2013 BMW HP4 | First Ride

Something Schmanckerl

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Daniel Kraus

They say: "Pure Performance. Pure Intelligence."
We say: "The HP4 is smarter than you. Faster, too."

After the press briefing at Spain’s Jerez Circuit, HP4 Project Manager Rudi Schneider—or “RRudi,” as the patch on his racing leathers reads—introduced us to a unique Bavarian word: schmanckerl. When something—a car, a piece of music, even a good beer—is very, very special, Schneider says, you say it’s schmanckerl. “Our first S1000RR was groundbreaking,” he says, “The latest version is even better. But the HP4? This motorcycle is schmanckerl."

It’s no secret we love the S1000RR, our 2012 Sportbike of the Year. The HP4, the fourth member of BMW’s exclusive High Performance family and the first four-cylinder offering (the K1300S HP was just an option package, not a true HP design, we’re told), is based on the award-winning S1000RR, but with many upgrades. Forged alloy wheels, an Akrapovic titanium exhaust, a lighter sprocket carrier and battery, and many carbon-fiber parts make the 439-pound HP4 15 lbs. lighter than the standard S1000RR, and the lightest production liter bike ever, BMW claims.

But the HP4 is more than a bedazzled S1000RR. The comprehensive system of electronic rider aids has been updated as well. New, more aggressive Race ABS parameters improve the already class-leading braking performance and the excellent Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) finally allows 15 levels of fine adjustment, rather than last year’s one-response-fits-all setting. There’s also a new launch-control system for racing and, of course, Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), the first self-adjusting, semi-active suspension damping system ever fit to a production motorcycle.

We hate to use the phrase “game changer,” but once again, BMW has changed the game. Dynamic Damping Control improves suspension action as dramatically as Race ABS improves braking, or Dynamic Traction Control improves rear grip. Dynamic Damping Control, adapted from electronic damping systems used on BMW’s high-end automobiles, is an order of magnitude beyond the company’s existing Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) or even Ducati’s Öhlins-built Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES). Those systems are just convenience features, allowing you to adjust damping rates at the push of a button. Dynamic Damping Control is a performance feature, combining push-button convenience with the ability to automatically alter the damping rates on the fly, in response to changing road conditions.

A majority of sportbike owners fear their clickers, BMW says, and don’t make even the simplest suspension changes. Dynamic Damping Control adjusts the suspension for the rider, automatically, and then raises suspension performance to the next level by virtue of being dynamic. Any static suspension setup is invariably compromised: Set the suspension to withstand big hits and small-bump compliance may suffer. DDC eliminates any such compromise. With electromagnetic valves in the fork and shock that can open or close in just 10 milliseconds—or, 100 times per second—damping can vary almost infinitely to always deliver the optimum response over any bump, big or small.

Signals from the throttle-position sensor and a spring-travel sensor on the rear shock tell the DDC control unit whether the bike is accelerating or decelerating, while information from the DTC’s lean angle sensors indicate whether it’s entering or exiting a corner. Entering a corner, for example, a closed throttle and extended rear spring indicate deceleration, instructing the DDC controller to increase damping to limit front-end dive and increase braking stability. Damping remains firm until the lean angle sensor notes 15 degrees of lean, at which point fork damping begins trailing off as the front contact patch shrinks and front grip degrades. The DDC fork can’t prevent low-side crashes, of course, but dynamic damping reduces the likelihood of a sudden, sharp suspension input overwhelming front tire traction at full lean.

Any electronic system is only as good as the software that drives it, and the DDC software is very good. It should be—BMW’s internal software description was 1600 pages long! You don’t feel DDC working. Changes in damping rate are subtle and fast. The bike doesn’t feel stiff in one corner and soft in the next. It just feels perfectly set up, all the time.

On a bike as powerful as the HP4, you especially feel the effects of DDC at the rear. Even the clumsiest handful of throttle yields a smooth wheelie, as rear compression increases to prevent the shock from bottoming and snapping up the front end. After worn tires cause the back end to kick out at the end of the very long, very fast Curva Sito Pons, there’s no shockwave sent through the chassis when traction is recovered. In fact, BMW suspension engineers say it’s “virtually impossible” to bottom-out the shock. Dynamic Damping Control makes the BMW superbike even smoother and more forgiving than before.

Dynamic Damping Control would be enough of an improvement on its own, but it’s just one component of the HP4 program. Adjustable traction control is the other significant electronic upgrade. Previous DTC versions only provided four preset levels of intervention—one each for Rain, Sport, Race, or Slick ride modes. The first three modes still offer a single TC preset, but Slick mode now offers 15 levels of fine adjustment so the rider can tailor response on the fly, using a convenient “Slick +/- DTC” toggle on the left-hand switchgear.

Starting at zero (the same as last year’s Slick setting), the rider can now increase intervention by seven steps for more perceptible traction control, or decrease intervention by an equal amount for “more rider responsibility,” as the Germans like to say. The DTC programming has been adjusted to be more transparent, and the wheelie control parameters—now active only at more than 25 degrees of lean in Race mode and 30 degrees of lean in Slick mode—have likewise been “adapted” for more seamless activation. This, along with improvements to the excellent Race ABS system, erases almost all evidence of electronic activity. This might be the most digital superbike ever built, yet it feels almost analog.

Special features and advanced electronics aside, the HP4 is identical to the standard S1000RR that remains unchanged for 2013. The 193-horsepower inline four is still the strongest thing under 1000cc, making you praise the DTC gods every time you twist your wrist. The chassis was revised last year to be shorter, with more aggressive steering geometry and a higher center of gravity to improve turn-in and reduce squat under acceleration. It handles even better here, thanks to super-light forged aluminum wheels that save 5.3 pounds, and accommodate a wider, 200/55 rear tire.

The overall result is something remarkable. Although it’s debatable whether electronics make better riders, there’s little doubt most riders will go faster with less effort on the HP4. At the end of the day, BMW “track liaison” Nate Kern comes around me entering the last corner, with the rear tire hung out and howling. Even if I can’t match the former national champion roadracer into the corner, the combined intelligence of DTC and DDC rocket me out of the corner with a speed and smoothness previously unknown, then let me pace him like a shadow for the length of the front straight.

That’s what the HP4 can do. It can make anyone feel like a hero. And that’s schmanckerl.

EVOLUTION
BMW’s excellent S1000RR loses 15 pounds and gains auto-adjusting, semi-active suspension.

RIVALS
Aprilia RSV4 R APRC Factory, Ducati 1199 Panigale S, MV Agusta F4RR Corsacorta

TECH 
Price$TBD
Engine typel-c inline-four
Valve trainDOHC, 16v
Displacement999cc
Bore x stroke80.0 x 49.7mm
Compression13.0:1
Fuel systemEFI
ClutchWet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission6-speed
Claimed horsepower193 bhp @ 13,000 rpm
Claimed torque83 lb.-ft. @ 9750 rpm
FrameAluminum twin-spar
Front suspensionSachs 46mm fork with adjustable spring preload, dynamic compression and rebound damping
Rear suspensionSachs shock with adjustable spring preload, dynamic compression and rebound damping
Front brakeDual Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with Race ABS
Rear brakeBrembo single-piston caliper, 220mm disc with Race ABS
Front tire120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa SP
Rear tire200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa SP
Rake/trail24.0°/3.9 in.
Seat height32.3 in.
Wheelbase56.0 in.
Fuel capacity4.6 gal.
Claimed curb weight439 lbs.
ColorRacing Blue Metallic/Light White
AvailableJan-13
Warranty36 mo., 36,000 mi.
ContactBMW of North America
P.O. Box 1227
Westwood, NJ 07575
800.831.1117
www.bmwmotorcycles.com

VERDICT 5 out of 5 stars
Just when we thought BMW’s superbike couldn’t get any better, Dynamic Damping Control appears. This is a truly sublime superbike.

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