2018 BMW S1000RR Spy Shots

All-new engine, chassis and styling for next year’s superbike contender.

2018 BMW S1000RR
The next-generation BMW superbike appears to be incredibly small and adopts MotoGP chassis ideas. We can’t know for sure what the final styling will look like, but a narrower face and sharper edges seem to be destined to define the next S1000RR.Photo: BMH Images

BMW shocked its rivals when it first revealed pictures of the S1000RR in early 2008. And when the motorcycle reached customers the following year, the competition's worst fears were realized—the S1000RR was an instant class-leader.

It’s never moved far from the top spot since then. While superbike comparisons are often a matter of taste, it’s always been hard to find fault with the S1000RR. And BMW has adopted an aggressive update strategy—the tactic that was once the domain of Japanese firms—to ensure that it’s remained fresh. It’s been restyled and reengineered, taking on the latest electronics and getting improvements in performance, braking and handling. Underneath all those changes, though, the basic engine has remained the same one that appeared on the 2008 launch model.

These new spy shots show that the next version will get an entirely new engine as well as a new frame and a complete cosmetic overhaul. Although it’s clearly still an inline four-cylinder design, with the usual across-the-frame layout and DOHC architecture, none of the visible parts on the engine in this prototype are the same as the existing production machine. Every casting is new, from the clutch cover to the cases, cylinders, and cylinder head. What internal changes have been made remains a mystery, but given the current S1000RR makes 199hp in standard, road-going form, this new one—with a decade of technological improvement built in—is sure to beat 200hp by a considerable margin.

2018 BMW S1000RR
The S1000RR prototype from the rear. Note the upside-down swingarm style and stubby tail section to keep the bike compact.Photo: BMH Images

But the new engine design isn’t just about a power increase. It’s also making the bike more compact. Visually, the engine appears to be more tightly packaged, its cylinders a little more vertical, allowing the motor to be moved forward. The swingarm pivot also seems farther forward, making space for a longer swingarm without extending the bike’s wheelbase.

Maybe the test rider is a giant, but he makes the whole bike look tiny. That’s something of an S1000RR trait—when the first ever prototype S1000RR was spied testing back in 2007 it was wrapped in Yamaha R6 bodywork as a disguise. The panels from the little 600 easily fitted over the 1,000cc BMW’s bones. The bike is so small that our photographer wondered if the prototype might be a smaller-capacity bike rather than a new S1000RR, but BMW has always denied it will make a smaller four-cylinder sports bike, citing the high development and production costs, small market and slim profit margins as reasons.

The new chassis still appears to be made of aluminum, which means BMW isn’t leaping straight to making a full carbon-fibre-framed, mass-produced S1000RR having debuted the technology on this year’s HP4 Race. No doubt there will be a carbon HP4 version of the new bike as well, though.

It does differ notably from the existing model, though. First there’s that swingarm. Following current MotoGP practice, it’s braced from below rather than above. These ‘upside-down’ swingarms are normally impossible to fit on road bikes because of the large exhaust collector boxes under the swingarm pivot area. Of current road-legal superbikes, only the Honda RC213V-S manages to use a similar swingarm. BMW has reshaped the exhaust collector to make space for it, and while the result looks like a tight fit, it’s managed to squeeze everything in there. Above the swingarm, you’ll see the seat subframe has adopted a welded aluminum trellis-style design, replacing the square-section tubes of the current S1000RR.

The bodywork, which appears to be nearly finished on this prototype, is also a departure for BMW. The asymmetrical styling of previous generations of S1000RR has gone. All earlier models had mismatched side panels, with a gaping vent in the left hand side and slot-like gills on the right, as well as the signature skewed headlight design. It has always been a polarizing aesthetic, making them look like a motorcycle equivalent of Popeye.

We can’t be certain that the odd-shaped lights are gone for good. This prototype’s circular units are probably not the final design, but they’re mounted in symmetrical cut-outs that likely do represent the eventual headlight shape. Our guess is that the bike will eventually adopt a ‘face’ a bit like the current S1000XR. That machine got symmetrical side panels and headlight lenses, but the light units behind those lenses are different on either side to retain that distinctive, lopsided look that BMW pioneered.

Other styling departures of note include the turn signals, now mounted in the mirrors, and the seat unit which appears to be a lot stubbier than the current bike’s adding to the new model’s compact appearance.

In terms of technology, it will inevitably be a tour-de-force. This prototype is clearly not using the final brake discs at the front—they lack the ABS sensor rings that are certain to be on production models. However, the final bike is guaranteed to have multi-mode ABS, traction control, wheelie control, a clutchless gearshift with an autoblipper for down-changes and probably a host of other gizmos that we haven’t even thought of yet. Semi active suspension is sure to be an option at the very least, if not standard.

Given the near-finished state of the prototype, we’d guess that the official unveiling will be towards the end of this year, with production starting in early 2018.