BMW HP4 Race

Editor Score: 92.5%
Engine 20/20
Suspension/Handling 15/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 10/10
Instruments/Controls4.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 10/10
Value 6.0/10
Overall Score92.5/100

If you’re a fan of high-performance sportbikes, BMW’s new HP4 Race should be at or near the top of your must-ride list. This carbon-framed and -wheeled ultra-sportbike achieves new levels of what’s possible from a production superbike. Imagine about 200 horsepower in a bike weighing less than a Ninja 300!

One downside, aside from its stratospheric price, is that the HP4’s lucky and affluent owners won’t be able to flaunt it at the local Burger Barn, as it lacks lights and other accoutrements that would enable it to be sold for street use. It’s a track-only special limited to just 750 units worldwide. BMW says about 10% of them will make their way to our shores.

BMW HP4 Race Revealed In All Its Carbon Fiber Glory

2018 BMW HP4 Race Priced At $78,000

Okay, now the price: $78,000. To most of us, that’s a lot of cash. To others, like Ducati Superleggera owners, it’s a palatable number for a ne plus ultra sportbike with World Superbike levels of componentry and a carbon-fiber frame.

Allow your eyes to linger over the HP4 Race and they’ll observe scads of luscious moto jewelry sprinkled throughout, with its clear-coated aluminum tank proudly on display. Check out the swingarm manufactured by GP supplier Suter, the same component used in WSB competition. Its forward end is machined from billet aluminum and its rear section features captured spacers for quick wheel changes. Its retail price is supposedly about $17,000; presumably BMW’s purchase of 750 units got them a bulk discount.

The references to the $80k Superleggera are analogous not only because it and the HP4 Race are both equipped with carbon frames and wheels and are similarly priced, but also because several SL owners were on hand with their bikes at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack earlier this week where we sampled the HP4 Race. A few of them had already placed deposits on the new BMW. This is the playground for wealthy moto enthusiasts.

2013 BMW S1000RR HP4 Review +Video

At first glance, the HP4 Race appears as merely an S1000RR with a titanium Akrapovic exhaust system and a carbon race fairing slathered with sponsorship decals. A closer look, however, reveals a mother lode of top-spec componentry that can’t be found anywhere else but a World Superbike paddock, and some of them (like the carbon frame and wheels) not even allowed in WSB.

Brothers from the same mother: The rational one is on the right; the wild child HP4 Race is on the left.

Let’s start with the HP4’s gorgeous carbon frame. The seamless unit is produced by a resin-transfer molding process based on technology BMW uses in its carbon i8 supercar chassis – its construction isn’t via traditional layers of c-f that are structurally compromised by how each layer is joined. Amazingly, BMW says its Carbondrive c-f process can build the frame in just one hour with all metal inserts and pivots already molded in. The Race’s wheels are fabricated by German subcontractor Thysen Krupp using a similar process that braids the c-f fibers into the wheel shape in a single piece.

The one-piece carbon fiber frame is perhaps the coolest item on the HP4 Race. It’s said to weigh 17.2 pounds, which is nearly 9 pounds less than the S1000RR’s aluminum frame.

All this carbon, including the subframe made from traditional layered c-f, along with titanium bolts and a lightweight lithium-ion battery, adds up to a claimed wet weight of 378 pounds with its aluminum tank filled with 4.6 gallons of fuel, which is a huge reduction from the S1000RR’s curb weight claim of 459 pounds. And consider this: The minimum weight of a World Superbike at the end of a race (with its tank mostly empty) is 370 pounds, which means the HP4 genuinely is lighter than a World Supers racebike!

For comparison’s sake, Ducati says the Superleggera scales in at 364 pounds with its 4.5-gallon tank 75% full, which would translate into about 371 pounds filled. Overall, based on factory specs, the Duc is a lighter package, as it’s equipped with street equipment while the BMW is not. FWIW, Ducati says the SL’s dry weight is 339.5 pounds, compared to BMW’s dry claim of 322 pounds. But keep in mind these weights are declarations from the manufacturers and might not be directly or accurately comparable.

The HP4 ready to Race…

The weight loss was clearly evident as the HP4 Race was rolled off its stand and put into my anxious hands for the first of my two sessions aboard this dream machine. I had earlier spun laps on a stock S1000RR to prepare for the HP4, and I had yet to gain solid confidence navigating the challenging 3.4-mile COTA circuit. My brain was in a heightened state of arousal as I considered whether the more powerful and lighter HP4 Race would be easier or scarier to ride, and my breathing got shallower when we were warned that we really shouldn’t crash BMW’s pricey wunderbike.

It fires up with a growl from the EPA-non-compliant Akra exhaust after pressing the starter button on the HP4’s bespoke racebike switchgear. The seat is placed 32.7 inches from the ground, but the subframe layout allows adjustability from 32.1 to 33.3 inches.

A 2D digital instrument panel provides an array of info for the rider, including rpm, lap times, and traction-control and engine-brake torque settings. The ECU also has launch control, wheelie control and a pit-speed limiter. Additionally, the system has a mechanic mode that shows logged data such as throttle position, suspension travel, brake pressure and lean-angle info.

Instrumentation is by 2D as used in World Superbike competition. The upper triple clamp is unique to the HP4 Race and includes the bike’s number out of the 750 to be produced.

The transmission has revised internal gearing and its shifter can be oriented in either a street pattern or inverted race layout. Having a few sessions aboard an S1000RR earlier, I opted to retain the street pattern to avoid potential confusion. The bike is fitted with HP Shift Assist Pro that enables clutchless up- and down-shifts. Milled footpeg mounts offer a choice of eight positions.

The HP4’s reduced weight makes itself evident in the run through COTA’s series of ess turns early in the lap, and the drastic increase in agility is largely by virtue of its carbon wheels. They lop off 1.7 pounds each from a forged aluminum wheel for a purported 30% weight reduction, let alone what the weight loss would be from a cast-aluminum wheel. Combined with the bike’s minimal mass, it has shockingly light turn-in response, with no apparent loss of stability.

The efforts BMW made to reduce weight from the S1000RR are readily apparent in its adroit and immediate steering responses.

As delivered for our ride, the HP4 Race seemed perfectly set up for COTA’s fabulous but newly bumpy track. It was a lot smoother when I tested Ducati’s 1199R there in 2013. If you like to geek out on chassis geometry in the quest to slash tenths of seconds from your lap times, the Race is adjustable for steering angle, swingarm-pivot height and ride height from the Öhlins TTX36 GP shock absorber, the same model fitted to the Duc SL. The HP4 is also delivered with six sprockets to hone in on perfect gearing for different tracks.

After rounding the low-speed Turn 11, nearly 0.7 mile of straightish pathway stretches out in front, an ideal testing ground for the HP4’s uprated four-cylinder motor. Inside, higher-lift camshafts conspire with longer intake funnels to produce a claimed 215 horsepower at its 0.4-pound lighter crankshaft. Forged-steel conrods are used to help handle the 14,500-rpm rev limit, up 300 from the RR which is factory rated at 199 hp. Peak ponies arrive at 13,900 rpm, 400 revs higher than the RR. Maximum twist of 88.5 lb-ft is found at 10,000 rpm, this compared to the RR’s 88.3 lb-ft at 10,500 rpm.

For reference, BMW’s WSB engines crank out around 225 hp, according to Josef Miechler, BMW’s Product Office Strategy and Product Management responsible for BMW’s 4- and 6-cylinder platforms. Ducati claims 215 hp in street trim from the Superleggera’s 1285cc V-Twin, or 220 with its race exhaust fitted.

Trick bits are seen everywhere you look at the HP4 Race, including its carbon frame and subframe and the adjustable quickshifter, footpegs and swingarm pivot.

Interestingly, the bikes we rode were fresh out of their crates, with no break-in miles on them. Unlike any production bike we can think of, BMW runs-in the motor on a test bench and then thoroughly inspects it, adjusts its valves and swaps oil before the engines are installed in their frames, “ready to reach its full potential on the racetrack right from delivery,” according to BMW.

So, I pinned the throttle and held on tight as the HP4 gathered speed with a voracity not far removed from a proper superbike. Shortly after clicking into sixth gear, the drop-away from a small rise in the track surface caused the front end to lose contact at about a-buck-70! The HP4’s power-to-weight ratio ain’t no joke.

I saw a breathtaking 180+ mph on the RR’s speedo that day, and by the ferocious way the HP4 tore through the gears, I’m sure I was approaching Turn 12 with about 190 mph of energy needing to be dispersed for the 35-mph turn ahead. Thankfully, the Brembo monoblock brakes are sublime in their effectiveness and usability. They offer a surprisingly soft initial bite, but there’s scads of power that can be applied in an exceedingly linear fashion. Out back resides a remarkably compact four-piston Brembo caliper (with ti pistons) and a 220mm disc.

Here’s a front end you’ve never tried before unless you race in a world championship series. The 46mm Öhlins fork is its high-end FGR300 unit with titanium-nitride-coated sliders that is ubiquitous in WSB competition, fully adjustable, of course. Braking is ably handled by Brembo GP4 PR (for professional racing) nickel-plated calipers filled with four ti-nitride-coated pistons biting on 320mm rotors, 6.75mm thick to better resist heat degradation. You’ll see these binders in WSB and sometimes in wet-weather MotoGP races. Upper-top-shelf kit!

Next up is COTA’s stadium section that presents tight turns and short straights that are an ideal testing ground for the HP4’s traction-control system. Designed to be uniquely audible to its rider, BMW says it’s a better way to be informed about TC intervention than by trying to observe a TC lamp on the instrument panel. The TC can be switched among 15 levels.

I initially went out with the ECU set to its Intermediate ride mode, in which the preset TC level actuated early and often. Its clearly audible stutter when intervening was reassuring to know when it was kicking in. After two laps I toggled on the fly to the Dry1 ride mode, which had a TC level of +7 programmed in and allowed more aggressive throttle application and harder drives out of corners. This being a racebike, +6 of TC on the HP4 is equal to the RR’s -4 setting.

Here’s the teeniest four-piston caliper we’ve ever seen, along with a truly gorgeous carbon-fiber wheel.

In my second session, I toggled the TC back to +3 and enjoyed the stellar grip offered by the Pirelli Diablo SC2 slick tires. I pushed harder to try to approach the limits of the HP4 Race, but I came much closer to my own personal limits than those of the bike. The HP4 competently sucked up bumps that made the RR nervous, and it became a willing accomplice to shaving down lap times in my hands. Riding the ultra-capable HP4 Race around the awesome COTA circuit was a thrill I won’t soon forget.

The underlying question is whether this HP4 is worth the $45,000 surcharge over an optioned-up S1000RR. To those with depth of pockets as shallow as my own, I can’t make that case for the HP4 Race. But to sportbike enthusiasts like the Ducati Superleggera owners who lined up for a spin on BMW’s hottest-ever production superbike, it might seem reasonably priced for what is a highly exclusive and unique piece of sportbike machinery.

One last note: The HP4 Race’s engine has a 5,000-kilometer limit before it needs to be exchanged for a new motor at a cost of 17,000 euro. But, while this is an onerous fee, one needs to consider how long it will take to rack up those 3,100 miles of track use. To those who can afford $78k for the bike, perhaps the charge for an engine change won’t fully drain their bank account.

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  • Gabriel Owens

    Well beyond me.

    • SerSamsquamsh

      The point is to be unavailable to plebes like us:) I reckon it will take most of eternity to rack up 5000km in some rich dudes man-cave.

    • kenneth_moore

      I’m sure BMW will add the HP4 Race model to their “3-Pay” installment plan any day now.

  • JMDGT

    Something to live for. I mean dream about.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    I’ve already got one.

    • Born to Ride

      I’ve got 2.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        I use mine as a pit bike around Stately Wayne Manor.

        • Born to Ride

          I’ve got mine bolted together and I use them as a tandem carriage to be pulled behind my show winning throroughbreds when Gisele and I want to tour the grounds.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            You, sir, are a visionary!

          • Born to Ride

            I just a man with god-given talent and a Daddy-given trust fund. No need for exhaltation, unless you want to…

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Sadly, I do not have a trust fund. Just my own small country I took over after the death of my despot father.

            All hail my magnificence.

            Look! Yet another hole in one for me!

          • Born to Ride

            Long live nepotism!

          • Alaskan18724

            Too much material. “Another hole in one….”
            Comments are the best part.

  • Old MOron

    Congrats, Kevin. That’s a slice of life that few people get to taste. Do you know if BMW will have an example at the bike shows? Honestly, I normally don’t pay too much attention to stuff that is way out of my league. Don’t see any point. But you’ve piqued my interest.

    • Kevin Duke

      I believe the two bikes we rode were going to consumer events uses, so I’ll guess you’ll seen one at the IMS. So trick, it’s worth a close look!

      • Old MOron

        Well, from COTA to Long Beach isn’t that far. I hope it’ll be there.

  • Born to Ride

    The instruments and controls must be f**king amazing since you gave them 9.5 out of a possible 5 points

    • gjw1992

      The Spinal Tap scale

      • Gabriel Owens

        Oh….you win.

    • Kevin Duke

      Oops! Thanks for the keen eyes, BtR!

  • Born to Ride

    I’d have the boys at BMW swap in the paltry 180rwhp engine once I blew the stocker. I can’t imagine that peak power figures are what’s holding you back at this level of racetrack performance.

    • spiff

      I can’t use the potential of a 10 year old R6 on the track.

  • gjw1992

    “Just” the carbon wheels on the naked s1000r would, I reckon, make the biggest easy improvement.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Brought to you by the fine folks who gave you WorldWarII: EuroTour!

      • spiff

        And the Volkswagen minibus.

        • Gruf Rude

          Ah the minibus: absolutely the worst vehicle I have ever driven.

  • 12er

    Whew, I was about to complain about no gratuitous wheelie pic, but there it was at the end.

  • Light enough to take as carry-on luggage, hint, hint…

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Light enough for one person to steal.

    • Kevin Duke

      I made the same joke to BMW at COTA!

  • D. Black

    Not sure who it was.. but, someone this past weekend (riding the HP4 R) had, after I passed them earlier, tried to get back by and blew T12 on my inside. I almost clipped the rear wheel of that $80k machine with my measly 1299 Pani.. Almost got ugly. Got a nice little clip on the GoPro though.. 😛

    It definitely doesn’t create superstar talent, but most definitely seems it is a requirement to ride it.. haha 😉

    • Old MOron

      Post your video. Put your boot in the opening credits.

    • Kevin Duke

      I’m happy to say I kept the one I was riding between the lines!

  • Alaskan18724

    Lovely. Looking at it from an altitude of 6’4″, with a 36″ inseam and, um, vaguely NFL proportions, the riding position looks like something only a gastroenterologist could love. Or a gynecologist–leave us not be discriminatory in any actionable way. I haven’t been able to fold up onto a racebike since I was 19, and a full-on sportbike since maybe 19 1/2. But it’s lovely.

  • DickRuble

    $20,000 every 3,000 miles.. Makes the RC213v look like a bargain.

    • Born to Ride

      Racetrack only miles. That’s like 1000 laps around Laguna Seca.

      • DickRuble

        The Superleggera looks better on paper.. Has street gear, I haven’t read anything about mandatory rehauls, and had a couple of years to iron the wrinkles.

        • Born to Ride

          Only you would apply sense and pragmatism to your hypothetical $100k bike purchase. I see hyper exclusive bike and my brain just flips the “do want” switch. I’m never gonna buy one, even if I had the dough because I’d rather have 5-8 cool bikes than one stupidly expensive one that I don’t have the skills to use fully. It’s all about the lust of the thing, not the potential ownership experience.

  • Bmwclay

    Make a nice sport tourer. Comes with luggage or is that optional?

  • Patriot159

    This one? The Duc? The Suter? The Honda? Alas…first world problems…sigh.

  • Craig Hoffman

    I’m quite impressed by anyone who can ride a bike like this properly hard, not wad it up and put themselves in the hospital. Well done Kevin!

    • Gruf Rude

      The guys that are really good crash these sorts of bikes all the time to establish limits – Mark Marquez has binned his $2m Hondas 25 times this year and still counting. That is the ugly reality for any of us aspiring Ricky Racers’ dreams of asphalt glory; road racing is WAY too expensive to get really good at it.

  • kenneth_moore

    Damn, Mr. Duke, I guess that hip injury is long forgotten…170 on an $80k superbike at COTA? Respect.

    The most interesting thing about this bike to me is the frame. I can see a time in the not too distant future where carbon fiber manufacturing reaches a point where we’ll see CF frames in bikes ordinary people can afford. IIRC, BMW is already using CF for most of the M6’s unibody.

    • Kevin Duke

      Yep, BMW’s carbon manufacturing process is quite amazing. To be able to produce the HP4’s carbon frame in just one hour is incredible, and it’s likely the expense of it will come down as processes improve. This carbon tech is also in BMW’s i3 and i8 cars.

      My hip fracture was the easiest break to recover from of the several I’ve endured. I wish the HP4’s gauges included a speedo, cuz I bet it would’ve been crowding the 200-mph mark down that long backstraight.

  • Cool bike for sure. Engine swaps at 17000 euro every 3k miles, absurd! If I spent that kind of money on a motorcycle, I’m strapping a flash light to it and riding it on the street. 3k miles is gonna come quick.