CIRCUITO DO ESTORIL, Portugal—The BMW S1000RR has been around for a decade now. It entered the open supersport class in 2009, and was instantly a serious contender, despite it being BMW’s first attempt at a high-performance superbike. In fact, it raised the performance bar considerably, entering the category with class-leading power, then claiming 193 horsepower when the best of its competitors from Japan were topping out at about 180. But it was also the first litre-bike to feature advanced traction control and ABS as standard in Canada, and it did so at a very competitive price.
The S1000RR enters its third generation this year, and it sees the biggest changes since its introduction. Because it will be arriving in dealers later this summer, it is slated as a 2020 model.
I’ve been invited to ride the latest S1000RR at its international press launch, held at here at Circuito do Estoril, in southern Portugal.
There are a lot of technical changes that I’ll delve into, since they are mostly what make the 2020 S1000RR a much better bike than its predecessor. If reading about adjustable traction control, wheelie control and shifting camshafts makes you dizzy, you can skip to the ride portion of this test and see how they actually affect the bike on the racetrack.
However, the first thing you notice when looking at the bike is that it no longer sports those asymmetrical headlights. They were polarising trademarks of the German-made supersport machine since its introduction – some people liked them, some people didn’t. There’s no denying that the renewed symmetry has given the S1000RR an entirely new look, and from what I’ve seen on social media, people are mostly liking what they see. I miss the distinctiveness of the oddly shaped headlights, but nonetheless, I like this new look.
Designers have kept some asymmetry in the design, though it’s much less obvious. The vents in the side panels are different on either side; on the left there’s a larger opening that vents warm air blown by the cooling fan at low speeds, while gills on the right side vent cooling air when the bike is travelling at high speed.
The 999 cc inline four engine is entirely new, and it uses BMW’s ShiftCam technology, which provides variable valve lift and duration on the intake side, much as if the engine had two different intake cams. There’s a set of cam lobes that boosts low-end torque, and another that enhances top end. The high-power lobes are always working above 9,000 rpm, while engine load determines which lobes are used below that engine speed. It’s a similar system to the one in the new BMW R1250GS and RT, which we explained here.
BMW takes a few liberties in its Canadian horsepower claims. North American bikes have slightly tighter sound regulations than European bikes, and therefore there is a small difference in engine output. The factory claim is 152 kW (which translates to 204 hp, or 207 PS) for Europe, and 151 kW (which converts to 202 hp, or 205 PS) for North America. BMW’s Canadian website publishes the European numbers, but uses North American measure, so it claims 207 hp, which is generous. In any case, the new engine is roughly 4 per cent more powerful than before. However, it has an especially strong bottom end, thanks to the ShiftCam. At least 73 lb.-ft. of torque is available from 5,500 rpm, peaking at 83.3 lb.-ft. at 11,000 rpm. Fuel economy is said to be 4 per cent better, also.
A new high-resolution TFT screen comprises the instrument panel, controllable via the handlebar-mounted switches and multi-function scroller. There are several different display options, and endless parameters you can adjust through the screen, many more than I had the chance to sample during a day of track riding. The interface is relatively user-friendly, though it would have taken me more time to get accustomed to all the access the new screen allows, and I sometimes got stuck on a certain screen, unable to get to where I wanted to be to make certain adjustments. This is something an owner of the bike will sort out with enough time in the saddle.
The S1000RR now features an advanced, six-axis sensor cluster, which provides much more intuitive and precise traction and wheelie control than before. There are four ride modes — Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race — though the real tune-ability comes when you get the optional Pro modes. With Pro, you get three sub-modes — Race Pro 1, 2 and 3 — and each one allows you to select from three levels of each parameter, including throttle response, traction control, wheelie control, engine braking and ABS, and save them to memory. You can therefore have three customised maps to select from when riding on the track (though they must be selected before you ride), through the menu in the TFT screen. There’s a button on the left handlebar switch assembly that does allow you to further tune the level of ABS and traction control, on the fly, within the parameters you’ve already selected in the Race Pro modes.
Another big change is the demise of the higher-spec S1000RR HP model. Oh, it’s not gone; you can still get a higher spec S1000RR, but it is now known as the S1000RR with the optional M package. If you’re familiar with BMW cars, you’ll recognise the letter M as the brand’s high-performance division.
The S1000RR M package adds the Pro ride modes with adjustable traction control, wheelie control and engine braking, launch control, a pit-lane speed limiter, adjustable ride height and swingarm pivot, and carbon-fibre wheels, among a couple of other race-oriented bits, for $4,875 above the $18,900 starting price.
A Race package is also available if you want all the electronics and chassis adjustability without the carbon-fibre wheels, for $2,075, and finally there’s BMW’s DDC (Dynamic Damping Control) electronically adjustable suspension, which has completely new internals that allow a much broader adjustment range. It can be added for $1,525.
Weight has been taken out of everything — the engine, chassis, exhaust, electronics — totalling 11 kg, dropping weight to 197 kg wet for the S1000RR, and when equipped with the M package, to 193.5 kg.
On the track – pretty quick
My test bike was equipped with the M package and the DDC suspension. For the morning track sessions, the bikes were equipped with the OEM tires, Bridgestone Hypersport S21 radials, which were changed to Bridgestone racing slicks for the afternoon sessions when the speeds increased.
For the first riding session only, I joined one of three groups, divided into fast, intermediate, and slow riders. Since I know this track, I slotted into the fast group. (That’s our guy! Ed.) The group leader, a former 250GP rider, began the first lap at a spirited pace, but as soon as we got onto the front straight for the first time, he wicked up the throttle to its stop, and didn’t let up until the chequered flag came out at the end of the 15-minute session.
This was much faster than I’d normally go on a first session, but with the bike set to the non-Pro Race mode, it responded with confidence-inspiring feedback, allowing me to go from zero to 95 per cent while my breakfast omelette was still sloshing around in my belly. We rode fast enough in that first session to feel the OEM tires squirm around in the very fast, long right-hand sweeper that opens up onto the kilometre-long front straight.
In the second session, I experienced a 160-km/h rear slide on the same OEM tires in that final sweeper, and I mean a proper slide, which probably would have looked spectacular in a photo. Skill has taught me to stay on the throttle when experiencing a rear-wheel slide – it must be done now that open-class supersport machines have advanced traction control systems. Closing the throttle in a slide throws the system off, so you must learn to trust the intervention, adjust it to your riding style in the case of the S1000RR, and let it do its work. It may have been the electronics, it may have been my skill, or it may have been pure luck, but the rear tire just came back into line as the bike straightened out, no drama, no indication that the bike did anything to intervene.
Those first two sessions really emphasised what I’ve always liked about BMW’s supersport machine: it is forgiving, it is easy to ride, and it is blisteringly fast without being too demanding. For comparison, a Ducati Panigale V-twin (I haven’t yet ridden the V4), is also blisteringly fast, but it is also very demanding to ride, and taxes your mental and physical strength.
On the track – even quicker
After lunch, I hopped onto a bike equipped with slicks, and selected the Race Pro 2 mode, which has the throttle response at maximum, traction control and engine braking to level 2 of 3, and wheelie control and ABS to level 1, the least intervention aside from being turned off. I did go into the menu and reset the wheelie control to a more Costa-appropriate level two, since I do prefer both wheels on the ground most of the time. The difference between wheelie control levels 1, 2 and 3 is the amount of lift the bike will allow before intervening. Level two allows for a couple of inches of lift, while level 3 is for rain.
Unfortunately, my first post-lunch session was cut short on the second lap, when a warning came onto the display screen to state that traction control was no longer available, and the bike went into limp mode. I was later told that a sensor wire became unplugged, most probably during the tire change.
I did get a final chance to wring out the S1000RR, though. Grip was much higher on the slick tires, and their slightly different profile also altered turn-in, making it a bit quicker. And despite going faster through the right-hand sweeper, which I was now taking in fourth gear, up one from when I rode on the OEM tires, I felt no slip whatsoever.
Throttle response was aggressive, yet still manageable in level 1, and when the front wheel did come off the ground occasionally while exiting the first-gear chicane, it did so very smoothly, returning the front wheel to terra firma with no further intervention on my part. None of this was felt from the rider’s seat, though the level of some of the electronic intervention systems was set a bit too low for me to trigger. I’d only seen the traction control light flash in the earlier sessions, on the OEM tires and in non-Pro Race mode. Set at a lower level of intervention and on the slick tires, lighting it was beyond my skill level.
The DDC suspension was set up for me somewhere in the middle of its range. This proved quite compliant and free of any weaving, though I would have fiddled with it further with more time on the bike, just as I’d have fiddled more with the ride mode settings, too.
Fortunately, I have some experience on various BMWs on this very racetrack and can make a direct comparison between the old, the new, and the exotic. The last time I was here on a bike was to ride the $95,000 HP4 Race, that carbon-fibre-framed, superbike-spec track special. I’d also ridden the previous-generation S1000RR during that test. While the S1000RR was always my favourite of the open-class supersport machines because it was easy to ride fast, it felt almost truck-ish next to the ultra-lightweight HP4 Race.
This new bike, at least when it’s equipped with the M package and DDC suspension, sits somewhere between. This is a big leap from the previous model, and ensures that at least for now, it remains my favourite litre-bike.