Behind Bars - Mother of All Bikes

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Stop me if you've heard this one: Japanese tool firm ships new drill bit to German company, explaining that it is the smallest and hardest in history. German company bores it through the center with an even smaller, harder bit and mails it back with a polite "Nein, danke."

Fable or not, it underscores prickly Teutonic pride. BMW considers itself an engineering firm, not a motor company, and has held itself stiffly outside the faddism of racer reps and annual shootouts-until now. Zero to hero, they went from never producing a superbike (yeah, shut up about the R90S already) to rolling Soichiro over with the quickest, gentlest, nastiest sportbike ever bolted together.

The BMW S1000RR is motorcycling's first F-16, all power and maneuverability and joystick to your brain. It's a power tool joined to the base of your spine, with the reflexes of a home run hitter, the manners of an English butler and the punch of Max Schmeling.

Like a 5/8-scale P-51 Mustang replica, it looks just right until you walk up next to it. And then I sat on it. Ever seen an elephant on a shop stool?

I saddled up and bolted while my luck held. I needn't have worried. On this trip, BMW's mini-literbike was practically a rabbit's foot for me.

The RR and I started by vaulting the ferry line and heading for Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula. Snotty, rich-kid crotch rockets don't usually attract much comment, but this one did. Harley bagger rider Dave and I chatted through the float about topics in common including sportbikes, customs and wilderness horseback search and rescue. On debarkation, I took Route 3 down the inside toward my Hallmark Day lunch date with mom.

Like its contemporaries among big-boy hyperbikes, the S1000RR has monstrous radial-mount Brembos. But unlike, say, Ducati's Streetfighter S, the RR has feel as gentle and sweet as dew on spring petals-not to mention mystically transparent ABS.

On the Seabeck Highway NW, I made the sad discovery that Rain mode exists mostly so guys like me can feel like heroes. Toggling up through Sport to Race scared me pale, so I left it there for the duration of sunny weather. It still showed itself to be the safest bike I've ever ridden.

In the past, I've landed on my head doing things much less dramatically stupid than exiting a corner marked for 25 at 96 mph with the front wheel hovering and the rear sliding. I checked my spec sheet and I'm not rated for that, but this bike does it easily-even with me aboard. Theoretically, of course...

Nearing Vancouver after one too many rest-area conversations starting with, "Wow, I didn't know BMW made a bike like that," I realized I'd run out of three things: time, fuel and pain endurance.

The Bavarians' vest-pocket superbike is a miracle of packaging, but my body is not. I haven't been that size since middle school. My right knee is rated only 10 percent disabled, but after a few hours on the Super One RoadRash it was 90 percent gone. Still, one doesn't keep mom waiting. I ground my teeth, used light throttle and promised burnt offerings to the Rabbit Lord if my luck, knee and bladder held.

As I pulled into Portland's Golden Touch Family Restaurant, the bike's digital clock ticked the appointed 13:30 hours and the low-fuel warning flashed on. Crawling off the bike, I hobbled to the men's room, chomping ibuprofen and momentarily ignoring my cell phone caller, who turned out to be mom. They were in their Model A roadster, thoroughly late and having a wonderful time. When your mother has her cardiologist on speed dial, you don't begrudge her an extra half-hour's wind in her still-red hair.

Roadhouse food more than compensated by family memories, the Rabbit's Foot and I continued south toward errands and friends. Near Jefferson, the clouds clanked shut the sky and my bluebird of happiness flew off the handlebar.

That evening, I had a plate of stuffed pork chops from Robin in Eugene and listened to her stories of playing at the Manson ranch when she was a kid and good-time Charlie was more of a guitar-playing hippie, less of a murderous crankster.

There's something to it though. The bike cost me two days of limping around but the Rabbit's Foot got me to lunch on time, soldiered through driving rain like Bavarian cavalry, made friends and influenced people, never punished my feckless injudiciousness and didn't land me in jail. It will probably win a lot of races, if that's important to you.

As soon as they make them in men's sizes, I'll be first in line.

Next morning after pancakes, I checked in with Bill the Chicken Whisperer to refine our version of history. With both his truck and his well offline again, I brought in milk and O.J. and left with a box of minty, classic Delta Rockwell lathe tools. It seemed a lucky trade, but I paid for it later when the bumpy Benton County Scenic Loop pounded my tender vittles into gravy.

And then there's the rain. Riding the S1000RR over broken, greasy, heaving pavement in the wet felt faster and safer than most bikes feel in perfect conditions. Rain mode isn't required for four-season riders; stick with Sport and punch it into Race on sun-kissed roads.

For all its red, white and blue racing livery glory, the RR comes with a caveat: You are not the person it makes you think you are. The RocketRipper will stop like a windshield grasshopper, snap roll hard enough to strain your hips and accelerate harder than literally anything on the road. This succubic vision strokes your ego through the night until you wake up screaming like Carl Lewis, "I'm the fastest man in the world!"

You're not. If at risk of fantasizing that you're actually fast just because you can burp the speed shifter when the dash light twinkles, do not buy this Beemer. It will launch you into the afterlife to the hollow echo of Darwin's laughter.

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