It usually takes decades and multiple model generations for a brand-new nameplate to become a legend in the motorcycling scene. The BMW S 1000 RR did things differently. This was the first-ever four-cylinder motorcycle from a brand more renowned for its range of big boxer-twins; and yet, it somehow went straight to the top of the superbike game when it exploded onto the scene in 2010. With the kind of power and electronics the litre-class game had never seen, it’s no wonder the S 1000 RR became a motorcycling household name so soon. In fact, the base platform was so good, BMW has been selling the bike with only evolutionary changes, ever since. But eight years on, there’s finally a new one – and in BMW’s own words, everything on this bike is different, ‘down to the last nut and bolt.’
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
The most obvious change comes in the design. The S 1000 RR packs a completely new look – one that’s leaner and sleeker, but also not quite as identifiable and it could pass off as a Japanese sports bike. The quirky, asymmetrical headlamps that made the old bike so instantly identifiable have been swapped for a set of svelte full-LED units on either side of a big ram-air intake. The side profile is more reminiscent of the old bike, with a similar set of ‘gills’ in the fairing, but it’s the rear I’m most intrigued by. If you’re wondering why it looks a bit strange, that’s because there is no brake lamp; or at least not a traditional one. Instead, BMW has cleverly packaged the brake lamp into the indicators (both light up red when the brake is applied). This means that you could basically undo two screws and one connector to remove the entire light/number plate holder assembly at the racetrack, resulting in a clean, race bike look.
Facing the rider is a new 6.5-inch TFT display that looks similar to the ones on the new GS ADVs. This one, however, is more sophisticated and it offers up to four different display modes. You control it via BMW’s rotary scroller on the left handlebar, which sounds like a cool feature but in reality, is quite fiddly to use.
Beyond the flashy new display, one of my favourite aspects of the new design is the vastly improved ergonomics. The bike now feels slimmer at the waist and the clip-ons are wider, too. The seating position is obviously committed – slightly more so than earlier – but it’s also roomy and the narrower waist makes it easier to lock onto with your lower body at high speeds.
WHAT’S NEW WITH THE CHASSIS?
This slimming down has been made possible by a brand-new frame as well as a narrower engine. We’ll start with the new frame; something that BMW calls the Flex-Frame. This is essentially a traditional beam frame, but with completely different mounting points for the engine that is now more closely involved as a load-bearing unit. The new frame weighs 1.3kg less than the previous unit and you’ll also notice a brand new swingarm that uses an upside-down design with bracing at the bottom, something commonly seen in WSBK and MotoGP. This brings packaging advantages for the rear shock, but it also allows for improved swingarm flex characteristics that help keep the rear-tyre contact patch with the tarmac more constant. In a more basic language – better rear grip under acceleration.
With this iteration, BMW has lengthened the wheelbase by a bit, but also sharpened the front steering geometry slightly, to 23.1mm. The overall effect is supposedly more straight-line stability along with improved agility. Agility also gets a big boost from the new carbon-fibre wheels, which are standard on the range-topping M Sport model we got to ride. The lightweight wheels reduce unsprung mass dramatically and help the M Sport model saves a further 4.5kg over the 197kg standard model, which itself is a full 11kg lighter than the previous generation. The mid-level Pro and top M Sport model both get electronically damped suspension at both ends, while the M Sport also brings the carbon wheels, a lithium-ion battery, slightly thicker front brake discs and a very firm M Sport seat which will probably be a pain on the street.
WHAT’S NEW WITH THE ENGINE?
Everything. This motor has been developed from the ground up and it now makes 8hp more for a total of 207hp. The big news is the introduction of BMW’s Shiftcam variable camshaft control tech which allows for a much meatier mid-range without sacrificing on a raging top-end. The system switches over to a more aggressive profile at 9,000rpm and the redline arrives much later, at 14,600rpm The mid and top models get a bi-directional quickshifter for the 6-speed gearbox which, thankfully, works much nicer than the clunky quickshifter you’ll find in the big GS ADV bikes.
The motor makes its 113Nm of peak torque at 11,000rpm and peak power comes in at an even higher 13,500rpm. Just like before, this isn’t a silky-smooth screamer like your typical Japanese in-line four and there’s a mild, but noticeable vibration to be felt in the bars and pegs. Ignore the buzz and you’ll find that the throttle is very smooth, which does wonders when it comes to dialling-in that crazy power when the bike is leaned over exiting a corner.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO RIDE?
We had a rather brief taste of the S 1000 RR at the BIC, but it only takes a few seconds of holding the throttle wide open down the back straight to know that this is a blindingly fast machine. I found myself hauling on the brakes at a relatively cautious braking marker with the speedo reading out 294kph on more than one occasion. With a better exit from turn 3 and more bravery at the end of the straight, that magic 300kph readout should be possible, which makes this one of the hardest-charging litre bikes out there – but I say litre bike because the Ducati Panigale V4 feels faster still, crossing 300kph with relative ease down the BIC back straight, although the Panigale cheats with an extra 100cc, so it isn’t really a litre bike at all.
At a wide and super-smooth track like the BIC, the S 1000 RR feels like a precision instrument that instantly sets out to work with you on cutting down your lap times. The compact dimensions are encouraging, but there’s also enough space for a tall rider to feel comfortable and wide clip-on handlebars help with leverage. Initial turn-in is super quick, thanks to those carbon wheels; almost alarmingly so, the first few times you experience it, but then you grow to like the deliciously immediate responses. I did find that the bike moved around a bit on its suspension through the mid-point of the turning process, but once it was fully leaned over, it felt nice and stable again, with plenty of confidence from the super-sticky Metzeler Racetec K3 tyres. I suppose this is down to the suspension set up in the Race mode that we were riding in; and some time spent to set up the bike could sort this out.
Come to think of it, you’ll have to set aside quite a lot of time fiddling with the settings, because this is a highly ‘tunable’ machine. The suspension itself offers multiple damping adjustability options; but there’s also the multi-stage adjustability for the traction control, ABS, wheelie control, engine brake control and slide control systems, in addition to the dynamic brake control system that introduces a touch of rear-brake support when the rider uses the front brake. If you buy the mid- or top-models you’ll also get three additional Race Pro modes (on top of the Rain, Road, Dynamic and Race modes) that can be freely set up to the rider’s preference using all the above parameters. BMW has even thrown-in a special rocker-style button on the left bar that lets the rider quickly adjust traction control settings while on the move – although this only works in the Race Pro modes. That’s a great feature to have in terms of making quick adjustments to account for tire wear, or unexpected rain.
The new S 1000 RR is certainly a racier machine than what it used to be, but it hasn’t given up on the old bike’s creature comforts. This is still the only litre bike to offer luxuries like heated grips and cruise control, but it now ups the ante with GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity tyre-pressure monitoring – and there’s even a hill-start assist system.
It’s great having these toys for the road, but naturally, none of them matter on the track. We only had a handful of laps where we had to follow a BMW lead rider, and while the pace was quick, it wasn’t flat out. Under these conditions, I liked how the Hayes brakes worked along with the clever ABS system, but we never really got to brake hard lap after lap, so I can’t comment on the tendency for mild brake fade as reported internationally.
In Race mode, you can feel the electronics working to keep everything under control, allowing only tiny wheelies under hard acceleration in the first three gears, but if you back it off, this bike will turn into a proper handful that demands a very skilled hand – and that’s the beauty of it all. The key takeaway for me is that while this bike isn’t as emotional (and borderline overwhelming) an experience as the mighty Ducati V4, it’s also a much easier and more encouraging machine for a rider of above average, but not expert skill levels; and I suppose that for these riders, it will probably be faster around a racetrack, for that very reason.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
The motorcycle itself is quite brilliant, but the pricing BMW has managed makes it even more special. The base model starts at Rs 18.5 lakh, which is cheaper than the not only the Ducati, but even Suzuki’s GSX-R1000R. To me, the mid-level Pro model is the best deal at Rs 20.95 lakh, while the M Sport at Rs 22.95 lakh is still, much cheaper than the comparable Ducati Panigale V4 S. BMW intends to begin deliveries in August and tell us that by then, we shouldn’t have any issues with deliveries like Europe is currently facing.
There’s plenty of ways to sum up this review, but I think this is the most relevant – I’ve always thought litre-class bikes are a little pointless and never truly satisfying to ride, at least at my skill level. The S 1000 RR has changed that. This bike flatters its rider and I long for more opportunities to explore it at the racetrack.