Photos by Pierre Desilets and Jacob Black
I’m still well short of the 14,200 rpm redline, the front wheel still light underneath me and the blood-curdling inline-four screaming. The wall whips by inches from my elbow, my eyes locked on the last visible piece of tarmac around turn one. I sit up from the tuck, set my body to the right of the bike and ready myself for the upcoming corner.
“Don’t brake, don’t brake, don’t brake…"
The difference between what you know in your head and really, truly know is widest in two instances of life: The first is when you’re in love; the second is when you’re on a racetrack onboard a motorbike.
In my head I know I didn’t have to brake for that last corner. In my head I know I can carry more speed, and get on the throttle earlier. In my head I know these things. But my body is screaming a loud and aggressive “Noooooo”!
That’s where the 2015 BMW S1000RR comes in. When you’re screaming “Oh my God I can’t do this!” this bike says, “You’ll be ‘right, mate. I’ve got this.” Sure it has 1,000cc, 199 hp and 83 lb-ft of torque in a razor-sharp, 204 kg chassis, but it also has some of the most comprehensive electronic gizmos known to motorcycling. The power is tractable, usable, the chassis is secure and open, giving you constant, clear communication – even if it is saying, “Nah buddy, you haven’t reached my limit yet. Nice try, though.”
The S1000RR boggles the mind. You constantly have to force yourself to believe in its ability, and when you do you are rewarded.
Take a concept like clutchless downshifts for example. In the motorcycling world clutchless upshifts are pretty common. It’s like “riding technique 101”. Clutchless downshifts are possible, but take a bit more talent to pull off. I’d never even attempted it, until now. The standard Gear Shift Assistant Pro allows for seamless gear changes – in any direction, minus clutch. This was a novelty on the road but a revelation on the track. It took me 20 laps just to believe it was possible, when I did try I braced for a big driveline slap and back wheel chirp – I got none of that. Just a smooth, unfussy downchange with an automatic throttle blip to keep everyone happy. I was so surprised I nearly ran off track.
Dynamic Traction Control and ABS – both of which can be fully disabled if you’re feeling brave – have a litany of settings that allow you to explore your own limits in relative safety. That’s probably why Pro-6 use BMW S1000RRs and BMW S1000Rs as their “school” bikes for track-day folk who don't want to use their own bikes.
Pro-6 is the track-day provider that gave me on-track access to a BMW S1000RR – BMW’s own road-going press test unit would ferry me the 4.5 hours to Calabogie for the event, but isn’t able to be put on track due to safety wowsers and insurance adjustors. So Pro-6 stepped up with a track-ready bike, so I could figure out how the BMW wizardry worked at the limit. Well, my limit.
There are 14 (14!!!) stages of adjustment for the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) you can delve into when you use the available “slick mode” or “user mode”. You can configure it to suit your style – whether you’re timid and happy for the help, or reckless and wild and excited to meet the new nurse at the local ER.
Okay, that’s slightly exaggerated, but you get the point. The BMW S1000RR has a unique way of making your riding look it’s very best. It’s like Photoshop for your track-day. Make-up for your Thursday-night ride with the friends.
On the track, it made me feel like a complete hero. Tom Cruise knows what I mean. This is the bike making him look heroic in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
Give a quick flick of the throttle to help change direction and the DTC will allow the throttle to pick the bike up and lighten it so you can get over to the other side quickly, without letting the tire break traction. Other bikes with less advanced traction control would simply dull the throttle and prevent you making this maneuver. Bikes without traction control would only allow those with the most precise throttle control to perform it. For ham-fisted, impatient, think-I’m-better-than-I-am numpties like me, this system is brilliant.
Having trouble getting past Wide-Open Willy in the straights on your track day? Crank that baby wide open and let BMW’s computer geniuses rocket you by him – no highside, just upside.
A quick note: Please use this power responsibly during track days. If you’re slower in the corners, let others by on the straights. Unless it’s a race, then put them in the fence… (I kid, I kid!)
And on that track day, do you want to know how far you cranked your beast over? No drama! There’s a bank-angle sensor that records your max lean – I saw 56 degrees on track.
Remember of course that lean angles are not everything. No point leaning the bike over 50 degrees if you’re not low on the bike, hanging off the side and have your chest open to the corner. Happily, the S1000RR helps here too. The riding ergonomics are fantastic for the track with great weight distribution and a bar height that matched my 5’6" frame perfectly.
The pegs are set back high, which gave a great platform for shifting my body weight around while the sculpted fuel tank/airbox cover captured my outside leg and held it in place securely.
If outright speed and performance is your drug, BMW is a pusher.
And yet the S1000RR is no one-trick pony. If you want to ride it on real roads and use it as your main summer transport, you can. I spent 4.5 hours there and 5.5 hours home on the bike, 10 in total. On a sportbike. In traffic for at least two of those hours. And I could still feel my legs and back by the time I got home. Even my wrists were still in tip-top shape. The engine is smooth enough in Sport mode (the middle between Rain and Race) to make traffic bearable, and the Gear Shift Assistant Pro made light work of gear changes in stop-start jams.
The fairing is good at preventing wind buffeting and the seat, while no lazy boy, is relatively comfortable. Are there better bikes for long-distance touring? Of course! But this one wasn’t a torture chamber. I arrived with the grin on my face intact.
The same can’t be said for the millions of bugs now splashed all over my helmet and jacket.
The point is, this bike is easy to ride in the real world, and a blast to ride on the track. Are you coddled by electric gadgets that prevent your backside from overtaking your head? Yes. And that’s not a horrible thing. Especially when you’re riding 200 hp of savagery.
I’ve touched on this before when I reviewed the 2014 BMW S1000R. There are many people who claim bikes like this one take everything out of the riding experience by coddling the rider. They say that BMW has taken the rider out of the equation.
They are wrong.
Yes, this bike is easier to ride hard, and yes it narrows the gap between the truly gifted and the rest of us. But it also means that more people get to test their limits without disintegrating their bike or themselves because they cracked the throttle a half-second early, or a quarter turn too hard. And for the truly, truly gifted BMW’s nannies can be utterly disabled, which means they can still show off their tire smoking, wheel lifting, elbow-scraping prowess. And I would bet money those people are still faster on this than most other flagship sportbikes.
You’d probably have to look to a Yamaha R1M for better performance, and that’s a $22,999 bike. This starts at $17,950. The tester is fitted with some options, namely the $975 Dynamic Package with Dynamic Damping Control and Heated Grips, a $430 cruise control system (for staying under the speed limit), $275 alarm system and $125 pin-striping on the wheels, but you’re still talking $19,755. That’s a lot of bike for your money.
The fact is, this bike is ballistic. Its limits exceed 95 percent of us and only the superhuman can claim to overwhelm the S1000RR. Meanwhile the rest of us have access to God-like performance with enough of a safety net to keep your wallet and your bones more or less intact. Thanks to the multiple stages of traction control and ABS, the super-computer prowess of the bike's many sensors and the scalpel-sharp chassis and brutal, warp-drive engine we never need want for more.
The BMW S1000RR is simply faster than you and I; in every conceivable way.