BMW HP2 Sport

One For The Fans

BMW HP2 Sport
Ascari, Spain
December 6, 2007

A sportbike with excellent headlights.

In the engineering equivalent of the sins of the father being visited on the sons, Ducati has to make 90 degree twins, Moto Guzzi must make transverse twins and Harley has to make 45 degree twins. For the same reason BMW has to keep making air-cooled flat twins. Although there are scant economic or performance based engineering rationales for such a layout in a sporting motorcycle BMW has thrown down the gauntlet by building the absolute best air-cooled flat twin sports bike that they could build. A descendant of the R1200S, the HP2 Sport is an entirely different animal. As part of BMW’s continued process of adopting a more sporting image for the manufacturer, BMW is releasing a series of motorcycles denoted with the “HP” label. Roughly analogous to the highly successful line of “M” series sedans, there will not be an HP version of every bike, only select models.

Fully adjustable suspension and lightweight makes for the best handling air-cooled
flat twin ever.

BMW will be producing the HP2 Sport in limited quantities and will be sold at a price point based on the income tax bracket of their prospective customers and not any sort of real world price/performance calculus. These bikes will largely be sold to current BMW customers who want a collector’s piece.

Although expensive, who can put a price on the joy of  stuffing a BMW up the inside
of your fellow track day riders?

There are a few of these machines that are intentionally destined for the racetrack. The HP2 was prototyped as a racer this summer in a few select endurance races. At Le Mans the bike finished in 16th place and 1st in the Open Class. At Oschersleben the BMWs took first and second in the open class and one of the bikes finished in fifth place overall down 32 laps on the leaders. For 2008 BMW is planning on contesting the Daytona 200 against Formula Xtreme 600s and four endurance rounds in Europe. Expect to see a few of these in the horsepower and weight restricted Moto-ST series as well.

If they sell enough of these HP models in the USA perhaps they will start having
rallies at racetracks.

To some jaded observers BMW’s entry into some of these classes seems of questionable judgment due to the general lack of competitiveness of the machine against liquid cooled competitors (twins or fours). Those observers are missing the point that most BMW customers do not follow racing much, if at all. The take away from these races will be “BMW races in the Daytona 200” and “The HP2 Sport is that endurance racing bike” and all of the rest of it about super sport prepped privateer 600s running the same times as factory HP2 Sports will be lost to the winds.

Although it probably won’t be up front this bike will undoubtedly humiliate a few
600cc riders at Daytona in March.

The bike itself is a compelling mix of sophisticated engineering coupled with traditional BMW engineering that can be classified as either quirky or brilliant depending on where you stand.

The bike itself is very attractive. The “carbon as the new chrome” accents are both stylish and functional. The beautifully machined top triple tree, rear sets and clip-ons demonstrate the sporting prowess of the company coupled with their traditional durability. It is only after the first glance that you start to notice the subtle engineering details like the mono-seat required by the structural carbon tail section, the full race instrumentation, the distinctive yellow of the Ohlins suspension and the stock ignition interrupt in the shift linkage. Like a good book, the multi-level of appreciation allows for longer enjoyment and a deeper appreciation of what they have built.

Carbon is the chrome of the 21st century.

Starting the bike I was reminded of the first time I saw a R100RS back in the early 80s. It had such a beautiful form with long purposeful lines flowing over its aerodynamic fairing but when I heard it start it sounded like a VW in need of a valve adjustment. This bike, with it high tech look, is a little anticlimactic when the starter is thumbed. Rather than a snarling race bike or the thudding explosions of a barely repressed twin you get the customary lurch to the right from the crank reaction and the familiar tapping of the valves all through a well muffled exhaust. One man’s aural disappoint is another man’s social responsibility and appreciation of a traditional of valve train noise passed along through the generations.

High exhaust, Ohlins suspension and the self supported carbon sub-frame seat
assembly do strike a rather sporting pose.

Rolling out of the pits onto the perfect Ascari Racetrack in Southern Spain one gives a brief moment of reflection as to how all the most beautiful tracks constructed recently are vanity projects of incredibly wealthy men before concentrating on the capacities of this bike.

A narrow tank and seat allow descent race track ergonomics.

It is, without a doubt, the most sophisticated and highest performing boxer ever built. The 133 bhp engine has the torque one would expect from a 1,200 cc twin coupled with a nice over-rev courtesy of the first DOHC four valve head for a Boxer. The massive throttle bodies display none of the lurching lean condition that plagues many new street bikes (the lurching lean condition is rarely found at press launches which kinda makes you wonder if they are giving us better maps than are typically released, of course, now that I say that it seems obvious that they would because my R1 would barely run in its stock trim but the bikes ran great at the press launch).

The valve train boxer fans have been waiting for since 1985. Radial valves allow for
maximum sizing within the combustion chamber but require the use of conically ground
cam lobes. Valve clearances are easily set by replacing the shims under the drag links.

The fuel injection and throttle response is tight and linear but the power delivery is very flat. Again, depending on where you stand that is either a good thing or a bad thing. The flat delivery is a combination of tallish gearing, opposed twin firing order and relatively low power output. Despite the 133 claimed clutch plate bhp the fast way around the race track was not to square and squirt but was to take high speed flowing lines to carry as much corner speed as possible. In other words, ride it like a lightweight.

Riding it as a lightweight immediately yields faster lap times but two problems manifest. The first is that the BMW suspension (Telelever forks and Paralever rear) eschews telescopic forks in the front (despite BMW pioneering that technology back in the day) and linkages in the rear. Although the action is controlled by excellent Ohlins dampers front and rear (the front could use a different spring stack though as appropriate rebound action was found with the adjuster almost all the way in) the overall chassis feeling is a little distant and removed. That is not to say that the suspension doesn’t work, both the front and rear remained planted with no head-shakes, scary front end tucks or unexpected slides, its just that it has that removed “riding with winter gloves” feel to it. This is just a little nerve wracking for high speed sweeping corners as, without that feedback, it is difficult to know where the limits may lurk.

In race livery the bike has a lighter and louder muffler, fewer rear wheel bolts, a larger
tank with a dry break and fork lowers to allow for a quick-change front wheel.

The limit, as I discovered, on this day was not the tires (Metzler track day tires) or the suspension but instead was the plastic sliders on the ends of the carbon fiber valve covers. I picked the bike up out of a slow speed on camber left, pulled the bike over to track left and threw it into a fast opening radius right-hander. As I tried to continue my arcing lean I realized that I was not able to turn the bike harder and was, instead, drifting a little wide in a controlled slide of tires, valve cover and knee slider. Picking the bike up from that turn (a little shaken) I threw it into the next left and grounded the valve cover so hard that I thought I was going to lift the tires off the ground. Now, both times the hard plastic yielded a pretty forgiving recovery but, of course, one really shouldn’t be able to drag the engine of a sport bike on the ground unless the riding talent being employed is well above my level.

Make sure your knee hits before the valve cover.

Following my vision of riding a cylinder head all the way into the unyielding, but attractively painted, wall lining the track followed by a long period of recuperation in Spain I eased down on the lean angles a little and concentrated on using all of the track and hanging off so far that my inner thighs were sore for days. With the forks slid up in the lower tree (reducing rake and trail to make the bike steer faster but also putting the heads that much close to the tarmac) the big boxer carved turns respectably and did not want to hunt or run wide at exits. For a bike of its size it even handled Ascari’s ridiculously tight chicanes admirably well. When I got lazy and just ran over the gator bumps instead of actually steering through the chicanes the bike kept its composure and didn’t head-shake or do anything else to discourage me from repeating the line.

The brakes are an interesting blend of Brembo calipers matched with a Magura radial master cylinder. Although there is an optional ABS kit for these bikes the ones we rode were thankfully not equipped with such. The excellent specification of the brakes, along with the Boxer’s relatively lightweight, combined to make this the best braking BMW ever. Without ABS the rear brake could be employed to step out the rear for sharp turns and general riding antics.

The single dry plate clutch is another traditional feature for BMWs. Although this one is a fairly light and beefy affair it did suffer when, ah, “used aggressively”. The clutch is hydraulically actuated and the master cylinder was sized for ease of effort rather than quick engagement. This leads to a longer clutch throw than I favor as I usually just use two fingers on the clutch and two fingers on the brake. As the boxer is not fitted with a slipper clutch one needs to feather the clutch at the entrance of turns to keep the rear tire from excessive hopping. This can be used to help initiate the turns as well but all that single dry plate clutch feathering can lead to a smelly clutch back in the pits. When one of your fellow journalists mercilessly goads you into doing a eighty-meter rolling burnout down the back straight the valves get distinctly louder and the clutch gets decidedly smellier.

A dry clutch is not quite as trick when it is a single plate. The HP2 has an exposed
counter-balancer rotating below the flywheel.

The dashboard is a pure engineering delight. Sourced from 2D, the all LCD display can be reconfigured at a touch of a button from a street display to a race display. With optional plug-in sensors you can feed in a transponder (to eliminate manually triggering the lap timer) and a GPS unit. You can even log data in the system and download it to a PC. It is a joy to behold.

The transmission is slick and positive. The integrated ignition interrupt (to allow clutch less shifts without blipping the throttle) worked as advertised. It automatically deactivates if one uses the clutch but allows full throttle shifts. The engine has a fair amount of transverse rotating mass so the chassis sort of lurches a bit when shifting at full power.

For BMW aficionados the bikes quirks will be dismissed without a second thought so I tried to pretend this bike had been built by a Chinese start-up company and picked out the things that I thought were not really up to this century. Despite the external counter-balancer the vibration in the handlebars periodically was intrusive. The oil cooler is mounted in the front of the fairing so even in the cool-ish Spanish winter (65 degrees) the cockpit temperature was uncomfortably warmed by the heat (not to mention the smell of burning bugs) washing back from the oil cooler. The engine drags on the ground. The power is not bad but I was often left waiting for something to happen.

So while I was admiring the carbon fiber (both structural and cosmetic), the beautiful valve train, the Ohlins suspension, the sophisticated dashboard and the beautiful controls I kept being struck by the fact that, iconoclast that I am, I was still being blinded by that trademarked “propeller in the sky” blue and white BMW logo. If another company had released a bike in the $25,000 range with an air-cooled engine that dragged on the ground as a sport bike they would be soundly condemned by the invisible hand of the market as well as the journalist. Instead I will say that this is the best boxer ever and I fully expect BMW to sell everyone of this limited production bike.

If Hyosung released a 400 lbs air-cooled 133hp sportbike for $25,000 they would be
soundly chastised. BMW gets to play by different rules.

Beneath The Valve Clatter.

The HP2 Sport is based on the R1200S but weighs about twenty pounds less and produces 11 bhp more. The bike is also fitted with upgraded wheels, brakes, instruments, controls, valve train, motor internals, and a variety of weight saving parts.

The lower cam has a finned air pump to exhaust the crank case pressure into the airbox.

The big news is the valve train. The chain driven dual overhead cams actuate radial valves (intake 39mm, exhaust 33mm which are up 3mm on the intake and 2mm on the exhaust from the S model. The valve train is unique not just to boxers but is unique to many four valve configurations. The valves are radially oriented to the combustion chamber. The means that the valve stems are not parallel to each other. The engine does not have an exhaust cam and an intake cam, each cam opens one intake and one exhaust valve. Due to the valve’s unique arrangement BMW choose not to use buckets but instead fitted draglinks. Here is the crazy part, each cam lobe had to be conically ground (thicker on the outside than the inside) in order to actuate the drag links. Study the picture carefully as it is very elegant and complex. Despite all this the HP2 motor is actually narrower than its predecessor.

Lithe and narrow, up to a point.

The HP2 motor also differs from the R model through the fitment of lighter pistons coated with a low friction graphite coating, a higher compression ratio (up to 12.5:1) and a single (not dual) spark plug. The ports are machined to optimize flow and the valve train uses short valve guides to minimize the intrusion into the air flow of the ports. The valve covers are carbon fiber (not just look) and are protected from grounding by replaceable PA6 hard plastic.

Massive piston with radial valve relief and graphite anti-friction coating.

The transmission is fitted with higher ratio 1st and 2nd gears to allow closer ratios more appropriate for track use. The gear shift linkage is fitted with an quick shifter ignition interrupt.

Beautiful, functional, adjustable and sturdy rear-sets with an integral quick shifter.

Much of the fairing is carbon fiber and the HP2 gas tank allows quick and easy adjustment of the rebound damping of the front Ohlins. The bike has a very trick structural carbon tail section obviating the need for a sub-frame. The stainless steel exhaust (they must be holding out on the titanium exhaust for the two year design freshen up) has a large catalytic converter as well as a sound-test- passing butterfly in the tail pipe. The muffler is mounted to the carbon fiber sub-frame using flexible rubber mounts to allow the exhaust system to expand and contract in length without placing stress on the sub-frame. The tail section (solo riding only, no passengers) is vented to allow heat to escape from the under tail muffler.

This is one of the prettiest tail sections / sub-frames on the market today. Note the
thermo-insulated muffler mounts to allow for heat expansion of the exhaust system.

The HP2 has lightweight forged wheels in a 3.5” X 17” front and 6.0 X 17 rear with a 120/70 ZR 17 and 190/55 ZR 17 rear. We tested the bikes with Metzlers but the bikes will be supplied to market with a variety of track day caliber performance tires.

The brakes are 320mm rotors with top quality Brembo monoblock radial mounted calipers actuated with a Magura radial master cylinder all plumbed with stainless steel brake lines.

The footrest are fully adjustable through the use of eccentric mounts on both the foot rests and the control levers. The handlebars can be tilted on their mounts a little by inverting an offset insert in one of their mounting bolts but, although the footrest adjustments are elegant and useful, the handlebar adjustment is a little underwhelming.

The dashboard is a work of art is and perhaps the most beautiful instrument cluster fitted to a production motorcycle. Produced by 2D it has two modes. Road mode displays RPM, Speed, time, distance, drive time and distance remaining. In race mode it displays lap times, maximum RPM, top speed and, somewhat inexplicably, the number of gear shifts. The data can be downloaded to a PC. The dash has eight programmable LEDs for shiftlights or auxiliary RPM display. The instrument cluster can has its capabilities expanded through the use of a transponder unit, a GPS or an expanded data logging unit.

The HP2 will be only available in the color scheme shown in these photos and will probably sell for somewhere around $25,000 (presumably that depends on how much further the dollar falls in the next couple of months). They will only be importing a few hundred of these so if you need one get your deposit in soon.




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