Naked Speed – Review of the BMW S1000RR
Words by Deme Spy
Photographs by Oliver Christie
BMW Motorrad’s first attempt at a superbike is already becoming the stuff of legend. When I saw BMW was offering test rides, I knew I had to check it out.
If I had to sum up my experience with the S1000RR it would be in four words: powerful, smooth, forgiving and innovative.
There’s usually an interplay of many factors that go into a success story. In the case of the S1000, all these characteristics work together for a near-perfect riding experience. The power of this inline-four machine is tempered by exceptional smoothness and consistent power range. Innovations such as clutchless upshifting and traction control enhance the seamlessness of the ride. When brought together, the BMW offers the performance racers crave on the track, and the forgiveness novices need on the street.
INLINE POWER, BUTTERY SMOOTH
When I first opened up the throttle turning into Interstate 287, I didn’t realize how fast I was going until I glanced at the speedometer. In less than a couple of seconds, and as smooth as butter, I had accelerated well into the triple digits.
The Beemer felt effortless across all gears and power bands. As expected, some torque was missing at lower rpms when compared with a v-twin. But the proof was in the pudding–mad acceleration even at the midrange of a gear . . . and even if you didn’t notice until it was too late.
Which brings me to what really made the S1000RR stand out; its smoothness. And not just because of the consistency of its muscle. BMW introduced a number of innovations to reinforce the two things most cherished by track junkies (other than a fast bike), stability and simplicity. The first is crucial to taking a bike to the edge of its performance envelope. The second frees the rider to concentrate on his racing.
One much-lauded innovation is called Gearshift Assistant, allowing the rider to upshift without having to squeeze the clutch in. Clutchless upshifting at optimal high revs, or quickshifters, are not new concepts. But what BMW brings straight from the factory is a dramatic widening of the shift range–about 3,000 rpms and up, pretty much the entire tachometer–without lurching, having to ease off the throttle between shifts, or worrying about the gearbox. Yep, the day many a stubborn ol’ geezer has dreaded has arrived (cue horror music) . . . the equivalent of automatic transmission in superbikes.
OK not really.
My target fixation with machines robbing riders of their mastery is showing. In reality, Gearshift Assistant is more like a tiptronic for bikes, or better yet a quickshifter. As with paddle shifting in Formula 1 cars, it frees the rider to concentrate on other things, and fits perfectly with BMW’s evident desire to make the riding process as smooth and efficient as possible without loss of power or control.
It’s not hard to see why this is a great feature for seasoned racers and squids alike. It’s also not hard to see that this is the future of motorcycling . . . bah humbug! At least there’s some solace in the fact that clutchless shifting from first to second on the S1000 is still dodgy at low rpms. Alas, I’m sure the Germans will fix that one too.
Dynamic Traction Control and a Race Anti-Lock Braking System make the ride even more drama-free. Admittedly, my first curve was disappointing as I was too cautious on the throttle. Old habits die hard, as one learns early what too much torque in a lean can do to skin or leathers. Thankfully, I trusted what the sales rep, Maire, had told me in jedi fashion: “use the traction control”. The next turn was effortless, almost surreal, despite a handful ‘o throttle. Accelerate in a lean like that on a twin and the bitch’ll lowside you in the blink of an eye. The traction control had clearly worked its magic.
But I can’t say I’m a convert. I prefer the control, and often like to gauge road conditions by when my back tire starts to slip. Judging from the TC technology that has so successfully been introduced on the track however, I am clearly old school (read ‘neanderthal’).
Like pretty much every other trick the bike was tasked to perform, its leans were quick and effortless. Despite a fueled weight of 450 lbs, the S1000RR is so well balanced that it felt as nimble as a 600. Which not only made it easy to ride but also easy to flick into a turn. This quality made it feel slightly unstable to a rider who’s used to the controlled momentum a Duc brings into a curve. But I can definitely see how this almost toy-like flickability would offer a big advantage in the right hands.
Other features like an extra long rear-wheel swing arm and a suspension regime carefully integrated into the frame for (you guessed it) improved stability and traction are a few of the many outside-the-box innovations Motorrad’s engineers dreamt up for this concept motorcycle turned production bike.
BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
The S1000RR’s exterior has a ‘uniqueness’ to it, as much for its retaining of design motifs from BMW’s touring tradition (yawn) as for its peculiar asymmetries.
Right off the bat, its Picasso headlights strike one as odd, as do the shark gills on only one side for air intake.
With a round high-beam next to a parallelogram headlight three times its size, biker blogs have called it everything from “ugly” to looking “like it has downs”. One biker noted that the tail light “looks like an Imperial Star Destroyer”. Yet another expressed himself in no uncertain terms: “No way I’d ever ride something that fugly, I don’t care how well it performs. Screw that!”
These awkward aesthetics are the only reason the S1000 is a star away from perfection. The explanation offered is in keeping with the German company’s philosophy of function over form: “the asymmetric configuration and layout of the main and high-beam headlights comes from endurance racing, applying the principle of maximum effect on minimum weight.”
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the sex appeal of Italian designs and their Japanese counterparts. But I can’t help feeling that it’s just plain wrong for such a superb racing machine to look like it escaped from the island of misfit toys.
Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
When Ducati unveiled the 999′s controversial bullet-shaped front fairing, jeers could be heard from around the world at its designer, Pierre Terblanche. Now its rising value reflects a growing appreciation of the 999′s originality, and it’s already turning into a collector’s item. Likewise, admirers of the S1000 have argued that its asymmetrical appearance distinguishes it from the “cookie-cutter looks” of other bikes. Time will only tell whether BMW will succumb to popular opinion, or change it.
THE JESUS OF SPORTBIKES
Interestingly, the same innovations that make the S1000RR an experienced rider’s wet dream are also what make it a great beginner sportbike. The smooth power bands, ABS, and traction control dole out christ-like forgiveness for the novice rider. Its Gearshift Assistant is both a racer’s quickshifter as well as a beginner’s walker. As if this thoroughbred wasn’t friendly enough to rookies, riders get to select from one of four power and throttle response modes on the fly–rain, sport, race and slick. In fact, it’s so good at compensating for rider errors that it should come with a warning label: “WILL MAKE YOU THINK YOU’RE A BETTER RIDER THAN YOU ARE”. Or perhaps: “ONCE YOU GO BEEMER, YOU NEVER GO BACK”. I guess this is why racing legend Keith Code’s riding school switched to using S1000RR’s in 2010.
BMW’s S1000RR appears to almost be a quantum leap in sportbikes. What is really mind blowing is that all this was accomplished by BMW in a matter of a few years, not decades.
The bike has already performed extremely well on the track, coming in 6th this year in Superbike World Championship manufacturer’s standings and, perhaps more importantly for street riders, coming in first in Superstock (which fields essentially factory bikes with few modifications). I shudder to think what it could do to its competition in the hands of Biaggi or (gasp) Rossi should he ever race SBK. I can safely guess that this prototype-turned-production marvel of German engineering will be raising the bar in the world of superbikes, and be a force that both the Japanese and the Italians are going to have to reckon with.
Bike rating: 4 out of 5 stars
- Best Superbike of 2010 – Cycle World Magazine
- 1st place in FIM World Superstock 1000 manufacturer’s standings (6th place in Superbike)
- Reputed as the most powerful 1000cc production bike on the market
- The best power-to-weight ratio
- 179hp (rear wheel), 193hp (engine)
- 83lb/ft of torque
- 403 lbs dry (180kg), 450 lbs fueled (200kg)
Photographer – Oliver Christie
Models – Britt Wendl
Lo-Arna Evangeline Okan
MUA – Jessica Jade Jacob
Hair – Sharmeen Azmudeh (“Meeny”)
Production – Deme
Deme is a sportbike enthusiast and founder of Biker Entourage, a new concept in social motorcycling based out of NYC. Deme can be reached at email@example.com
Oliver Christie is a British born, New York based photographer. Specializing in beauty and speed.
Shot at Rocket New York photo studios in Chelsea. He can be reached at – firstname.lastname@example.org
He was introduced to motor sports at a young age by his (ex-racing) Uncle. “Philip would take me to the Thruxton to see Porche, Formula 3 and classics Race. This is where I got my first taste of high-speed racing” From there he went onto work for a Motor Sport company, designing Formula Ford/4 shells while also working on D-Type Jaguars and Bugatti’s.
Years of living in Italy has given him an appreciation of beauty in all its forms, while also satisfying a need for speed. “I miss maxing out on the German Autobahn and the San Bernardino Pass in Switzerland.”
“I fell into photography my mistake while living in Argentina, researching a book. This shoot was a welcome return, to some very serious machinery.”
The 2011 BMW S1000RR was a stunning bike to photography physically. “Curves in all the right places and a really unique design. The style of the asymmetric headlights grew on me. A great presence in the studio, even when standing still.” He was very conscious of keeping the correct balance between showing off the bike and showing off the models. “I wanted to keep everything very Art focused, in keeping with a sophisticated market.” Pretty girls on bikes is nothing new, getting the details right was though. “I was very lucky to have Deme on board as my technical advisor. Having a motorbike racer giving directions to the models on the day, made a huge difference.”