Review: BMW’s intimidating S1000R streetfighter

The BMW S1000R, pictured on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Photo: Chris Blain)

The BMW S1000R, pictured on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Photo: Chris Blain)

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The S1000R might be 33 horsepower (25 kW) down on its S1000RR superbike brother, but it’s vastly more aggressive, raw and challenging on the road. We spent 10 days with BMW’s latest, greatest super-naked motorcycle, its bad-tempered hair-trigger throttle, its full suite of rider assist and comfort technologies, and one magnificent, beautiful thumbswitch that we hope to see a lot more of.

“Detuned for extra torque and midrange.” This phrase has left a sour taste in the mouths of nakedbike lovers for years. Honda, for example, took the famous, barnstorming 919cc 1996 Fireblade engine, and neutered it into the 100-odd horsepower (75 kW) donk that powered the Hornet 900. I owned a Hornet 9 for many years and loved its all-round ability, but the engine could have been so much more fun.

My current ride is a Fazer 1000 – road bike ergonomics with a tamed down version of the fearsome R1 engine – again, a brilliant, practical all-rounder chassis, but with an engine that stops well short of its potential.

In my view, the BMW S1000RR boasts the greatest sportsbike engine on offer today – just shy of 200 screaming horsepower (149 kW), delivered with astounding flexibility that lets you smoothly accelerate from near idle in any gear. So it’s a vast understatement to say I’ve been looking forward to riding the S1000R, its naked counterpart.

The BMW S1000R: raw, naked aggression (Photo: Loz Blain)

Looking at the spec sheet, though, there it is: “detuned for extra torque and midrange.” The RR’s 193-hp (144-kW) engine has been cut back to just 160 (119 kW). Has this magnificent engine, too, been tamed and sanitized, stripped of its fearsome power?

The answer is immediately apparent riding away from BMW headquarters. Within a block, my eyes are bulging and my breath ragged. The RR sportsbike was a gentle, forgiving, almost nurturing presence down low, and a screaming psychopath past 9,000 rpm. The R is criminally insane from just above idle all the way up.

The R might be down some 33 hp, but the riding experience is markedly more aggressive and direct than the RR on the road. Checking a dyno chart, you can see a fat spread of extra power and torque from tickover, right up to 10,000 rpm – which, in first gear, equates to about 110 km/h (69 mph), the highest speed limit in our neck of the woods. Above about 120 kmh (75 mph) is where the RR starts making use of its additional raging power – provided you stay in first gear. The takeaway here is that the R is more powerful, and more torquey, at any legal road speed, in any gear.

The BMW S1000R, pictured on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Photo: Chris Blain)

In terms of rider assist and comfort features, the R gets everything that comes on the RR, with a few alterations. Race ABS and traction control are standard. Both are adjustable either through riding modes or directly through a menu, and both can be switched off mid-ride with a button on the left switchblock if you’re feeling naughty.

Both systems are very cleverly implemented to suit various riding styles in each mode. For example, selecting “Dynamic Pro” mode allows a greater degree of rear wheel spin and won’t bring the front down when it detects you’re lofting it. It also disables ABS for the rear wheel only, allowing riders far better than me to back the thing into corners or hover the rear wheel under maximum deceleration. Road mode, by comparison, lets you mash the S1000R’s fearsome throttle and brake levers with all sorts of ham-fisted foolishness, but keeps both wheels on the ground and both tires hooked up.

As on the RR, BMW has provided Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), or electronically adjustable suspension, for the R as an option. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to choose your suspension setting to fit the road you’re on – when you find that ultimate, glass-smooth ribbon of twisty tarmac, you can engage hard suspension to give you razor-sharp handling. When the road gets a little bumpier, you can knock it back to Normal for a less punishing ride, and when it’s time to slab it home, Soft suspension turns what is essentially a fairly planky sportsbike into a much more comfy chariot. There’s additional modes to balance things out if you add luggage, pillions or both. You certainly notice the difference – DDC is a very practical luxury.

The BMW S1000R: its looks give a hint to its aggressive character (Photo: Loz Blain)

The outstanding BMW quickshifter is a natural fit on the S1000R – although the bike accelerates so blindingly fast around town that I often felt robbed of a chance to use it. It works best at higher revs and wider throttle openings, interrupting the fuel delivery to fire gears in without using the clutch – and frankly, virtually any time spent with the throttle open more than about 30 percent around town will see you blasting through the speed limit. On the open road, the shifter combines with the R’s crazy acceleration out of corners to give your brain zero recovery and relaxation time – you’re constantly urging forward, or braking hard, or throwing it into a corner. It’s a madly overwhelming experience.

And then there’s a couple of additional comforts the RR misses out on. I appreciated the two-stage heated handgrips on my 10-day winter test, but I nearly foamed my leathers when I saw the cruise control switch on the left switchblock.

The BMW S1000R: cruise control is finally an option on a sportsbike (Photo: Loz Blain)

There’s nothing special about the way BMW’s cruise control operates on the S1000R – it just lets you set a speed and maintain it, or nudge it higher or lower with a secondary switch. But this is the first time I’ve seen cruise on what’s essentially a sportsbike.

I can’t tell you what a wonderful thing this is. I love taking long, multi-day rides out in the mountains, but the great roads are all several hundred kilometers from home. To get to your fun, you’ve got to spend a few tiring, uncomfortable hours on the freeway – and every rider knows what I’m talking about when I say the ride home is even worse, particularly when you’re on a focused sports machine.

Cruise lets you give your right wrist some relief on the highway, and it’s absolutely wonderful. In this day and age, where every sportsbike is running an electronically actuated throttle, with sensors festooned all over the place, there’s no reason why cruise couldn’t be standard – or at the very least an option – on every sportsbike. It would make pretty much every sportsbike rider’s experience a lot better. I hope we see a lot more of it!

The BMW S1000R, pictured on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Photo: Chris Blain)

Handling-wise the S1000R is as good as anything I’ve ridden. It turns quickly, leans eagerly and I’m well aware that the rider is the limiting factor. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s harsh on tires – that kind of bonkers acceleration has to come at a price – but it’s surprisingly economical on fuel, at around 6.5 L/100km (36 mpg).

Around town, Rain mode is more than enough. The throttle response is softened off from the quarter-turn madness of Road mode and above, and it’s a lot more friendly. Its utility as a commuter is slightly lessened by its sportsbike-like turning circle and wide bars and mirrors, which stifle your lane filtering options if that’s how you roll.

The BMW S1000R (Photo: Loz Blain)

In all, the S1000R was a surprising and exhilarating ride for me. It’s quite possibly the most aggressive thing I’ve ridden short of a two-stroke. It accelerates relentlessly and readily from anywhere on the tacho, bringing to mind old-school big bore bruisers like the Bandit 1200, but with deft and agile handling, and a feeling of digital precision. Full throttle feels absolutely wild, the exhaust roars and snarls and crackles, and you’ve got probably the very best rider safety aids on the market at your disposal, short of Bosch’s cornering ABS package and Ducati’s built-in airbag jacket system.

And yet still, the most significant thing for me was that little cruise switch. I wonder if that’s contributing to the fact that BMW can’t make these things fast enough?

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