Hitting my turn-in point, I tipped the BMW S1000 RR ($17,320) into the hairpin and spotted my apex. With the knee puck scraping the track, I rolled back on the throttle and rounded the turn. At this point I assumed that the bike is on, or very close to, its limit. And that’s when I hit a quick dip in the asphalt. A problem, usually. But the Bimmer stayed on line and trucked right through, barely registering the track’s imperfections.
When liter bikes first made their way into the mainstream market in the early-mid-2000s, the technology-to-power relationship wasn’t dissimilar to supercars circa the 1980s. It was an era in which companies ventured into new levels of power only known on race tracks and traction control was down to rider competence, not computer software.
Much like how the revolutionary Porsche 959 lead the way into the digital age for the super car in 1986, the BMW S1000 RR did the same for the two-wheeled world in 2010. Before the BMW S1000 RR, the Japanese companies had a stranglehold on the 1000cc superbike class, and although power figures continued to climb, the bikes saw little advancement in the way of chassis and traction control. BMW changed all of that.
Under the Hood
Engine: 999cc, inline four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed manual transmission with HP Shift Assist Pro
Horsepower: 199 horsepower
Torque: 83 lb-ft
From the get-go, the S1000 RR had several levels of traction control: Rain, Sport and Race, allowing for different degrees of rear-tire slippage and progressively more immediate power bands. New for 2015, the Beemer gets an additional “Slick” mode, for dry-weather track-day riding as well as “User” mode. Now that the S1000 RR has so many different adjustable presets for traction modes, wheelie control, peak power and ABS, User Mode lets the rider customize all the settings to their liking. Most track-focused cars don’t offer this kind of versatility.
I started out in Rain Mode on a dry track to get the feel. It’s the most curtailed-power and inhibited-traction setting, and no matter how gently I wound the throttle in turns, the traction control light constantly flickered at me. Moving up into Sport and Race Modes, the power curve became more aggressive and the traction control dialed back, but I was still able to be liberal with the throttle. For the rest of the ride, I stayed in Race Mode, the bike’s true happy place. BMW motorcycles are known for their balance, and even at full tilt with a knee on the ground, the S1000 RR soaks up dips and bumps as if you’re rounding turns vertically. Even getting on the gas early isn’t the death wish liter bikes are known for; the BMW S1000RR’s rear tire just hooks up, the 83 lb-ft catapults you out of the corner and the 199 horsepower keeps you hanging on until you grip the brakes for the next turn.
Just 10 years ago, super bikes garnered a daredevil reputation and had nicknames like “widow maker”. Today, those same superbikes, despite their additional power, are used for novices of the track.
Just 10 years ago, super bikes garnered a dare devil reputation and had nicknames like “widow maker”. Today, those same superbikes, despite their additional power, are used for teaching novices of the track. The California Superbike School, one of the best superbike schools in the nation, uses the 2015 BMW S1000 RR to teach riders how to ride safer and faster, regardless of their track experience. The danger of riding isn’t, obviously, totally gone, but when features like HP Gear Shift Assist Pro allow for clutch-less upshifts and even clutch-less auto-blip downshifts, the rider can channel previously occupied brainpower to more important duties like riding craft. Combining that much technology into a capable chassis, with that much power, lets even novice riders experience superbike handling without the terrifying power curves synonymous with sportbikes. The 2015 BMW S1000 RR is one of the best-handling bikes on the road and is, hands down, the most technologically advanced — and it’s unsurprising that veteran Isle of Man TT riders are making the switch to the S1000 RR for the famed road race.
Modern supercars have come a long way since the Porsche 959 set a new standard, three decades ago. The 959 pushed the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini to strive for a new standard of performance, and now we have cars like the Porsche 918, La Ferrari and Aventador SV. BMW has only begun to push the Japanese manufacturers and we’re already seeing bikes like the Kawasaki H2 and Honda’s road-legal Honda RC213V-S. That’s just the developments of the past five years; while it took supercars a few decades to go places, the superbikes are quickly picking up speed and BMW is leading the pack.