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Beating the Odds
by Kevin Ash - Rider Report
Article provided by: Rider
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June 16, 2010

If youíre going to hype a motorcycle as much as BMW has been hyping the S 1000 RR, then it had better be good. If youíre going to pitch a motorcycle into the technological cauldron which is the modern superbike sector, where performance is everything, brand loyalty counts for little and the customers are the most unforgiving, then it had better be better than good. If you have no meaningful race heritage, no Rossi or Stoner to prove you can cut it at the very highest level so your bike is out there on its own, with only itself to prove, then your bike had better be spectacular.

Against all the odds, thatís exactly what the new S 1000 RR is: spectacular. Itís unexpected because BMWís history of releasing new models, especially four-cylinder ones, frankly doesnít impress. The original í84 K 100 took a couple of years to settle and have its niggles ironed out and the design was always compromised by the unusual layout, while the 2004 launch of the K 1200 S was a near disaster, with the press being given unfinished bikes to ride, compounded by cam hardening issues that saw the showroom arrival postponed by six months to sort things out. And again, it took two years to get the bike working as well as it should have from the outset.

The optional ABS doesnít get in the way of track braking, as most others do, it simply adds yet more confidence, especially as the bikeís electronics also detect rear wheel lift and adjust the braking to prevent it. Thereís traction control, too, a system which is every bit as good as Ducatiís, allowing you to crack the throttle wide open even at the apex of a turn while leaning hard, and instead of being launched so high theyíd need the Hubble telescope to find you, the bike simply drives hard and confidently out of the turn. Thereís one climbing left-hander in particular at Portimao where the bike goes light halfway through the turn, and even here the rear just slides gently to one side, tightening the line, then regrips with no lurch from chassis or engine, just a smooth, liquid and utterly expert corner exit that even the best racers would struggle to better.

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Itís all adjustable, too, as there are four electronic modes to call on: Rain, Sport, Race and Slick. In Rain the power is reduced to 148 horsepower and the delivery is at its softest. In the dry itís still reasonably exciting, until you try the faster 190 horsepower modes, that is, and in wet weather will be genuinely useful. Sport mode is the everyday good weather one, and this blends that almighty power kick with a gentler throttle response than the next two modes that was ideal for familiarizing myself with the Portimao circuit, and then returning to at the end of the day when fatigue was setting in. Itíll be perfect for road use.

Race mode gives you a hard-edged, direct feel between twist grip and tire which could intimidate some riders in some circumstances, though still the connection between wrist and rubber is utterly faithful. Finally thereís Slick mode, designed as it suggests to be used with slick tires on the track, and while the directness of the throttle response is full racebike, Slick mode also allows other aspects such as turning off the ABS.

If the engine is breathtaking, the chassis if anything impresses even more. The bike maybe isnít the fastest in changing direction but itís not far off, though the non-adjustable steering damper means a fair amount of bar effort is needed when youíre really going for it. But the feedback and tactility are sensational, and along with the accuracy make you feel like you can place the bike anywhere on the track.

Front and rear suspension is by Sachs, a name usually associated with the budget end of sportbike equipment, but the fork and shocks on the BMW are a top-quality kit, every bit as good as Showa with clear, numbered damping settings that save you counting clicks. It works supremely and responds well to adjustments, offering excellent control and feel.

In the S 1000 RR BMW has not only matched the iconic opposition, itís moved the game on and up. No other four-cylinder superbike offers this array of sophisticated electronic options, yet even without them the German machine is at the very top end of the category in terms of performance. Itíll take side-by-side comparisons to confirm, but this feels to me like the fastest of the lot in a straight line, itís more missile than motorcycle. And that mighty power is matched to the easiest chassis yet to ride very, very fast.

Hype? BMW was being restrainedÖ.

Article provided by: Rider
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