‘My BMW HP4 racer consumes every part of my life’
It takes all of his time and all of his money, but Michael Neeves remains deeply in love with this bike
This is my beloved BMW HP4 racer. It’s the £16,950 non-Carbon model with a standard engine, suspension and around five grand’s worth of BMW HP race fairings, levers and electronic upgrades fitted.
That sounds like a hell of a lot of cash, and it is, but in racing terms, especially litre-bike racing terms, it’s a snip. A few years ago when Japanese superbikes ruled the roost you’d have to spend two or three times that amount to end up with a machine packed with this much power and technology.
Unlike the other bikes we feature each week in this slot, the HP4 isn’t mine. It belongs to BMW Park Lane and they very kindly let me race it. I look after the day-to-day running, keeping it in fuel and hot and cold-running Dunlop slicks. It also falls to me to thrash the pants off it every time I get on it, but that’s what it’s for, isn’t it?
My goal this season has been to see what it’s like to live with electronic suspension, so I’m picking and choosing races with the Hottrax Powerbike and Thundersport GP1 championships.
I’ve ridden the standard HP4 lots of times and it’s hard to imagine how you could improve it. It’s blisteringly fast and bursting at the seams with horsepower, but the engine is a pussycat and the chassis is a sweet-handling gem. The plushness and control of the semi-active, DDC suspension lets the HP4 spear through corners with barely any effort from the rider.
Those who’ve ridden, and been blown away by, the HP4 often ask what a race version like mine could be like, with its shorter, harder accelerating gearing and lighter weight. Surely it would be a complete animal?
I could lie and say it is, but the truth is it’s actually easier to ride than the road bike. With its stiffer-construction, pointy-profile slicks the steering is lighter and there’s tons more grip. Racing SBS Dual Sinter brake pads have more bite and things like the solid seat pad and racing Renthal handlebar grips take out the roadbike-squidge, so my bike feels sharper and more direct than the stocker.
Compared to the S1000RRs I’ve raced for the past few years, I’m faster on the HP4, to the tune of one to two seconds a lap, at every track I’ve visited. The HP4’s power delivery is less aggressive and easier to manage and the semi-active BMW Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) suspension is plusher and gives more feel at full lean.
The basic DDC premise is the suspension is racebike-stiff when the bike is upright, to deal with the forces of braking and acceleration. Once you go past 35° of lean it softens-off, to give the tyres a better chance of gripping in the corners. Normal suspension has to be stiff all the time to cover all bases, at the expense of feel and grip at full lean.
On top of that, rebound and compression damping constantly change on the move, depending on your road and wheel speeds, throttle position, suspension movement, traction control and ABS intervention. You can’t actually feel any of this going on, you just get a nice sensation of grip and feel.
My bike is also fitted with the BMW HP Power Kit, which is a replacement black box that gives the DDC racier parameters, as well as smoothing out the power delivery and making the traction control less intrusive.
On the road HP4 you never need to touch the suspension – just choose between the four riding modes (Rain, Sport, Race and Slick) and the suspension hardens/softens to suit. But for the track you need a tighter set-up. You can mechanically adjust the preload and damping, depending on grip levels, undulations and how hard you need to brake at each track. You can also adjust the damping electronically via a laptop with the HP Calibration Kit II software.
BMW Park Lane has replaced the right fork leg with an S1000RR unit, which has adjustable rebound damping, and played with the fork and shock internals and spring rates to make them more suited to the track. But the Sachs suspension units are still fundamentally standard.
I love the way my bike feels in the corners. Its softer feel at full lean loads you with confidence and you always get the feeling you could go through the bends quicker. There’s still a bit of work to do with spring rates, but we’re getting there meeting by meeting and I’ve still managed to rack up some wins, pole positions and a lap record. I’ve crashed once, losing the front into the second part of the Esses at Snetterton.
You have to be interested in the technical and electronic side of this bike to get on with it. It’s not just a case of making a couple of clicks of the suspension and off you go, but I enjoy the challenge and love pouring over the data captured from the BMW HP Datalogger.
My HP4 is a treat to ride and I can spend hours just looking at it in awe in my race awning. It’s amazing to think it has the power of a WSB bike of a few years ago and electronics that MotoGP could have only dreamed of in the early 990 days. I love, too, the polished aluminium swingarm and the little green light that glows on the dash to signal you’re up on your sector times.
My HP4 consumes every part of my life. I’m 44 now, so I’m on a permanent diet and training regime to stave off the effects of old age and what with all the travelling involved with the day job, there’s no social life to speak of either. I couldn’t race without the help of my friends, sponsorship and, of course, BMW Park Lane, but it still skints me – campaigning the HP4 takes all I earn plus a little bit more.
But that’s racing. I love it and will keep going as long as I can.
Racing is a money pit, no matter what level you’re running at so sponsors soften the financial blow. Race entry and Friday practice fees are £450, then there are tyres, bike consumables, food, drink, fuel and B&Bs, too. Then you have to look after your helpers who drive across the country to help you ride round in circles costs them a fortune, too.
BMW’s Dynamic Damping Control suspension has a softer feel than a conventional race set-up and it only stiffens when needed under hard braking and acceleration. The BMW HP Power Kit refines the DDC slightly for racing, but it’s outlawed in British (not European) Superstock. It’s allowed in open class club racing, though.
This standard HP4 motor hasn’t been dyno’d, but is estimated to make make190-something bhp at the rear wheel.
I run the HP Power Kit, which gives racier suspension control, less intrusive TC and a softer throttle response. Extra software called the HP Calibration Kit II lets you into the electronics to change everything from the suspension, TC, fuelling, pitlane limiter and launch control parameters.
These OZ forged aluminium wheels are taken from my old S1000RR race bike. We’ve got two sets, one each for slicks and wets. They actually weigh the same as the standard HP4 wheels, which Buildbase BMW reckon are as light as their superbike wheels.
Tyres are the biggest expense in racing. The most popular choice of slicks are Pirellis or these Dunlop Ntecs. Both have their pros and cons and work better at different tracks and temperatures, but the Dunlops have incredible edge grip and superb durability. I use a medium-soft compound rear and soft front everywhere I go.
2014 BMW HP4 £16,950
Claimed weight 169kg (dry)
Seat height 820mm
Servicing to date Ongoing
Mods to date See left