“Will I ever sell it? I can’t see that day coming yet”
Sportsbike loving Tim Thompson became boxer fan by accident. Here’s how he came to own the ultimate BMW twin
It seems funny now, but long before the supremely focused, ass-kicking S1000RR, BMW’s interpretation of ‘sporty’ started and finished with the R1100S boxer twin. It had shaft drive and BMW’s idiosyncratic Telelever wishbone front suspension, which instantly put off 80 per cent of the target market. Like the R1150GS it looked a little too like Patrick Moore for most tastes, putting off at least another 19 per cent of potential buyers.
Which left one per cent: retired policemen and me. From certain, carefully chosen angles I thought it did look kind of sporty, especially after a couple of pints. And there was something else about it: a utilitarian ruggedness; a sense of being built to last that you didn’t usually see in Japanese sportsbikes. I liked that too.
When my job with Bike magazine took me and an R1100S to Barcelona for the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix round of the Boxer Cup, a brilliant support race series fronted by Randy Mamola and devised by BMW to get sportsbike riders thinking groovy thoughts about the R1100S, my mild curiosity clicked into overdrive. A relaxing glide down through France, with the hot grips on as we climbed over the Pyrenees, was followed in qualifying by the discovery of surprising corner speed and immense braking. This tourer was a sporting revelation. When Randy and Luca Cadalora swept past me in Catlunya’s turn three, cylinder heads grinding, sparks flying, both of them having a right old laugh, I became an overnight convert to BMW’s sporting boxers.
The R1200S was BMW’s decent next-stab at fast and sexy but it was too long and ponderous to cut it as a proper sportsbike, and arguably a backwards step from the R1100S. Racing versions of it – particularly in endurance – looked amazing, however. With the road bike’s soft edges chiseled sharp, all fat stripped away and the rear jacked high to get the necessary cylinder-to-ground clearance it was obvious to everyone, except it seemed to BMW, that this was the boxer BMW should build.
Then all of a sudden it happened. BMW turned up at the 2007 Le Mans 24-hour with a pair of boxers in factory colours that looked exactly like the bike of my dreams. As a competitive race bike the HP2s were hopeless – 50bhp or more down on the Japanese factory fours – but their corner speed advantage over the factory ZX-10s and GSX-R1000s was there for all to see. And as a heroically daft way to go racing it was unsurpassed. The road bike arrived the next year and I had to have one.
The HP2 Sport is a very close replica of the endurance racer. It has the air of a hand-built prototype, and not only because it seems in places to be held together with cable ties. A friend berates me for describing it as a carbon-fibre Spitfire, or Focke-Wulf if you prefer, but I know what I mean. It’s a bizarre and exciting blend old and new technology. The bodywork is 100 per cent carbon-fibre; the seat unit is self supporting so has no subframe; there’s a very clever (for 2009) 2D digital dash/datalogger; it has CANbus electrics, and Öhlins shocks, Brembo monoblocs and forged aluminium wheels. It has all this clever and expensive technology yet it also has an old and oily twin-cylinder clunker for an engine.
Today, the HP2’s flat twin feels like a dinosaur compared to the free-revving water-cooled boxers but it was and remains the technological apogee of all the air-cooled motors – punchy and hard-edged compared to its ‘high cam’ predecessor. It was the first to get double overhead camshafts – each camshaft actuates one inlet and one exhaust valve – and can rev to a giddy 9000rpm if you put in earplugs and ignore its screams for mercy. It requires 98 octane unleaded and an elaborate warm up routine that’s controlled by a bank of red, amber and green LEDs on the dash while its wide-mile tolerances take up the slack. There’s a major service somewhere in my bike’s future that inspects for conrod stretch and costs close to £2000.
Moving quickly on, I bought mine new almost four years ago and in that time it has covered 6600 miles – not many, but they have all been hand-picked, high value miles containing either a beautiful road or a flowing track on a bright blue day. Over 1500 miles have been racked up at its favourite place, the Nürburgring, where it runs through the Nordschleife’s never-ending supply of sweepers like a 250. It has balance and agility and, just like the R1100S before it, stunning stability on the brakes. It was built to lean, which it does right up until you feel a third contact patch, the nylon sliders on the cylinder head covers, surfing the road surface. That moment is heaven on a motorcycle.
I hope I’m not making it sound fast because it’s not; it’s fast enough – only 125bhp at the wheel in stock trim and 155mph flat out. But, and this is the crux of things, it is deeply satisfying to ride quickish. Its flat, urgent drone on full gas is as evocative as any Ducati. And for all my talk about riding on racetracks it has a soft, forgiving ride quality and a relaxed, open riding position that work just-so on the road.
Actually, I reckon all boxers, no matter how they’re dressed, are tourers at heart, and I love setting off on a trip on the HP2, perhaps the most exotic sports tourer of them all. You can’t take much luggage because the exhaust vents north through a grill in the tail unit and will melt your spare pants, so it’s a rucksack and a small Kriega US-10 tankbag only for me only. The only thing missing for the perfect trip is BMW’s traditional heated grips – even Randy admitted to switching his on during morning practice for the Boxer Cup.
Will I ever sell? I can’t see that day coming yet, though now that rumours of a water-cooled HP2 are emerging from Munich I’m slightly less inclined to call it a keeper than I was a week ago.
A leaking brake line union, bubbling paintwork and a cracked fuel pump flange have all been dealt with under warranty. Nothing else has gone wrong in 6600 miles
Metzeler Racetec K3s are smooth and consistent for at least 2500 miles and feel tailor-made for the quirky HP2 Sport
MIRRORS are short and useless. I replaced mine with long-stem S1000RR mirrors adapted and supplied by HP2 Sport specialists sandbarcomposites.co.uk
HUGGER Fling from the rear tyre gets everywhere and shot blasts the underseat. An Ilmberger carbon hugger saves the day.
CLEAR SCREEN The original is a full-tint and too short, meaning you can’t see through it or get in behind it. I replaced mine with a beautifully made MRA screen from HPS.
BODYWORK PROTECTION Bike specialists Autoshield Protection in Newcastle applied a full-body Venture Shield kit to save all that lovely carbon bodywork from stone chips
SUSPENSION SET UP
Ground clearance isn’t a worry on the road but on track the cylinder head sliders can dig in, lifting the front, so I have extended the rear shock strut to the point where my toes can barely touch the ground. The bike sits flat too and like all Telelever Beemers needs help to turn, so steeper is better. Talking of adjustability, the footrests and bars are set in the touring position
There’s always an oil to change on a boxer, be it engine or gearbox or shaft. I insert my own oil changes between official services to ease my guilt. Surprisingly BMW have this year stipulated a semi-synthetic engine oil instead of the fully synthetic one, apparently to make life easier for its dealers. Major and minor services both cost about £275, although y valve clearances have yet to need adjusting. The 30,000 miler specifies an engine strip so expect plenty of HP2s appearing on Bikesforsale.com with 29,000 miles showing
My HP2 engine made an impressive 128bhp peak but runs very lean on part throttle openings, making it feel spiky and hard to ride smoothly – not quite the experience you’d expect. Dynojet UK slotted a Power Commander V under the tank and fuelled the engine properly. The transformation is dramatic: throttle response is smoother, while the midrange in particular feels creamier and is significantly stronger too. Peak power is now over 131bhp, not far off the original endurance racer
2010 BMW HP2 Sport £14,326
Claimed weight 178kg (dry)
Seat height 830mm
Servicing to date £625