Indeed, BMW's reputation for making excellent vehicles has raised the marque to that of status symbol. Even here in the Land of Pomposity (L.A.) where BMWs are as common as face lifts, there's still an allurement to them.
In the automotive world, BMW’s M series cars build upon the chic-ness of the German brand. Cars carrying this designation in the model name are unique amongst rank and file BMWs. They may look like their siblings, but beneath the shared exterior beats the heart of a race-inspired mill, with performance-oriented suspension and handling components to complement the extra horsepower.
An M car to the casual observer looks like all the rest, but to the sharp eye of the motoring enthusiast seeing an M car tells them that the driver/owner cares less for image and more for the performance potential of the machine. Yep, those who know these vehicles know what they want, and they're willing to pay the high price for the privilege.
The two-wheeled branch of BMW hadn't had such a VIP status available for riders until recently. In mid-2006 the company announced the HP2 Enduro. Utilizing a hot-rodded version of the 1,170cc Boxer mill, the Enduro became a high-flying 105-horsepower dirt eater.
Next up was the HP2 Megamoto. With 17-inch wheels, sticky tires and long-travel suspenders, the Megamoto is the hooligan that BMW originally hoped they could create by having Enduro owners simply swap out spoke wheels and knobbies for 17-inch hoops with street tires. The Megamoto has trouble-maker written all over it, just like a true supermoto, save for the fact that it weighs in excess of 400 lbs.
Now comes the HP2 Sport.
The latest member of the high-performance Boxer family is a race bike at heart. This exquisite machine draws its lineage from the endurance-racing-proven R1200S that won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.
The key difference in the Sport's engine - and it's an historic difference! - is the use of double overhead cams that employ drag levers, each opening a 39mm intake and 33mm exhaust valve (36mm and 31mm respectively on the R1200S). An OHC hasn't been used in a Boxer head in, like, forever, dude!
The four valves per cylinder are arranged radially for "optimal flow," as well as creating a more compact combustion chamber which eliminates the second spark plug as used on the R1200S. Intake and exhaust ports were machined for better flow, forged pistons are used to cope with the increased torque, as are "adapted" ("beefed-up" in Motorcycle.com speak) connecting rods. Compression is a respectable 12.5:1. Double oil coolers are arranged in series in the nose of the carbon/Kevlar composite front clip that's been wind-tunneled designed to help aid air flow over said coolers.
BMW claims the HP2 Sport produces 130 hp at 8750 rpm and 84.8 ft-lbs of torque at 6000 rpm, with a max rev of 9500 rpm. The more workaday R1200S churns out a claimed 122 bhp at 8250 rpm and 83 ft-lbs at 6300 rpm.
To cap it off, the entirety of the head covers are carbon-fiber/Kevlar, with each having its own little slider puck that comes in quite handy; extreme angles aren't necessary to touch the heads. A number of riders at the press launch had BMW techs raise ride height in order to pick up some ground clearance.
BMW may not care much for my comparison here, but the close-ratio six-speed tranny is of Japanese quality in its slickness and is rather transparent in operation, just like a good gearbox should be. Wailing down a racetrack is not the time or place to be thinking about a clunky gear set.
My slovenly shifting habits had me down one gear too many a couple of times; it was at those moments that the rear squawked and squirmed ever so slightly, leading me to safely assume that the HP2 Sport uses a non-slipper clutch. Something of an odd choice considering the bike's race origins and today's sportbike trends. In any event, clutch pull was very light.
Another item on the HP2 Sport to identify its racing bias is what BMW calls the "the gearshift assistant." This bit of wordsmith trickery translates into what is a type of ignition interrupt that allows the rider keep the throttle pinned whilst snicking up through the transmission. BMW says it enables "fast gear changes without having to ease off the gas and operate the clutch." This technology worked very well, but force of habit during shifting of backing off the throttle - for, well, all of my riding life - took a great deal of unlearning before I was able to play racer boy and use the gearshift sans clutch or blipped throttle.
A reverse shift pattern for racing is possible with the turn and twist of just a couple of bolts. And for just such an application, BMW offers (at an additional charge, of course) a replacement pressure sensor to adapt the quick-shifter to a GP-style race pattern.
More ponies and twisting force are complemented with an all-new stainless-steel exhaust system that passes under the oil sump and continues up to the tail section to meet with the silencer. This new routing, says BMW, "guarantees optimum angle of tilt when riding." An exhaust valve that's operated by an electronically controlled servomotor via cable sits at a point where the silencer and header pipe meet to purportedly produces a fuller torque curve.
The very simple chassis is graced with fully-adjustable Öhlins shocks on the rear Paralever and front Telelever . What isn't quite as obvious at first glance is just how minimal the frame is. It's really nothing more than the tubular steel midframe from the R1200S. Lacking a traditional subframe, the Sport utilizes a self-supporting carbon rear structure as a perch for the rider.
I was elated when I got the nod to take the intro for the HP2 Sport in southern Spain, as much for my first visit to that country as for the opportunity to zip around the fabulous Ascari country club circuit.
Some preliminary research of the area before leaving greater L.A. had me tuned-up to soak in as much of local culture as I could in just a couple days. Initially I thought the trip would have us in Malaga, Spain, birth place of Pablo Picasso, and on a less historical note, Antonio Banderas (for all you ladies out there).
A port city that sits on the shoreline of the Costa del Sol in the Mediterranean, Malaga is the capital of the province (one of 50 in the country) by the same name. Malaga boasts the second largest population in the autonomous community of Andalusia. These autonomous communities are large regions that encompass many provinces and have apparently supplanted the provinces in terms of political meaningfulness. Andalusia is the most populous community of which there are 17. Its capital is Seville.
Upon arriving I learned I would be shuttled off to a much smaller community called Ronda. About 100 km from Malaga, Ronda is probably best known historically as the place where Pedro Romero shook off the constraints of traditional bullfighting format, dismounted his horse and began the romantic dance between man and beast that we know today. The village of Ronda is home to the oldest bullring in Spain that officially opened during the May Festival in 1785.
Walking around the narrow calles of this ancient and beautiful mountain town, evidence of its bullfighting history can be seen everywhere.
Equally as prominent as its history of slaying steak on foot is the shear beauty of Ronda's terrain. The western-most edge of town rests precariously on a high ledge affectionately known as the Cleft of Ronda. The River Guadalevin is most likely the guilty party that created this gorge that separates a small chunk of town on the south end. In order to breach this chasm the "New Bridge" was constructed in 1793 and has been standing strong ever since. This bridge is the most recognizable symbol of Ronda. It's a work of art in and of itself and offers stunning vistas of the magnificent valley below. In fact, there isn't a bad view from just about anywhere on this side of town.
Once my eyes had glazed over from seeing scenery I thought was relegated to film and television, I was able to appreciate some less obvious beauty all around me. The people of Ronda themselves were a treat. Everyone seemed genuinely friendly and not bothered in the least that I couldn't fill the back of a postage stamp with all the Spanish I knew.
After only a day or two to enjoy this part of the world I came to learn quickly that everyone here eats well, dresses well, and lives well – no matter their station in life.
I can't wait to return.
Braking is the job of radially mounted four-piston monoblock Brembo calipers and Magura brake levers with radial-pump master cylinders and stainless-steel lines. As an option, BMW ABS can be had, the version for this bike coming with a switch to disable it for track time, or any other time for that matter. On the first couple of outings the brakes offered enough feel but seemed a skosh down on power. "That can't be right," I said to myself, "these are sweet-ass Brembos!" Sure enough they are, and a quick twist of the adjuster on the lever resulted in all the power and feel my humble skill-set would ever need. The brakes are exceptional, of course, as they squeeze the 320mm rotors, and are a great example of how well a motorcycle can be slowed or stopped when premium components are used, aided by the anti-dive properties of the Telelever fork.
The German bike maker touts a claimed dry weight of 392 lbs and a svelte 438 lbs fueled up. That's pretty impressive when you consider that a Japanese inline-Four 1000cc sportbike hovers around 450 lbs wet. The Ducati 1098 scales in at around 430 lbs full of fuel.
How could they come by such wispy figures? No doubt the acres of carbon/Kevlar that make up the bodywork. And the forged (instead of cast) aluminum wheels. In addition, the HP2 Sport boasts adjustable rear-sets, adjustable handlebars and upper fork brace all made from milled aluminum, which contribute to the feathery numbers.
Finally, the robust instrument panel, or "sports info centre" as BMW refers to it, was developed with help from a company that makes data-acquisition systems for GP teams. The LCD panel is unusually large for what one would expect from a bike dash, but it provides an incredible amount of information. It operates in one of two modes: Road or Race. In addition to the usual suspects found in any streetbike display, a series of green, yellow and red LEDs blink across the top of the panel in a pattern to alert the rider of the proper engine warm-up time.
In the Race display you'll get – at a minimum – a lap timer, max revs, top speed, number of gearshifts, yada, yada, yada. It can all be downloaded to a laptop computer too. Also, the tiny Christmas tree of LEDs can serve as a programmable shift light. Access to the display is via the left switchgear like on most BMW on-board computer displays.
O Ascari, Ascari wherefore art thou, Ascari?
So, where to ride such a premium motorbike? Perhaps at the totally awesome Ascari Race Resort in Southern Spain? Yes, that will do nicely.
In fact, this location was chosen by design by BMW Motorrad. "An exclusive track for an exclusive motorcycle" was the philosophy. Ascari, to be overly simple, is a private race track with accompanying facilities that was built by the Ascari Car company. Starting in 2000, Ascari began construction of the resort as a celebration of sorts to coincide with completion of a new production facility in Banbury, England where the company's new KZ1 car would hail.
Only minutes from Ronda, Spain, Ascari's 3.37-mile course slithers through a lush, pastoral valley as its 26 turns (13 left, 13 right!) carry you around banked turns, elevation changes and a couple of very deceptive low-gear corners. The track's surface is near to flawless and its rhythm fluid, that is until you encounter those two or three sneaky "stop and turn" sections. Although I've not ridden every track in the world, I'll risk my limited reputation and say that Ascari is unparalleled anywhere, taken as a whole experience.
Upon seeing photos of the resort from my trip, Motorcycle.com's photog and video man, Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima said it looked like a race facility was plopped in Northern Cal's beautiful Napa Valley. Well said.
After a couple of led sessions around this dreamy road course we were let out to experience the track, and more importantly, the HP2 Sport, for ourselves.
"Finally, I've found a sportbike that creates harmony between rider and bike without sacrificing either performance potential or comfort."
Saddling up to the racy Boxer is similar to mounting many supersport or superbikes of today. The racing focus dictates that the seat be high (32.6 inches) for a forward cant or tuck. Once underway, though, the ergos are very neutral for a sporting machine and light years ahead of, say, a Ducati 1098. The seat-to-bar relation makes it easy for getting into a tuck, but does so in a manner that let me scooch back to lay across the tank and still be able to see through the windscreen and all of my helmet lens. Too often, attempting a full tuck on many other sportbikes compromises my view.
The ergonomics so impressed me that they bear a little more discussion. Not only is the reach to the clip-ons reasonable, the seat-to-peg distance seemed exceptionally roomy. My usual experience on performance bikes is a hot spot on the bottom of my foot and a numb throttle hand after half a day's worth of circling a course. At the end of our time at Ascari, it occurred to me that not once did I have to pull in before the end of a session to let the blood flow back into my tootsies or hands.
Additionally, the bike is narrow-waisted, no doubt aiding ride comfort and ease in transitioning across the saddle. Finally, I've found a sportbike that creates harmony between rider and bike without sacrificing either performance potential or comfort.
Next on the list is the superlative exhaust note that comes on this street-legal stallion. It'll make a racer out of anyone riding it, as the cleanly shaped can screams performance at speed, burbles like a tuned race machine at idle, and – this is the most fun part! – pops on the overrun like a formula car. Nothing short of thrilling sounds.
Throttle response was instantaneous and glitch-free while on the fly, allowing quick access to the grunty bottom-end power. But from closed to open throttle it felt remarkably abrupt. It had that on/off feel that plagues any number of fuel-injected bikes. Getting over that hump is easily forgotten once you start enjoying the very linear power inherent in the Boxer motor. The engine revs quickly, and a perceptible poke of power came on around 6000 rpm, though it's a bit difficult to say exactly the spot of boost as the LCD display was hard to read at times. Murky instrument display aside, the bike is plenty fast and fun to keep the throttle wrapped out. Driveline lash from the Paralever shaft drive was imperceptible during my time in the saddle.
The HP2 Sport may get out-gunned in an all-out speed war, but from my perspective it's difficult to find a better chassis. Stability at all times is a hallmark of the bike. A quick check of the specs reveals that the Sport shares nearly identical rake and trail figures (24.0 degrees and 3.4 inches) with Yamaha's R6 (24 degrees and 3.8") as an example. Those dimensions combined with the minimized rotating mass of the forged wheels and overall light weight of the bike make initial turn-in quick and light despite an unfashionably long 58.5" wheelbase.
Mid-corner line changes, trail braking and my own movement on the bike couldn't do anything to upset the bike's trajectory. What this boiled down to in the end was a bike that was easy to ride almost from the get go. All the more to its credit was that it allowed me to get comfortable quickly on a serpentine track that I'd never ridden.
Good news, bad news
If we've whet your appetite for this special motorcycle, you'll be even happier to know that it will be coming to the U.S.
As for when, how many or how much it'll cause you to deviate from your debt reduction plan, even BMW themselves can't say for certain at this juncture. Taking a guess, it's likely that more than 100 but probably well below 500 units will be bound for U.S. shores. Pricing? That's an even wilder guess. Again, we'll take a stab and say at least $22K, but it's entirely possible to see a figure over $25,000.
Something BMW is saying for certain is that they plan to campaign the bike in Formula Xtreme race trim next March at the Daytona 200. This high-performance Twin should do well considering its development in the 2007 World Endurance series and the near-win by an R1200S in this year’s Moto-ST endurance race at Daytona.
A few months ago I convinced my wife that she and I should join a health club. Judging by my expanding pear figure, it's obvious attending that club isn't a priority, though I said it would be. So, how do I explain to my wife I want to join a new club, an exclusive club...