Harnessing the Power of Bright Ideas
With apologies to Charles Dickens, we're either riding through the best of times or one of the worst. On the plus side, those boys and girls who weren't reading motorcycle magazines in high-school calculus have grown up to give us technologies that would have been revolutionary on MotoGP grids not so long ago.
We have ride-by-wire throttles and selectable drive modes, plus on-board computer systems that help the engines of 2010 make staggering amounts of power and put it safely to the pavement. Some bikes are smart enough to shift for themselves. Electronically adjustable suspension systems can match your ride to the road in milliseconds at the touch of a button. Street-legal tires stick as well as the racing slicks of a decade ago. Tougher textiles fend off heavy weather better than ever before. Higher-tech helmets and the Newtonian miracle of viscoelastic armor protect skin and bones if you find yourself sliding along the pavement with no motorcycle at all.
The global economy still walks with a limp from the mother of all crashes back in '08. It's not healing quickly, but it is healing. Even if your budget isn't ready for a mega-dose of new technology, every little bit helps. Bright ideas trickle down from the top, which is why we didn't stop with the 17 best motorcycles of the last 12 months. We started all over again and also came up with this year's brightest tech-nological idea, the best new product and someone with enough pure motorcycling heart to be named our Motorcyclist of the Year. No matter what 2010 looks like from where you're sitting, there's something here to make this year one of the best.
Motorcycle of the Year
Three years ago, none of us would have believed this motorcycle was possible. BMW made stately tourers and sport-tourers and adventure-tourers that only looked sporty in a single-line dealership. For decades it was said that making motorcycles was just a part of the German car-maker's image: "BMW makes motorcycles, Mercedes makes trucks." Uh-huh. But roll a Boxer-twin into a parking lot full of Japanese and Italian sportbikes and the truth became immediately, painfully apparent.
At the same time, like Harley-Davidson, BMW's devoted following was aging to the point that they could conceivably stop riding-and buying-motorcycles. The company needed to do something to attract the next generation. And that meant completely re-thinking the brand.
BMW has long made sports cars; why not make a sportbike? As far back as the mid-'80s, there was the four-cylinder K100, but like the venerable Boxer-twin this featured a longitudinal crankshaft, the four cylinders lying horizontal. In 2005, sacrilege: The K1200 debuted with a Japanese-style transverse inline-four. The die was cast.
Fast forward five years and we have the bike shown here: the S1000RR superbike. To call it a good first effort doesn't begin to do it justice. It flat out raises the bar. Yet it does so in way that is inimitably, undeniably BMW.
Start with the three selectable drive modes-Rain, Sport and Race (plus a fourth, Slick, accessible only after inserting a plug into the underseat wiring harness)-that let you tailor power to suit conditions, your mission or your mood. Then add the optional traction control and Race-ABS, which seamlessly change the way they work in conjunction with the aforementioned modes, or can be switched off altogether. An electronic quick-shifter is also available, allowing full-throttle clutchless upshifts like a real racebike. No other OEM offers that.
The Bavarian engineers must have found it difficult to restrain themselves and design a motorcycle that doesn't break any new ground mechanically. There's no Duolever, Telelever or Paralever, for example, just a conventional fork and single shock, connected by a twin-spar aluminum frame. Even the engine is fairly contemporary, though the Japanese have yet to equip theirs with Formula 1-style finger followers. What is groundbreaking is the S1000RR's performance: With an honest 174 horsepower at the rear wheel in a package weighing 434 pounds dry, it out-Hayabusas Suzuki's flagship on the dyno and at the dragstrip, setting a new production-bike record of 9.5 seconds at 155 mph in the quarter-mile. And when the going gets twisty, the Beemer is capable of running with the best Japanese and Italian liter-bikes. That it offers all this at a price more in line with the former than the latter is even more remarkable.
Okay, if the S1000RR is so impressive, how come it only finished fourth in our "Class of 2010" comparo? That's a valid question, and the honest truth is it suffered from lack of support at our racetrack test. Whereas the other manufacturers have much experience fettling sportbikes, sending qualified techs to help with setup, change tires, etc., BMW is new to this game, and it showed. It's much the same scenario that held back the company's World Superbike team in its debut season. This year, though, with the help of former Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi, BMW riders Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus are legitimately in the hunt, and a win won't elude them much longer.
It didn't here, and the BMW S1000RR is our 2010 Motorcycle of the Year.