When I was a kid BMW stood for ‘Boring Man’s Wheels’, they were the butt of so many jokes that even Kim Kardashian would have struggled to out-arse them. How things change.
A generation on, and those pedestrian old air-cooled boxers underpin the majority of hipster café-scrambling-bobbin-trackers, while the current range is so strong that you’d be hard-pushed to find a runt in the litter.
I lived with an S1000RR when they were first launched back in 2010, but while it was a game-changing moment for superbikes, it was also flawed. The electronics package – while revelatory at the time – could also be frustratingly crude. The anti-wheelie was so aggressive that I doubt I could have fathered either of my kids post-2010.
Five years on and the RR has moved on incomparably, and while there’s a real sense of familiarity with this new bike, it also feels a world apart from the original – and the electronics are stunning by comparison. But there are three numbers that are sticking in my head: 196.96, 53, and 99.8.
The first number speaks for itself once you put ‘bhp’ after it, but the headline near-200bhp at the back wheel isn’t really the story. The extraordinary twist in the RR’s tale is that the power delivery, and electronic management, is unfalteringly sublime. Yes it’s fast. Oh good god it’s fast. But it isn’t wild. The way the power is smeared onto the tarmac is so predictable, so linear, that you’re never riding round the limitations of its delivery.
A brief foray at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground (I got banned for blowing their noise meter’s ears off) showed that whatever gear, whatever throttle opening, the power is brutally smooth, piling on speed while letting your head concentrate on what you’re doing. I only got one attempt at bouncing it off the limiter in sixth, and hit a GPS’d 175mph with it still pulling before I had to shut off for the approaching right-hander. It’s the only time the RR has ever felt flighty, the front dancing loosely in my hands as my sail-like frame caused it to get ever-lighter.
53 is a matter of degrees, and highlights one of the most problematic distractions of the new RR. If you see electronics as a PlayStation-esque annoyance that limits your biking libido, then you’ll really hate the lean angle gauge.
I never look at it on the move in real time – that really would be a worrying pastime – but clocking the max figures at the end of a ride is always interesting. So far my peak lean has been 53 degrees. Not exactly GP-impressive, but it’s something to work on. The average dry commute sees 46°, while a wet one knocks that back to 32°.
At 53° the 200-section rear has banished all its chickens, while the front has around 8mm to go to the edge. It’s a good game, but I can imagine the idea of ‘just one degree more’ could easily end badly.
That brings us to 99.8. It’s no surprise that most people walking into their local BMW dealer to buy an RR go for the hotter ‘Sport’ version, but the fact that 99.8% of new RRs sold this year have been the Sport is an incredible figure. The majority don’t leave it at that, either, with owners adding more from the accessories catalogue, and chucking it all on the same finance/PCP deal.
My bike is a case in point, spec’d from virgin with the Performance Pack (£490), and HP lightweight forged wheels (£1250) – taking the overall price tag to £16,500.
So what’s next? There are a few mods I’d like to do soon, to make the RR more ‘mine’. A double-bubble screen and rearsets are a must, then I just need more road and track time to see how far I can push it, and what else I want to change and personalise. Right now though, all I want to do is ride.
More updates at: Richard's BMW S1000RR