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.

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.

A clean-sheet superbike, closer to the competition's offerings than anything else in BMW's range.

Every other contender on the World Superbike starting grid, from the Aprilia RSV4 to the Yamaha YZF-R1.

Price $15,730 (as tested)
Engine type l-c inline-four
Valve train DOHC, 16v
Displacement 999cc
Bore x stroke 80.0 x 49.7mm
Compression 13.0:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 193 bhp @ 13,000 rpm
Claimed torque 83 lb.-ft. @ 9750 rpm
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 46mm Sachs inverted cartridge fork with
adjustable spring preload, compression
and rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Sachs shock with adjustable
spring preload, high/low-speed compres-
sion and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo radial-mount four-piston
calipers, 320mm discs with optional ABS
Rear brake Brembo single-piston caliper, 220mm
disc with optional ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler RaceTec K3
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler RaceTec K3
Rake/trail 23.9°/3.8 in.
Seat height 32.3 in.
Wheelbase 56.4 in.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Claimed dry weight 422 lbs. (427 lbs. with ABS)
Colors Acid Green Metallic, Mineral Silver
Metallic, Thunder Grey Metallic,
Motorsport red/white/blue
Available Late 2009/early 2010
Warranty 3 yrs./36,000 mi.

BMW Motorcycles USA
P.O. Box 1227
300 Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Westwood, NJ 07675

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
The real deal: The competition should be very worried.

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By Brian Catterson
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