WOULDN’T YOU IF YOU COULD?
Earlier this year, I decided to hire the BMW S1000RR for a track day at Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP), formally known as Eastern Creek Raceway. Spoiler alert. The BMW S1000RR is an incredible bike to ride on track, possibly the pick of the superbike bunch. That is a mighty bold claim which I will qualify in a little bit, but first, some context is required.
I JUST HAVE TO KNOW
I was super keen to compare the new BMW to some of its rivals and place it in context to older generation bikes. Back in 2012, I hired the then first-generation S1000RR for a track ‘test’, and I have owned (and ridden on track) numerous 1000cc sportbikes over the years (’01 GSXR-1000, ’04 R1, ’08 1098, ’09 CBR-1000RR, ’09 R1, ’12 ZX-10R).
I currently own a 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000R and 2017 GSX-R750, and have ridden the 2020 Yamaha R1 on track. Add these to an R6 and a GSX-R750 (and other oddballs like a VTR-1000 Firestorm and a Triumph Thruxton), and you could say I have a problem!
The author riding his beloved Suzuki GSX-R1000R
I am telling you all this to make the point that I take sportbikes very seriously. The technology underpinning them, and the dynamics of riding them the way they were designed to be ridden fascinates me. Taken all together, I feel I have gathered enough experience to provide you with an opinion of the S1000RR that could be of some value.
And when I come across a bike as good as the current generation BMW S1000RR, I just have to tell you about it.
The good folks at Sydney Motorsport Park Ride Days offer current model S1000RR hire bikes for anyone eligible to ride on the track. The bikes are entirely standard except for the removal of the road-going lighting and the addition of track fairing.
The bikes themselves are in Sport specification with cast wheels and Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) suspension. The bike was adorned with Dunlop Sportmax Q3+ rubber (no tyre warmers), and as far as I was aware, the suspension settings were factory settings. Riding modes were restricted to Road or Dynamic as accessing Race Pro modes was prohibited (see image for power mode options). From the perspective of understanding what a showroom S1000RR is like to ride at the track, with road settings, this is a perfect foundation.
Good luck figuring all this out if you’re in a hurry!
A TALE OF FIVE-SIXTHS
A typical SMSP track day consists of six 20 minute sessions split between four groups (slow, medium-slow, medium-fast & fast). As I was not allowed to ride the bike in the fastest group (which I usually ride in with my GSX-R, averaging low 1min 40s laps), I selected the medium-fast group to ride in. I figured this to be perfectly appropriate considering the road-biased tyres and suspension settings of the bikes.
I was not out to break any lap records, just experience the machine well within the limits of bike and rider, lest something go wrong. With a hefty fee awaiting anyone crashing a hire bike, prudence was the order of the day.
And then I rode it, and any idea of riding conservatively went right out of the window. The day turned out to be a tale of five-sixths: the first session and the other five. But not for the reasons you may think.
Compare the BMW S1000RR with other litre bikes by clicking here.
With six 20 minute sessions ahead of me, I was eagerly awaiting the first session. I thought back to riding the 2012 S1000RR at the same track. At the time, my track bike of choice was the superb 2009 Honda CBR-1000RR (I must get another one someday for nostalgia’s sake).
The Blade was such a forgiving and easy bike to ride. The BMW, by contrast, was a fire breathing animal that didn’t suffer fools. Never had I experienced such a ferocious engine. It inhaled the main straight like a hungry toddler sucking up spaghetti strands. The brakes were so sensitive and powerful that a fly unlucky enough to smash into the brake lever would result in a stoppie. That original S1000RR needed a delicate and experienced hand.
The first session came and went in a blur, as the first session of any track day often does. Riding a bike that I was unaccustomed to on tyres I had not ridden on (I usually ride with slicks on my bike) meant much of the session was spent acclimatising to the BMW.
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
I was expecting a raw experience like the 2012 version gave me. What I got was anything but. In Road mode, there was no sight of the attitude of the rampant 2012 model. In its place was, dare I say it, a docile motorcycle stripped of the excitement of the original. What a shock!
The original S1000RR
The most significant contributing factor was the throttle response in Road mode. It was always delayed and never gave me the amount of power I asked for. The power delay made the transitions from closed to open throttle a bit hit and miss and made that all-important ‘first crack’ of the throttle a muddy affair. It became immediately apparent that the Road mode map was not suited to the demands of track riding.
The suspension, too, seemed slow to react and struggled to cope with the weight transitions typical of braking and accelerating on track. There was a vagueness to its feedback which was especially pronounced during corner entry while trail braking.
While the engine is superbike strong, the gap has closed to the other litre bikes on the market. This engine felt about on par with my GSX-R and did not set my hair on fire like the original did. Perhaps the groundbreaking nature of the original S1000RR motor made it feel so powerful compared to its contemporaries. Or maybe I have been desensitised to the speed over time.
GOT YOU WHERE I WANT YOU
Finally, the riding position. You are positioned ‘in’ the bike, with the tank seemingly sitting as high as your chest, creating a feeling of being ‘locked in’ to the bike. At first, this feels a little awkward as the riding position affords limited freedom of movement, placing the rider more precisely where the bike wants the rider to be, rather than the other way around.
While walking back to the pits to join my best bud, who was awaiting my initial verdict, I mulled over the first 20 minutes on the Beemer. I responded to his raised eyebrow with a, “yeah, it’s good, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would. I expected much more”.
As it turned out, my initial verdict could not have been more off the mark.
A place of fun and joy
“As it turned out, my initial verdict could not have been more off the mark”.
SESSIONS 2 – 6
For the second and subsequent sessions, I rode the bike in Dynamic mode. And this is where the whole experience changed. Riding out of pit lane and onto the track, I expected more of the same from the first session. But the combination of having acquainted myself with the bike, and the switch to Dynamic mode, flipped the experience.
Dynamic mode gave me the throttle response I wanted. Now I could sneak that throttle on at the apex with a smooth first touch and get the power I needed at the rear wheel to accelerate away with predictable, smooth force.
The engine didn’t feel any more powerful; the difference was it was much more eager to accelerate and crisper in its response. As a result, the fueling and throttle action completely disappeared from my mind. That is a good thing because I no longer had to think about it, leaving me free to focus on other aspects of negotiating the track.
The handling was neutral and easy. It must be said that all modern sportbikes are excellent in this department, but somehow the S1000RR melts away beneath you, changing direction easily, arcing into curves without complaint, and stable as you like mid-corner.
Confidence inspiring at all lean angles
I could sense the DDC working beneath me at times, but not to the point of distraction. It’s just something you get used to. The suspension works to support your every demand regardless of lean angle and bike attitude. Again, the S1000RR melts away beneath you, leaving you to focus on your lines.
If I had to criticise the chassis, it would be the feeling it gives you deep into corner entry. The electronic suspension does not have the feel of a conventional setup as you trail brake deep into a corner. There is a degree of vagueness, a detachment from the feedback. Yet somehow, you know you can trust it. It always gets you through the corner safely. It’s akin to trusting your girlfriend with your best mate. There is always a slight feeling of unease, but any doubt disappears when you are finally reunited with her!
Braking is excellent also. In terms of power and feedback, the Hayes setup worked as advertised. It did fade to a point but then remained consistent once it reached it. The brakes are undoubtedly superior to the stock setups on the GSXR and R1, but nothing on the Brembo 19RCS Corsa Corta system fitted to my personal Suzuki. For medium-fast track duties, though, they were great.
The transmission, and more specifically the quick shift and auto blip, were jewel-like. Smooth upshifts and perfectly timed blips when changing down made charging in and out of turns a breeze. The auto blip is superior to the GSXR, with the R1’s a little closer to the BMW in terms of crispness. Overall though, the BMW setup takes the cake, and like other aspects of the bike, melts into the background.
“Yet somehow, you know you can trust it. It’s akin to trusting your girlfriend with your best mate”.
You can trust your better half with it!
CAN’T RIDE FAST IF YOU’RE UNCOMFORATBLE
Now for the ergonomics. For me, this is the crucial element that underpins the comfort with which you can go fast on this machine, lap after lap. Never before have I ridden a bike on track that leaves you as fresh as a daisy afterwards. Usually, a full six-session day leaves me mentally and physically drained. Not so after a day on the S1000RR.
The rider ergonomic setup is perfectly configured for comfort and control. As mentioned earlier, you are seated ‘in’ the bike, and the tank sits high relative to your body, the shape of which is the perfect width to hold you still under hard braking and cornering.
Like a koala hugging a tree
Holding on to the BMW gives you a sense of security akin to a koala straddling a tree trunk in a storm. You are provided with large areas of contact for your torso and arms. This, combined with the locking sensation of your pelvis within the bike, works to remove loads from your arms. It is easy to lock your lower body in, leaving your upper body stress free and relaxed.
But the ergonomic setup only works if you adhere to its rules. Provided you lock yourself in and pivot your upper body from your waist, flowing from corner to corner, you will have a stress free ride. If, however, you try to move your lower body about too much, you could encounter resistance and discomfort.
The locked-in position is not as adjustable as it is on, say, my GSX-R. The R1 is the polar opposite of the BMW, perching you high on the bike requiring a more conscious effort to maintain body discipline (thus making it far more tiring).
This approach is not for everyone, so if you prefer to have more freedom to move about in a racier position, something like an Aprilia RSV4, R1 or GSX-R would likely suit you better. Perhaps my 178cm (5’10) 70kg (154lb) frame perfectly fits the bike, but the S1000RR ergonomics left me feeling like I could ride another 100 laps without raising a sweat. Incredible.
Have a cup of tea and let the bike do the rest
At this point, it’s worth giving a shout-out to the Dunlop Sportmax Q3+ tyres. At no point did they give me any cause for concern, allowing knee-down lean angles (I was seeing 53 degrees on the brilliant dashboard), aggressive acceleration, and deep trail braking without protest. Kudos to Dunlop.
Much of this can also be attributed to the BMW. It is evident the S1000RR was tuned to work in harmony with road-oriented tyres on track (the 44Teeth boys confirm this here). The chassis and electronics work in perfect synergy to give you truckloads of confidence lap after lap. If you are not interested in riding in the fastest group with slicks and tyre warmers, the Beemer is for you.
Dunlop Sportmax Q3+
WHAT DID I LEARN THEN?
This is by no means an exhaustive test. I was limited in terms of the electronics I could access, I could not adjust the suspension, and the tyres were road-biased. But it speaks volumes about the brilliance of the S1000RR that I could jump on a 1000cc beast and thrash it with ease and confidence all day.
The BMW gives you so much confidence by leaving your mind clear to concentrate on your riding and only giving you the feedback you need when you need it. Everything just works seamlessly. Some people claim the S1000RR to be a bit bland. I believe they are confusing ruthless efficiency and competence with blandness. If you call being able to consistently thrash a 1000cc beast around a track, mashing your knee into every curve bland, then my friend, you just might be missing the point of these machines.
For the road, priorities are different. Sure, a V4 sounds nice and has more ‘character’. But from the point of view of having fun at the track, the S1000RR ticks all the boxes. The BMW is a no-fuss, turn the key and go superbike.
I walked away from the bike after the final session shaking my head. I simply could not believe how much fun I had and how fresh I felt after a full day on track. It practically rides itself!
If you are looking for a 1000cc sportbike capable of riding to the track, thrashing around it for the day, and then riding it home feeling fresh and satisfied, all without having to overthink bike setup, the BMW S1000RR is hard to beat.
For more information on the S1000RR and to compare it to other bikes in its class, visit the SpeedeeJ Superbike Salon.