Circuit Of The Americas
Austin Texas
π - 3

by Sam Q. Fleming

Having just campaigned a BMW S1000RR for two years in national endurance races, and after winning a championship in 2014 on the platform, I may be a little sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of the S1000RR.  However, even with two years on the bike I was a little baffled by the purchase options, the upgrade paths, and even the riding mode configurations offered by the factory.

The RR is a very important halo product (halo products put a shine on a brand beyond that extends beyond the actual product) for BMW.  They released the original S1000RR in 2010 into the bottom of the motorcycle market collapse.  Their market share has tripled over the last five years, even while sport bikes continue to be a declining share of the market.  Having the fastest 1000 on the planet went a long way toward washing the old man smell off the BMW brand, even as the average age of the motorcycle buyer keeps climbing.

BMW has had it pretty easy with the RR since their astounding debut.  With the Japanese in retreat from an expensive yen and eviscerated sales and development budgets, the RR, with its reasonable price point and high performance, was not significantly challenged.  That ends this year with Yamaha's M model R1 but BMW is not going down with a fight.

They stretched the bike .8" by adding a link to the chain, brought in the rake .5 degrees and decreased
castor 2.5mm. (Photo by Kevin Wing)

For a luxury brand BMW is offering the RR in a somewhat baffling array of specifications.  They are eliminating their HP4 designation and, instead, are offering the RR in three options packages.  Although this makes a lot of sense for being able to marginally price the product to the absolute limit of each customer's credit limit, it does make it a bit of a tongue twister for newly accessorized braggarts.  Rather than being able to laconically say "HP4" while casually fingering the branded key fob on the country club counter top, now it will have to be "2015 S1000RR with the premium package".  I suppose it will get easier with practice.  The base model is $15,500, the standard package is $16,795, and the premium package is $18,695.  This also introduces a built in loss leader as it allows dealers to advertise the RR for $15,500 when the model most folks are going to want is $18,695.

The bikes I rode at COTA were four different individual premium bikes.  The premium has lighter (-5.3lbs) wheels, electronically controlled damping, and the gear assist which allows for clutchless upshifts AND downshifts.  Unfortunately, we had a cool overcast day at COTA with sporadic heavy mist and the bikes were tire limited.  I mean, I guess in a sense we always complain that bikes are tire limited but in this instance this was both understandable and regrettable.  We were riding on the stock Pirelli performance street tires.  After a solid week of rain prior to our arrival, the tires struggled to get grip on the green and cold track.  This ultimately led to cold-torn rears and scary high-speed front end slides, but I can report on some of the new RR features.

For a full detailed review of the technical changes
from the 2014 to the 2015 BMW S 1000RR see Chris
Ulrich's excellent article in the January 2015 issue of
Roadracing World. (Photo by Kevin Wing)

The extra horsepower on the top end is, truthfully, barely noticeable because the engine was already so mind bendingly powerful that a peak rush of 199 from 193 doesn’t really stand out.  I mean, I suppose it got to its top indicated speed of 186 mph a fraction of a second faster on the long COTA back straight, but most of the time the bike is limited by other factors.  They have reworked the intake tract which sacrificed some torque below 5,000 and added it between 5,000 and 9,000rpm.

Of course, what torque giveth, traction control taketh away, and the BMW has electronic rider's aids in abundance.  On my first ride the bike was set to Race mode.  Race mode is the fastest mode allowed on the standard bike. 

On previous generation RRs it was a nightmare to reverse the shift pattern.  Their new lever makes it
simple. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Race mode made the bike very easy to ride.  It wouldn't wheelie too much off turns and it wouldn't light up the back end. The scariest thing was the ABS kicking in and removing front brake while trying to compress track into the COTA's copious hairpins.  The main drawback to Race mode was a yellow light flashing in a near continuous fashion which, upon investigation in the pits, was the "I'm not letting you have the power your clumsy oafish right hand is asking for."  I realized at that point that the reason the steroid pumped bike had been so well behaved was that it was being heavily electronically sedated by the ABS and traction control.

On the previous generation there was a red tabbed insert which you plugged into the wiring harness under the seat to enable Slick mode. Slick mode is now only available on the higher priced packages.

Traction control or no traction control, 200 hp on a cold track is going to take a toll on a street compound
tire.  This look is also consistent with a shock with too much rebound damping but we're going to chalk it
up to a mismatch between tire compound and track temperature. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information.)

For my next ride I hit all the buttons until I could get the bike into Slick mode.  In Slick mode you have Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), which must have been inspired from the pH scale because your choices are -7 (no TC) to +7 (lots of TC).  Veteran BMW racer Nate Kern helpfully suggested trying +3 so, in the absence of any other guidance, that's what I punched in.  Now, you can change it on the track with your thumb but, speaking for myself, I have the IQ of a common root vegetable when I am track riding and it is rare that thumbing control buttons on the handlebars is going to yield a favorable effect.

So with water beading off my visor from a heavy mist, I rolled into the high speed COTA esses and, as I approached 57 degrees of lean (according to the handy lean gauge on the dash), the front let go.  The weight transferred to my knee, I froze my control inputs and, thankfully, the bike came back to me.  Traction control or not, there is nothing that will prevent you from washing out the front.

It might be a little homely but the muffler sounds good and it comes free with the bike. (Photo by
AOD Ministry of Information)

It was a bit of a shame because the light forged wheels dramatically lighten the steering input on the bike.  Even with ample steering damping the bike would change directions in a nimble fashion, if only I could have gotten the handlebars to stop oscillating in my hands as the tire struggled for grip.

But with the ABS and the DTC turned down, the bike's Thorazine haze diminished and it started to feel like the potent bike with which I was more familiar.  Even as the rear tire was disintegrating from the abuse, the bike kept driving forward with nary a sideways snap.  So much so that, once the water dried from my visor and, presumably, the track, I broke my own rule and thumbed the TC down to 0.  The bike just picked up more and more speed between the turns while still maintaining predictable steering on throttle.  Now, that is not to say you can just pin this thing and trust it, because it accelerates so hard that your previous line will become a distant memory. However, you can lead the tire with some throttle and that means you get the throttle on earlier in the turn than you could with a conventional, non-TC liter bike, even one with a third of the horsepower.

So while the throttle and TC were predictable, I had two issues with this particular bike.  One issue was consistent across all four I rode and one was isolated to this particular bike.  The clutchless downshift feature is really cool.  However, it does feel like a first generation iteration.  To downshift you only need to close the throttle (completely) and (in this case) push the lever down 1 to 4 times.  Having spent enough time riding RRs that missed downshifts (usually at the worst possible times) this shift lever's absolutely dead feeling always had me checking the gear indicator on the dash board to make sure the thing had actually shifted.  The shift lever has zero feedback.  Credibility is a fragile currency, and the second bike I tested had inconsistent downshifts.  I would approach the back straight hairpin (at an indicated 185mph) and start my braking.  Smugly ignoring the clutch, I'd tap the lever four times.  A moment later I would glance down to see that I was still in 6th gear and, figuring it was rider error (who am I to question German engineers!), I would try again.  Still 6th.  With my timing, attention and general anxiety level in disarray I capitulate, grab the clutch, and start getting the bike down through the gears.  However, this particular bike was the only one on which I had issues with the shifter.

Linear activated rotary position and shock speed sensor for dynamic damping control. (Photo by
AOD Ministry of Information)

The second concern was consistent across all of the examples of the RR I sampled.  In a break from numeric DTC nomenclature, the ABS has three letters’ worth of ABS intrusion:  A, B and C.  B (race mode) felt pretty intrusive so I can only imagine that A would take the brakes back to the wet front drum on my R75/5.  In C mode (Slick mode) I never felt the ABS engage (which was nice) but, by the same token, there are a lot of lines, fluid and devices betwixt the lever and the pistons on these brakes.  All that extra stuff meant that the front brake lever wasn't where my muscle memory told me it was going to be from turn to turn or lap to lap.  The brakes always worked great (once the ABS stopped releasing them) and some of COTA's tricky multi-apex turns really encourage trail braking (which always worked out) but I felt at every corner entrance I was spending a little extra attention on figuring out how the brakes were going to work at that moment.  In hind sight I should have tried the brakes with the ABS disabled completely but, you know, I had four sessions on the bikes and there are something like 16 factorial possible combinations of modes on this thing.

Look ma! No adjusters! (well, there is a front ride height there on the right) (Photo by AOD 
Ministry of Information)

In the time honored tradition of burying the lede, the RR has Dynamic Damping Control (DDC).  In less enlightened times, proponents of electronically controlled suspension were often burned at the stake for the promulgation of witchcraft.  Instead of some screw adjusters for compression and rebound, there are silent and foreboding electrical connectors on one fork and on the shock.  The connectors are collecting data and responding at 100 times a second.  That is, they can detect if the suspension is moving too fast or too slow in either direction and either slow or allow movement accordingly.  I rode the bike in modes B and C but I didn't thumb the toggle further into the micro settings.

There is a lot going on over there on the left switch. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

So how does it work?  As researchers everywhere declare in their conclusions: "further study is required".  With a tire limited bike it was tough to really tax the ultra rigid chassis of the RR and so it was tough to put the bike into a position where it would misbehave.  On the upside, that means I could never get the bike to misbehave.  It steered faster when I trailed the brake, it wheelied controllably out of turns (in Slick mode; in other modes it still wants to porpoise on electronically-discouraged wheel lifts), it never pogoed and pumped on throttle (the bane of our race bike) and it never chattered the forks.  It behaved pretty perfectly.  

When they built COTA they took away about six feet of earth under the entire length of the track and trucked in a higher quality dirt for a more durable foundation.  This makes COTA pretty smooth.  However, I saw, but never felt, what looked like pavement waves from hard braking cars into turn 15.  I don't know if the waves were really there and the bike was soaking it all up, or maybe, the track is really really smooth, or the tires were not generating enough grip to really overload the suspension.  On this day, on this track, the DDC was great.  I would like to put some slicks on it and stack it up against our race bike to find out if BMW has really obsoleted the suspension aftermarket.  If they have a black box that eliminates front end chatter and rear end pump, it is a brave new world that will revolutionize race tuning in the same way that fuel injection freed us from the tyranny of raising needles between practice sessions.

BMW is also bringing a full line of race parts for the RR.  However, a closer look at the offerings made me think that the race part support is a halo for the RR, in the way the RR is a halo for the rest of the brand.  You can buy an official Akrapovic exhaust ($3,000), a race ECU, and the software to be able to micro-tune that race ECU.  It all sounds neat, but the race ECU is the same hardware as the stock ECU and you have to spend $750 for an extra one then another $750 for the unlocked ECU software, then another $1,500 for the stuff to access that ECU.   They have a plug-in data logger for the CANBUS system and an integrated lap time from 2D.

A trip through the accessory catalog gets you this $30,000 example with beautiful rear sets, carbon trim
pieces a comfort seat and load exhaust, amongst other upsells. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

You can even buy race kit engines from BMW in stage 1, 2 or 3; race wiring harnesses; race gearboxes and even official race support technical packages. 

But this stuff is all pretty expensive.  A Leo Vince Ti exhaust goes for about half of that official Akrapovic and, if you are not racing it, the stock exhaust sounds pretty hoary for a street bike.  Also, my hacker self is always offended when I buy hardware and the manufacturer then wants to charge me more money to use it in a manner that I choose.  That is probably why I buy Android phones and immediately root, wipe and reflash them instead of using Apple stuff which strongly discourages such antics.

After building up race bikes from this platform I can't tell you if we ended up with a more competitive platform using conventionally reworked cartridge forks, JRI shock, Bazzaz ECU traction control and FI correction, with all the tuning that requires, versus relying on the new engineered solutions and factory upgrade path.  I know that, given equal budgets, we would have ended up with a lot more tires.

The 2015 has a lighter, and louder pipe that drops 6.6 pounds, a lighter battery for a loss of 2 pounds,
-5.5 lighter forged rims (if you buy the premium), a -1.3lb lighter subframe top end revisions to add 6hp.
(Photo by Kevin Wing)

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