2019 BMW S1000 RR review: First ride

2019 s1000rr

The 2019 BMW S1000 RR looks stunning, packs in huge performance and tech and did an incredible job in the conditions.

Strong engine | Huge tech | Great value | M-Package
Off-brand brakes/suspension compared with opposition

I’ve been doing this job for a while now – nearly 25 years in all. But I still get quite excited when a new bike launch invite clangs into my inbox. And if it’s an all-new, mega-power superbike, on a hot race track, the anticipation levels climb even higher. If you’re not properly chuffed about this kinda thing, you might as well chuck it in I reckon. Introducing the 2019 BMW S1000 RR.

BMW S1000RR Review 2019

I was massively thrilled about the 2019 S1000 RR launch when I got the invitation. But – there’s always a but these days it seems - I was a teensy bit worried by the location.

Estoril is a classic big bike circuit, and I really love Lisbon and Portugal. But in early March, the chances of duff weather are high; it’s just a few miles from the Atlantic coast, and spring storms lash through regularly. My worst fears were confirmed by every one of the several hundred weather forecasting sites I visited in the week before. Rain, all day, with maybe a dry hour or two in the afternoon. Gah.

Sadly, the forecasts were, essentially, spot on. Comedy mist, fog, low cloud, rain, drizzle, wind; we had it all. You could barely see the end of the main straight from the pits. Disaster.

So we spent the morning sitting about in the garages, considering the new BMW S1000 RR. It looks much better than before I reckon, with new symmetrical lights and a slicker design all round. The design man told us that the old boss-eyed look helped them save weight by using a smaller projector high beam lamp, but modern lightweight LED lights mean that advantage is no longer there. Go the tech, as the kids might say.

Some folk mentioned the old Ducati Desmosedici RR road bike, some folk mentioned an orca – like a 207bhp Rorschach test, you can get a few things out of that new top fairing. But I think they’re all much better than the suddenly-dated look of the original bike parked up on display in the next garage along. Well done BMW.

We also learn that the bikes we’re riding are equipped with the so-called ‘M’ package. BMW’s moving to that terminology, aping its performance cars, rather than the old ‘HP4’ moniker. For the 2019 S1000 RR, that means carbon fibre wheels (woo!), extra chassis adjustments from a different frame, lightweight lithium battery and a few extra riding modes. Nice.

We’re going to need all the riding modes mind. We do a 20-minute warmup behind a very nice BMW racer called Lucy Glöckner (above, in the sun the day before), and the weather is pretty minging. We’re on Bridgestone W01 race wets which is a massive bonus, obviously, but it’s still pretty hairy out there.

None of it stops Lucy from grinning though – she’s having a hoot it seems, and takes me out for some bike-to-bike video shooting later on, still smiling away inside her lid.

A photo-tracking session in a veritable downpour rounds off a rank morning – and much of the pre-gig excitement is evaporating from all us collected riders. Will we get out for a proper ride? Or any ride at all? After lunch, though, the rain stops for a bit – and it looks like we’ll finally get a chance of a decent session.

Clear visor on the Arai, fresh Pinlock anti-fog insert fitted, hot grips on a low setting, and off we go…

It’s a steady start. I’ve ridden on wets enough to know that they’ll give plenty of grip in these cool, sodden conditions, but I’m still going to ease into the groove a bit before letting rip. First impressions of the BMW are good – the pegs are a tiny bit on the high side for my aging hips and knees, but the rest of the riding position is good – commanding, poised, yet comfy. The M-Sport seat is firmer and grippier than stock, and the tank is nicely shaped to grasp onto with your knees.

Little things; but they’re helping me settle in very nicely and concentrate on the job in hand – this is by no means an unfriendly machine.

Proper wet tyres and a steady throttle hand or not, the electronic systems have still got a massive job on their hands. And they’re doing incredibly well. The TC light is flickering like an 80s disco in the corner of my eye out of every bend, yet the S1000RR just gets on, delivering seamless drive all round the big, soaking track. The 207bhp peak power makes mincemeat of Estoril’s straights of course, and you can feel there’s a big old heap of grunt round the midrange.

I’m not sure it’s got the absolute wanton violence of the Ducati Panigale V4S and its sneaky Italian 1,103cc engine – but it’s certainly up at the top of the ‘honest’ inline-four litre bikes in terms of beefy urge.

The BMW techs have fettled the riding modes according to what Lucy Glöckner and the other BMW racers have recommended, so we have a mix of road and track settings. The suspension damping is softened off compared with what you’d use on a dry track, and wheelie control is on high, traction on low, and engine brake control also on high. We’ve got full power and throttle response, and the Pro riding mode lets you fine-tune the traction settings on the move should you need to. It’s a capacious, encouraging safety net, and whereas even just ten years ago I’d be coming in because of these conditions, now I’ve got the confidence to stay out and have a bit of a laugh in them.

Dodging the scattered puddles and streams on Estoril’s up-and-down sections is a tense challenge – but it’s more than made up for by the S-Thou’s performance on the more open parts. Down the back straight, there’s a balls-out right kink, which eggs you on to go faster and faster, ignoring the glistening, saturated asphalt. Hold your breath, don’t back off, short-shift up into fourth, and power on through… Then breathe, slam the electronic throttle to the stop up towards 250kph before banging the anchors on hard into the Parabolica Interior bend.

Incredible stuff – and few other big bikes would be able to do it so well in these conditions.

BMW’s sacked off Brembo brakes for this year, replacing the Italian stoppers up front with a new Hayes brake system from the US. The American four-piston radial calipers have more than enough power for these conditions of course, and there’s ample feel and control to deal with hard braking at the end of the straights, as well as finer modulation in the slower bends. Part of me is a little bit sniffy about a rather dull-looking Nissin master cylinder and no-brand calipers – but the other part of me is pointing to the price tag of the whole bike, and the performance I’m using right now on track.

Braking is all about the whole bike of course, and the front fork is helping massively. The riding mode changes dialled in by the racers has softened off the damping a fair bit, which gives a more compliant, forgiving feel to the chassis. There’s a slight hint of wallowing in some of the faster bends, but nothing nasty, just a reminder of the conditions we’re working with here. Together with the stronger midrange of the Shiftcam engine that’s adding flexibility for pulling out of bends at lower revs, the RR is immensely manageable round the nadgery bits of the track. Estoril’s uphill Gancho chicane is a nasty bugger when dry – in the wet it’s properly unsettling. Yet the BM takes your hand and helps you trundle through with no worries at all.