We test BMW's new S 1000 RR at the BIC to see if this third-gen model can become the litre-class top dog, like the original a decade ago.
2009 and 2010 were the years of struggle. The world was going through a rough phase, and we were still recovering from the so-called ‘Great Recession’. There was an extreme economic slowdown everywhere – banks were tanking and major industries were shutting down. Not the best time, then, to venture into a new business, right? Well, BMW Motorrad thought otherwise, and consequently decided to enter the litre-class superbike segment with an all-new motorcycle. And the S 1000 RR was born.
Initially, BMW’s decision to venture into the litre-class superbike segment looked quite ridiculous. You see, that was the period of Japanese supremacy. The segment was ruled by the Honda Fireblades, Yamaha R1s and Kawasaki Ninjas of the world. So, what was BMW Motorrad, which was only known for making plucky GS bikes and tourers back then, supposed to bring to the table? Heck, they didn’t even have a racing team in MotoGP or any other road-racing series to back their new product’s credentials. Plus, the silly ‘asymmetrical’ face of this so-called BMW litre-class superbike made it look like the Germans were really out of their depth. But when the world got their hands on the S 1000 RR, everyone realised that they couldn’t be more wrong! The original S 1000 RR turned out to be an absolute masterpiece. Upon its launch in the market, the S 1000 RR instantly became the top-dog of the litre-class segment. It beat the pants off its rivals and did it quite relentlessly. On top of that, it was the first superbike to introduce electronic rider aids like traction control and quick-shifter. The S 1000 RR was a phenomenon in every sense of the word.
But it was about a decade ago, and the times have since changed. In short, the competition caught up with the S 1000 RR, and, in fact, some of the rivals have even surpassed it. Of course, to keep the battle alive, BMW gave its superbike a substantial upgrade in 2015, but then it wasn’t enough to get it back to the top. Thus, began the work on an all-new third-gen model, which made its global debut in 2018. And the good news is that it has now landed in India. But that’s not all – BMW even allowed us to have a go on it at the BIC. So, can the new Double R rewrite the rules of the litre-class segment?
BMW claims that not a single bolt from the old bike has been used in this third-gen model and that it’s been built completely from the ground up. That’s great! But, then, there’re a handful of people – including me – who don’t welcome the absence of the alienesque asymmetrical headlamps of the old model. The new S 1000 RR features a pair of sleek LED headlamps. Sure, it looks prettier now, but it lacks the aggression of the old model, which had a bite-your-head-off kind of vibe. For me, and many others, that predator face of the old model was its signature dish. Anyway, BMW knows better, which is why they’ve ditched the old look. Plus, the new conventional face with LED lamps will definitely appeal to a wider audience.
Apart from the face, the new S 1000 RR is as petite as its predecessor, which means it looks more like a supersport than a superbike. In fact, at 2,073mm of length, it’s nearly as compact as the TVS Apache RR 310 (2,001mm). Everything you touch and feel on the bike is top quality, too. Also, the company’s revered M moniker – so far reserved for fast BMW cars – has made its way to the S 1000 RR. This means that it now gets a special M paint scheme with racing red, blue and white colours. Additionally, the M Package also gets tasty lightweight carbon-fibre wheels. Speaking of weight, at 197kg, the new RR is 11kg lighter than its predecessor, while in M-Spec it weighs even lighter – only 193.5kg. On the whole, it’s a spectacular motorbike from every angle. Not as brawny as the old one, it’s a lithe-and-mean machine nonetheless.
‘Lightness’ was the buzzword during the launch of the new S 1000 RR – BMW claims to have shaved kilos and grams from anywhere they could. The main contribution, however, comes from the engine, as it’s a full 4kg lighter. That’s, however, the tip of the iceberg, for there’s so much more to this new powertrain. The 999cc inline-four is all new but retains the bore x stroke of the old bike (80mm x 49.7mm). And it’s got a few new tricks up its sleeve. First up, it gets BMW’s ShiftCam technology, which basically varies valve timing and valve stroke on the intake side. It sounds complicated, but it’s quite straightforward to understand. There are two sets of cam lobes – one for low-rpms to boost low-end torque and improve efficiency, while the other to offer more lift at higher rpm to enhance the top end. The latter kicks in at 9,000rpm in just 10 milliseconds! Coupled to the ShiftCam tech are 10 per cent lighter hollow-bored titanium valves, meaning the engine now screams all the way up to a 14,600rpm redline – 400rpm more than the old bike.
All of the above updates combined result in a power bump of 8bhp, meaning the peak horsepower output has now crossed the holy 200bhp barrier – it’s now 204bhp. Torque is identical at 113Nm, but it’s now produced at 500rpm higher at 11,000rpm. But because of the ShiftCam valve timing, BMW claims that at least 100Nm of torque is available from as low as 5,500rpm.
Fast, furious & forgiving
On a power circuit like the BIC though, gauging the low- and mid-range performance of a litre-class motorcycle is a little difficult. It’s all about sniffing apexes through the fast-flowing layout of the track. And doing that on something as powerful and light as the RR requires a bit of courage and a lot of trust in the almighty. You see, the engine is a nuke! The motor is so throttle happy that nothing can prepare you for an all-out assault that it launches on your sensory organs once you twist your right wrist. It really took a while for my brain to register the way speed builds up on this thing. Of course, being an inline four, the motor doesn’t quite hammer torque like, say, the Ducati Panigale V4 at low revs, but it rushes in after 10,000rpm and how! All I can say is that it’s mind-bending quick – 260-270km/h on the back straight is done without any effort. And while you’re at it, the motor shrills and howls producing typical inline-4 harmony. Absolute bliss!
Usually, when you’ve got 200+ raging horses between your legs, whacking the throttle open around corners or on straights is nothing but a serious death-wish. And yet on the S 1000 RR you always get the sense that everything is under control. There are two reasons for this. First, the handling is simply epic. Thanks to its lightweight ‘flex’ frame, Marzocchi front forks with DDC electronic damping, quick steering and carbon wheels shod with sticky Metzelers, the double R feels completely focused and stable on the track. Secondly, its brilliant electronics.
The S 1000 RR brims with rider aids. There are four riding modes – Rain, Road, Dynamic and Race, which are offered as standard. Plus, there’s an optional Pro Mode. In this, you can configure the throttle response, wheelie control, traction control, engine braking and ABS as per your requirements using three sub-modes – Race Pro 1, 2, and 3. You can play with the settings through the menu option on a crisp and colourful 6.5-inch TFT display. We had limited time to fiddle with these settings (only 8 laps). When I began, the bike was in standard ‘Race’ mode, and you can’t switch to Pro mode on the fly. Anyway, even in Race mode, the electronics ensured that I felt like a superhuman of some sorts! On the straights, you can open the taps fully, and the bike doesn’t even twitch. It just grips and darts ahead like there’s no tomorrow. Similarly, on corner exits, you can open the throttle like an amateur, but instead of being launched into orbit, you exit corners glued on to the tarmac as if you’re the next big thing in WSBK. Make no mistake, though, it doesn’t sap any fun in the process, it offers thrills aplenty. The electronics never feel overbearing. In fact, they make the RR one of the most forgiving big bikes out there.
Could be better…
While the S 1000 RR completely blew my mind with its performance and agility, there were a couple of things that could have been slightly better. The four-piston Hayes front brake with twin 320mm discs now replace the Brembos of the old bike. They work brilliantly, for the most part, offering sharp bite and progressive lever feel. But while braking at high speeds –250km/h or higher – on the back straight, I could sense there was some brake fade after 4 or 5 laps. Of course, you drop down gears and the engine braking does it for you, but you do expect the front brakes to inspire more confidence. In fact, it gets even more unnerving given how ferociously the S 1000 RR’s motor devours straights.
The other thing is its ergonomics. In this new version, the handlebar has been raised slightly, and so have been the foot-pegs, which means you feel like you’re top of the bike rather than in it. Of course, it’s very racy but not as aggressive as the Panigale V4. And that’s both good and bad in different ways. The good thing is that it’s roomier and comfortable, meaning on the road you’ll be able to clock more miles without busting your back or having numb wrists. On the track though, it takes a little while to adjust and get the body positioning right during fast switchbacks because the S 1000 RR’s isn’t carved to be an out and out racing machine. And because of this, the front-end probably doesn’t feel as telepathic as the Panigale V4’s. On the flip side, because of its comfy settings, the S 1000 RR is less physical on the track as well, so you’d probably end up getting more laps under your belt. And I feel that you’d get more confident and comfortable in hanging off the bike with more track time.
Even though I have some minor complaints with the S 1000 RR, I know I’d pick it in a heartbeat if I had that kind of money in my bank account. It’s stonking fast and unbelievably exciting! At the same time, I cannot, for the life of me, come to a concrete conclusion here. You see, this is the golden age for bikers. And whichever litre-class bike you pick, 99 per cent of us will never be able to extract everything in terms of performance that these bikes have to offer – be it on the road or a racetrack. In the end, it boils down to your personal preference because you can’t go wrong with any of these machines. Think of the litre-class segment as Marvel universe and pick your favourite superhero depending on whose style you like the most. And if you need help, all I can tell you is that S 1000 RR is the Iron man of the lot. It’s badass, tech-laden and definitely, definitely goes as if it's got rocket thrusters mounted on its rear!
- 2020 BMW S 1000 RR Pro M Sport
Engine: 999cc / Inline-4/ ShiftCam Variable Valve Timing
Power: 204bhp @ 13,500rpm
Torque: 113Nm @ 11,000rpm
Price: Rs 22.95 lakh (ex-showroom)
X-Factor: Badass, tech-laden and goes like as if it's got rocket thrusters - the Iron Man of the superbike world!