Published on August 19th, 2009 | by Boris
BMW S1000RR – IT’S ALL TRUE
I came back from Phillip Island a broken man – physically and emotionally.
Many of the truths I had long held to be self-evident turned out to be nothing more than utterly insane misconceptions.
One of these self-evident truths was that having done a million laps of Eastern Creek, I would easily slip into the groove of the Island and bang out some sick laps.
The other was that BMW was about as likely to build a proper world-class superbike as the Armenian People’s Tractor Factory.
After all, everyone knows that building kick-arse superbikes is the exclusive province of the Italians and the Japanese. The Germans have always tended to cater for either the insane adventure rider, or the genteel gentleman tourer. And while they have recently made some rather exciting forays into other areas of motorcycling with their incredible 450cc enduro bike and a brace of big-dollar, up-spec HP-tagged boxer twins, the chances of a real fire-breathing four-cylinder superbike rolling out of Bavaria seemed remote.
Reports of the S1000RR started to filter into the motorcycle media many months ago. Crazy horsepower figures were bandied about, along with even crazier weight numbers. No-one actually believed them, least of all me.
And then reports began to arrive from people who had actually ridden the S1000RR. AMCN’s Matty Shields, who went to the world launch, was unequivocal.
“This is the best bike I have ever ridden,” he proclaimed.
“Bullshit,” I laughed.
“Just wait until you ride it.”
I told him I would not hold my breath against the advent of that occurrence and went back to living in the real world.
A few months went by and a most unexpected invitation arrived in my inbox. Apparently, BMW Australia would be overjoyed to have me squire the S1000RR around the Phillip Island racetrack for an entire day.
I can assure you that BMW’s joy was as nothing compared to mine as I boarded the plane and jetted south – it was about as close to sunshine, rainbows and lollipops that I’m ever likely to get in this life.
My travelling companions were Alex Gobert, Rennie Scaysbrook and Kevin “The Horsham Hurricane” Magee. Except that The Hurricane had failed to make the plane and was not with us when we landed in Melbournistan and boarded the bus to BMW headquarters for lunch and a presentation. “Us” now included a bunch of New Zealand A-graders masquerading as journos, a three-metre tall bloke called Stuart from Australian Roadrider, MCN’s Trevor Hedge, Guy Allen, a few other blokes whose names invariably escape me, and two aliens called Mark Willis and Steve Martin.
I suddenly had no idea what I was doing there.
And that would not be the first time that would happen in the course of the two days.
During the presentation, I was given to understand that Steve Martin (who was the development rider for the RR and a World Endurance Champion in his spare time) and Mark Willis, (whose profile you can find elsewhere) would be “leading us around” the track, a fact I found both profoundly disturbing and ridiculously amusing.
Part of knowing how fast you can ride is knowing how fast you cannot ride.
And I know perfectly well how fast I cannot ride.
The only way I would be able to keep up with Willis or Martin was if they were to drag me behind their bikes on a rope.
But that was something I would have more time to consider the following day. At that moment, I was inside BMW HQ and trying to absorb the amazing information being imparted to us by Sep, the S1000RR’s criminally fast Swiss Project Manager.
I was so impressed, I even took notes – and I never take notes.
Here is what I jotted down…
1. During the European launch in Portimao in Portugal, 160 journos rode the S1000RR around the racetrack in the pouring rain. None of them crashed. Find out if Sep is bullshitting, since this seems impossible.
2. The S1000RR will stop eight metres shorter than a Fireblade from 200km/h. Sep appears serious.
3. You are able to turn both the ABS and the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) off and on while on the move. This is a first for BMW. Sep is pleased about this.
4. The camshaft followers weigh 11gm. In contrast to the camshaft followers on a Japanese four that weight 24gm. This is a cumulative saving of 224gm. This tells me that BMW have gone to insane lengths to save weight on the bike. Sep confirms the weight resolution is serious.
5. The bike has been repeatedly timed at 9.9sec over the standing quarter mile. It will accelerate to 292km/h in one km. It takes the bike 6.8sec to accelerate to 200km/h. Sep is really pleased about this.
6. The engine weighs 59.8kg. Sep seems indifferent to this, but the rest of us are impressed.
7. The project has taken four years to complete and more than 1,000,000km have been ridden during the development phase. Sep appears pleased this journey is over.
8. Service intervals are 10,000km and valve clearances are done at 30,000km. Sep agrees that this is cool.
9. There will be a full Akrapovic race system available in a few months that will save 6kg off the existing 12kg stock exhaust and add a further 5-7bhp to the bike’s power. Sep gently tells us that while he feels that no-one actually needs any more horsepower, a few more is nice.
10. The S1000RR is lighter and more powerful than any other production 1000. It’s the lightest ABS-equipped sportsbike on earth. It weighs 206.5kg with a full tank of juice, has a staggering power-to-weight ratio of 1.06kg, produces 142kW (193bhp) at the crank at 13,900rpm (redline is 14,200rpm) and makes 112Nm of torque at 9750rpm. Sep smiles like a Cheshire cat.
11. What the bastard hell am I doing here? Sep has no idea either.
With such a plethora of technical information bubbling in my head, we once again boarded our minibus and headed for the Silverwater Resort at Phillip Island.
Because the bad kids always sit at the back of the bus, The Hurricane and I found common cause on the rear bench seat and amused ourselves by promising to dress Gobert in a frock and take him dancing that evening, while making repeated demands that the bastard bus driver find a drive-through bottle shop.
We eventually arrived at the Silverwater Resort, which is actually in San Remo. After checking in, I made my way to an altogether marvellous unit with a heart-wrenchingly beautiful view of the bay from its large L-shaped balcony, had a shower, and congratulated myself on being one of the luckiest bastards on the face of the planet.
Then I went to have a beer at the resort bar. I was joined shortly by Rennie Scaysbrook, a young bloke whose father is the equivalent of Australian motorcycling royalty, but who is entirely unaffected by this. And as a result is one of the nicest blokes you’d ever wanna have a beer with.
The Hurricane was not far behind. He bought me a beer and we were joined by Steve Martin and Project Manager Sep, and I listened in reverential awe as Steve told tales of endurance racing and the Hurricane shared stories of his glory days – which were indeed altogether glorious.
We were then driven to Churchill Island (a kind of upscale farm and wildlife refuge), which had been entirely booked out by BMW, apparently so that it could feed us away from the general public. And please don’t think I’m saying that like it was some kind of bad thing. There should, in fact, be more of that sorta thing.
Anyway, once there, we were fed lark’s tongues in aspic, a robust variety of terrines and confits, and a steady and most piquant selection of bits of grenouilles, lapins, dindes, canards and beer.
And then I called Island Mick and begged him to fetch me.
There are only so many happy thoughts allotted to me in any given day, and I figured those that remained to me were best spent among my friends.
I was unusually pleased by the sight of Mick’s rescue vehicle making its way across the narrow bridge that joins Churchill Island from Phillip Island.
To then be suddenly enveloped in vast bonhomie by Mick, Frog and Cricky, my hands filled with ice cold cans of bourbon and dry, and the sensational Mel at the wheel, is a wonderfully transcendental experience.
Mel drove us to a deserted San Remo – and I gotta tell you that Phillip Island without the crowds is a strange and rather magical place – and left us to do a bit of drinking. To their credit, the blokes didn’t insist I hit the piss hard. The racetrack, as Frog went to great lengths to explain, is not to be taken lightly – and I had no desire to be the first man to throw a S1000RR into Bass Strait.
Talk to anyone who has raced there. Phillip Island is fast. Very, very fast. And I had every intention of going home in a plane – not a helicopter. So my drinking was measured and interspersed with much laughter, all of which was transferred into the street when the pubs closed, and from there back to my resort..
We arrived to see The Hurricane being transported back to his apartment in a golf kart. Apparently, he’d taken a bit of a nap on one of the asphalt drives and resort management was concerned that he may have caught a chill if he was left out, seeing as how a midnight sea mist was swirling in to cover the area with a spectral lambency.
Frog, Mick, Cricky, and I hung out on the balcony for a while, yelling and roaring and then the blokes decided I needed to sleep, so they called themselves a taxi, bid me goodnight and left me to consider what the next day held in store.
Ever since I gave up smoking cigarettes, my hangovers have been somewhat less malignant and debilitating. So I was in reasonably good shape as I wolfed down my breakfast, grabbed my gear and loaded myself onto the bus to head to the track. The Hurricane was nowhere to be seen.
In short order we were offloaded behind the pits, and when we walked through a carpeted pit garage bedecked with soft chairs, past a fridge packed with water, juice and soft drinks and into pit lane, I did a double take. An entire herd of S1000RRs had been arrayed before us. There were black ones, grey ones, green ones and red, white and blue ones. There was even a fully optioned-up one with an Akrapovic can and carbon fibre everywhere.
My old friend Steve Brouggy had been enlisted into running the event – which basically consisted of an unspoken plea for an incident-free day. He explained that we’d been divided into two groups and would be sharing a bike with a partner, so that when one of us was out on the track, the other would be relaxing. My partner was The Hurricane, who had yet to make an appearance at the track. I wondered briefly if he had gotten a chill.
We were told to gear up. The first session was at 9am and the standard ride-day talk followed, then we mounted the Bimmers and Steve Martin led us out onto the hallowed bitumen – all of us on brand new, unscrubbed Metzeler K3 Racetecs.
No worries, I thought, as I settled into the seat. This is a thinly disguised race bike I have never ridden before and which I am now riding on brand new tyres, on one of the world’s fastest racetracks (which I have also never ridden before), and I’m expected to keep up with an alien who races other aliens through the night at speeds in excess of 300km/h.
I had shit-all time to adapt to the ergos, but could feel the bike was roomy (even the three-metre tall Stuart looked alright) and my knees, though tucked relatively high, weren’t uncomfortably positioned. The riding position is pure race crouch – though certainly not as extreme as the MV Agusta – so there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that BMW had indeed taken this Superbike schtick seriously. How seriously was being underscored by the muted growl emanating from the motor as I leaned it gently into Turn One.
The bikes were all switched to Rain mode for the first session. And since these modes are all-important, it’s probably best I explain how they work. There are four modes all up. Rain, Sport, Race and Slick…or “Sick” as it came to be known. Each mode is unique and can be switched on the move simply by toggling a switch on the left switchblock, which then gives you a minute to pull in the clutch and throttle off, thus allowing the mode to change. Essentially, while all the torque is available in every mode, what changes is both the amount of power available (only 155bhp in Rain mode) and how that power is delivered to you. So in Rain mode, the throttle response is not as crisp as it is in Sport mode, nowhere near as instant as it is in Race mode, and nothing at all like the demonic marvel it becomes in Slick mode.
This is then coupled to the ABS and DTC – all of which can be turned off or on or adjusted to suit your riding needs and abilities…there’s even this supernatural lean angle sensor in the rear seat hump which is linked to sensors in the gearbox and wheels and the CPU. And if it ever becomes self-aware it’s gonna make Skynet its bitch.
What this all means is that BMW has, in effect, built an idiot-proof superbike. “How is that possible?” you ask. Well, I’m not sure how, but I do know that it is possible because I have ridden it. Check this out as an example…
In Rain mode, the lean sensor will only allow you to accelerate if your lean angle is 38 degrees or less, thus virtually eliminating your chances of highsiding yourself into the arms of Jesus. In Sport mode, the angle is increased to 45 degrees. In Race it is 48 and in Slick it is 53 degrees. This all then linked to the ABS system and the DTC, so seamlessly and so well that Steve Martin states he is actually as fast with the ABS on as he is with the ABS off. Of course, the bike allows you to adjust the amount of ABS and DTC, so that you can wheelie out of corners while laying giant girl-impressing blackies. If the bike senses you’re too hard on the front brakes and the back is losing traction, it will, in nanoseconds, seamlessly ease off the front stoppers and allow the back to replant itself on the bitumen. It is all about allowing you total control of your ride, while making sure you don’t come to grief when your ambitions over-ride your abilities.
I hesitate to state this is the safest bike I have ever ridden, since I don’t believe that inanimate machinery can be safer than the wombat in charge of it, but I really don’t know how else to put it. This is a bike that will make you faster than you have any right to be and safer than you probably think you are.
All of which was utterly lost on me the first time I encountered Southern Loop. Sorry, but what the bastard fuck kind of shitting corner is that thing? Twelve little apexes with a blind little crest somewhere between apex four and apex six…like, what is that all about? I did it 50 times that day and probably got it almost right twice – and by “almost right” I mean I didn’t burp vomit in fear.
The run down into Honda wasn’t too bad, but only because I was still appalled by Southern Loop, and Honda itself was no big deal. When you have successfully done Turn Two at the Creek, no other hairpin holds any fear at all. But then it all went to shit at Siberia – yet another wretched left-hander with more weird-arse apexes than I could deal with and which I invariably turned into too early – except for that one time I was following Miles Davies around for a few laps and then it was only mildly crap.
The kinked run to the Hayshed, which the Hurricane kept telling me I should be doing flat out in fourth and displaying “commitment” as if it was some kind of chick-relationship, had me buggered every time too – but only because I was always messing up Siberia. And if you mess Siberia, you’re gonna mess everything all the way into Turn 12.
But that was the least of my problems as I encountered Lukey Heights for the first time and felt my anus nom-noming prime BMW vinyl. A blind uphill left, taken at speed, and followed by a stupid, horrible shitheel of a right, known as “MG” – which obviously stands for Mongrel Gronkershit – which occurs what seems like the second you crest Lukey Heights and feel your stomach drop into your feet – and then you’re into what must be one of the maddest and baddest combos of left-hand horrors on this great green earth.
Turns 11 and 12. Yeah baby. They be some big-arse turns those two bastards. I certainly cannot ride them with anything remotely resembling precision. I do them with raw, naked, shrieking terror and count myself fortunate to emerge in a fashion that allows me to accelerate up the straight on this insane BMW, which I can only now begin to hear is also shrieking its head off.
That was my first lap. I did it all another 49 times. I think I only took maybe five breaths per lap – at least one of which was a ragged, frightened gasp every time someone overtook me – an event that occurred with damning frequency. I’m pretty sure Steve Martin did me twice in one lap.
But I don’t think I have ever had a bigger grin on my face as I came in to Pit lane at the end of my first session. What a racetrack! What an amazing, amazing, amazing stretch of sublime bitumen. I would have time to adore the BMW in later sessions, but after this first one, all I could think of was the track.
“How’d ya go, ya fat prick?” the Hurricane asked, resplendent in blue and yellow leathers and redolent with last night’s excesses.
“Really good,” I replied. “I’ve scrubbed the tyres in for you and I’ve left in Rain mode so you won’t fill your leathers with shit when you crack the throttle open.””
The Hurricane laughed, climbed on the bike, toggled it instantly to Slick mode and set off in pursuit of his group which had left pit lane and was even now making its way around Southern Loop.
He emerged very shortly afterwards on the main straight, head down, thumbs in his eyes and on it – big time. Daylight followed him. Then the rest of his group came along. He had caught and passed them by the time they were climbing Lukey Heights – and while he may not be as fast as he once was, Kevin Magee is still several shitloads faster than most of the world’s population.
“Gee, Mistah Doohan,” I said to him when he came back. “You’ve still got it.” Then I stuck it into Sport mode and went out to see what 190-odd German horses felt like.
What can I tell you? They felt fearsomely fine. In Sport mode, the throttle was instantly and noticeably more responsive. And it was even more noticeably responsive with each progression. I briefly tried Slick, but figured I already had enough to concern myself with learning the track without adding a totally unleashed S1000RR to my woes. So I hovered between Race and Sport. And did I mention the powershifter is standard?
Thus went our day. Somewhere before lunch some weird mist rolled in across the track, which seemed to please Sep since it could have been an opportunity to suss out the DTC. I was privately terrified, but the mist did nothing except look otherworldly, then it was burnt off and the sun continued to shine on the Island.
No-one crashed – and believe me when I tell you that certain fellows were certainly trying very hard to “fault” the bike. The Hurricane was chief among them – but even he eventually agreed that there was something quite unique and unquestionably marvellous about this bike.
As for me…well, I simply struggle to believe how far motorcycle technology has come. But then I cannot deny what is a bald-faced fact. The BMW S1000RR is the best sportsbike on earth at this moment in time. It out-bangs the MV, out-shines the Ducati, out-muscles the Gixxers, Blades, R1s and ZX10s. BMW have produced a true benchmark of a motorcycle – in every sense of the word. Even now, a week removed from lurching around the Island, I frown with disbelief when I remember that despite my ham-fisted efforts, the bike forgave me everything and offered me so much more than I could come to terms with in my brief time with it.
I have only covered a very little chunk of the technological marvels that reside within its being. But I know that when I’m banging down Gardener straight and the tacho nudges 11,000rpm, the bloody thing suddenly accelerates even harder – a most disconcerting turn of events when you’re a numpty who has no idea when to begin braking for Turn One, but who then suddenly discovers what a miracle seamless ABS can be.
This bike deserves to win every accolade there is. The Italians and the Japanese are now in the amazing position of having to play catch-up in the superbike stakes with the Germans. It is truly the end of history.
And right about now, I can either tell you about Gobert’s brother’s butcher, who, The Hurricane and I were perturbed to discover on our return bus trip, has oral sex with the pig carcasses he then on-sells to Gobert’s brother who subsequently feeds them to Gobert.
Or I can tell you what you’ll pay for this technological masterwork. The manufacturer’s list price for the base S1000RR is $21,900. For the S1000RR Sport which comes with Race ABS and DTC is $24,400. If you want the bike in the red, white and blue Motorsport colours, add an extra $765. And yes, there are lots and lots of accessories you can have as well – carbon fibre body bits, soft luggage, titanium bolt kits, rearsets, race cams, special Pankl pistons – the list goes on and on. All of which is really only important to the buyers of the S1000RR.
What is important to everyone else is the sudden and sure knowledge that there’s a new sheriff in town.
And he’s got his shiny, big, German eff-off gun out.