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First Ride: 2008 BMW HP2 Sport

BMW finally go for the jugular with their most focused sportsbike ever. It looks stunning and sounds glorious, but does it have any teeth?

Nobody is releasing more new models at the minute than BMW. They are making no bones about the fact that they don’t like the image, perceived or otherwise, that BMW owners are older, wiser and usually richer than the average bike buyer. Who can blame them?

If you managed to make it to the NEC show this year you would have seen that the BMW stand, and the bikes on it looked as up-to-date as any of the other manufacturers there. In one corner was the 1200 GS Adventure pointing funnily enough at the KTM stand, and in the other was the new HP2 Sport, pointing at and directly opposite the GSX-Rs on the Suzuki stand. Coincidence? I don’t think so. BMW want in and they will push if they have to.

The HP2 Sport started life as a race bike. So from the off it immediately has the heritage to represent itself in the right company, and it is also dripping with race-derived technology and gadgetry. Just looking at a row of them lined up trackside at Spain’s super-exclusive Ascari circuit was all it took to banish thoughts of touring and MPG figures, The use of carbon fibre in a classy but purposeful style made a great first impression, as did seeing a couple of quality names like Brembo and Öhlins in all the right places. If this bike rides as good as it looks then we are all in for a treat. And it looks really, really good.

Any race bike needs to have a high performance engine, and the HP2 Sport doesn’t disappoint. A boxer twin is never going to make as much power as an in line four, but BMW made the most of what they had by completely redesigning their existing HP2 motor. The bottom end is the same as other HP2 models, but the top end is all-new. The 1,170cc motor has chain driven DOHC, to allow a higher rev ceiling which is still less than 10,000rpm but impressive all the same.

Each chamber uses a four-valve set up mounted at an angle to the face of the piston with a single injector rather than the multi injector systems used previously on the R models. The heads are 10mm narrower than last years, and are housed in carbon covers with easy to replace plastic sliders on them. The engine also uses all-new forged pistons with adapted con-rods. Does any of this sound like the type of stuff that will help eek extra mpg out of your bike? Thought not. The engine is finished off with a stunning underseat exhaust system that guarantees you will never have to carry a pillion.

On track, the Sport performed better than any previous boxer twin I’ve ridden. The exhaust has a gas flap built into it that not only increases torque but has also been utilised to improve the sound of the bike.  It burbles and hunts expectantly on tick over, just like a proper race bike. Claimed power is 128bhp at 8,750 rpm so expect a rear wheel 115-ish, but BMW have really made the most of it. The rear tyre doesn’t scrabble for grip exiting corners and nor does the front wheel leap into the air without provocation, and you won’t read about 1,000cc sportsbike-rivalling levels of acceleration or top speed because the Sport doesn’t have them.

SEPP MAECHLER - PROJECT MANAGER - BMW HP2 SPORT

When did development start on this bike?

The road bike project only started in March last year. When we were endurance racing we decided to split the team working on the race bike and develop one for the road.

What was the main aim with the project: to build a bike to compete with litre sportsbikes, or the fastest BMW ever?

We knew we could never extract a reliable 180bhp out of a boxer engine,  or build the world’s fastest bike, but we knew we could build a bike that would handle, so we built the best boxer engine we could and housed it in the best chassis we could make. The focus was more on making the best BMW available.

As you were building the roadbike did you have a level of competition in mind?

There was no benchmark, we just wanted to paint a good picture for BMW.

So how important is the HP2 Sport in comparison to the rest of the range?

Incredibly important, we want to take BMW in a different direction. RT and GS owners are very important to us but we want more, more from the sportsbike sector of the market.

So who do you want to buy the bike?

We hope to appeal to BMW owners and sportsbike riders, that are around 30/35 years old, this would be their second bike in the garage. They would use this to do trackdays as well as commute. Image conscious buyers who want to stand out.

What has been your proudest achievement with the project?

That you can sit on the bike, feel comfortable riding it all day, but at the same time have the track presence that this bike carries.

BMW HP2 Sport Review

But it is a properly fast bike nonetheless and unquestionably the quickest accelerating BMW ever made. It really screams for a boxer twin and the power delivery eggs you on to rev it harder and higher all the time. It’s immense fun and incredible involving to ride, and performed much better when it was being hammered in the top third of its rev range than it did at holding a constant throttle. The whole time it made an awesome sound, like no other road bike out there.

Transmitting the power through a fairly close-ratio six speed gearbox is hardly ground-breaking race technology, but the quickshifter that’s connected to the gearshift definitely is, though. Yup, a BMW with a quickshifter, and it works very well. The system works by reducing the ignition angle and momentarily reducing injection, which allows the gearbox to grab the next gear without the need to back off the throttle. The first lap I rode with the system I thought it was useless, until I realised that I was trying to help it by backing off the throttle in the same way you would if you were changing gear without a clutch on a normal bike. This was causing the bike to lurch and feel clunky, not good.

When I got used to it though it was brilliant, you just rev the devil out of the bike, take up the pressure on the lever and snick the next gear in without ever backing off. The more revs the better and I couldn’t upset it, apart from when I was trying to help it out. The system is also designed to work at low speeds, and will help out round town if you are feeling lazy. For purists there is always the clutch which if you are interested works really well, light and un-grabby even when everything is red hot. Japanese sportsbikes are now being produced with traction control, slipper clutches and brakes that could stop a cross channel ferry, but who actually uses that stuff on the road though? Not me, and probably not you if you’re honest. But the quickshifter is a properly useful piece of race-derived technology filtering onto a roadbike.

The power is transmitted through a traditional shaft drive as fitted to all the current range of BMW roadbikes, and it works extremely well in this application. Every now and then at slow speeds I felt the drive shunt that is typical of BMWs: it feels like nothing will ever break but also like everything is mounted on huge blocks of rubber. Again, when you are pushing hard it complied perfectly and never upset the balance of the bike when it was in a corner. Change down too many gears too quickly into a corner and (without a slipper clutch) the Sport will chirrup and hop, so adapt your riding to suit.

The chassis is a heavily modified R1200S frame. The steel tube rear subframe was basically hacked off to make way for a one piece carbon fibre section that houses the underseat exhaust, I know that looks are subjective but I think this is the prettiest looking tail unit on any production bike for next year, or from any production bike since the 916.

You wouldn’t have thought that a proper sportsbike (which by now hopefully you realise this is) would have anything other than a conventional suspension set-up, but this is BMW, where they never do anything conventional. If you had already consigned Paralever/ Telelever system to the scrap heap give it another chance, as the set-up on this bike is amazing. Fully adjustable Öhlins front and rear means that this works superbly. There is a 3rd gear right hander at Ascari that is preceeded by the fastest section of the 5.2 kilometre circuit. You approach in fifth going as fast as the bike will go in the space allowed, about 125mph. On the brakes downshifting to third the front end was so stable that each time I turned in I realised that the only thing that was getting flustered was me. Each lap I was able to brake later and get on the gas earlier into the corner until eventually I honestly felt like I had 100% confidence in the front end.

It doesn’t dive when you are braking hard so it doesn’t have to rebound and settle before you can turn and get back on the gas. The rear was just as good, never feeling like it was about to become overpowered by the engine, which I surmise was exactly the idea BMW had knowing that they were cranking 130bhp out of the Boxer. As adjustable and trick-looking as the suspension was I never felt the need to adjust anything. It suited my 14 stone size perfectly, and was able to cope with ham-fisted throttle inputs mid corner no bother, it also allowed me to get the cylinder heads down, albeit briefly and entirely unplanned, but down all the same.

If the riding position doesn’t suit you, it can be set up to accommodate pretty much anyone. The footrests are mounted on an eccentric cam to allow up and down and forward and backwards positioning, everything is marked in increments to ensure the same adjustment on both sides. The brake and gear levers are fully adjustable as well. The handle bar offset can be adjusted as well allowing a position more suited to commuting or touring.

One of the best parts of this bike on track has to be the brakes. Monoblock radial mount Brembo four pot calipers squeeze two 320mm discs at the front, with a two-piston calliper at the rear, both of which run braided lines. Usually systems like this while great on track can be a little overpowering on the road. And while I can’t vouch for their wet weather, slimey UK road performance, I couldn’t fault them on track, whether slow or fast.

They were so easy to use that it was easy to place a lot of faith in them to slow you down from silly speeds in the shortest of distances, and when coupled with the suspension you can see where BMW are expecting you to close the gap on Japanese sportsbikes on the road and track. Let them go on the straights and then outbrake them and hold a better line in the corners. Crap stoppies were only ever a squeeze away. BMW being who they are will be offering an ABS option but in my opinion I would say not to bother. This system as it is can only be described as amazing.

The other feature on this bike that will have race bike fans frothing at the mouth is the GP dashboard. Built to BMW’s spec by 2D this system is bang up to date, even a little advanced as the BSB and WSB bikes that will have it next year didn’t have it last year. No, it’s not just another fancy looking dash with a laptimer this is the real deal. I’m talking laptimes, average speed, percentage of throttle used in a lap, percentage of brakes used in lap, max speed, min speed, and number of gearshifts in a lap: the list is almost endless. You can also plug it in and download laps a la Ducati’s system. Only this one looks cooler wrapped in its carbon surround and it’s really easy to use. It is compatible with race transponders and BMW’s GPS system.

So, if image is everything to you, here is a bike that has genuine racebike blood flowing through it, looks cooler than anything this side of a 916, has enough trick bits on it as standard that it will be winning Top Trumps competitions in playgrounds up and down the country and is so easy to ride that you could just as easily show it to your posh friends in Marseille as your mates down the local boozer. If performance means more to you, this bike’s adjustability should appeal, everything can be set-up just for you, and while it will never threaten litre sportsbikes off the lights it was never meant to. It’s got lashings of character, is wonderfully engaging to ride and looks gorgeous sat on the sidestand. From the first day of design this was intended to be the most extreme BMW ever built, and it is. A belter.

Bmw HP2 Sport Specs

Price: £14,495
Engine: 1,170 cc air cooled DOHC Boxer twin
Power: 128bhp @8,750rpm 115NM Torque @6000rpm
Front suspension: BMW Telelever fully adjustable
Rear suspension: BMW Paralever fully adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, four piston radial callipers
Rear brake: 265mm disc, twin piston calliper
Dry weight: 178 Kg
Seat height: 830mm
Fuel capacity: 16 litres
Top speed: 150mph (est)
Colours: Blue/White/Carbon