re getting that this is not a variation of the S1000RR. Further separating the HP4 Race from the street bike are the electronics, which are much more elaborate. It has four ride modes (Wet, Intermediate, Dry 1, Dry 2), lean-sensing dynamic traction control with 15 levels of intervention, adjustable wheelie control that intervenes only in the bottom three gears, adjustable 15-level engine braking, launch control that works in first and second gears, and a pit lane speed limiter.
Also part of the electronics package is a quick shifter that works up and down, and a 2D data logger with an instrument panel that can be configured to display a multitude of information including TC, engine-braking and ride-mode settings, GPS-enabled lap times, as well as more elaborate data like throttle opening, front and rear wheel speed, lean angle, and if the optional sensors are installed, brake pressure and suspension travel.
Adjustments to the electronics can be made on the fly through the specialized, race-only switchgear, which is simplified compared to a street bike (just three large buttons on either side), and very easy to use.
Riding a $100K race bike
Even before sitting on the HP4 Race you know you’re about to ride something completely different from anything else you can buy. The fit and finish of the carbon parts, the precisely machined engine covers and levers, the abbreviated tailpiece — they all hint at the performance beneath. The exhaust isn’t unusually loud, and is much quieter than many of the superbikes racing in the Canadian national series.
Much as was the case when I rode BMW’s race bikes last year, a slew of stock 2017 S1000RRs were also on hand to ride during “practice” sessions before hopping onto the HP4, which allowed me to get acquainted with the unfamiliar track. The only changes made to the stock bikes were the reversed gearshift pattern to match the HP4’s GP shift pattern, and the Pirelli Diablo Superbike Slicks in the SC2 compound, also matching the HP4’s rubber.
We were given four 20-minute sessions on the HP4, and were allowed to go out on the S1000RR anytime we weren’t on the hero bike. After two sessions on the street bike, I hopped onto the HP4 and immediately noticed the much more extreme riding position. The seat was higher, and the footpegs were abnormally high, even though both were adjusted in their middle positions.
The next thing I noticed was just how much lighter, stiffer, and more precise the HP4 felt. It took less than half a lap to feel completely comfortable on it, steering with much more precision than the street bike, which itself is a stellar handling motorcycle. It took less physical effort to ride the HP4, especially through the tighter turning transitions, and at a faster seat-of-the-pants pace (lap times were not being recorded).
The electronics are not comparable to anything else currently on the market, and are much more evolved. The wheelie control is almost completely invisible, allowing the bike to rocket forward with brutal speed without lifting a wheel, at least until you hit fourth gear, where it will lift at very high speed if you’re not careful. The stock bike often lifted a wheel coming out of the slower turns, making it feel faster (most likely not), but also requiring more effort to ride.
We were told the first session would be ridden in Intermediate mode until we got accustomed to the bike, and even in the first session I found the bike to be blisteringly fast, making me wonder what it would be like in Dry 1 mode (we were told to avoid Dry2 since no wheelie control was available). It’s only after I came into the pit that I realized the bike was already in Dry 1 mode, which indicated to me just how easy it was to get accustomed to the HP4.
Throttle control at corner exit is as near to perfect as possible. Despite the bike’s output, you can come off corners in the lower three gears with the throttle wide open. This is because the ride modes offer different power curves in first, second and third gears. This made the throttle remarkably easy to manage, especially noticeable exiting the chicane in first gear and opening the throttle full while still cranked way over. Of course, once on the front straight and in fourth gear, the acceleration was brutal enough to almost make the stock bike feel slow.
The traction control, too, worked flawlessly, only giving a slight popping out the exhaust as an indication that it was managing grip at full lean. I initially began at level +6 (-7 to +7, least to most intervention) and worked my way down to level +3 and would have gone even lower if we had more sessions.
Braking at the end of the 300-km/h front straight for the 90-ish degree right-hander was hard enough to make blood rush into my face. And the superbike-spec Brembos did the job repeatedly with only a little fade discernible nearing the end of the lapping sessions. The S1000RR on the other hand displayed enough fade that the lever needed to be readjusted farther out about mid-session.
About the only gripe I had with the bike was with the seat, which had too much grip on my backside, causing me to lift my butt to hang off the bike rather than allowing me to slide over smoothly.
The BMW HP4 Race is not a superbike repli-racer. It is a true superbike-spec motorcycle. Of course the HP4 Race is expensive, and there are other costs that come with ownership: maintenance intervals are set at 5,000 km, at which point BMW recommends replacing the engine, at a cost of about 15,000 euros, which is claimed to be cheaper than rebuilding the existing engine.
But that’s the price you have to pay for exclusivity, and WSBK performance. That BMW even considered building this bike is still remarkable, though ever since the company released the S1000RR, which immediately reset the bar in the open supersport class, the company has proven enthusiastic about high performance.
Since the HP4 Race can’t be raced or ridden on the street, you have to wonder why it was built. According to BMW, it was designed to introduce carbon-fibre technology to motorcycling, a feat the company has already tackled with its i3 electric and i8 hybrid cars. I think well-to-do collectors, and possibly wealthy track-day enthusiasts will snap up the bike, of which maybe a dozen will come to Canada. If you can afford to add one to your collection, it’s worth every penny. But you should ride it, or you’ll have no idea what you’ve got.