Is this the best sportbike on the market?

Eager to capitalize on the success of other sportbike brands' premium grade and limited edition offerings, BMW has bestowed its up-spec "HP" (high-performance) designation on the S1000RR superbike. In addition to exclusivity, the 2013 BMW S1000RR HP4 offers superior road performance and control.

DYNAMIC DAMPING CONTROL

The function of the motorcycle’s electronics is a big part of the HP4 package. It’s highlighted by the use of a semi-active suspension – a first for a production sportbike. Dubbed Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), both the fork and shock automatically adjust damping while riding based on data received from sensors and control inputs from the rider.

Furthermore, the compression and rebound circuits can be adjusted electronically with a push of the button. Spring preload, however, is still tuned manually using a simple and easy-to-access knob on the shock body. Shims are used to raise ride height based on tire geometry or rider preference. A conventional nut-type collar atop the right fork leg is used for front adjustment.

Out on Jerez circuit, the damping characteristics felt near perfectly calibrated for a quick track rider. Both the fork and shock read road conditions accurately and were plush and controlled as each component moved through its stroke. When either end was loaded heavily with the throttle (shock) or brakes (fork) damping was sufficient to not cause excessive chassis pitch.

Although it didn’t offer the "feel every pebble in the pavement" responsiveness of a properly tuned racebike, it still performed at a very high level, even during more assertive control inputs, at the afternoon session with the fitment of Pirelli’s fabulous Diablo Supercorsa racing slick. The true test will be how the system reacts on bumpy, stop-and-go U.S. circuits; however, at Jerez it performed without flaw.

ENGINE CONTROL

The engine control and power modes also benefit from new programming. Like the standard S1000RR, the HP4 employs four unique power/throttle maps: Rain, Sport, Race and Slick (for use with treadless racing tires). Rain mode now offers access to full engine power, albeit with a smoother torque delivery for use on wet or limited traction surfaces. The remaining three settings all feature fresh maps for more accurate throttle response and linear power delivery through its 14,200 rpm rev range. Furthermore, the engine torque curve has been broadened between 6,000 and 9,750 revs for improved acceleration.

Although throttle response and engine fueling was never a problem with the standard ’12 model, the new HP4 offers greater refinement than before. Flat out, it’s the smoothest, most linear-feeling powerband we’ve ever experienced on a S1000RR. It’s wild because the bike almost feels slower due to its less aggressive top-end hit. But it’s not, as the bike still wheelies on the power in the first four gears. Mid-range power also seemed to be beefier, which certainly helps the bike accelerate off corners where the engine isn’t spinning above 10 grand.

DYNAMIC TRACTION AND LAUNCH CONTROL

Calibration of the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) was also modified based on data gained from the BMW World Superbike team. Revised parameters allow for more accurate engine torque reduction when excessive wheel spin is detected. Furthermore the actuation of the DTC offers more finite adjustment (14-way and on-the-fly) via a button on the left handlebar.

The wheelie control settings were also tweaked to provide smoother and more precise response when power wheelies are detected. The electronics now incorporate launch control and come standard with Gear Shift Assist (aka electronic quickshifter). Lastly, the Race ABS system has been re-coded with settings learned from the Bavarian marque’s participation in its national IDM Superbike racing series. The instrument display gets a new font inside the analog-style tachometer and added functionality for the new launch control, DDC and DTC adjustments in Slick mode. The new menu options are intuitive and easy to access.

Just like the ’12 machine, BMW has managed to further refine the actuation of the DTC on the HP4. It was more precise when excessive wheel spin was detected and modulated engine torque with added discretion. The ability to fine-tune DTC in Slick mode is also enormous benefit, allowing the rider to compensate for tire wear, track temperature and rider fatigue.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is the actuation of the wheelie control. Like before, the BMW does a great job of sensing front wheel lift, but where the old system cut power so abruptly it made the front wheel slam to the ground, the new electronics put the wheel back to the tarmac smoothly. This allows the rider to bury the throttle full pinned on corner exit without having to worry about the motorcycle looping out during power wheelies.

For use during road or drag race starts, the HP4 now features launch control. The system modulates engine torque in first gear to optimize acceleration from a dead stop. Compared to other systems, the HP4’s is simple to use with the rider holding down the starter button for a few seconds with the engine running in neutral. The dash shows that the mode has been activated. Drop the shift lever into first gear and pin the throttle, and the electronics hold engine rpm at 8,000 revs. Feed out the clutch quickly and the bike gets moving forward cleanly without the worry of the engine bogging excessively or the clutch wearing prematurely. Overall, the system worked great; however, the engine did bog ever so slightly. A skilled rider could get a better launch manually, but it will be difficult to match the consistency offered by the electronic system.

If BMW competed in our recently published 2012 Superbike Traction Control Comparison, there is a high probability that it would have been deemed superior – the electronics are that good now.

POWERTRAIN

With the exception of the fresh ECU programming and engine/fuel-injection maps, the HP4’s liquid-cooled 999cc Inline Four motor is identical to the class-leading unit in the S1000RR. However, the HP4 comes fitted from the factory with a full Akrapovic titanium exhaust. The pipe shaves more than 10 pounds from the stock setup even with the fitment of a noise isolation valve and catalytic converter. As always, the S1000RR impresses with the performance of its engine. But as we alluded to earlier, the biggest feature is how much smoother it is at all rpm as well as its added mid-range below 10,000 revs. Worry not, though, as the engine still has a fair amount of character for an Inline Four, and it still makes all the right noises when you’re wailing around the track with the tach needle fluttering near the red zone.

CHASSIS

BMW made some subtle but important tweaks to the 2012 S1000RR frame and triple clamps in an effort to increase its handling prowess. The propeller brand continues to refine steering on the HP4 by fitting a pair of lighter seven-spoke forged aluminum wheels anodized in black. Also of note is the use of a lighter rear sprocket carrier. This along with a smaller battery sheds another six pounds off the weight of the motorcycle.

Aside from the electronics, this is one of the biggest areas of improvement. The lighter wheels do wonders in terms of steering effort, with the HP4 able to change directions far more responsively in spite of the new, slightly wider-profile Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP back tire (200/55-17). It’s so much more agile that rider’s familiar with the S1000RR may need some time to acclimate to how quickly it maneuvers – especially mid-corner.

The older generation two-piece Brembo front brake calipers are swapped for more robust monobloc-style calipers paired with a new set of floating nine-button discs (320mm diameter) with a custom pad friction material engineered to BMW’s spec. The standard S1000RR was never lacking in the stopping department, but the new brakes facilitate added feel and consistency whether you’re on lap one or 10. As far as the function of the ABS, we weren’t lapping at a fast enough pace to cause it to activate, proving how unobtrusive the system is for most track day riders.

AESTHETICS

To further emphasize the HP4’s track pedigree, it does away with passenger accommodations and adds a lower fairing that extends closer to the back tire. Not only does it look more racy, it improves aerodynamics, too. LED turn signals are also integrated, as is a tinted windshield. Each bike features a special HP Racing Blue Metallic / Light colorway. And for those looking for something even more exotic looking, the Competition Package adds carbon fiber body components, racing blue metallic-anodized rims and a sticker kit to make the bike resemble the factory World Superbikes. It also comes fitted with racing-style adjustable rider foot controls and hinged brake in clutch levers that are less susceptible to damage in a crash.

THE BEST PRODUCTION SPORTBIKE MONEY CAN BUY

Indeed the HP4 formula improves function around the racetrack. But the aspect we’re most captivated by is how much more refined this motorcycle is as a package. The synergy of the powertrain, chassis, and electronics allow the rider to lap at a pace they might not be as comfortable at on another brand. And that’s what sets the HP4 apart from anything else on the market. Considering the technology and astronomically high-level of performance this machine is capable of, its going to be an absolute steal if BMW is able to sell it for anywhere close to its $25,000 estimate in the U.S.

MSRP for the HP4 was announced during Intermot in early October 2012. The Base Model HP4 is listed at $19,990. The Standard Package comes in at $20,525 and the Premium Package is offered at $24,995.

BMW S1000RR Suspension Settings:

(From full stiff)

Fork

  • Preload: 3 lines showing
  • Compression: 0
  • Rebound: 0

Shock

  • Preload: open
  • Compression: 3
  • Rebound: 3