BMW’s original S 1000 RR revolutionized the litre bike market when its hit showrooms in the summer of 2010, shaking up the class to become the benchmark by which all others were measured.
However, time relentlessly marches on, and the bike has found itself outgunned in recent years by the V4s from Aprilia and Ducati and the crossplane crank-powered Yamaha.
And so we come to this: The 2020 BMW S1000 RR, which is a ground-up redesign with almost nothing from the 2018 S 1000 RR being carried over.
The brief for the design team was simple: To put the customer first and to beat the competition. The order of those goals were not interchangeable. By prioritising the customer, the plan was to make the bike more approachable and friendlier to use.
To this end the bike has an aluminum BMW Motorrad Flexframe which is lighter and also allows for the tank to be 30mm narrower between the rider’s knees. Combined with flatter, wider clip-ons, a new seat and rearsets, BMW claims improved ergonomics. The new swingarm, derived from the manufacturer’s WSBK machinery, is mounted to the frame and is 11mm longer than before for greater stability at higher speeds. There’s also a vertically-mounted rear shock to allow the new RR to hold a corner line much better than its predecessor.
So the bike is lighter and more agile than the old model, and it’s pack a more powerful punch too: peak power from the 999cc ShiftCam powerplant is 207bhp at 13,000rpm, with peak torque now a claimed 83lb-ft at 11,00 rpm. But what’s more impressive than peak torque is that the RR now produces more than 74lb-ft of torque from 5,500 to 14,500rpm, providing riders with a massive amount of usable power right across the rev range.
The bike is equipped with four standard ride modes included in the base package: Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race. Each of these modes alter throttle response, engine torque, ABS/ABS Pro, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), and Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), which automatically adjusts suspension damping. Ride Modes Pro adds three additional rider modes: Race Pro 1, 2, and 3. In these modes, riders can fine tune their personal preferences even further.
The bike on test is the M Package variant, which includes Ride Modes Pro, M lightweight battery, and M Chassis Kit (with rear ride height adjustment and swingarm pivot point adjustment) as included in the race pack. There’s also an M Sport Seat and M Carbon Wheels, which are stronger and more durable than forged wheels while also reducing unsprung weight, which makes the bike easier to steer at high speeds.
Aesthetically, the bike looks new. The “shark gills” remain on the right side of the bodywork because their design allowed the engine to run 10 percent cooler, but the rest of the bodywork has been redesigned and those trademark asymmetrical headlights are gone in the quest for reduced weight. And in the M package colours of red, white and blue, it looks sensational.
Swing a leg over the bike and the first thing that becomes apparent is that it feels cramped. The tank is tiny, really, really narrow, but the perch feels massive, with loads of room to move around and hang off.
Turn on the ignition, fire up the bike and the new TFT dash catches the eye. It\s well laid out, intuitive and is easy to read in all light conditions. Good work BMW.
Twist the throttle and the bike snarls menacingly, giving the rider a reminder of the raw power that lies within. Snick first, open the throttle and the bike pulls away with poise and control. No snatch, no lag; just right. The bike is a pussy cat around town; agile, responsive and easy to ride.
But, as the saying goes, the throttle goes both ways, and if you roll it on, the engine wakes up, delivering instantaneous, relentless power. On the open roads, the bike changes from civilised to stark raving bankers in seconds, effortlessly unleashing raw speed in every gear. The up and down quickshifter is slick above 4000rpm, allowing you to poking the bear for as long as you feel brave enough. In fact, it’s too much. There I’ve said it; it is too much for the road.
Suspension is firm, but it’s a race bike with lights on, so what do you expect. And fuel economy isn’t great either, but thoroughbreds are high maintenance. It’s in its element on fast, flowing corners, effortlessly hunting apexes and allowing rides to cover distances quickly, easily and effortlessly.
The BMW is exactly like its predecessors; it’s clinical, polished and supremely capable. It will flatter any rider. But, after a couple of hours in the saddle wrists and knees hurt, and after 13 hours in the saddle my body felt destroyed. I can honestly say I didn’t notice when we stopped for fuel; my focus was on wringing the bike’s neck, but when we stopped riding at the end of the day; I felt battered. As did my ass. That M Package seat, as roomy as it is, is simply too slippery, and the friction and heat generated from my moving in the saddle left me with friction burns.
In our time together, we covered just shy of 900km, and the more time I spent in the saddle, the more confused I became. This bike is far more focused than previous models, and you have to ride it hard to get the most from it. The engine needs to be screaming constantly, and that quickly becomes tiring. On a track it’s fine, but when you’re carving your way through a mountain range, it quickly becomes exhausting.
The BMW S 1000 RR is exceptional; but flawed. It’s so single minded that it’s only fun when you’re riding it at full chat, at speeds way in excess of what is legal. And that’s the problem. This bike may just be the one which makes me say I’ve had enough of more…