BMW’s limited-production HP4 is the automatic superbike. Don’t wanna fuss with suspension adjustments? Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) fettles itself, effectively. Can’t bother with the clutch? Shift Assistant will grab the next gear. Meanwhile, launch control lets any squid capable of holding a throttle wide-open execute a mid-9-second quarter-mile pass.
With an ECU mediating everything from power delivery to traction to braking force, where does rider skill end and rise of the machines begin? The answer depends on where your circles of skill and courage overlap. Most of us lapped fastest on the HP4—some in Race mode, not the wide-open Slick setting. Only our Pro-grade guest complained about slight lap-to-lap inconsistencies from the fork, or excess front ABS intervention during extreme trail braking.
BMW’s S1000RR, the Class of 2012 winner, was already a dominant superbike; the addition of DDC and other electronic updates, including 15-level-adjustable traction control (last year’s model only offered four TC presets) and more aggressive race ABS parameters, make the HP4 exponentially better than even last year’s overdog.
On the street, The Ultimate Riding Machine exhibits none of the rough edges we sometimes associate with European thoroughbreds. It’s exceptionally comfortable and composed even at very high speeds, and it was the bike everyone wanted to ride on the street—though it does feel stiffer and slightly buzzier through the bars and pegs than the standard S1000RR.
Civil street manners don’t keep the HP4 from being downright lethal at the track, however. Acceleration from the 178-bhp, 1000cc inline four is face-melting—note the 9.82-second, 150-mph (!) quarter-mile E.T. Complaints at Chuckwalla included a slight tendency to headshake—because the front tire hardly ever touches the ground—and an inability to experiment with on-the-fly-adjustable TC settings, because the HP4 covered the short straights too quickly.
HP4 handling is sharper, too, due to lighter-weight, forged alloy wheels, an Akropovic exhaust, and other upgrades like folding levers and adjustable rearsets that are included with the $4470 “premium competition” option package that saves 15 lbs. over the standard S1000RR. Ticking that box also buys you an array of “sponsorship” decals, too—though who needs sponsors in this income bracket?
Dynamic Damping Control
Ducati and MV Agusta both offer Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension, but only BMW’s Dynamic Damping Control is a self-adjusting, semi-active system. Öhlins’ system lets the rider adjust damping rates by pushing a button while the bike is parked; DDC goes a step further, automatically adjusting damping on-the-fly in response to changing road conditions. A dedicated ECU monitors throttle position, shock-spring travel, lean angle, and more to determine whether the bike is accelerating, braking, or turning, and then alters the damping to suit using electromagnetic valves in the fork and shock that vary as many as 100 times per second, delivering optimized damping response over every bump.