Test ride: 2020 BMW S1000RR

Recalculating… That’s my brain shortly after hopping on the 2020 BMW S1000RR. Everything about this bike exudes an acute sense of performance, refinement, and razor-sharp reflexes, with the power and temperament of a thoroughbred horse at the gate.

When BMW decided to enter the Superbike arena, it did so in 2009 with a revolutionary splash with the original S1000RR. This new 2020 model, starting at $18,900, builds on the original foundation of technology and power with improvements across the board, keeping the S1000RR at the leading edge of the Superbike arms race. Prepare to recalibrate your senses for the ride ahead.

Read all the specs for the 2020 BMW S1000RR here

The 2009 S1000RR was the first production superbike to go all-in with ABS and traction control, and as a result, the competition was left scrambling to catch up. To add to its technological tour-de-force, the original S1000RR also featured class-leading horsepower, a one-two punch to the established Japanese brands and to the surging Italians at Ducati and Aprilia. Numerous refinements along the way kept the BMW in the hunt for Superbike wins, but eventually, a ground-up rebuild was necessary, and the 2020 is it.

Read Costa’s preview of the BMW S1000RR in Portugal here

It looks so tranquil here at Dean’s horse farm in the country, but the S1000RR is anything but tranquil.

What is it?

Starting with the engine, the S1000RR’s inline-four features BMW’s ShiftCam variable valve timing, a system that switches between two different intake cam lobe profiles by physically shifting the entire camshaft sideways along its axis. The idea of using different cam lobe profiles at different RPM is not new (Honda’s well-known VTEC system is an example), but BMW’s ShiftCam is unique in its simplicity, and was already in production in the recent GS and RT models before it was implemented with the S1000RR.

Along with numerous other improvements, the result is 207 claimed horsepower at 13,500 RPM, spread across a plateau of torque and power that starts from nowhere and doesn’t let off until redline, and an engine that’s four kilos lighter than the previous version.

The chassis (again, all-new) is aluminum as before (no super-expensive HP4 carbon frame), with the engine as a stressed member, and a degree of flex engineered in to allow some compliance when leaned over in a corner. A beautifully sculpted, World Superbike and MotoGP-inspired swingarm with bracing underneath instead of on top makes more room around the top of the shock for servicing and adjustments, and looks trick.

The “M Package” model we tested (a $4,895 option) also features an adjustable swingarm pivot, allowing for changes in the bike’s squat characteristics under hard acceleration, and carbon fibre wheels (there’s your HP4 influence) to reduce unsprung weight. Forged wheels are a $2,075 option, included with the “race package” along with the adjustable pivot.

Faster than a speeding locomotive! Actually, faster than pretty much anything else that’s road legal on two wheels.

Suspension is by Marzocchi, a 70-year-old Italian company that used to be the OEM supplier for Ducati, with the M Package bike featuring DDC (Dynamic Damping Control) electronically-controlled damping. Brakes are Hayes front and Brembo rear with ABS, and the M Package and Race Package also get a lightweight lithium-ion battery.

Trick looks

Gone is the pirate look of the original S1000RR, replaced with a more symmetrical set of LED headlights, front signals integrated into the mirrors, and the rear brake light integrated into the rear signals. Both the mirrors and rear fender/lights are easily removable for track duty, and the M Package features an exclusive tri-colour red/white/blue graphics package. The left and right panels of the fairing sides are still asymmetrical, with the signature shark gills on the right and just a bare opening on the left.

The riding position is your typical head down/bum up horse jockey configuration that taxes the wrists after only a few minutes, but is beneficial when riding hard or going to the track.

High Tech

Electronics were a big part of the original S1000RR package, and the new model is chock full of high-tech features. The 6.5-inch full-colour TFT display is controlled by a mode button on the right switch pod, two toggle switches on the left pod, and a multi-directional dial on the left grip. If that sounds a little confusing, it is, and it takes a while to get up to speed on how to navigate things.

One would expect the owner’s manual to be a big help, but it is written more like lines of code rather than something to be read and understood by humans. Allow a few days or even a couple of weeks to get fully functional with all of the features of this machine.

Here’s the basic rundown of doo-dads the bike has: riding modes (Rain, Road, Dynamic, Race, plus Pro OE with Race Package or M Package), Dynamic Damping Control (a $1,525 option with the Dynamic Package, or with the M Package), ABS, Dynamic Brake Control (Race Package or M Package), Dynamic Traction Control, quick shifter, wheelie control (Race or M), launch control (Race or M), pit lane speed limiter (Race or M), tire pressure monitoring, multiple display configurations, cruise control (with Dynamic or M), heated grips (with Dynamic or M), hill start control (Race or M), anti-theft alarm, Bluetooth pairing with smartphone and associated app, navigation, music player, and phone call compatibility. Phew! Like BMW’s sport sedans, this canyon carver has all the bells and whistles, but you need to tick the right option boxes depending on what you want.

The riding modes are fairly self-explanatory, with the rain and road modes featuring higher levels of ABS and traction control intervention, lower damping rates for the DDC, and softer throttle response. The Dynamic and Race modes give the bike sharper responses and less electronic intervention, and full adjustability is found in Pro OE mode. The smoother throttle responses and softer ride can be felt between the riding modes, but ABS and traction control intervention levels are difficult to detect on the street, and I didn’t have any riding time in the rain, fortunately or not.

Back to tranquility again. We’ll see about that…

How is it to ride?

After spending most of the spring riding season on under-sprung and under-damped machinery, the S1000RR’s suspension composure was superb in comparison, and the bike had a feeling of both being glued to the tarmac and floating over bumps, one that’s characteristic of a good electronic suspension system. The bike is rock solid from corner entry to exit, with a planted feel while still responsive to line changes. It would take some effort to upset this chassis on the street.

On a bike this powerful, launch control is a welcome feature, accessed by holding the starter button with the engine running and the bike at a stop. To prevent clutch damage, the system limits the number of consecutive hard starts before allowing the clutch to cool. Once engaged, the rider revs the engine to redline, releases the clutch, and turns the throttle wide open. The electronics reduce torque as necessary to prevent excessive wheelies, and continues to do so until 70 km/h or third gear is reached. No clutch feathering is needed, and combined with the quick shifter, getting up to warp speed only requires a few twitches of the left foot, front wheel skimming the pavement, eyeballs squished back in their sockets. (Only on a closed course with a professional rider, etc. etc., or on this road I know – Ed.)

Aha! This isn’t Dean, but Costa leading the way on the S1000RR earlier this year in Portugal, just to show how the big boys do it.

The quick shifter works with minimal effort, with jerk-free upshifts and automatically rev-matched downshifts, and operates well whether toodling around town or blasting up an on-ramp. However, the transmission on our tester had considerable problems getting into neutral. The issue was less apparent when the engine was warm, but when cold, neutral was almost impossible to engage. This was a blemish on an otherwise well-put-together machine, one that is hopefully not a widespread issue.

Absolutely no complaints about the S1000RR’s brakes, as they were quite possibly the best binders I’ve encountered. They have a solid feel at the lever, an incredible amount of power, and excellent modulation. While your typical top-of-the-line litre bike will have Brembo and Öhlins logos prominently displayed up front, the BMW-branded Hayes calipers and Marzocchi forks worked as well or better than the accepted gold standards. (Interestingly, both Hayes and Marzocchi were dominant in the mountain bike industry a couple of decades ago.)

And Costa again, proving his point on the track at Estoril.

How does it stack up to the competition?

I had the chance to ride the S1000RR M Package ($23,775) back-to-back with one of its closest competitors, the $31,595 Ducati Panigale V4 S (which you’ll read about later this month). These two litre-class Superbikes have similar goals and share much in common on paper, but could not be more different from the saddle. Whereas the BMW is refined speed, useable anywhere in the rev range, with all the amenities you could ask for, the Ducati is a raw beast, hard starting, shaking its signals at idle, juddering and chugging down low in first gear, without so much as a fuel gauge for convenience.

BMW in the foreground, Ducati in red: two bikes with a very different approach to the same challenge.

The V4S is noticeably more powerful, but the BMW would be far easier to live with on the street, especially as an occasional commuter or sport-tourer. I would suspect the S1000RR to be easier to ride fast on the track, but the V4 S to be more rewarding to get right in the hands of a fast rider.

One of the harder parts about riding the S1000RR is to not constantly run afoul of the constabulary, because the BMW’s considerable talents are so easy to access. Pick a gear, any gear, crank the throttle and it’s gone. Smooth road or bumpy, bend it in and it carves like a scalpel. Grab those phenomenal brakes, bang a bunch of clutchless downshifts and listen to the engine automatically match speeds, and wonder whether the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK team is having open rider tryouts any time soon.

It takes a bit of time to re-adjust to the performance potential of a bike like this, but it is certainly time well spent. Recalculating done, let’s go!

Read all the specs for the 2020 BMW S1000RR here

6 thoughts on “Test ride: 2020 BMW S1000RR”

  1. The problem with the full on sport bikes seems to be the their own ADV inspired bikes. Why ride the RR when you can have most of the performance and saddle bags and a lot more comfort with the XR??

  2. I was riding ZX14 when these came out in 2009 and I remember thinking this new machine has gotta be QUICK if it’s faster than the mighty fourteen, heheh…
    But I was pretty sure it was overstressed for the street and would prove troublesome/unreliable.
    Wrong! (and not for the first time.) LoL

  3. When ‘too much’ is enough…modern litre bikes! Track weapons really, or more accurately, the quickest way to handcuffs and loss of driver’s license. Great fun.

      1. Costa a great many riders have never been to a racetrack in their lives.
        (Thus making this bike the answer to a question not many have asked…?)

        1. We’re all in agreement here guys. I’ve done numerous track days/schools in my 4 decades of riding and supersport bikes are outstanding on track…for me, not so much when in the real world of street riding as any semblance of riding ‘legally’ with these types of bikes is BORING (to me) and a disservice to the bright engineers/designers of the bike.

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