Last week I had the opportunity to take BMW’s S1000RR sports bike for a quick spin. It was a very quick spin. No, I don’t mean in respect to road speed, I mean short in duration. Only 40 minutes, so it is difficult to form a balanced and informed opinion on a bike like the S1000RR in such a short time.
I had been somewhat ambivalent about trying the S1000RR as there has been such a huge amount of hype surrounding the bike, and as one of the fastest production motorcycles around currently, it has no shortage of allure, but I must be honest, the more something gets hyped by the mass media, the less inclined I am to want to try it. Experience has taught me that popularity, and endless praise do not always translate to a quality product. But experience has also taught me that sometimes it does.
I have always gravitated more to the Sports-Tourer motorcycle style rather than the uncompromising Super Sports segment. As much as I love a bike that is designed to do one thing exceptionally well, I rarely find myself on a race track, so a bike that is essentially a race bike in road trim has always seemed like a waste to me.
I guess the other reason it has taken me this long to ride the bike is that, as a BMW tragic, I have found it difficult to come to terms with this new aspect of BMW. Of course they have always been a benchmark for performance, quality of engineering, and technical advancement, but you have to admit, the S1000RR is a very different BMW.
From an aesthetic perspective I think the bike is a huge success. The styling is aggressive and purposeful. It leaves no doubt in your mind that this bike is designed for one thing. The styling incorporates elements that are seen on pretty much every other bike in this segment, small aerodynamic fairing, low front, high rear, huge cooling vents, and enormous brakes. It is a striking looking motorcycle, and for me, one of the best looking Super Sport bikes available. The bike I rode was the Granite Grey version, still stunning looking, but a bit sombre. I would certainly be going for the Racing Red/Alpine White version, or perhaps even forking out the extra AUD$765 for the tri-colour version. Alpine White, Magma Red, and Lupin Blue. It’s almost worth the extra money just for the great names they come up with for the colours!
I had prepared myself for what was sure to be a horrendously uncomfortable riding position, so I was a little surprised, pleasantly so, that when I sat on the bike for the first time it felt “right”. I sat into the bike but I didn’t feel cramped, the lean to the bars was comfortable, perhaps a little too much pressure on the wrists, but that proved to dissipate once I was moving at a reasonable pace. The seat height was also good for my 180cm’s. The S1000RR has a wet weight of 206kg, so it is only 24kg lighter than Aries, but feels much lighter. The balance of the bike is wonderful, and it feels like a much smaller and lighter bike than what it really is. I have noticed this with several of the current BMW range, so the engineers are doing their work to their usual high standards. It is a comfortable bike to ride, for the style of bike it is. It is easy to move around on the bike, and after my 40 minutes on the bike I felt fine. I would love to spend more time on the bike to really get an idea of how comfortable it is, but I feel fairly confident that spending two or three hours in the saddle wouldn’t be nearly as arduous as many sports bikes.
The S1000RR has a huge list of technological trickery. Race ABS, Quick Shifter, Dynamic Traction Control, Electronic Throttle, Slipper Clutch. The throttle mapping, ABS and DTC can be changed between 4 modes while on the move, and both ABS and DTC can be switched off if you are that brave. I didn’t have the time to play around with much of the technology on offer, you would need at least a week with the bike to even get close to knowing all of its tricks.
The things that did stand out for me in the time we had together were the throttle response, very smooth and easy to use; the front brakes, they are simply stunning with huge amounts of initial bite, and strong progressive braking all the way to when the ABS starts to do its work. The rear brake I was considerably less impressed with, squeeze as hard as you like, it seems to do bugger all. The quickshifter is certainly another highlight. They warned me that it might take awhile to get used to, and they were right, but once you are using it, wow! One piece of “old school” technology that I was a little surprised to see on the S1000RR was the cable clutch. It did its job absolutely perfectly, but just seemed a little incongruous on such a high-tech bike.
Riding the motorcycle was easy. No feathering the throttle and riding the clutch required even when riding in traffic. It just rumbles along quite happily. The controls fall easily to hand, and are easy to operate. The indicator switch has changed back to the left side only. This brings the operation of the indicators in line with most other manufacturers, but personally I think it is a step backwards. I’m sure they have their logic for the change, but I find the system of indicator switches on both sides much more intuitive to use, and it’s a point of difference. Why follow what other manufacturers do? Mirrors on the S1000RR are, considering what they are like on some Super Sports bikes, exceptional. They are large, well placed, steady, easily adjusted, and give a clear view behind you. Exactly what mirrors are meant to do.
Once I was used to the quickshifter getting this thing off the line is a piece of cake. Hold a steady throttle and change up, all the way to 6th gear. It is so much fun I just wished it had more gears. I also wished it had more gears because it just feels like it needs it. At highway speeds the tacho is sitting around 5000rpm, which I know isn’t much for this style of bike, but it sounds very busy. One more gear would just make freeway speeds that much more pleasant. And it’s not like it needs to be revving that high to accelerate, open the throttle from pretty much any point in the rev range, and it just sprints away.
For the first half of the ride I was treating the bike like it was a twin, and riding it accordingly. While the performance was good, it was a little underwhelming after all I had read. Once I realised what I was doing, I started riding it like a 4 cyclinder, using the other half of the rev range, and then everything moved into a new and strange altered reality, where everything was seemingly moving very slowly, except me and the bike!
On the race track this bike must be sublime, on the road, for a rider of my ability, I have to say it is just a little bit scary, but not in a “oh my god I want to stop” kind of way, more a “oh my god I hope this never stops” kind of way. The sound from the exhaust is certainly pleasant from a standard system. The symphony from one of the optional Acrapovic systems must be quite an experience.
What I didn’t like about the engine on the S1000RR is the vibration it creates, not the amount per se, as it is a smooth motor, but the frequency that it vibrates at. It is an issue that I have experienced with other 4 cylinder sports bikes, and is probably a big reason why I tend to do most of my riding on twin cylinder bikes. It is difficult to describe the sensation, but it leaves me feeling quite churned up and edgy. Maybe it’s just the adrenalin coursing through my veins, or maybe I’m just very strange!
The bike I tested had the suspension set up for a rider of approximately 95kg. I weigh in at around 65kg, so the bike was a little stiffer than it needed to be for me, but even taking this into account it was surprisingly comfortable and compliant. There is plenty of adjustment on the suspension, so I would expect it to be very comfortable when setup correctly for the rider and conditions. Testing the handling on a bike of this calibre on crappy NSW roads in 40 minutes is a fairly big ask. Was I up to the task? No. Lets just say I didn’t even get near to the handling limits of this bike, and I wouldn’t even want to try on the road. That sort of carry on is strictly for the track.
The S1000RR is an impressive piece of engineering, and I am in no doubt that it fulfills its intended use exceptionally well. If you get to spend lots of time at the track, and are looking for a bike to extend your abilities this may well be the bike. If you spend most of your time on the road, riding in the real world cut and thrust of traffic, commuting and road works, then the S1000RR’s abilities may well go untapped. I would love to try it as a daily ride just to see how it shapes up, but unless BMW Australia is going to lend me one for a long term review, or unless there is a generous benefactor reading this who wants to part with AUD$25,000 for a good cause, I may well be “whistling dixie”!
The Perpetual Motorcyclist
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