2010 BMW S1000RR - Superlative Superbike!

Germany's first true superbike changes everything

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kel Edge, BMW

I wish I had a photo of it, or better yet a video. And I really wish I'd done it on purpose, rather than by accident. But to be honest, I was just along for the ride.

Approaching the blind double-right before the stunning Portimao, Portugal, circuit's steepest downhill, I passed three slower riders and then realized I was in way ... too ... hot. Snatching at the brake lever and banging a quick downshift, I felt the BMW S1000RR's rear end slew sideways-and just stay there, with no chattering, hopping or high-revving histrionics. Spying the apex, I pointed the bike in that general direction, let off the brakes, gave it a touch of gas and disappeared over the brow of the hill, leaving my fellow test riders' mouths gaping.

The fact that I was able to recover from such a profound error in judgment speaks volumes for Germany's first true superbike. Because it was the bike's standard slipper clutch and optional Race ABS that not only saved my bacon, but made me look good. And that's just the tip of the iceberg; the S1000RR is also available with Dynamic Traction Control. Honda offers ABS on its CBRs, and Ducati has TC on its 1098R and 1198S, but only BMW offers both-not to mention a ride-by-wire throttle, a quick-shifter and variable drive modes.

To say the S1000RR has been long awaited is an understatement of epic proportions. It seemed like an eternity between April '08, when BMW Motorrad President Hendrik von Kuenheim announced plans to build the bike, and our first ride in November '09. But really, BMW fans have been waiting for this bike since Reg Pridmore won the inaugural AMA Superbike Championship on an R90S way back in 1976.

The S1000RR also marks a major change in BMW's corporate philosophy. While the Bavarian Motor Works has always offered sporty cars, its bikes have been less so, aimed predominantly at tourers. The second-generation K-bikes launched in '05 were a bold step, but they were still big and heavy, and hardly suitable for racing. This S1000RR, however, is a true superbike.

A clean-sheet design (see the "First Look" in our September '09 issue for technical details), the S1000RR was four years in the making, and contested the full 2009 World Superbike Championship before production models were ever built. Race results were generally lackluster, but the team made progress and learned a lot, and should return much stronger this coming season. More importantly, the lessons learned were funneled back to Munich and incorporated in the production bikes.

To test the motorcycle that BMW Motorrad USA VP Pieter de Waal called "the most important model ever," the world's press was invited to the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. Built in 2008 at a cost of $250 million, the undulating 2.9-mile circuit features every manner of turn, both slow and fast, making it the perfect test track. The fact that Ducati introduced its 1198S at the same track one year earlier set the stage for some seat-of-the-pants benchmarking.

Helping to illustrate how aggressively BMW is looking to change its image, all 40 testbikes at the press intro were Acid Green. Not most journos' favorite ("Nuclear Baby Poop," one called it), that color is aimed squarely at the urban Bike Night crowd, so it will be interesting to see how it fares. Most of those on hand preferred the black or silver options, and especially the red/white/blue Motorsports motif, which costs an additional $750.

A word about price: While the base-model S1000RR retails for a reasonable $13,800, the options add up fast. Race ABS adds $1000; Race ABS with Dynamic Traction Control costs $1480; and the Shift Assist costs another $450. So a fully equipped machine costs $15,730. Of course, our testbikes were fully equipped.

A word about price: While the base-model S1000RR retails for a reasonable $13,800, the options add up fast. Race ABS adds $1000; Race ABS with Dynamic Traction Control costs $1480; and the Shift Assist costs another $450. So a fully equipped machine costs $15,730. Of course, our testbikes were fully equipped.

Throwing a leg over the S1000RR on pit lane, I found the seating position to be sportbike-conventional, and very accommodating for my 6'1" frame. BMW's designers said they aimed for the 95th percentile, meaning the bike should fit all but 5 percent of riders. The seating position felt just as good in motion, without any gas tank flares, fairing edges or heel guards getting in the way. It's an easy machine to move around on.

For the first of our four sessions, we were asked to follow a racer (in my case, chassis engineer Ralf Schwickerath) for three laps, and to select the first of the four available drive modes, Rain. This reduces peak power (to 150 bhp) and slows throttle response, making it fitting not only for slippery and wet conditions, but also for re-learning a challenging circuit. Though to be honest, it just felt slow. While I was cruising around, I noted how easily the 422-pound (dry) machine changed direction, yet how stable it remained, even when gusting sidewinds caught the bike cresting the fourth-gear rise onto the front straight. The suspension felt great too; I only increased compression damping in the shock to prevent the rear end from squatting and the bike from running wide at corner exits.

By Brian Catterson
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