Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC vs. BMW S1000RR vs. Ducati 1199 Panigale S vs. MV Agusta F4R | Class of 2012 Part II

MC Comparison

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing


Best Lap: 1:53.8

When it debuted just in time for our “Class of 2010” contest at Infineon Raceway, we assumed BMW’s S1000RR would crush all comers like a 174-bhp Kampfpanzer—and we were as shocked as anyone when it finished fourth out of five bikes. We were awestruck by that awesome engine, but less dazzled by flat-footed handling and poor programming that left the various electronic rider aids interrupting each other at the least opportune times. German engineering is fallible after all!

When BMW announced an “all-new” second-generation S1000RR for 2012, we were dismissive. A fraction less rake, a slight change in swingarm pivot height, “optimized” electronics and “edited” bodywork do not a new bike make. It sounded like the German version of the famous Japanese “bold new graphics” update. How wrong we were! The changes may seem inconsequential on paper, but on the road and track, the S1000RR has been absolutely transformed.

Not only is the S1000RR the only bike here that you’d want to ride for more than one tank of gas, it’s likely the most comfortable sportbike made today. The cockpit is roomy, with a supportive and unexpectedly soft saddle. The high, flat bars orient your wrists at a natural angle, the upper fairing creates a bubble of still air and the mirrors actually provide a rear view. The real prize, however, is heated handgrips! Laugh all you want, but these proved indispensible on the street. Excepting a high-frequency vibration through the handlebars at sustained high rpm, the S-dog’s street manners were beyond criticism.

The BMW’s chassis has been comprehensively revised with more aggressive steering geometry, a shorter wheelbase, more swingarm angle and a raised center of gravity, all to make the bike turn faster. These changes are almost comically minute—the biggest is the wheelbase, which was stretched less than 10mm—but the overall effect is transformative. The first-gen S1000RR was slow to turn, quick to stand up while trail-braking and hard to keep on-line when exiting corners. The new bike suffers none of those problems. It drops into corners quickly, remains indifferent to braking inputs and feels stone-stable on exits, even with the rear tire lit and stepping out.

The Sachs fork and shock have also been revised, with new springs front and rear and recalibrated valving and needle geometry for quicker damping response. The BMW’s suspension was the most compliant on the street, and needed the least fiddling to work at the track. The S1000RR seems slightly high-effort in present company—inevitable when comparing a 460-lb. inline-four alongside lighter, skinnier V-twins and V4s—but compared to the Japanese quartet we tested last month, the handling is superb and light.

Like many motorcycles we’ve tested this year, the new S1000RR makes less power than before, dropping 5 bhp to 169 at the rear wheel. Still, acceleration contests were no contest: The BMW was the only bike to dip into the 9s, scorching the quarter-mile in 9.95 seconds at 148.32 mph. The 999cc four makes huge power everywhere, then finishes with an eye-watering top-end rush. The transmission is the only powertrain complaint, a long throw between gears leading to clunky action and an occasional missed shift, despite the electronic shift-assist.

The S1000RR offers four preset ride modes (Rain, Sport, Race and Slick) to tailor throttle response, traction control, wheelie control and anti-lock brake systems for different riding conditions. Throttle response curves are now more aggressive while traction control and wheelie control have been made less intrusive, addressing another of our previous complaints. Both Race and Slick modes are noticeably improved, allowing more front-wheel float and rear-wheel slip before the computer cuts power, which helped the BMW achieve the second-quickest lap time. The electronics no longer slow the bike down, but the lack of adjustability—beyond changing the preset ride mode, you can’t alter traction or wheelie control—seems primitive alongside other bikes that all offer eight-level-adjustable traction control.

The BMW’s brakes are the best of this bunch, delivering stopping force that feels every bit as overwhelming as the engine’s acceleration. A few testers complained that the brakes were too strong for street duty, and it is easy to outbrake yourself if you’re not ready for the response. At the racetrack, however, this bike builds so much speed between turns that you soon appreciate all that stopping power, and the added safety net of BMW’s flawless Race ABS.

Cost of entry usually isn’t the first concern—or any concern—for European sportbike buyers. Still, it can’t be ignored that this $16,995 S1000RR is the least expensive bike here by almost $3000, even after adding optional Motorsport paint ($750), ABS/DTC ($495), quick-shifter ($450) and, of course, those wonderful heated grips ($250). With world-beating performance, globetrotting comfort and more features than most sportbikes no matter what their country of origin, BMW’s much-improved S1000RR is rewriting the book on what a sportbike can be.

Off The Record

Zack Courts, Test Consultant

Best Lap: Aprilia 1:53.4 | Age: 28  | Height: 6’2”  | Weight: 185 Lbs.  | Inseam: 34 In.

The MV Agusta reminds me of an aging supermodel; still sexy, still sharp, but not what she used to be. It looks and feels dated because it is!! Sadly, Ducati’s all-new Panigale failed to live up to the hype, despite being athletic, agile and ready to fight. Sure, the TFT dash is neat, but I’ll take my V-twin with some torque, and an analog tach, too, please. The Aprilia is a hugely entertaining bike to ride, and oozes appeal with sinister looks and the best exhaust note this side of custom night at the local diner, but for a guy my height it's just too tiny. If I could just have a more comfortable riding position and a little more power (and heated grips!), I would gladly give up a few tenths of a second on the track. Lucky for me, BMW already built that bike, and it's one impressive machine. The only dilemma is where to spend the leftover $7000...

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