They say: “A roadster reduced to the essentials.”
We say: “With so much torque, wheelie control is an essential.”
Most press launches—especially for naked sportbikes—open with some heavy-metal highlight video advertising the bike's aptitude for ripping wheelies and reducing rubber to billowing clouds of magic smoke. The BMW S1000R press launch was something different. This briefing began quietly, with a presentation by Alexander Buckan, Design Manager for BMW Motorrad. Buckan discussed what he called the three levels of motorcycle design perception—proportion, mission, and mindset—and how these perceptions are all dictated by what a rider expects from any given bike. An enduro rider wants to feel in control, for example; a cruiser rider wants to feel relaxed. These attributes are communicated by the look of the bike, of course, but even more by the riding position, Buckan says. (Then, after Buckan finished speaking, were treated to both an S1000R wheelie/burnout video reel and a live stunt show, too.)
It's not surprising, then, what an enormous difference adding an upright handlebar to BMW's S1000RR has made. The superbike feels as precise as a laser-guided Hellfire missile, and demands almost as much care and attention to deploy; the naked bike, on the other hand, is more like a shrapnel grenade, with an operating protocol that's just as fast and loose. In fact, BMW doesn't even classify the S1000R as a sportbike. It's catalogued in the Roadster family, residing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the all-new R nineT boxer twin. Though undeniably fast, the S1000R prioritizes emotional experience: think speed-plus-fun. It's a modern-day café racer, Buckan says, with all the pure, just-for-kicks character that phrase implies.
Though it looks nearly identical to the RR save the handlebar and fairing—and it shares the same 999cc inline four and comprehensive electronics package including optional dynamic suspension—the R is almost a completely different bike, three years in the making. The chassis geometry is totally different, the ergonomics are comprehensively changed, and the power delivery is altered. "If I were to paint red every part that was different," says Lead Chassis Engineer Thomas Huelss, "we would be looking at an entirely red bike."
BMW's superbike delivers ferocious high-rpm power, but unless you fancy rubber slip-ons and an orange jumpsuit, you have to be on a closed course to enjoy it. Because the R-model is intended as a streetbike, the powerband has been flipped for this application. Different porting, revised cam timing, and altered engine-management parameters blunt high-rpm power in favor of a huge bump at the bottom end. According to charts provided by BMW, peak torque remains unchanged at 83 pound-feet, though that number now arrives 500 rpm sooner, at 9,250 rpm. Everywhere below that point the R's torque curve absolutely towers over the RR. At 3,500 rpm, for example, the R carries an outrageous, 16 pound-feet advantage. And we thought the RR was a torque monster!
With so much power pushing things along, chassis stability was an obvious concern. Though it looks just like the superbike frameset, the streetfighter chassis is altered in every significant way. Geometry has been relaxed with 0.8 degrees more rake, 5mm more trail, and 22mm more wheelbase. The swingarm pivot has been lowered 3mm, and changes to the shock linkage and fork offset lower the rear of the bike 14mm, all in the name of increased control.
Ergonomics have been likewise altered, with footrests relocated downward and forward for a more relaxed knee angle, and a thicker, softer saddle that proved pleasant for the duration of our daylong test ride. Wind protection is nonexistent—like any proper naked bike—but air moves cleanly over the smartphone-sized flyscreen and around the radiator shrouds. What little bodywork remains exists solely for the benefit of the rider's eye, not body.
The S1000R benefits from all of BMW's cutting-edge rider assists, including traction control, race-grade ABS, and optional Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) electronic suspension system lifted from our 2013 Sportbike of the Year, the BMW HP4. In an effort to cut costs, the base S1000R just comes with BMW's Automatic Stability Control that only monitors wheel speed and throttle position to inform the traction (and associated wheelie) control. This base model only offers two ride modes: a 160-horsepower Road mode and a 136-horsepower Rain mode, with unique TC and ABS interventions calibrated for each.
Springing for the Sport option package adds a lean-angle sensor that enables Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and a corresponding Dynamic ride mode—delivering full power with significantly more lenient traction-control and wheelie-abatement settings—plus a plug-in Dynamic Pro setting for "experts only" interventions (similar to the superbike's Slick mode). Traction control response cannot be fine-tuned on this bike like it can on the HP4, but both traction/wheelie control and ABS can be deactivated on-the-fly with a single button for full hooligan behavior—thank you BMW! (The Sport package also bundles cruise control and an electronic quick shifter.)
An additional Dynamic option package adds the self-adjusting DDC electronic suspension, plus heated grips and a chin fairing. (DDC functionality depends on the lean angle sensor, so the Dynamic package is only available in conjunction with the Sport package.) The Sachs shock and 46mm inverted fork are identical to what's on the $24,995 HP4 superbike; the only difference is the software programming. Each of the four ride modes dictates a corresponding DDC profile. Unlike the HP4, you cannot alter the damping response within each DDC profile; you can, however, select from Soft, Normal, or Hard response schemes, for simpler-if-coarser adjustments, in addition to selecting a profile for solo or two-up riding. Preload is manually adjusted at both ends on the R, so these profiles only change damping rates. The differences between Soft, Normal, and Hard are not as obvious here as on BMW's ESA-equipped touring models, but they are noticeable nonetheless.
Still with us? Sorry, but it's difficult to briefly describe the complexity that is a modern BMW motorcycle. Fortunately, there's nothing confusing about riding this bike, so seamlessly integrated and flawlessly calibrated are the many electronic systems. The bikes we rode in Mallorca, Spain, were equipped with both the Sport and Dynamic option packages, giving us the full experience. Make no mistake—the S1000R is brutally fast. Just thumb off DTC and grab a fist full, noting the ride-by-wire's perfect throttle response just before the handlebar clamp smacks your forehead. Except for KTM's beastly Super Duke 1290R, there's not another bike that wheelies so eagerly. And with DDC instantly tightening the shock so no energy is wasted with unnecessary weight transfer, none come up on the rear wheel so smoothly, either.
You can hardly call a bike that still produces 136 horsepower in Rain mode detuned. So what if the streetfighter spots the superbike 23 horsepower; like we said before, good luck using that on the street. In exchange for that blistering top end, the S1000R makes more torque everywhere from 2,000 to 9,500 rpm—on average, 7 pound-feet more. We wouldn't have believed you could make a bike that hammered off corners harder than the RR, but this one does. Do yourself a solid and pay up for the Sport package, so you can experience the singular thrill that is your rear tire spinning and your front tire lifting at the same time.
Once you overcome your acceleration awe—yeah, right!—you begin to appreciate how easy this bike is to ride with so many rider aids operating on your behalf. Perhaps on purpose, Mallorca's unique, chalk-colored pavement—made even slicker by near-freezing temps and solid rain for three weeks before the day we arrived—provided ample opportunity to test both the traction control and ABS. Especially in Road mode, both systems sometime seemed to activate in nearly every corner. Intervention is never intrusive, however, keeping the bike (mostly) inline into and out of the corners so you can better exploit the massive torque and braking force—even at stupid-fast pace you'll rarely need more than a single finger for the twin Brembo radial calipers. Add DDC that always delivers exactly the right suspension action and you seldom notice this bike beneath you. Your attention remains free to focus on the scenery, the sensation of smoothly sailing through corners, and the mind-altering acceleration that comes each time you twist the grip. An "emotional" riding experience is exactly right.
The revised chassis works remarkably well to corral this runaway horsepower. If anything, BMW might have erred too far on the side of stability. Steering is slightly slow and unexpectedly high-effort for a bike with such a high handlebar, more like the similarly stretched-out Ducati Streetfighter than the comparatively more agile KTM Super Duke R. (Although, to be fair, the super-tight switchbacks lining Mallorca's North Coast are more fit for a supermoto than a 456-pound sportbike.) On the flip side, it's unfortunate there's not better wind protection, because the S1000R is stone stable and confident in 120-mph sweepers. And, as long as we're critiquing the handling, the steering sweep is surprisingly limited here, making U-turns and other low-speed maneuvers unnecessarily laborious.
Naked sportbikes—ahem, roadsters—are some of our favorite motorcycles, and BMW's S1000R, a naked variant of one of our all-time favorite superbikes, is one of the best we've ridden yet. And it needs to be, given even stiffer competition in the category this year from the all-new KTM Super Duke R, Kawasaki Z1000, and the upcoming, Testastretta-powered Ducati Monster 1200—not to mention stalwarts like the Aprilia Tuono V4R, Triumph Speed Triple, and Ducati Streetfighter S. Sounds like we've got the makings of an epic Class of 2014 streetfighter test!
BMW's all-conquering S1000RR superbike redesigned as a roadster, with a new frame, optimized electronics, and a revised power profile for improved street performance.
Aprilia Tuono V4R, Ducati Streetfighter S and Monster 1200, Kawasaki Z1000, KTM Super Duke 1290R, Triumph Speed Triple R
|Bore x stroke
||80.0 x 49.7mm
||EFI, ride by wire
||Wet, multi-plate slipper
||160.0 bhp @ 11,000 rpm
||83.0 lb.-ft. @ 9250 rpm
||Sachs 46mm inverted fork adjustable for spring preload, dynamic compression and rebound damping
||Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, dynamic compression and rebound damping
||Dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs, with ABS
||Brembo one-piston caliper, 220mm disc, with ABS
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
|Claimed curb weight
||Racing Red, Bright White, Frozen Dark Blue Metallic
||36 mo., 36,000 mi.
VERDICT: 4.5 of 5
The same superlatives that apply to BMW's S1000RR superbike apply here, too. Optimized electronics make it a well-mannered all-arounder, despite hooligan looks and stupendous power.
Photography by Daniel Kraus and BMW