We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the VP of BMW Motorrad USA, Pieter de Waal, unleashing a barrage of questions about the S1000RR and what it means to BMW as the historic company reinvents itself.
Much like Harley-Davidson, the ages of BMW riders keep rising. A few years ago the company decided it needed to appeal also to a younger, more adrenaline-driven audience. The affable de Waal explained how they are repositioning the brand closer to the car side of BMW – lighter, more exciting.
It began with the HP line of Boxer-powered high-performance bikes (the HP2 Enduro, HP2 Megamoto and HP2 Sport), then hit a new market with the “hard enduro” G450X dirtbike. Another new-to-BMW market will be served with the introduction of the S1000RR, which will tackle the intensely competitive Japanese literbike segment head on.
There are two major challenges in entering this class for BMW, something de Waal admits is “a high-risk project.”
The first is that the S1000RR absolutely must be competitive with its highly developed rivals. “It’s not like someone is building a bad bike,” de Waal commented. “They’re all extremely good.”
As such, BMW’s RR doesn’t reinvent the ultra-sports wheel, a development process that began 4.5 years ago. The bike has nothing externally visible that is a departure from the class formula. A perimeter aluminum frame and a 1000cc inline-Four powerplant is the same recipe the Japanese OEMs employ. No funky Duolever or Telelever front ends here.
“We had a big reality check in the company,” said de Waal candidly. “Basically, BMW did things to be different, not necessarily because it works better. Now, if anything is done differently, it’s because it works better,” he said, referencing the new G450X dirtbike whose clutch is directly connected to the crankshaft to create an ultra-short engine with its cylinder inclined 30 degrees.
One aspect of the S1000RR that will be different from the rest lies in the cylinder head, according to oblique hints from BMW. The popular theory at this point is some form of positive valve actuation, which basically means pneumatic valves (highly impractical for a streetbike) or a system in which the valves are closed mechanically instead of using springs.
You might recognize the latter method as what Ducati uses in its sportbikes. The term desmodromic comes from the Greek desmos (linked) and dromos (track). Ducati has some patents in this field, so if BMW uses a form of desmodromic valvetrain, it will likely be different in some way. This isn’t an idea new to German vehicles. Mercedes Benz used desmo valves on its championship-winning Grand Prix cars from the mid-’50s.
Speculation aside, the S1000RR will definitely be equipped with dynamic traction control, something quite welcome on a bike with something near 190 crankshaft horsepower; 165 horses at the rear wheel seems likely. Some of BMW’s high-performance cars are equipped with variable-length intake manifolds, so we might see something similar on the 1000RR, although de Waal wouldn’t admit as much.
As for the bike’s appearance, keep in mind that we haven’t yet seen exactly what the production bike will look like. We’re told to expect something exciting and less generic than what we’ve seen from the prototype racebikes thus far. With no new ground broken in the chassis design, we’re told to expect a fueled-up production bike to weigh in under 450 pounds, right around the tally of its Japanese competitors.
Breaking into this market won’t be easy, but there are a couple of factors that make it financially feasible.
First, de Waal notes that consumers in this market aren’t very brand loyal – they are looking only for the maximum performance and the best appearance, he says. Second, the literbike market can be lucrative. There are about 220,000 of the sports machines sold annually worldwide, so even just 5% of that pie equates to more than 10,000 bikes. And BMW isn’t looking to poach from their existing customers with its new sportsbike, as de Waal says 90-95% of S1000RR owners will be conquest sales for the historic brand.
If BMW wants to make a dent in this competitive market, it can’t offer up a boutique-style $40,000 streetbike. Although BMW is known for being one of the pricier brands, the company is aiming to keep the MSRP of its RR to within about 10% of its Japanese rivals, now priced around $12,000. As such, when the S1000 arrives in December of 2009, we hope to see it priced at about $14,000.
To keep its costs down as much as possible, component sourcing from other manufacturers and countries will be critical. BMW already has contracted Taiwan-based Kymco to build the G450X and G650 single-cylinder engines to BMW specs. We might expect a similar arrangement for the S1000RR.
Despite these turbulent economic times, World Superbike is ramping up for a renaissance season in which there will be factory-supported teams from no less than seven manufacturers. New to the series is the V-Four-powered Aprilia RSV4, plus BMW’s S1000RR. De Waal says BMW decided to enter WSB racing (not MotoGP) to prove a BMW production bike can beat the competition.
The S1000RR has already had a couple of public on-track displays, most recently at South Africa’s Kyalami circuit as part of a WSB post-season test on December 10-12.
Trackside observers say the pitch of the BMW’s exhaust note is higher than the other four-cylinder machines, giving credence to the theory that the S1000 revs higher than its competition. It’s also worth noting that the WSB rules have been revised for ’09 to remove rev-limit restrictions (14,000 rpm) for engines with a bore/stroke ratio of 1.5:1 or greater, so the RR will likely have a bigger bore and shorter stroke than its 1000cc competition, and the mysterious new valvetrain will allow for sky-high revs.
Although blessed with a two top-shelf riders in the form of multi-time WSB champion Troy Corser and perennial contender Ruben Xaus, the lap times logged at Kyalami showed the BMW near the back of the pack thus far, although it’s still early days for the developing German bike.
Of the 13 bikes at the test, the BMWs were in 11th (Corser) and 13th (Xaus) places in terms of best lap times over the three-day test. However, Corser’s pace was only 1.4 seconds off the quickest lap, and just slightly less than a second behind the developed Honda CBR1000RR of MotoGP veteran Carlos Checa.
“I am reasonably happy with what we achieved these three days because I always knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Corser. “In fact, the times we did were a bit better than I thought they would be. We weren’t chasing lap times here because we wanted to get to understand the bike first and that’s why we also didn’t use any electronic aids, like traction control for example.”
With the daunting task of competing with such heavily developed competition, it’s yet unknown if BMW will be ready to race at the season-opening round in Australia on March 1. We’ll know more after the next round of tests at Portimao, Portugal on January 24-25. However, it appears likely the S1000RR won’t be ready for prime time until perhaps the third round in April, according to a BMW spokesman. To qualify for inclusion in the WSB grid, a manufacturer has to produce a minimum of 1,000 bikes by the end of that season’s year.
In a class segment so highly competitive, customers expect a new or heavily revised bike every two to four years, and BMW acknowledges this product cycle and is willing to step up to the plate. De Waal told us that noted American designer David Robb is already working on a successor.
Looking further into the future, we can expect some big things from BMW. The company is set to spend in 2009 the most the motorcycle division has ever spent on research and development, according to a recent interview with Hendrik von Kuenheim, general director of BMW Motorrad.
Von Kuenheim also hinted at a new version of its luxury-touring bike, rumored to have a six-cylinder engine and on schedule to debut within two years. “I can’t comment on that, but let’s just say that traditionally BMW does have a lot of six-cylinder history in our automotive division,” the BMW head honcho told journalist Alan Cathcart.
Von Kuenheim also mentioned the company has been researching the supersport market. He says his engineers are split into factions who are pushing for either a Twin, Triple or Four. ““I think we have made our minds up what engine to go for,” he told Cycle News. “But, right now, I could not give a positive go-ahead because the business case isn’t there yet.”
Whatever the case, watching the progress of BMW over the next few years should be highly entertaining.
Discuss more at BMW S1000RR Forum.