The ride had been pretty wild at times, which is to be expected when you have 220 horsepower at the end of the throttle wire. But as I cruised into Portimao's pit lane after five laps aboard the machine that has earned a reputation as World Superbike's "bad boy," I was buzzing with adrenaline rather than shaking with fear.
True, the BMW had twitched as I braked into the uphill right-hander halfway around the track, and had snapped its bars to the side disconcertingly fast as I powered out of the Portuguese circuit's sweeping final turn onto the main straight at over 100 mph. But its throttle response was flawless, its cornering poise immense and its engine performance ferocious but generally well controlled.
It's a good thing my ride on the S1000RR came immediately after the last round of its debut season rather than earlier in the year. Because if there's one bike that changed a lot during the year, it's the 999cc four with which BMW made its dramatic-and very impressive-entry into top-level roadracing. Ironically, the bike's best performance came in the very first round at Phillip Island, Australia, where homeboy Troy Corser used his local knowledge to set the fastest lap on his way to eighth place. But that result disguised the fact that the team faced a huge task in developing a competitive bike from scratch while simultaneously trying to compete against teams with many years of experience.
Troy Corser's and Ruben Xaus' bikes are identical except for their front ends. The Aussie
It was no wonder that despite the BMW's sophisticated electronics system, its riders often struggled to gain the full performance from an ultra-short-stroke engine that was among the most powerful-if not the most flexible-on the grid. "Straight out of the box it had too much power in the wrong areas, and the electronics were fighting themselves," says Corser. "The tire would spin so the power would cut, then because it cut so hard it would spin again. Now the reduction of power is much smoother so the bike is much easier to ride."
On top of that, the hectic race schedule left little time for development. "For the first half of the year the bikes didn't stop travelling. I think they were back in the workshop for about two days in the first seven months," Corser continues. "It was only in the mid-season break that the engineers had time to go back and analyze all the data we'd gotten from the first six races. That's when we made huge steps. Before that point we were pretty much just testing on the race weekends. In the second half of the season we concentrated on getting results."
Engine development was helped by the fact that Corser brought with him from Suzuki Massimo Neri, the telemetry expert who helped the Australian win the World Superbike Championship in 2005. BMW took another step forward by setting up a testing team that included veteran racer Steve Martin.
The chassis was repeatedly revised. "As we keep improving the engine, we have to change the chassis to keep up," explains Corser. "That's what we did all season. We stiffened the frame at the steering head because we wanted less flex, although at really bumpy tracks like Kyalami [in South Africa] we wanted less stiffness to help with grip. We're now on the sixth swingarm, and we've experimented with everything: torsional strength, length, weight and the thickness of the material itself."
Swingarm stiffness was the last thing on my mind as I set off on my brief stint at Portimao. I was glad to be riding the relatively roomy bike of Corser's lanky Spanish teammate Ruben Xaus, and I was relieved to hear that the bike had come so far in the past year.
The production S1000RR is a technologically advanced and powerful machine, and the World S
As with any top-level racebike, the area inside the fairing nose is a nest of electrical
Corser, Xaus and the BMW engineers have experimented with numerous swingarm variations in
For such a fearsomely powerful motorcycle the RR was brilliant fun to ride, and less intimidating than I'd expected. The best bit was the way it stormed out of the uphill second-gear left-hander, keeping its front wheel just off the ground as I trod into third and pulled my weight forward, momentarily feeling like a works racer even if my lap times told a very different story.
Corser and Xaus are back with BMW this season, and looking to improve on last year's total of 17 top-10 finishes by scoring regular podiums. "By the end of the season the bike was as fast as the Yamaha YZF-R1 that I rode to second place in the championship in 2008," says Corser. "We've got plenty of top-end power, and the handling's good. A little more midrange would be nice, but the engineers have made some developments and seen an advantage. So long as that transfers to the track, we're going to be very competitive."