“The concept behind the HP4 Race is to introduce the idea of a main frame and wheels made from carbon fibre into a production motorcycle,” explains Christian Gonschor, the project leader behind BMW’s new prototype. “It is a deeper look at this new technology and also the opportunity to offer customers a very advanced machine that certainly won’t disappoint them.”
Somewhat annoyingly for BMW, the fanfare of the HP4 Race’s debut at the Milan Motorcycle Show was muted by Ducati and its Superleggera being revealed the day before. However, while both of these bikes use carbon fibre technology, they do it in very different ways. And for different ultimate goals.
“The technology for the construction of the wheel rims and frame is very important,” says Gonschor. “We have many patents and innovations in the construction of these components. When our carbon parts leave their mould, they are ready to go, much like an aluminium part would be, and have very little, if any, variations in their construction. We have simplified the whole construction procedure to the point it is ready for mass production with precise tolerances in flexibility and with none of the variations in construction you get with hand built one-off carbon parts.”
While this may not seem very radical, what BMW has done is effectively open the doors to using carbon fibre in the same was as metal is currently used, something Gonschor admits is a target of the HP4 Race project. And it’s a field of technology that BMW’s car division is already very experienced in doing.
Vehicles such as the BMW i3 and i8 already use carbon body structures. Lighter and stronger than metal, BMW actually went as far as buying 49% of carbon fibre manufacturer SGL Group to give them a head start in this new technology. But what does it bring to the motorcycle world?
“As well as being lighter, a carbon chassis allows you to play with every geometrical item – stiffness, flex, everywhere – if you know what you want, you can achieve it. With an aluminium frame you are far more limited,” says Gonschor. “For sure it will always cost a premium, but like our car colleagues have done with the i3 and i8, we are moving to the next step.” But does it work in practice?
“If you want to show the performance of the frame and wheels, what is the best thing to put it around? A current world superbike-spec bike! An S1000RR is ready to go close to the limit, but to really reach the limit you need to use a complete superbike spec bike and that involves the best components on the market,” says Gonschor.
In the HP4 Race prototype this means top if the range WSB-spec Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes and an engine that is also very close to WSB-specification. Will these components make their way onto the production version? While Christian Gonschor wouldn’t be drawn on the precise specification of the final version of the HP4 Race, it is believed to be very similar to the prototype and be a track only machine with a price tag that reflects its high specification. A fact backed up by BMW’s President Stephan Schaller’s confirmation that the final version HP4 Race will be an exclusive limited series machine when it arrives in the second half of 2017.
“With the HP4 Race advanced prototype, we want to show the world that we are ready to mass produce a carbon mainframe and that it is not just a hand-built prototype,” concludes Gonschor. “The bike is a kind of taste of the future and in the first half of next year we will reveal more information about the bike such as weight, specification, production volume and of course, price.”