2012 BMW S1000RR first ride
When BMW launched its S1000RR in 2010 it became the new benchmark in the ultra-competitive 1000cc superbike class. Its outstanding engine and chassis, combined with an electronics package that includes Race ABS, traction control and HP Gearshift Control (electronic quickshifter), meant BMW engineers could have left it alone and still it'd be ahead of most of the competition. Instead BMW chose to follow the traditional two-year pattern by revamping its flagship S1000RR for 2012.
Mechanically, the BMW S1000RR's engine remains the same; the 999cc, water-cooled inline-four still pumps out a staggering 183PS (that's the measured power, with BMW claiming 193PS) at 13000rpm and 112Nm of torque at 9750rpm. It's the electronics and chassis that BMW tweaked.
The head angle is steeper and the wheelbase shorter on the new chassis, which also features a 20 per cent larger air intake through the headstock to boost torque in the low to mid ranges. BMW reconfigured the throttle for a crisper response and lighter action, and new maps optimise the fuelling throughout the four engine modes - Rain, Sport, Race and Slick. The traction control has also been reprogrammed for a smoother, less intrusive operation. Oh, and in true BMW style it gets optional heated grips - a first on a superbike!
The more radical geometry mentioned earlier means the bike should feel more agile at the expense of stability, no doubt the reason why BMW fitted a 10-way adjustable mechanical-style steering damper to its 2012 S1000RR. The suspension, which worked a treat on the older model, has been modified with new spring rates and valving to suit the new geometry. Meanwhile the rear of the bike has been slimmed down and the reshaped side panels get winglets' that BMW says aid aerodynamics. The tank gets plastic grilles and a new RR logo, and if you're eagle eyed you'll notice the new heel plates and lighter passenger foot pegs.
Finally, the already super-comprehensive instrument panel now displays even more information including Best Lap in Progress' that lets you know when you're going faster than at any other time, invaluable for the daily commute! And a Speed Warning Light' to let you know if you've exceeded a preset speed limit, for those who actually do value their licence. These latest additions are a clear indicator that this production machine is wasted as a road bike only; buy one and you should really take up track days.
And the bike's uncompromising devotion to the racetrack is obvious the moment you get onboard. The purposeful race tuck lets you know the BMW means business, a slightly jacked up rear pushing your weight over the front. Yet it still manages to be relatively comfortable, even spacious in superbike terms, especially if you're of an average height and even better if you're girly size like me!
Although minor, the changes make a difference. One of the few complaints with this German-built machine is how hyper-sensitive the throttle felt in its Race and Slick power modes. If you're brave enough to stick the bike in these optimum performance modes you'll notice that any jerk or twitchiness has been banished; the fuelling is silky smooth as you crack the throttle. Open the throttle wide and the bike picks up speed fast, blisteringly fast. So fast you're hanging on for dear life, tucking as far under the screen as you possibly can out of the strong windblast. Yes, I know I mentioned it already, but it really is handy being on the small side when riding these tiny superbikes.
Grab a handful of brakes and the BMW slows with progression and poise. The brakes on their own are outstanding, and if you opt for the racing ABS, then this has been further refined to be as unobtrusive as possible while slowing the bike in the most effective way possible. Bang down the gearbox without blipping the throttle, dump the clutch and the bike isn't even fazed. The slipper clutch has taken control to balance engine braking with slip so the bike stays composed.
Then, whack the throttle wide open on the apex and the improved traction control takes over; last year's DTC often got involved to spoil the fun, but this year's revised settings mean it is now useful rather than being a hindrance, belting you out of the turn safely and so fast, with such outstanding drive out of corners even in poor conditions, you'll be leaving your mates on lesser machines for dead; that's a guarantee that should come with the bike. The BMW is a mind-blowing racetrack weapon. There may not be any more peak horsepower for 2012, but then the S1000RR still dominates the horsepower chart. However what BMW has done is reduce the secondary drive ratio on the 2012 machine, and this fools the rider into thinking there's another 50PS available.
Of course, if all this power unsettles you, especially on unkempt roads, then simply make use of the power modes; they really do make a big difference, to the point that even riding in a monsoon feels safe in Rain mode.
Handling has always been outstanding, yet the chassis manages to feel even more agile and well balanced than on last year's bike. The steering damper keeps nervousness in check and the bike remains planted, holding a tight line and swiftly changing direction. It seems almost odd however having a mechanical steering damper on a bike where electronics are so predominant - surely it should have an electronic steering damper like the one on Honda's Fireblade? But hey, if it ain't broke, why fix it, and mechanical steering dampers have always worked fine. And if you are serious about going fast, then the steering could be made even more knife-edged with the rear ride height turned to high position.
We all thought Germany's superbike couldn't get any better, yet it just did. BMW's S1000RR continues to offer class-leading engine and braking performance, but with an updated electronics package that makes it even easier to harness, and tweaks to the chassis that keep it up to date and fresh. Plus if you opt for the heated grips you'll have warm hands on a cold day for the first time ever on a superbike, perfect for those dirt cheap depth-of-winter track days when you're too desperate for a riding fix to wait for spring!
The performance upgrades and styling tweaks that keep the BMW looking sharp should be enough to stave off the threat from this year's crop of revamped superbikes. But whether it's enough to keep it ahead of Ducati's brand new Panigale is another matter.