BMW HP2 Sport first ride review

Is BMW’s HP2 Sport the ultimate Boxer, or just an over-priced showman? We spent a day on the road with the £15,000 BMW that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee

Click to read: BMW HP2 Sport owners reviews, BMW HP2 Sport specs and to see the BMW HP2 Sport image gallery.

Flicking the ignition on the impossibly trick 2D digital display glows into life while an array of LED lights illuminate the inside of the cowling. This is race track kudos on a grand scale. “Which dash have you got?” “Oh this? It’s the 2008 World Superbike dash by 2D, only the top teams are using it. And owners of BMW’s HP2 Sport.” Well you would expect a bit of special treatment if you had just forked out £15k for what is merely a tweaked up Boxer engine in a fairly normal-looking frame with a splattering of carbon fibre.

Except the HP2 Sport is far from just a tweaked R1200S. This is, quite simply, the best and most high-tech Boxer-engined BMW that the company will ever produce. And I know this for a fact. BMW have just launched their S1000RR superbike, using a brand new 1,000cc inline four engine that is destined to compete in World Superbikes in 2009. This move effectively makes the HP2 Sport redundant when it comes to racing. Well, all apart from a few ‘special interest’ classes. What would the point be in BMW racing this bike when they have a purpose-built race bike? But that is missing the point of the HP2 Sport.

It isn’t really meant to be a race bike, this is BMW showing what they could do with the Boxer engine if given free rein and they gave their technical boffins in the R&D department carte blanche and an open cheque book. I just wish they’d decided to do this about five years ago because the HP2 Sport is a glorious machine and if parts of this bike had filtered down to production bikes it would certainly have completely changed the way many riders still look at BMW today.

Push the ugly standard fitment BMW starter/kill switch and the Sport barks into life. It doesn’t burble like other Boxers, this bike snaps with a much sharper note. The LED lights stay illuminated as you blip the throttle to get some heat into the engine, slowly counting down from red through yellow to green. Only when the last of the green lights is out will the bike run properly, that’s when the onboard diagnostic systems have run their checks and decided that the engine is up to temperature and ready for the off. Although you can still pull away, up until that point it won’t allow you access to full power for fear of harming the engine.

While waiting for the lights to go out I cast an appreciative eye over the BMW. Although it’s not really a bike, it’s a moving work of art and technical excellence, an example in milling billet aluminium to the finest degree. Rumour has it BMW has a man locked away in the factory whose sole job is to create beautifully machined aluminium top yokes out of lumps of solid metal. Well he’s earned an extra round of boiled pig’s knuckle and sauerkraut because the Sport’s top yoke is, to a slightly techy eye like mine, stunning. But that’s not all. The same man, I presume, has also been busy making perfectly-machined eccentric footpeg adjustors, allowing the rider’s peg as well as the lever’s tip to swivel through a 360-degree range of heights.

It’s techno porn of the highest order and the kind of touches that you usually only find in aftermarket catalogues. Look further and an Öhlins shock nestles under the headstock, matching the similar unit holding up the rear end. Despite being a proper sportsbike BMW has kept the Telelever front end, so no traditional forks, only a centrally-mounted shock supporting the trailing link. And it doesn’t stop there, the Brembo brake calipers are monoblock units, the same as used on Ducati’s 1098. And then there is the piéce de résistance, the self-supporting carbon seat unit with the sculpted stainless steel exhaust system poking its head out and barking retorts at the road behind. I don’t think I have ever found myself admiring a BMW before, but the HP2 Sport is truly beautiful. But the best is yet to come, because hidden under the carbon cylinder head protectors is a very special Boxer engine.

You don’t notice it at first. Below 6,000rpm the HP2 Sport feels like any other Boxer twin, just a bit keener to rev and with a rawer exhaust note. But then your eye is drawn to the rev limiter. The red line (well mark on the digital dash at least) is set up at 9,500rpm, and it’s in this last 3,500rpm that the motor really takes off. I admit that in the past I’ve not been that complementary about the Boxer engine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great touring engine, but whenever BMW has seen fit to put it in a ‘sporty’ bike it feels out of its depth. The R1200S was, in my opinion, a great sports tourer, not a sportsbike as BMW claimed simply down to the fact the engine is, well, a bit of a slug. Yes, it has lots of lovely torque, but it delivers it in a slow, methodical plodding fashion, rather than an exciting rush. Well not any more, because this engine has double overhead camshafts.

This isn’t exactly earth-shattering new technology, but it’s a first for BMW’s Boxer engine and revolutionises the motor, allowing the use of larger valves and an increased rev limit. What this means to the rider is that this is a Boxer that really flies. The HP2 is a fast motorcycle, not fast in comparison to other BMWs, but fast in comparison to other sportsbikes.

Crack the throttle open and allow the Sport to rev and it takes off at an indecent pace. On the road it’s more than quick enough and actually started to feel too fast, which is a feeling I have never experienced before on a BMW. On a Japanese 1000, sure, but on a Beemer? Holding it open through the gears I saw over 145mph on the clock, which appeared considerably quicker than I thought, or felt, it would. Despite the world speeding up the engine note of the Boxer doesn’t alter that much. It gets slightly harsher, but doesn’t start to scream or howl like an inline four, just gets more frenetic in its burble. It’s a strange feeling, but one you have to experience because caning it through the gears allows the use of the BMW’s best, yet cheapest, gadget: its quick-shifter.

There really is no need whatsoever to have a quick-shifter on a road bike, but I want one because they are brilliant fun! Hold the throttle wide and just bang the gear lever, the shifter deals with the rest for you, briefly cutting the ignition to unload the gearbox and allow a smooth shift of cog. Much like a gear indicator, once experienced you wonder how you ever manage to ride a bike without one. Who needs a clutch? As long as you don’t roll off the throttle the BMW changes gear with only the minimal click and tiny dip in power that you would expect. Roll off and it’s a different matter, but that isn’t the shifter’s fault, that’s user-error. And best of all it works at all revs, even through town, so you can be really lazy. It’s not quite as slick but I tried changing up without using the clutch at just 3,000rpm and the BMW obliged.

Although BMW is marketing this bike as a sportsbike, in truth few are going to be found anywhere other than the very occasional track day. But that, if anything, adds to the attraction of the bike. On a circuit I’m sure it could hold its own, it’s never going to out-pace a Japanese 1000 or Italian or Austrian V-twin, but on the road it’s a different matter. Although the HP2 Sport looks aggressive it has all the comfort and relaxed riding position of the R1200S, but with a huge sting in its tail. You could easily cover distance on the Sport, it even does a half-decent 130 miles until reserve.

Every time you roll off the throttle the underseat pipe pops and backfires with a deep booming noise that is so un-BMW and yet so right for this bike. It’s a sound that shouts ‘look at me’ and makes you feel like a racer pulling down the pit lane after a hard fought battle. Not that riding the HP2 Sport is much of a battle. On the road BMW has hit a lovely balance of handling and stability. Despite the presence of a steering damper I reckon you would really struggle to upset this bike, and believe me I tried.

BMW claim a wet wait of 199kg, which is comparable with inline 1000s, but the Sport has lazier geometry than these bikes, which makes it more stable. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, accelerate hard on the Sport and the front will lift, but it doesn’t do it with any of the ferocity of, say, a ZX-10R. Hit a bump and the BMW absorbs it, rather than give a kick that hints at a possible tank-slapper should you try it again at a faster pace. Obviously this stability comes with a slight pay-off when it comes to handling, but it’s marginal. The handling is excellent.

On the Welsh roads I was very impressed with the Sport’s handling. Unlike any other BMW it actually feels like a proper sportsbike, rather than a tourer that has been forced to do something it isn’t really that keen on. The quirk of the Telelever front end is still apparent as the BMW has a slight pause before turning in and needs to be pushed a bit harder than a bike with forks, but it’s nowhere near as obvious as other BMW models and is something that owners will rapidly adjust to. Once over this initial hesitation the Sport drops onto its side and feels as sharp in a corner as any of the competition. Its crash diet over the R1200S has shed 12kg as well as the slightly bloaty feeling of the S while still retaining the mid-corner balance. This may not sound like a lot of weight but it’s not all about numbers, the Sport’s weight distribution is better than the R1200S thanks to the use of lightweight engine components and forged aluminium wheels, all of which adds up to a bike that is easier to handle.

The Sport requires far less physical effort to hold into a corner compared to the R1200S and once lent over tracks around the bend perfectly. On the road its this balance that you need as British tarmac often comes with a few added potholes or imperfection thrown in when you least need them, none of which seem to bother the Boxer when it is lent over, it just ploughs on ahead with its suspension absorbing the jolt.

I was expecting the HP2 Sport to be fairly good on the road, but in the end I was blown away by it in a way I was never expecting. I wrongly assumed it was simply a tarted up R1200S, but it’s so far away from this it’s untrue. The Sport is a proper sportsbike, just one from BMW and one that happens to use a Boxer engine. I really hope that with the introduction of the S1000RR the HP2 Sport doesn’t get discontinued because it doesn’t deserve that. The indications from BMW are positive, so hopefully there will be a place for this special Boxer in BMW’s future. Never before has a twin from Germany been so explosive or exciting.  

Technical under the boxer’s skin

The HP2 Sport’s engine is based around the Boxer motor used in bikes such as the R1200S but has significant modifications. The biggest single change is the introduction of DOHC. This has necessitated a complete redesign of the whole cylinder head and has allowed the engine to rev to 9,500rpm. To go with the new head the intake valves are 3mm larger at 39mm while the exhaust valves are up 2mm to 33mm. A higher compression ratio (12.5:1) has necessitated the use of forged pistons to deal with the extra power, claimed at 128bhp and 84lb.ft. In contrast to the R1200S the Sport uses a close ratio gearbox with a taller first and second gear, and the ‘assisted’ gearshift. Rumour has it that the entire engine needs to be rebuilt after just 30,000 miles!

To keep the weight down components such as the footpegs, top yoke and brake calipers are made from milled aluminium while the whole exhaust system is stainless steel and the wheels forged alloy. Carbon is used in all the bodywork as well as the self-supporting seat unit.


Price: £14,495
Engine: 1,170cc, air-cooled, 8-valve boxer twin
Power: 128bhp @ 8,750rpm
Torque: 84lb.ft @ 6,000rpm
Front suspension: Telelever Öhlins, fully adj
Rear suspension: Öhlins monoshock, fully adj
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston Brembo calipers
Rear brake: 265mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 178kg (claimed)
Seat height:  830mm
Fuel capacity: 16l
Top speed: 160mph (est)
Colours: blue/white