BMW S1000RR (2015-2019) long-term test
During 2015 then-Deputy Editor of MCN Richard Newland was lucky enough to run a BMW S1000RR superbike for 12 months to see what life's like with the Bavarian missile.
He found the experience seriously fulfilling, but ultimately came away wondering whether it was a little too capable for its own good. Read on for the full, month-by-month, lowdown.
- Update 1: 53 degrees of satisfaction
- Update 2: Searching for the perfect ride
- Update 3: I've got the power
- Update 4: A year in a quarter
- Update 5: Going Pro on the RR
- Update 6: Just how loud is the 2015 BMW S1000RR?
- Update 7: Tyred out
- Update 8: Chasing glory
- Update 9: Tyred and emotional
- Update 10: Wheely clean
- Update 11: Mud-slinging exercise
- Update 12: Searching for the BMW's soul
Published: 14 May 2015
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.
Published: 17 June 2015
It’s been a while since I’ve spent every day with an inline four, and I’ve been surprised by some of the revelations now a few thousand miles have passed between us.
The strangest feeling it evokes – considering how technologically advanced it is – is an overwhelming sense of retro sportsbike heaven. There’s something about the exhaust note’s howling bass tones, and pops and bangs on the overrun that transports me right back into the ’90s. It isn’t a million miles – tonally – from my 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750. I like that.
The only downside of the pleasingly fruity exhaust is that it does telegraph my arrival by several minutes.
The most pleasing surprise is that the RR isn’t soulless, as I’d feared it might be. I can’t pretend I’ve fallen in love with its wonky face, but to be fair it probably hasn’t fallen in love with mine, either. But the view from the hot seat is perfect, and the sense of specialness it dredges from the pit of my stomach every time I open the throttle has cemented it in my affections.
The less welcome surprise is the amount of vibration delivered to the bars and footrests. After having two L-twins, a boxer twin, and a triple over the last five years, I was expecting my return to inline fours to be silky smooth. If you’re always making throttle inputs and climbing all over it like someone’s greased the seat then all is well. But sit at a constant speed for half-an-hour, and the vibes become intrusive. Catch it at the wrong rpm for too long, and you’ll have an impressive case of white-finger to show your mates.
Make it your own
Regardless of how good a bike is in standard trim, there are always things you want to change. Two obvious mods forced themselves to the top of the list before I’d even spent 50 miles on board. The most important was changing the stock footrests for adjustable rearsets. The other was to move the windblast up over the broadest part of my chest.
BMW’s accessory catalogue seemed like the logical start point – there’s a lot to be said for factory-fit precision and warranty-friendly modifications.
Before I did anything though, I fitted a set of BMW’s paddock stand bobbins (£21.10), and retired my ancient and unstable Micron stand in favour of the official BMW item (£158). The bobbins are, well, bobbins – no complaints there. The stand is a rock-solid work of smooth-rolling art. A sound investment if you’ve ever seen the damage a paddock stand collapse can cause.
Changing the screen was the warm-up act, and took just five minutes, which is a rare mercy in this age of pointlessly overcomplicated fairings. The six screen bolts and two little damping grommets swapped over with ease, and it took only the merest of wiggles to position. The windblast has left my chest, and now flows just over shoulder height. Get tucked in though, and it delivers wind-free serenity.
The rearsets, tooled by Gilles for BMW, are the nicest I’ve seen from any catalogue (£534, bmw-motorrad.co.uk). The CNC work is stunning, and the fit and tolerances between the clever eccentric sliding pegs and rearset bodies, and action from the levers, is superb. Gearchanges through the slightly spongy Gearshift Pro feel crisper and more positive, and I can now get my feet where I want them (one of the joys of suffering with cake retention is that stock pegs feel unilaterally too far forward). They’re an absolute doddle to fit, too – see below.
The mods aren’t dramatic, but they’ve made the RR feel more tailored to my needs, more comfortable, while also enabling me to ride with more confidence and aggression thanks to improved body positioning. It’s gone from feeling like a great bike, to feeling like my great bike.
Published: 10 July 2015
Few things are more frustrating than being miles from a charging point only to find that the item of electronic gadgetry you’re hoping to use is flatter than a ironed hanky. This simple and inexpensive USB socket (£29.00, Nippy Normans) is the answer to all your woes. On the RR it simply plugs into the GPS socket on the harness (ditto all 2004 onwards BMWs), but you can get a straight-to-battery connection, too. Phone, GoPro, GPS etc – all charged at will. Perfect.
BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
Published: 30 July 2015
The average UK motorcyclist will see around 3,500 miles added to their odometer each year. That’s the equivalent of riding the shortest way from John O’Groats to Baku, in Azerbaijan. Not a bad little jaunt. Sadly I’m yet to leave England with the RR, but we’ve still managed to cover some decent ground over the last four months. So what have I learned?
The billion-dollar question over ownership happiness has certainly been resolved, and to some degree I’m surprised by the answer. If I were in the market for a new superbike and took the RR for a 30-minute test ride, I think I’d be in awe, but not convinced of its charms. In performance terms it boasts a clinical ruthlessness that’s easy to respect, but harder to feel any emotional connection with.
The story is the same aesthetically, to my eyes. But an average riding year on, and I really get it. It’s like your favourite tool in the toolbox, the one that fits your hand perfectly, always makes you look stronger and more talented than you are, and never fails to get the job done.
That’s not to say there aren’t quibbles. I was (semi-jokingly, I think) recently accused of being an irresponsible journalist for pointing out that I don’t really get the point of all the riding modes, but I’m sticking to my guns. I don’t need them. I completely get the attraction of the Race mode, and plan to use it to full effect at an upcoming trackday, as it’ll give me all the control, confidence, and pace I need, while ensuring that I don’t get black-flagged for pulling wheelies out of every corner and over crests.
But the rest of the time, wet or dry, I ride in Slick mode. I’ve tried it in Rain mode – in the rain, fittingly – and I just don’t get the attraction. The immediacy in the throttle is replaced with hesitancy, and when you’re picking it up out of a corner, that momentary delay gives me palpitations. I love the traction control safety net, but the throttle modes are not for me.
On the flipside, the gimmick in the RR’s arsenal that I expected to deride, but have become addicted to, is the lean angle display. I wanted to dismiss it as a childish concession to the PlayStation generation, but find myself checking it before I kill the ignition on every ride. Why? It’s not pure narcissism, but more fascination. Whatever the journey, and whatever my best guess for the results, I’m persistently surprised by two things – how much dangle you can get on seemingly mundane rides, and how often the right and left indicators read the same figure. It’s genuinely spooky.
BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
Servicing £140 (first service)
Mods to date £2599.10
Published: 11 August 2015
I’ve been bullied into doing something I never thought I would: I’ve bought a GoPro (Hero, £94.99 from Amazon) to use on the S1000RR.
The positive motivation is that I feel like my riding is always improving, but not that I’m making any specific progress. So I thought that being able to record my own riding might be a good way to get some pointers – both on road and track. My first lesson learned is that I’m not opening the throttle fast enough from the apex. That’s progress.
The second, more negative, motivation is the amount of awful driving I see on the roads. If I get caught up in someone else’s mess, I want the proof on film. And I might even get £250 from Harry Hill.
Miles to date: 3917
Published: 28 August 2015
Sometimes frustration is a good thing – it inspires action. I’ve been getting quietly frustrated by the noisy claims of all and sundry that my S1000RR longtermer is battering their earholes, so I thought it was high time I got some evidence in my armoury.
My family claim to be able to hear my progress at up to 5.2 miles away from home across open countryside (4.4 as the crow flies), and a foray to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire saw me kicked off for blowing their drive-by noise meter’s socks off at 98.somethingdB (their limit is 89), and there’s no doubt that it seems loud from the rider’s seat. Yes; there’s plenty to suggest that it’s fruity.
So Saturday morning saw me frequenting the local branch of Maplin – can’t often say that – to buy a decibel meter. “That sounds nice mate,” says the builder exiting the Wickes next door as I park up, but the morbidly obese crone who nearly mows me down with her mobility scooter appears less awe-struck by the RR’s charms.
Black box of detection equipment secure in my rucksack I head home to annoy the family. It turns out that a hedge-trimmer weighs in at 81.7dB from 20 meters away, that my son can shout at just over 101dB, and that the dishwasher is silent (broken again).
After a quick wash and lube of the RR it’s time to see just how much it bothers the noise meter. With it ticking over on the sidestand, the meter reads a peak of 81dB from 50cm behind the exhaust (and off to the side). Move round next to the engine though and the mechanical clatter starts to mingle with the exhaust noise, and the readout hops up to 82.5dB. A couple of blips to 6500rpm see a static peak of 107.3dB, at which point I was curtly reminded of our neighbours’ happiness, and hit the kill switch.
Away from the peace of home, a constant 5500rpm revealed a reading of 92.1dB, while a drive-by at 6500rpm in 6th gear saw 84.3dB on the readout. Respectable, I’d say. But wind it on with a bit of aggression through the gears, and the top of 3rd saw it hit 99.4dB on a drive by. Loud? Yes, it’s not quiet, but it’s not as rude as I thought it might be. Which is odd, because it sounds bloody loud. Ask anyone.
These sounds aren’t silence
This is how the S1000RR stacks up against my other toys, and a cross section of the MCN longterm test fleet. At a standstill, using ACU noise testing methods, the S1000RR is the quietest!
Bike year, Make Model (mods) Static noise reading
2015 BMW S1000RR Sport (standard exhaust system) 92.1dB
2015 Ducati Scrambler Icon (stock Termignoni cans) 97.9dB
2015 KTM 1050 Adventure (Remus end can, baffle in) 97.7dB
2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner (with Remus can, no baffle) 94.1dB
2015 Triumph Street Triple Rx (Arrow end can, no baffle) 99.9dB
1998 Ducati 996 (SilMoto carbon end cans) 98.3dB
1996 Kawasaki ZX-6R (Micron full race system) 102.4dB
1986 Suzuki GSX-R750 (full titanium Yoshimura system) 99.4dB
BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
Miles to date: 4307
Servicing £140 (first service)
Mods to date £2599.10
Published: 03 September 2015
After almost 4500 miles, the RR’s Pirelli Supercorsa SPs are finally looking and feeling distinctly tired, if you’ll pardon the pun. They’ve held up incredibly well, but are now borderline bald in the central band on the rear, and have squared enough that at certain lean angles on or off the throttle, they shimmy across the ridge. What a stunning tyre though – an all-time favourite. I’m replacing them with Metzeler Racetec RR K3s. I’ll let you know how we get on.
Miles to date: 4408
Published: 07 October 2015
Despite my unswerving love of sportsbikes, it’s actually shockingly uncommon to find me donning some one-piece leathers, and heading out on track. But after doing the ‘leathers on’ dance for ten minutes a crisp morning blast to Donington Park sees me lining up in pitlane with rather a lot of other BMWs.
The prevalence of Germany’s finest is no surprise, it’s a BMW owners’ trackday after all, but some of the bikes lurking in the pit garages are uncommon sights. A beautiful HP2 Sport glides serenely past, followed by an R1200RT – both in the novice group – while track bikes and every colour and year of S1000RR are more predictably present. Yes, including that Korma-sick colour from 2010.
I’ve not been on track in almost exactly a year, but at least that was also Donington, albeit on an MCN Awards industry shindig where manners were required to be impeccable. I’ve not ridden a 1000cc sportsbike on a public trackday in over a decade, so while I’m happy enough to nudge myself into the Intermediate group, I’ve got very little context to judge what might happen next.
As I roll towards Redgate for the first time I remember that I’m still in Slick mode, which isn’t going to please the anti-wheelie black-flag-waving police, so I quickly knock it into Race mode, and get back to concentrating on the joy of Craner on cold tyres. Two laps later, and our signing laps are over. We peel back in to await the start of proper sessions, and twenty minutes later I pass back under the inflatable BMW arch, and let the RR off the leash.
I’m pleased to find myself being held up by other riders and my desire not to be ‘that dick from MCN who cut me up’, but on lap two the normally slick quickshifter refuses to give me third. I try again to no avail, and drift off-line to get out of the traffic. Slowing to a crawl, hand in the air, it goes back into first, and up to second again, but third is not on the menu. Then the lever fails to respond at all. I coast round to the pits and get on my knees to find that the top shift arm has drifted free of the spline. Doh.
While the Prime Factors mechanics (they and Tyco BMW were in attendance) whisk it away to be sorted, I borrow a Focused Events school RR and get back out on track. It feels oddly alien with its race bodywork and seat unit, but we soon gel, and while feeling in the flow, I switch to a stock RR press bike and go straight back out in the Fast group.
A lurid two-wheel slide through Redgate on the penultimate lap made me realise that I hadn’t looked to see what rubber I was on, or think to check the pressures. Reminder duly noted. Back in pitlane for a breather, I only had to wait one more session before getting out on my own bike again, this time riding with Lee Nicholls, BMW-Motorrad’s National Marketing & PR Manager, for a bit of a dogfight. We trust each other’s riding implicitly, and what follows is some of the rudest out-braking block-pass fun I’ve had in years.
What’s less fun is seeing how many owners are more than happy to nail it on the throttle-stop in a straight line, but wander around in the middle of corners like they’ve dropped their keys. If ever there was a great visual reminder of the value of training, this was it.
But the RR was sublime. Cosseting me in the care of its electronics, and letting me worry about lines and other trackdayers, rather than fearing lock-ups or highsides. What I really like though, is that it doesn’t rob you of feel or responsibility. Hard braking in the Melboune Loop has it slewing the back end on occasions, and a concrete right hand will still land you on the floor or in the kitty litter. A few discovered this to their discomfort.
Dogfighting aside, the real highlight was chasing an S1000XR-mounted Tommy Bridewell. Those laps will stay in my mind’s eye for a long time. It was truly hilarious, and a firm reminder of how big the gulf in talent is between us.
- Tested power 196.26bhp
- Tested Torque 85.05ftlb
- Minor Service – £140 This is the cost of the first service, which was carried out at 313 miles. The second service will be due in 550 miles.
- BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
- Miles to date: 6087
- Mods to date £2865.10
Published: 14 October 2015
Last year saw me declare that the Pirelli Supercorsa SP was my favourite tyre of all time, so when the RR arrived on a set this year I was delighted. A reasonably aggressive 4500 miles later and the smile hadn’t sunk at all. Both front and rear were feeling the miles though, and at around 15 degrees of lean the motorway-induced lip was causing the RR to shimmy through fast corners. It was time for a change.
While I’d have simply replaced them with SPs if it were my own bike, I was also curious to try something else, so I fitted a pair of Metzeler Racetec RR K3s just before heading over to Donington for a track soiree (the K3 is the road-bias version, K2s are advised for trackday-only use).
They’re just as impressive as the SPs. Grip from cold is excellent, they warm fast, and on track (pressures dropped to 29/29) they never gave a single moment of concern – while a session on another RR fitted with Bridgestone S20s nearly ended prematurely at Redgate. With one trackday and 1400 miles of road use under their belt there’s no sign of significant wear, and I just can’t fault them for performance and feel. If I’m allowed a joint favourite – they’re it.
• Metzeler Racetec RR K3: 120/70 R17 & 200/55 R17, £264
BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
Miles to date: 6203
Published: 27 October 2015
If there’s one thing I’ve always found a little odd on motorcycles, it’s the use of matt-finish paints. Add that finish to a fiddly area to clean – like wheels – and it really can be quite aggravating. But that’s exactly what BMW have done with their HP wheels for the S1000RR. When they’re really clean, they look exceptionally good, and classy – but getting them spotless takes hours of dedicated graft. Stunning as they are, I’d prefer an easy-clean gloss finish every time.
BMW S1000RR Sport, £14,760
Miles to date: 6374
Published: 13 November 2015
"Nobody enjoys riding in the wet or cold." It’s a statement you’ll hear often, but not from me. The negative for me isn’t the effect winter can have on flesh and bone, but the effect it has on metal and plastic.
Metal dulls and corrodes, plastics pick up mycelia-like scratches and hard-to-reach areas clog with filth. But with a good set of brushes, liberal doses of sDoc100 cleaning gel, and a rigid acceptance that you need to spend an hour a week using both – you can use your bike all year.
The RR is due to return to BMW, so won’t be carrying me through the worst of winter, but I’ve had a go at simulating some of the abuse. A full month of autumnal crud is about the same as a week of deepest winter, so the RR has been intentionally neglected, left to fling muck over itself like a naughty monkey at the zoo, and wallow in its own mess.
I’m impressed with how it’s coped, too. My rural commute is akin to doing a trackday on a compost heap at this time of year, but RR has shrugged off far more filth than it’s hung on to.
Where it does suffer is the radiator, exhaust, the wheels (which are dirt-magnets), and the undertray. Three out of four being the result of the very short mudguard and hugger – lengthen both, and the only significantly filthy part would be the wheels.
And after an hour of cleaning, it looks close to new. The first failures are usually nuts, bolts and fixings – the areas where many firms save money – but all are mint. In fact the whole bike, with the exception of the radiator, looks faultless, while a set of R&G rad guards would be a wise investment.
With the fairings stripped the story was no different beneath. You often find dirt traps and furry engine parts that would normally escape cleaning attention – but nothing. After 7000 miles of all-weather riding, the RR is pretty much box-fresh.
Published: 23 December 2015
In this time of scientific analysis and empirical knowledge of almost everything in our universe, there are very few intangibles left to define. Avoiding the minefields of politics and religion (neither of which stand up to any sort of analysis), the one big remaining question is ‘what is soul?’
It’s seemingly indefinable beyond whimpering vague observations about ‘spirit’ and ‘essence’ – which in themselves don’t reveal any more than the word ‘soul’ did in the first place. And yet we all inherently understand when we describe something as having it, or being devoid of it. Then BMW’s S1000RR comes along and confounds both camps.
This year has evaporated with alarming speed, and before I really felt I had all the answers to some of the questions I had of the RR, it’s gone back to BMW to find its second owner.
The serious, measurable answers all came quickly and easily. Yes, it performs with devastating efficiency, blistering speed, ruthless aggression, and clinical precision.
Yes, it sounds thunderous, pulls you between corners like it’s got both hands firmly on an elastic horizon that’s snapping beneath your wheels, and glides through apexes with all the serene composure of an ice-skater.
Yes, it’s well designed and beautifully made, resilient to the worst our weather can throw at it, and lives on the road with the same effusive ease that it exudes on track. But has it got soul?
I just can’t decide, and maybe that means it hasn’t. Trying desperately to add its skills and charms together like some sort of checklist of soul-worthiness should be all the hint that’s needed. Maybe it’s the RR’s effort-shrugging efficiency and clinical ability that rob it of the flaws that us humans like to explain away as ‘character’. Maybe it’s just its Germanic nature, asymmetrically goofy face, or the linear way the engine delivers its tide of utterly seamless drive. Or perhaps it’s the subduing safety net of all those clever and effective electronics.
Those talents all combine to imbue the RR with a skill set that makes it sound like the most perfect of partners (goofy face excepted) that you could wish for. But it acts more like a flattering mirror, making you look better than you have any right to be. It’s a perfect reflection of you, rather than your missing half.
So while I’ve loved every minute with it, bathed in its glorious talents, and how it masks your shortcomings with its own excellence – and would recommend it to anyone and everyone considering a litre-class superbike – I never completely fell in love with it. I never found its soul. Maybe it sold it to the devil.