2012 BMW S1000RR Review [Video]
Our literbike champion gets several upgrades to make it even better
That BMW is a company with huge engineering resources shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. After all, it’s been building motor vehicles for more than 90 years and has a German stereotype to uphold.
Nevertheless, my biggest surprise at the launch of the 2012 S1000RR was the boundless enthusiasm each engineer, no matter if gray hair or no hair, showed in regard to sportbikes. There’s a lot more to this performance-driven crew than just building transportation appliances, as we found out at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, Spain, where the bike’s 2012 edition was sampled by the world’s media last week.
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For example, Ralph Schwickerath, the S1000’s chassis project manager, is not only a mechanical engineer but a former racer who is nearly as quick as Jurgen Fuchs, a BMW test rider who has raced in 250cc and 500cc Grands Prix. And the RR’s dual project managers, Rudi Schneider and Josef Machler, were both suited up and ripping around the grand prix circuit in a rare display among OEM senior managers. And then there’s 58-year-old Markus Poschner, BMW’s general manager for the K and S series platforms, who chooses the hardcore S1000RR among BMW’s selection of more comfortable models when he takes his wife out for rides in the Alps.
These sportbike enthusiasts are responsible for the overhaul of our 2010 Motorcycle of the Year just two years after first blowing our minds at its first press launch. No other literbike has such an accelerated pace of development.
Sure, this latest version has only seemingly modest refinements, but, as the aforementioned Poschner told us, “It’s definitely more than just a facelift.”
The RR’s appearance is mostly familiar, with its most notable revision a tidier tailsection with new ventilation ducts. Trainspotter-types will notice new aperture grill venting near the top sides of the fuel tank and the addition of aerodynamic winglets on the sides of the nose fairing.
Outwardly, our test bikes were outfitted with a new Racing Red and Alpine White color combo that looks fresh. Also in attendance were a few RR’s in a new Bluefire color that just needs some Rizla decals to mimic the Suzuki MotoGP bikes. Returning for another go-‘round is the classy four-color BMW Motorsports scheme, as well as a Sapphire black metallic version that substitutes a black-anodized swingarm in place of the raw aluminum finish on the others.
More Than Skin Deep
It’s the changes under the Double-R’s skin where BMW’s engineers flexed their muscles. Schwickerath told us his goal was to increase agility while keeping stability and traction on the same levels. So a similar but new frame was cast, now with larger air intakes and a slightly higher swingarm pivot location.
The frame change plus a shorter rear shock, less fork offset and fork tubes held 5mm higher in the triple clamps result in a rake angle 0.1-degree lazier at 24.0 degree and 2.5mm of additional trail to 98.5mm. These minute changes can result in marginally heavier steering, but this is balanced by a 10mm wheelbase reduction to 56.0 inches and a slightly higher center of gravity. A slipperier steering head bearing also reduces effort at the bars.
The RR’s 46mm inverted fork and single shock appear outwardly similar (except for the red shock spring), but internal changes abound. BMW claims minimized internal friction at both ends for additional responsiveness.
The fork now features a mid-speed damping valve that builds up compression damping with greater precision, and the damping adjusters now operate in a more linear fashion – previously, there was a wide variance in positions 1 to 5, with smaller increments between 6 and 10.
Meanwhile, the diameter of the shock’s piston rod has been increased to allow more oil to flow through the low/mid-speed valve, and, combined with revised needle geometry, results in a linear buildup of damping force. A new check valve completely separates the influence of rebound damping on the compression damping.
As it was my first time at the Valencia GP circuit, I agreed to the recommendation of starting off in the RR’s Rain mode instead of the more powerful Sport, Race or Slick selections. New for 2012, the Rain setting now boosts maximum power to 163 crankshaft ponies, a bump of 11 horses, which felt plenty adequate while navigating a new track. However, the Rain mode also has a more intrusive traction-control calibration and restricts power while leaned over past 38 degrees, so on the third lap I switched to Sport.
Now with its massive 180-rear-wheel-horsepower on tap, the S1000 rocketed down Valencia’s front straight. A shorter-turn throttle and lighter throttle spring gives quicker access to full power, augmented by using the same throttle curve as Race and Slick modes (previously four separate curves). The 20% larger air intakes, repositioned exhaust catalyzers and revised ECU tuning are said to improve power production between 5000 and 7500 rpm, but all I could discern is this is still the fastest literbike in any straight line!
Trackday junkies will still find the electronic settings in Sport mode not liberal enough. Throttle application is restricted when leaned over past 45 degrees, which is still well within the adhesion levels of the Metzeler K3 Racetecs. Sport mode also limits wheelies, which, on a sportbike this powerful, is a regular occurrence. However, the wheelie-control system is now less herky-jerky. It has the same thresholds for the four modes, but revised calibration results in a slower reapplication of power after ECU brings down the front wheel.
When I wasn’t thinking about electronics, I was enjoying what seemed to be marginally quicker steering response. Although still not with the class-leading agility of a CBR1000RR, BMW’s RR is easily coaxed into a lean and feels composed in corners.
Next up was the Race setting which has higher limits than most non-racers – a rider will need more than 48 degrees of lean before throttle application is affected, which is a steeper angle than most riders comfortably achieve. This higher-performance setting also allows higher wheelies before power is reduced to bring them down.
And with the explosive clout from the RR’s potent powerplant, wheelies happen frequently, even more so on the 2012 model because of its lower gearing via an additional tooth on the rear sprocket, which plays a part in the 10mm wheelbase reduction. The front end dances upward even in fourth gear at 135 mph, making me glad the newly adjustable steering damper was set to position 8 of 10 to keep the pucker factor down.
The S1000 nudges 160 mph on the front straight before a rider needs to bleed off speed for Turn 1. Pushing my braking point a bit later, I hammered the powerful Brembos and was met with some ABS intervention through the front lever as the rear wheel was lifting off the ground, which is as the Race ABS intends in Race mode. Its unexpectedness caused a bit of a fright, but it’s a condition that can be averted by switching to the ultra-performance Slick mode or disabling the ABS.
|A Weighty Solution|
|Little known fact: In 2009, during its inaugural season in World Superbike competition, BMW was having difficulties getting the S1000RR to hook up when driving out of corners. So, seven months after beginning series production of the S1000, BMW added approximately a pound of weight to its crankshaft with the intent of enhancing driveability of the WSB weapon. BMW engineers tell us not much difference could be felt on the streetbike, but it did aid the racebike, which has to use a stock crankshaft.|
Slick Is Quick
Slick mode allows fast riders to push the machine’s limits, allowing up to a dizzying 53 degrees of lean angle before throttle application intervention, and the traction-control setting permits a fair amount of rear-tire drift to help steer the bike during corner exits. And intervention from the TC is smooth despite considerable rear slip. The DTC is reassuring and really aids confidence on corner exits. If you’re especially brave, DTC can be disabled with a long push of a single button. It’s worth noting here that not one of the S1000RRs hit the deck due to a loss in traction.
The heady mill in the RR provided bigger thrills during bigger and longer wheelies (up to 5 secs), and the awesome acceleration was enhanced by BMW’s optional quickshifter that allows full-throttle, clutchless upshifts an instant before smacking into a 14,200-rpm rev limiter. The bike’s voracity for inhaling straightaways is absolutely mind-bending for anyone not racing a Superbike.
After getting accustomed to riding near the speed of light, I finally had a chance to notice the revised instrumentation. The prominently placed analog tach has larger numbers on its white face for easier reading, augmented by the returning white shift light. The LCD info screen can now be set of one of five brightness displays. Also new is a “best lap in progress” indicator that responds every 100 meters to tell a rider if he’s on a pace quicker than the previous quickest lap.
In the corners, it’s difficult to say for certain if the new RR has the improved steering accuracy and feedback promised via its chassis changes, but I honestly had zero quibbles about its responsiveness and precision. It obediently goes where it’s pointed, and it feels stable and communicative when carving around an apex. Also commendable was the non-existence of major setup issues, as all the riders I polled weren’t bothering to mess with significant suspension adjustments.
Well, since BMW’s uber-bike was already a standout in its class, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out this slightly improved model gets a very high rating. The class-dominating S1000RR is now even more potent and usable for 2012. And after getting to know the engineering and testing brain trust behind the RR, I’m fully confident they’ll never take a backward step.
Pricing has yet to be determined, but with the aggressive MSRP of the previous version ($13,950 base) and continual elevation of prices among the Japanese competition, the S1000RR might be a relative bargain. After all, how many thousands would you have to spend to get another 30 hp from a Yamaha R1…?