Little known fact: Reg Pridmore won the inaugural AMA Superbike Championship on a BMW R90S in 1976. That fact should be more widely known, but kids these days don't much care about history. To them, Pridmore is some old guy who used to race-and that's Reg's son, Jason.
Yes, it's been more than three decades since the Bayerische Motoren Werke has had a presence in Superbike racing, but it's back with the new S1000RR. The all-new inline-four is being campaigned in this year's World Superbike Championship by Alpha Racing with veteran riders Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus.
Why enter the sportbike market now? According to Hendrik von Kuenheim, second-generation president of BMW Motorrad, it's all about business. "Some 85,000 1000cc sportbikes are sold per year worldwide, and we want to gain a foothold in that segment," he says. "We've set a goal of attaining a 10 percent market share, 80 percent of which we expect to be conquest sales."
Of course, going head to head with the Japanese and Italian competition won't be easy. "With this bike, we are taking the battle to their battlefield, to play by their rules," von Kuenheim acknowledges. "This year we hope to develop the bike and finish in the top 10. For 2010, we expect top finishes and commercial success."
Those are lofty goals for a company that was never expected to build a superbike. As Project Leader Stefan Zeit recalls, "When I started at BMW, I had an interview with Markus Poschner, and he asked me, 'What should BMW do next?' I told him a sportbike, and he said, 'No, BMW will never do this!'"
Ironically, Poschner himself now oversees the project as General Manager. And he can scarcely contain his enthusiasm. "Thirty-two years ago, when I started at BMW, I dreamed of these kinds of bikes," he smiles.
Cams act on Formula 1-style finger followers, which in turn lever the titanium valves open
Instrumentation is simple, with an analog tach, digital speedo, readouts for gear and mode
Dual Brembo brake calipers bolted radially to the Sachs 46mm fork should slow the S1000RR
Code-named K46, the superbike project started four years ago in unorthodox fashion. As a company BMW had no formal experience with supersport bikes, but many of its workers ride such machines on weekends, and Poschner assembled them into a team.
The first order of business was benchmarking the competition. "Normally we look at the two best bikes in the segment, and very often one of those is our own," Poschner says. "But in the supersport segment, we needed to look at what all the others do."
Knowing that a supersport bike such as this would be raced, one of the first questions asked was MotoGP or World Superbike? "We discussed this and decided to go Superbike because it is the same bike racing that you can buy," Poschner says. "In MotoGP the customers see Valentino Rossi, but not the bike."
Poscher's boss, Dr. Christian Landerl, reinforces that decision. "It would be very special to be in MotoGP, but also very expensive. Not only are Superbikes production-based, they might even be faster [than MotoGP bikes] if they had the same tires!"
Landerl helped design the S1000RR's engine before he was promoted to management, so is intimately familiar with its inner workings (see Hard Parts, next page). "The biggest challenge was to convince everyone within BMW that this bike was necessary," he laughs. "And also not to do what people would have expected BMW to do-to use some technology that nobody else is using.
"Of course we considered different engine configurations," Landerl continues. "A twin was ruled out quite early and a triple would have been too heavy because of the balance shaft. We also considered a V-4, but it's complicated and expensive. We decided on an inline-four because it offers the better package."
While the S1000RR is largely conventional mechanically, it makes great strides in electronics, with standard ride-by-wire throttle and variable-length intake tracts, plus optional anti-lock brakes and traction control. Explains Leit, "The main thing was to make a no-compromise supersport with assistance systems that were very aggressive and race-like." So far, that has been the race team's stumbling block, as BMW's engineers are determined to develop their own electronics instead of buying an off-the-shelf system.
One thing there's no denying is the S1000RR looks great, even if the asymmetrical styling is controversial. "There's a lot more of that than you realize," says Vice President of Motorcycle Design David Robb. "Things like exhaust systems are asymmetrical, especially if you have a single-sided swingarm.
"The GS was the first bike where the headlights were kind of winking at you. I call it the 'pirate look'. So you take that further with the S1000RR, where on the left side you've got the fan behind the radiator but on the right side there's no fan so you have more room to work with. I think it looks like an endurance racer.
"On the one hand, it's another job," Robb continues. "We've done off-road bikes, we've done adventure bikes, we've done tourers...we can do a supersport bike. But on the other hand, it's like finally!"