2010 BMW S1000RR - Superlative Superbike!

Germany's first true superbike changes everything

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kel Edge, BMW

Once Ralf waved me by, I promptly selected the second mode, Sport. This restores the engine to full power (193 bhp at the crank, BMW claims, or around 165 bhp at the rear tire) and quickens response from the E-gas ride-by-wire throttle. And just like that, the S1000RR was transformed. Suddenly it felt downright fast, inhaling the long front straight in one gulp and making third-gear Turn 1 look like a sharp bend into a blind alley. Yet even so, power felt smooth and linear. The shift light was set for 12,500 rpm-5K shy of the power peak-so when I saw it flash, I toed the shift lever, the Shift Assist quick-shifter cut the spark and the transmission engaged the next gear seamlessly.

All was not perfect, however. Ostensibly optimized for street riding, in Sport mode both the ABS and TC cut in too early for racetrack use. The former was particularly bothersome as the pressure modulator did its thing under heavy braking, causing a moment's pause as the lever went numb right when I wanted to tip it into a corner. This wasn't a function of braking alone, however, as the ABS also works to prevent the rear wheel from lifting. I could also feel the TC's wheelie control cutting in, slamming the front end down abruptly and then snatching it back up again.

For my second session I toggled up to Race mode, and here the S1000RR worked as it should. Though power output remains the same as in Sport mode, throttle response is quickened further, and both the ABS and TC allow more aggressive riding. Suddenly the ABS wasn't cutting in anymore, and the rear tire stepped out and spun a little at corner exits, particularly the off-camber ones. The rear wheel also came up a little on the brakes, though I still felt very much in control.

After lunch our two 20-rider groups were combined into one 40-rider field, and our riding sessions were extended from 20 to 30 minutes. I left it in Race mode, concentrated on hitting my marks and soon found myself in the groove, marveling at how easy it was to ride this powerful sportbike fast. And it is fast: I saw 275 kph (170 mph) in sixth gear at the end of the front straight.

For the last session of the day I selected Slick mode, which as the name implies is intended for use with racing slicks. As sold, this mode doesn't appear on the S1000RR's menu; you have to snap a plug into the underseat wiring harness to activate it. Again, power output remains unchanged, but throttle response is quicker yet, ABS is disabled from the rear wheel (allowing you to back it into corners), TC lets you seriously hang out the rear tire and the wheelie control only works when the bike is leaned over-though you're limited to 5 seconds of fun. Mind you we weren't on slicks, remaining on the stock (and quite excellent) Metzeler Ractec K3s.

That's when things got really exciting. In all honestly, I have never ridden a production streetbike that performed this much like a racing Superbike. Where the Ducati 1198S I rode here a year ago was fast yet tractable, the BMW felt like a monster on a leash. An invisible, technological leash.

I admit I've criticized ABS in the past, and dreaded the day it would appear on sportbikes. Likewise TC, which in my mind has equalized racing to the point that technology alone wins the day. The BMW S1000RR has changed my mind about both. You can turn them off, together or separately, but I only did so for one lap, just to say that I did.

Contrary to popular belief, you can have a rollicking good time on an E-bike. That you can do so with a much greater margin of safety only makes it that much better.

By Brian Catterson
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