Road Test: 2010 BMW S1000RR

Written by Uwe Wachtendorf and Photography by RHM Photo on .

The BMW S1000RR features an array of impressive technologies, including Dynamic Traction Control, Race ABS and Gear Shift Assistant. All are standard features.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was claimed to have written, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Although proof that Yamamoto actually wrote this has yet to surface, a similar sentiment must have been felt in the offices of KTM. In recent years the Austrian firm has been aggressively attempting to usurp BMW as Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, and just as the Japanese accomplished at Pearl Harbor, KTM has awoken a sleeping giant.

BMW’s response to KTM’s expanding line of performance oriented street bikes was to counterattack at the heart of KTM’s strength, the off-road segment. BMW not only expanded their line-up with off-road models, but they also strengthened the move by purchasing Husqvarna from MV Agusta, one of KTM’s off-road competitors.

To further prove its dominance and dispel the stereotype of BMW being a staid manufacturer, the company uncharacteristically decided to go road racing and took on the ominous task of premiering a new motorcycle in the Superbike World Championship. More shocking still, BMW planned to build their superbike around a conventional in-line four engine, a platform long considered the impenetrable domain of Japanese manufacturers.

The result of their efforts was the S1000RR, and although it only managed lukewarm results in its first year of racing, the homologated version managed to raise eyebrows. For those who considered BMW a manufacturer famous for using oddball technology and dated engine configurations, the S1000RR was the mechanical equivalent of the Bavarian firm tearing off its lederhosen to reveal a leopard skin thong.

The 2010 BMW S1000RR

Of course it was always in the cards that there would be something atypical about BMW’s superbike. And it only takes one glance at its wonky visage to find it. Blessed with what BMW describes as a split face design, the S1000RR has an asymmetrical fairing and a mismatched set of headlights. The official reasons for these are numerous – most are based on weight savings and improved air-management – but what they’re less likely to admit is that it’s a brilliant marketing ploy. Unless you spend far too much time in motorcycle showrooms it’s near impossible to tell sport bikes apart, especially when they’re in motion on the road. An S1000R, however, with its squinting pirate eye headlight will not be mistaken for anything but a BMW.

On the road the S1000RR impresses with its roomy ergonomics. It’s a marvel of engineering that manufacturers can compact litre-sized sport bikes down to 600 cc proportions, but they generally do so at the expense of larger riders who must suffer a crippling riding position. While the BMW is a little more generous in its peg to seat to handlebar spacing and would make for a tolerable commuter, it still isn’t a motorcycle I would want to use for a trip to another province. Adding to the general comfort level is the fairing that deflects turbulence-free air around the rider and provides ample protection at a fast pace.

Instrumentation consists of two easily discernable LCD screens that are flanked by a large black-on-white analogue tachometer and a programmable shift light. Most impressive about the instrumentation and its myriad display options is that it can be intuitively used without the need of the owner’s manual.

A minimal amount of trial and error was all it took to switch the display to Track mode and make use of its timer that displays and logs lapping data for each track session. Although an important function on the street, a minor annoyance at the track was the ‘LAMPR!’ warning that monopolized part of the LCD screen. The bike’s self-diagnostic program had detected a tail light failure (I had disconnected it for use on the track) and wouldn’t let me forget about it.

However, BMW has corrected the problem on 2011 models, and is offering the fix as a free update for 2010 owners when they bring their bikes in to be serviced.

BMW listed supreme engine power as a primary objective in the development of the S1000RR. To achieve this goal they developed a completely new water-cooled inline four-cylinder engine that is claimed to develop 193 horsepower and 82.5 lb-ft of torque. Although its rev limit is set to 14,200 rpm, BMW says that in “purely mechanical terms” the engine is capable of spinning much faster. Commenting on the engine’s performance isn’t a straightforward proposition: Canadian models come standard with a slew of electronic goodies that can drastically manipulate the riding experience.

With the push of a button on the right handlebar S1000RR riders can switch between three riding modes – there’s a fourth mode, but it requires access to a special socket located under the rider’s seat. Although you can switch between modes on the fly, a newly selected mode won’t engage until the throttle is closed and the clutch is pulled in. The riding modes not only alter the engine’s power characteristics, they also affect the bike’s Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) systems.

In the self-explanatory Rain mode, maximum power is reduced to a mere 150 horsepower that is delivered in a gentler, more linear fashion, and the DTC becomes intolerant of any wheel spin. Sport mode is designed for street riding and provides full engine power, albeit with a moderated response to throttle inputs. Only recommended for use with DOT track-use tires, Race mode is the real deal that dishes out full power, a razor-sharp throttle response and a traction setting suited for driving hard out of turns. Even more in-your-face is the Slick setting that allows the greatest dynamic range of motion, such as the ability to wheelie (up to five seconds) while leaned in a turn. However, since it stipulates the use of racing slicks it was the only mode that I wasn’t able to test.

BMW_S1000RR_2The various settings worked as advertised and had an appreciable effect on the handling characteristics of the machine. My initial experience with the S1000RR was at a World Superbike track that was being washed by a steady rain. Lap after lap, the bike in Rain mode took the poor traction and my unsure guidance in stride; after just one session I was so convinced by its electronics that I speculated the bike could continue to lap the track without me on board – and do so with faster lap times. Of course there will be those who feel their talent would be hindered by all of the gadgetry; for those elite few there is an option to deactivate either the Race ABS or DTC.

Throttle control is through a ride-by-wire system similar to what BMW uses in their cars. A sensor at the throttle grip relays its position to the ECU that controls a motorized throttle butterfly. A mechanical link is also used to ensure the throttle body can be completely closed in the event the computer goes on strike. There’s a staggering amount of processing going on in the fraction of time between your twisting of the throttle and the noticeable increase of power being transferred to the rear wheel. It’s a wonder then that the throttle response on the BMW is as responsive as it is.

A smooth clutch action combined with light gear changes meant shifting bordered on being effortless. First used on BMW’s HP2 Sport, the S1000RR’s six-speed gearbox comes with Gear Shift Assistant that allows for clutchless upshifts under full throttle. The quick shifter system causes an imperceptible interruption of ignition and fuel to provide a smooth gear change, but as I experienced on the HP2, its use, although brilliant on the track, is far less suited for street riding.

The S1000RR’s stainless steel exhaust system reflects the current vogue of large under-engine catalysers and stubby GP-inspired mufflers instead of the underseat exhaust configuration which has become passé. Its appearance when next to the machine is visually appealing; however, from down low the collector looks like a mortally wounded bagpipe that has become lodged to the underside of the bike. The 10.7 kg 4-into-2-into-1 system uses two ECU-controlled butterfly flaps to coordinate the sequence of oscillations in the exhaust flow, which helps reduce exhaust counter-pressure and improves cylinder charging prior to ignition. The stock system does little acoustically to stimulate the rider, which leads to the sole reason left for anyone to offer an optional exhaust, which interestingly, BMW has listed under ‘Design and Sound’ accessories in their press kit.

BMW claims that the S1000RR is the lightest superbike fitted with ABS in the 1,000 cc class. With a wet weight of 206.5 kg (455.3 lb), they also say it has the best power to weight ratio (Kawasaki’s recently launched ZX-10 will no doubt want to challenge this claim). Components helping to keep the weight down are an aluminum fuel tank and the aluminum frame which also improves handling by tilting the engine forward 32 degrees to optimize weight distribution and balance. Next to its competition the S1000RR uses a comparatively long swingarm. BMW reasons that it improves chassis stability by minimizing the effects of drive forces and also increases traction under acceleration. In consideration of fine tuning of the bike’s handling, the S1000R has inserts at the swingarm’s pivot point that can be used to vary its rotational axis and customize the machine’s anti-squat and ride characteristics. Similarly, the rear axle has a 45 mm range of adjustment to allow it to be moved rearward to reduce front wheel lift, or forward to increase traction. In practice, the bike remained composed even when pressed hard on a track that was so bumpy it should be fenced off and signed as a mine field. BMW_S1000RR_3Contributing to the outstanding handling of the bike and making the most of the marginal traction were the robust 46 mm fork tubes that are adjustable for compression and rebound damping. At the rear the fully adjustable shock uses eccentric inserts at its upper strut to allow the rear ride height to be raised by 10 mm to fine tune weight distribution and steering geometry. Most critical for any machine with this amount of power is its ability to stop. The front brake system on the S1000RR uses a radial piston master cylinder, braided stainless steel lines and two radial-mounted four-piston Brembo calipers to give it enough strength to crush a cinder block, yet is supple enough to allow for precise fingertip control. In the event a rider becomes ham-fisted with the brake lever, there is BMW’s new Race ABS to fall back on. Race ABS is a highly developed linked brake system that is better suited to the unique requirements of race track use. Analyzing the information from the wheel sensors, four brake pressure sensors and a rear wheel lift detector, Race ABS prevents rear wheel lock-ups over surface irregularities and during aggressive braking where the rear wheel can become unloaded. In Rain, Sport and Race modes, the front brake lever will also apply a low amount of pressure to the rear brake. In the Slick mode, ABS functionality adapts to how the brakes are used. If a rider only uses the front brake, the ABS continues to function on both wheels, however, use the rear brake pedal and ABS braking for the rear wheel is shut off to allow for drifting of the rear end through a turn. To prevent mechanical rear wheel locking during hard braking and down-gearing, the S1000RR uses a slipper clutch.

A welcome surprise with the S1000RR is its $17,300 sticker price which puts it in the same cost stratum as the Japanese competition. Though slightly more expensive, the BMW is difficult to ignore when you consider that DTC, Race ABS and Gear Shift Assistant are included in its base price. If that isn’t convincing enough, it also has a three-year warranty, triple what the competition offers. My test bike was finished in BMW’s racy tri-colour paint scheme which adds $650 to its cost. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of mechanics will find the breadth and depth of the technology incorporated into this machine beyond comprehension – the operation manual for a nuclear reactor would seem like light reading by comparison. However, gearheads obsessed with computers and electronic wizardry will find this motorcycle to be an endless source of fascination. And therein lies the appeal of this machine: you can leave everything as it is and enjoy its breathtaking performance in ignorant bliss of what the machine is doing on your behalf, or you can fiddle and tweak the settings to your heart’s delight.

In their first attempt at building a bonafide superbike, BMW has managed to bridle the ferocity of a 190 horsepower monster into a manageable and highly usable machine that will make the average rider feel like a Superbike Champion. But make no mistake – this machine is no pushover. A BMW rep I was talking to best described its potential when he admitted that he never rides the bike out of rain mode, and yet it still causes him to see God every time he rides it.



Type: Water-/oil-cooled 4-stroke in-line four-cylinder-engine, two overhead camshafts, four titanvalves per cylinder
Bore / stroke: 80 mm x 49.7 mm
Capacity: 999 cc
Max. torque: 112 Nm at 9,750 rpm
Compression ratio: 13.0 : 1
Mixture control / engine management: Electronic intake pipe injection / digital engine management including knock sensor (BMS-K+)
Emission control: 80 mm x 49.7 mm
Bore / stroke: 2 closed-loop 3-way catalytic converter, emission standard EU-4, electronically controlled interference pipe valves and controlled acoustic valve

Performance /Fuel Consumption

Maximum speed (Manufacturer): over 200 km/h
Fuel consumption over 100 km at constant 90 km/h (MANUFACTURER): 5.7 l
Fuel consumption over 100 km at constant 120 km/h (MANUFACTURER): 5.9 l
Fuel type: Unleaded super and premium, octane number 95-98 (RON)(knock sensor; rated output at 98 RON)

Electrical System

Alternator: three-phase alternator 350 W
Battery: 14 V / 10 Ah, maintenance-free

Power Transmission

Clutch: Multiple-disc clutch in oil bath, anti-hopping clutch, mechanically operated

Gearbox: Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox, spur toothing
Drive: chain

Chassis / brakes

Frame: Bridge-type frame, cast aluminium, load-bearing engine
Front wheel location / suspension: Upside-down telescopic fork Ø 46 mm, rebound and compression adjustable
Rear wheel location / suspension: Cast aluminium dual swing arm, continuously adjustable rear inbound-rebound damping, high and low speed
Travel front/rear: 120 mm / 130 mm
Wheelbase : 1,432 mm
Castor : 95.9 mm
Steering head angle: 66.1°
Wheels: Cast aluminium wheels
Rim front: 3.50 x 17”
Rim rear: 6.00 x 17”
Tyres front : 3.50 x 17
Tyres rear: 190/55 ZR 17
Rim front: 3.50 x 17”
Brake front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs,diameter 320 mm, 4-piston fixed calipers, 5 mm thickness
Brake rear: Single disc brake, one-piston floating caliper, diameter 220 mm, 5 mm thickness
ABS: Optional extra: 4 mode Race-ABS adjustment, can be switched off, Rain, Sport, Race, Slick

Dimensions / Weight

Length: 2,056 mm
Height (not inc. mirrors): 1,138 mm
Width (inc. mirrors): 826 mm
Seat height, unladen weight: 820 mm
Inner leg curve: 1,810 mm
Unladen weight, road ready, fully fuelled 1): 204 kg (206.5 kg incl. Race-ABS)
Dry weight 2): 183 kg
Permitted total weight: 405 kg
Payload (with standard equipment): 202 kg
Usable tank volume: 17.5 l
Reserve: approx. 4.0 l

Technical data relate to the unladen weight (DIN)
1) According to guideline 93/93/EWG with all fluids, fuelled with at least 90% of usable tank volume
2) Unladen weight without fluids
Race-ABS* as SA* DTC** only available with Race-ABS as SA**

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