First Ride

First ride: BMW S1000RR review

BMW’s 2015 S1000RR is brain-numbingly fast in an incredibly user-friendly way

FIVE years on from BMW’s first assault on the super-sports market with the original S1000RR, it sometimes still seems slightly surreal that the German firm managed to come from nowhere, crush all showroom opposition and establish its bonkers boss-eyed bolide as the undoubted yardstick in motorcycling’s most competitive class.

Making that dramatic entry with perfect timing, just as the credit crunch and plummeting sports bike sales deflated most of the opposition, obviously helped. But the key factor has been BMW’s ceaseless determination to make their bike the best. That first, 2010-model RR was usefully tweaked two years later, before most firms had even got round to offering a response. By 2013 its über-trick HP4 derivative had taken super-sport sophistication to a whole new level.

But the competition is looking a whole lot stronger this year, with revamped rivals including Aprilia’s RSV4 RR, Ducati’s 1299 Panigale and Yamaha’s YZF-R1, not to mention Kawasaki’s Ninja H2. So it’s entirely predictable that BMW has risen to the challenge yet again by wheeling out this second-generation S1000RR.

This is not merely an updated bike like the 2012 model. It’s a comprehensively redesigned machine whose significance is emphasised by those asymmetrical headlights being swapped, with the larger dip beam moving to the right. And after a day spent caning it round the Monteblanco circuit in the south of Spain, there’s no doubt that it’s another significant step forward.

Apart from that reversed headlight arrangement this RR looks very similar to the old model, but all the bodywork is new, including the tail section, which is sharper and more upswept. The handlebars are 5mm wider. The screen is reshaped for improved aerodynamics and sits above a new instrument panel.

Updates to the 999cc engine include a new cylinder head with new intake cam and lighter inlet valves. A bigger airbox, shorter intake trumpets and a redesigned exhaust also contribute to the 6hp power boost to 199hp at 13,500rpm. Torque is considerably increased through the mid-range although the peak of 83lbft at 10,500rpm is up by just a fraction.

Chassis changes include a new, lighter frame with revised stiffness and revised rake (one degree steeper at 23.5 degrees), trail (reduced by 1.5mm to 96.5mm), wheelbase (8mm longer, at 1425mm) and swing-arm pivot location (3mm lower). Suspension rates at both ends are tweaked, and the RR now gets the option of Dynamic Damping Control semi-active suspension.

This is an improved version of the DDC pioneered on the HP4, taking lessons from racing, according to RR project leader Rudi Schneider. He said: ‘We learned about the suspension in our chassis department and also at the racetracks. We worked most closely with Wilbers team and the Italian Superbike team, who were both using the semi-active all through the [last] season.’

Predictably the DDC is just one of a long list of options and accessories. For the UK, BMW has made things slightly simpler by specifying two distinct models. The basic S1000RR, which costs £13,700, includes Race ABS, the basic ASC stability control, and three riding modes (Rain, Sport and Race). The S1000RR Sport costs £14,760 and adds Dynamic Damping Control semi-active suspension, Gear Shift Assist Pro quick-shifter, plus heated grips, LED indicators and a colour-matched pillion seat cover.

The test bike I rode was the Sport edition and also fitted with the optional £490 Race Package, comprising the more sophisticated DTC Dynamic Traction Control, cruise control, and an extra, customisable Pro riding mode. The Pro riding mode actually consists of two extra modes: the more track-focused Slick mode plus a User mode, allowing a rider-defined set-up of throttle response, suspension settings and more.

Disappointingly I didn’t have to worry about that to start with, because the first track session was damp so I started in Rain mode, cutting power to a far-from-feeble 187hp. Even so, its softer throttle response helped make re-learning the damp circuit almost ridiculously easy. The RR’s ABS-enabled brakes helped me gauge grip levels, as did the improved DTC traction control system that smoothly moderated the power — before unleashing all 187 horses on the main straight once the bike was sufficiently upright.

Then when the track had dried for my second session, selecting Race mode with a press of the handlebar button instantly firmed up the suspension, restored the full 199hp and turned the RR into an awesomely fast and sharp-steering weapon… which was outperformed only when I pressed the button again to select Slick mode. That firms the suspension still more, disables the linked braking system (which adds a touch of rear when you squeeze the handlebar lever) and enables bar-mounted buttons for adjusting the traction control on the move.

Of course the RR is brain-numbingly fast; it was still pulling hard in fifth at over 150mph on the longish pit straight, when I had to haul on the fearsomely powerful Brembos for the following second-gear right-hander. But it was the BMW’s controllability and ease of use even at those extreme speeds that made the biggest impression.

With slicks fitted for my last two sessions, braking power was outstanding. The ABS system worked remarkably well even when the Brembos were burying the front slick in the track when slowing for the tight first turn. The semi-active suspension firmed-up the front end under braking and the rear under acceleration, helping to keep the bike well balanced and stable, yet also dealing effortlessly with occasional bumps. And the traction control worked so seamlessly that this most powerful of bikes was also remarkably rider-friendly.

The updated DTC traction control now gives a more refined response and, in Slick and User modes, allows easy tuning through 15 settings by pressing a thumb button on the left bar, as with many top race bikes and Aprilia’s RSV4. Even on its higher settings the system cut in smoothly and restored full power seamlessly on straights, so I sometimes couldn’t tell when it was working. But it’s an excellent system, whatever your level of experience and speed.

I was surprised by how useful I found the Gear Shift Assist Pro, which allows clutch-less changes up and down the box. This worked flawlessly, in combination with the slipper clutch, and I found it helped by allowing me to concentrate on corner entry without needing to think about down-shifts. Another rider reported a slightly slow and imprecise change but my bike was fine all day. The gear lever can also be very quickly reversed to give a race-shift pattern.

Other electronic updates include a high-tech instrument panel showing maximum lean angle, current and maximum deceleration rate and number of gear changes per lap. It also gives you an indication of traction control intervention, with the maximum amount by which the system has reduced torque on each lap.

For track use there’s a launch control and a pit-lane speed limiter that you could also use for fun on the road. This track-ready machine is rider-friendly enough to make an excellent if slightly excessive street bike, especially when fitted with options such as cruise control and heated grips. Thanks to the semi-active suspension it should even be comfortable, at least by sports bike standards.

This bike’s Continental anti-lock brakes don’t incorporate the cornering ABS of the HP4’s Bosch system, one respect in which even this accessorised S1000RR doesn’t quite match its more exotic forebear.

But that disadvantage is a rare one. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the S1000RR is the way in which this updated model surpasses not only its RR predecessor but the HP4 flagship too (at least when fitted with its main options). Test rider Jürgen Fuchs is a second quicker around a typical racetrack on the new RR than on the HP4, according to project leader Schneider.

Inevitably the high-tech options elevate the S1000RR’s price, with the Motorsport-coloured test bike’s value topping £15,500 even before the addition of a grand’s worth of forged wheels. Then again, the superbike class seems to have moved on in price as well as specification this year, with the new crop of 200hp flagships providing levels of performance and technology that would have seemed impossible on the original RR’s launch five years ago.

BMW has certainly chosen the right moment for this update, which could well be enough to retain the S1000RR’s status as class yardstick. With the challengers’ launches imminent, it’s too soon to say. What’s for sure is that this revamped RR is a stunningly fast, sophisticated and useable machine that will be very hard to beat on either road or track.

Watch our full video review of the new BMW S1000RR

Model tested: 2015 BMW S1000RR Sport

Engine: 999cc inline-four

Price: S1000RR Sport £14,760 (standard RR £13,700). Bike tested also had £490 Race Package, £385 Motorsport paint option and £1075 forged wheels; total £16,710.

Power: 199hp

Torque: 83lbft 

Wet weight: 204kg (full tank)

Tank capacity: 17.5 litres

Seat height:  815mm

Available: dealer launch February 7th

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