10 Years of the BMW S 1000 RR

There is no doubt that the BMW S 1000 RR is the most popular superbike. You would run into one at least once a day here in Malaysia.

The S 1000 RR has gone through numerous updates and changes and is now into its second generation. How time flies when you are having fun! It has outsold all superbikes since its introduction in 2009, nevermind that it hardly won a competition.

The reason is simple: Looks, performance and ease of riding it. But the genesis of the bike was not an easy path.

BMW had wanted to reignite its road racing heritage as far back as in the 1990s. In fact, the company’s first successes were on asphalt. However, they found themselves heavily involved and winning in the Paris to Dakar Rally after the advent of the R80GS and subsequent R100GS, thereby neglecting the road racing segment somewhat.

They went on to build a racing prototype called the R1 (before the Yamaha YZF-R1). Four were built between 1989 and 1992 for the possibility of entering the fledgling World Superbike Championship. But no, it was not an inline-Four. Instead, BMW bigwigs insisted that it must have a Boxer engine and shaft drive.

So, the engineers came up with a 996cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled Boxer with desmodromic valve actuation. Yes, you read that right—an “LC” Boxer before the R 1200 GS LC in 2013.

No one saw the bike on the track because, well, it was not up to snuff.

Then the World Grand Prix Championship went from 500cc two-strokes to 990cc four-stroke MotoGP in 2002. Now BMW thought about entering the championship with a prototype racer, rather than building a road-legal superbike for World Superbike.

Several prototypes were built, all using three-cylinder engines. It seemed that BMW had looked at what Aprilia was doing. The Italians had introduced the three-cylinder RS Cube, which was developed by Cosworth. Cosworth was BMW’s rival in Formula 1, hence the latter decided to draw on its own expertise. But the Aprilia RS Cube failed to impress and broke down more often than it ran. It got BMW thinking: Shall we go ahead?

So, the Germans commissioned a study on the benefits and risks of joining either MotoGP or WSB. They decided on the latter and went back to working on a road-legal superbike.

It was interesting to note that the S 1000 RR’s development used the Suzuki GSX-R1000 as the benchmark in the mid-2000s.

And again, BMW struggled with eccentricity as soon as the project started. Test bikes were spotted. The Suzuki GSX-R K5 was fitted with girder Duolever “forks”. (Imagine what headache magazine editors had to go through to explain the spy shots!) The Duolever was quickly dropped for telescopic forks soon after (thank God!).

 

Then they got it right. The brief had been to design a 1000cc superbike within the dimensions of a 600cc supersport. To do this, BMW wrapped the prototype in the Yamaha YZF-R6 bodywork; so much so people still thought BMW was working on a 600cc sportbike when BMW replaced the R6 fairing with its own later.

The S 1000 RR finally broke cover in 2008. But BMW revealed the bike in race form without the trademark asymmetrical headlights and was immediately accused of “going Japanese”.

In WSB racing, the S 1000 RR could not keep up with the new Aprilia RSV4, which featured a Gigi Dall’Igna-designed chassis. In fact, the RSV4 won the WSB title in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Yet, the BMW outsold the Aprilia in the showrooms. Many riders cited that the BMW was more manageable, looked better and was more comfortable in the real world, in addition to reliability and, of course, the strength of the BMW brand.

BMW continued to upgrade the bike yearly to feature better electronics, among others. It went through a facelift in 2012 and the HP4 version was added to the lineup in 2013. The HP4 was equipped with the groundbreaking electronic Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) semi-active suspension package.

2015 saw another upgrade, this time to the chassis geometry, engine rework and electronic wizardry.

The model’s watershed year had to be 2017 with the launch of the HP4 Race. This track-only powerhouse was the absolute best of the first-generation S 1000 RR. The engine made 215 hp – which is on par with superbikes these days – but its trump card was weight. Or lack of. The bike weighed only 146 kg dry, benefitting from its fully carbon frame and bodywork. It was littered with WorldSBK-spec components, including a Suter-built swingarm. Yeah, and it cost RM 345,000 but BMW sold every one of it. Never mind that the engine had to be replaced every 5000 km (it is in WorldSBK race tune).

Then BMW’s worst kept secret broke. Spy shots showed a new BMW superbike in that very same year. The whole world held its collective breath until the new second-generation S 1000 RR was revealed in 2018.

Gone are the asymmetrical headlights but the bike is even more compact than its predecessor. Additionally, it is the first superbike to feature variable valve timing and lift, which BMW calls ShiftCam. The power is already on par with the HP4 Race (207 hp) before adding the race exhaust.

So popular is the new model, especially in the M Sport trim, that BMW is struggling to keep up with orders. This is despite a slowing market for motorcycles and even smaller niche for sportbikes.

As with the previous S 1000 RR, the current engine should find itself into a new S 1000 R naked sportbike and S 1000 XR sport-tourer in the near future. We cannot imagine how the HP4 Race version will look like, though!

 

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