Niall Mackenzie's BMW S1000RR superbike test review

Visordown’s road test editor is also a three times British Superbike Champion. So who better to sample the most eagerly awaited bike of 2009? Niall Mackenzie takes BMW’s S1000 RR to the edge...

Session One

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Session One

Just sitting on the new BMW S1000RR makes me think of my long-term R6. I’m five-foot eight and it just fits me really well - everything is really light and compact. It’s a pretty amazing piece of packaging, really. Check out the exhaust for proof of that, it’s beautifully neat and tucked away, something some of the Japanese manufacturers should be envious of. Just moving it around on pit lane here at Portmão makes it feels like someone’s nicked the engine. BMW claim a dry weight of 190kgs and I wouldn’t dispute it, they’ve even managed to make that feel less than it is.

The BMW bloke in the pre-ride press conference encouraged us to do the first session in sixth gear at 2,000rpm for a whole lap as a way of demonstrating how smooth and tractable this engine is. Personally I think it was just a way to ensure that none of us did a Casey Stoner on the out lap. Plumbing the depths of my will-power, I did my best to try this technique but it only takes one person to come past me before I revert to type. Once a racer, I s’pose…

But for the few corners where I did muster up enough self control, it really did show up the engine’s super-tractable, electric motor-like torque delivery and flexibility. It reminded me of a big twist-and-go scooter the way you can just roll off the power and roll it back on again. It also makes you realise how smooth and refined the whole transmission is.

The sensation of pared down weight is just as evident when you’re hustling the S1000 RR round a track.  It’s really easy to flick from one bank angle to another – handy at this circuit because one corner just flows into another and high speed direction changes are crucial.

Accuracy is key at Portimão, too. The bike runs massive (biggest in class) 46mm Sachs forks. and steers neutrally with pinpoint precision.

There are four map settings and they set us off for this first session in rain mode which gives 150PS. It doesn’t feel strangled, it’s very rideable, very linear and predictable.When it’s in rain mode the traction control kicks in sooner than normal. It’s so clever. You can open the throttle and it does nothing, The more you pick it up the more it accelerates. It does it so smoothly. It’s also got anti wheelie and it’s brilliant here with high and low speed crests, you can feel the front coming up as the road drops away and the front wheel gradually gets put back down even though the throttle’s still open. It’s mega.

The traction control system uses a gyroscope to monitor lean angle. The other three settings offer less intrusion at greater angles. More of that later. Gotta dash, need to find me a suspension man…

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Session Two - S1000RR

Session Two

I’ve just ridden it in race mode (which is the second setting off the max) and you get the feeling of real power and you can’t feel the traction control working like you can in rain mode. It’s really unobtrusive when you’re tramping on a bit.

In race mode you’re riding it a lot harder and you’re less aware of what’s going on with the electronics. The traction control is closing the throttle for you. It works in three stages: throttle mechanism, then butterfly, then ignition timing. The reverse happens when you get grip again…

I stiffened the front forks by two rings of preload as I wanted less weight transfer which helped it on the brakes, turning in and made it more stable on the straight. It still tank-slaps over any crest where the front goes light  - it needs the back firming up for the next session to stop it squatting as much.

I’ve suffered from lots of brake fade – particularly in that session. I’ve heard these are pre production brake parts but the faster I’m getting the more of a problem the brakes are becoming.The track temp isn’t crazy, just 20 degrees.

I’ve seen 280kmh in fifth on the straight. Troy Corser’s not out yet. I’ll wind him up over lunch and then have a go at him out on track. Ha, ha!

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Session Three - S1000RR

Session Three

That was good. I put two clicks of compression on the rear shock, going from 5 to 7. It definitely helped the tank-slapper situation. Better but not perfect. I’ll definitely try some rear preload next time out.

Traction control setting? I switched everything off in that session which was actually quite scary with no comfort blanket. You have to pull the clutch in and shut the throttle to make DTC changes. I was thinking ‘will this spit me off now?’ I’m glad it didn’t but it’s still very rideable and there’s still lots of feel from the rear.
It could be the tyres but the front doesn’t give me as much feel – it feels a bit numb. Maybe it’s tyres or pressures or fork settings. I’m just not getting feedback.

I’m seeing 285kmh on the straight now that I’m getting more drive with the improved stability.
It’s probably a good time to stop, actually - even though I really, really don’t want to...

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Conclusion - S1000RR


I’m massively impressed by the R’s sophistication, smoothness and brute power. BMW should be rightly proud of this bike, it’s unbelievably fast and yet so easy to master. Clearly it’s not only Honda who understand how to do make their bikes fast but still friendly. But the best bit is the price...BMW may have just made themselves some new customers.


Awesome engine
Amazing traction control
Red/white/blue colour scheme


Front brake fade
Front end feedback
Green/grey colour schemes