Looking back through past articles, I realised that it's four years since we last reviewed a bike. And things have moved on.
Allow me to explain. It wasn't that long ago (though more than four years) that BMWs were considered to be very sensible. For sensible read boring. They were bought by grown-ups. Bank managers, accountants and the like. And they were ridden by policemen and long distance couriers. Sure, you could appreciate the idiosyncratic engine and the determination with which the Munich factory ploughed their own furrow. But that's a world away from finding them interesting or even, heaven help us, desirable.
The GS did its thing, of course, and a generation of Ewan McGregor wannabes ensured the marque would thrive. But if you happen to like sportsbikes, or even simply don't entertain an illusion of being a rufty-tufty adventure rider then BMW frankly had little really to offer.
Then in 2010 the S1000RR came along and nothing was quite the same again. Monster power and proper sportsbikes handling, along with a full factory entry into the Superbike World Championship signalled a real game changer. I had the opportunity to ride one on the track but was embargoed from writing about it, but I also got to ride a road version at an MCIA test day, and you can read about it here.
But that's history...
Yes, it's history. BMW broke their traditional staid image and produced a proper tool. On the track Ayrton Badovini and the S1000RR won all but one race in the 2010 European Superstock 1000 class - that's basically production bikes and it's as hard fought (and fully factory supported) a series as you'll find anywhere. 2011 saw Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam doing a 1-2 in the SBK round at Donington Park, with both of them scoring respectable points. But more importantly, on the road the S1000RR proved to be the best litre class sportsbike out there. By quite a considerable margin.
Now obviously the other contenders in the class were going to up their game, and after a couple of years the BMW, while still at the top of the pile, was probably equalled by rivals from Japan and Italy in some areas and bettered in others. So in 2015 a revised version of the bike hit the street. Less weight, sharper (and more communicative) steering and, of course, more power accompanied an enhanced electronics suite and a raft of smaller but still significant improvements. Since then there have been occasional tweaks, but fundamentally the bike has stayed the same. Apart from the addition of a Sport model, more of which later.
So what do you actually get?
Today, out of the box, with no options, you get a 1000cc across the frame four with a typical BMW lopsided face and a nice slippery fairing. You get ABS, of course, along with Dynamic Traction Control. That gives you three pre-programmed modes and incorporates anti-wheelie control. Make no mistake, these electronics are bloody clever and are combined with a raft of gyros and other sensors to make adjustments dependent on lean angle, angular acceleration, throttle position, brake pressure, maybe even bladder/bowel control. This is the cooking version, remember. That cooking version still has a genuine, verifiable 199bhp. And its wet weight is just 208kg. That sounds a lot, but one of the good things about BMW is that their figures are honest and their wet weight has a full tank of fuel.
The more observant of you may have noticed that this review is titled "BMW S1000RR Sport" and indeed this is the sport version, costing as standard £900 more than the basic version. That's actually really good value, as the extras you get are worth in excess of £1200 if you add them to the base model. Those extras are DDC - Dynamic Damping Control - which gives you electronic, on the fly, damping adjustment; Gearshift Assist Pro, which you or I would call a quick shifter, heated handlebar grips and LED indicators. Don't scoff - heated grips are an absolute godsend in the UK, and having them built in avoids lots of potential warranty hassle when the alternator decides that it's all too much and gives up the ghost on a winter's night. The quickshift works for up and down changes, by the way.
The test bike is also fitted with the optional Performance Pack, which adds "Slick" and "User" modes to the setup, the latter allowing full customisation of ABS, traction control and suspension settings to suit you; launch control, a pit-lane speed limiter and, of all things, cruise control. Well, it is a BMW.
Here's a thing to ponder. The owner’s handbook for my 2011 GSX-R 750 is 138 pages of fairly large type. The BMW manual is 249 pages of teeny weeny type. Granted, there are a few pictures in there but this bike has a lot going on and it's quite, um, involving learning what everything does and how to make it work.
Surprisingly, the S1000RR isn't a particularly small bike. In fact, while nobody in their right minds would call it porky, it's certainly not been subjected to the rabidly enthusiastic reduction programmes that seem to have been imposed on everyone else's sportsbikes. And this is A Good Thing because the result is a motorcycle that a normal sized (and I am terribly averagely proportioned) person can sit on, reach the ground on and find a comfortable perch on without recourse to surgery, osteopathy or any other pain limiting mechanisms. Then again, we should remember that this is a BMW, so perhaps not such a surprise after all.
Turn the key and the dash lights up with a pleasant white glow. No flash multi-coloured TFT display here, just an analogue tacho and the information you need clearly displayed on the LCD screen. Speed, gear, riding mode, range to empty (or mileometer or trip meter), time, lean angle, braking intensity, lap time... What? OK. So maybe there's some information there you don't really need as well. The good thing it that it's all wonderfully customisable - you can actually ditch anything you don't want cluttering the screen as well as modifying when it appears, how often it updates and so on. All very useful. Probably.
Swing your leg over the saddle and you are rewarded with a surprisingly plush seat cushion. This particular bike also has the pillion kit - a no cost option - which provides a perch for a brave and reasonably bendy passenger to, um, perch on. I have no intention of finding out how comfortable it is. Or otherwise. It's useful, though, as somewhere to strap luggage without wrecking the paintwork. There are loops under the pillion pad which you can pull out to attach bungees or a cargo net, and of course there are also rear pegs.
Lean forward and the bars fall very comfortably to hand. The wide mirrors offer an excellent view behind, and though they don't look all that easy to fold in they are, in fact, both light and easy to fold and blessed with a good positive detent so when you push them back out they click into place and stay there. The switchgear is refreshingly conventional, though the electronics mean that perhaps there's slightly more than usual. OK, so quite a lot more than usual. It all makes sense though, and within half an hour or so I was happy with just about all of it, consistently failing to incorrectly select cruise control when I wanted high beam or indicate when I wanted the horn.
Start the engine and there is no drama at all. Just stab the button (no need to pull in the clutch) and the engine catches instantly, settling into a gruff but quiet tickover. There is a tiny bit of vibration, but nothing to worry about. At this stage the dip headlight comes on (the one on the right - offside for UK riders) if you're interested. Until then it's just the twin parking lights, LED tail-light and dash. This being a BMW, by the way, trying to start the bike in gear with the stand down results in nothing happening at all, and no sudden lurches into the hedge.
Enough talking already, let's ride.
So we're sat on the bike and the engine is running. Yes, it's time to hit the road. The clutch lever is a fair reach (adjustable levers, surprisingly, are not included though the copious accessory catalogue does indeed offer a set) but the action is pleasantly light so it's not too bad. It'll be no surprise to hear that first engages positively but without much of a clunk, and pulling away is utterly without drama. At low (walking) speed the S1000RR is stable enough to ride feet-up but responsive enough that you can manoeuvre around driveway obstacles and the like without too much hassle. Acceleration under normal road riding conditions is smooth and linear, and the assisted gearshift (this bike has the optional quick-shifter) is similarly fuss-free. You can also ignore the quickshift and use the clutch, apparently, but as I tend to clutchless shift anyway that seems rather counter-intuitive so I didn't do it. Downshifting is similarly assisted, though I was slightly surprised to note that the BMW doesn't auto-blip like some Japanese machinery, presumably relying on the slipper clutch to avoid anything too horrific going on when you change down at higher revs. Throttle response is exemplary so there's no problem in inserting a quick blip yourself as you hit the lever to change down anyway, and it feels better doing so.
We've got quite a long way into this review without really mentioning the engine. Now whether that's down to the number of other exciting things taking attention or the fact that the engine itself is fairly ordinary I don't know. Actually calling the engine ordinary is really not fair. Because it's a pretty extraordinary piece of engineering to produce nearly two hundred brake horsepower per litre and yet manage to remain almost unobtrusive. The S1000RR motor is actually a fantastic piece of kit. Apparently, back in the mists of time, it was based on the GSX-R 1000K5, which at the time was the absolute benchmark for litre-bike performance. As demonstrated by one T Corser Esq taking the World Superbike Championship in pretty emphatic style, with the only other rider taking the number one spot in the championship (after doing a 2-1 in round one against Corser's 1-3) was Yukio Kagayama. Corser's team-mate. The 2005 GSX-R was, and is, a Bloody Good Bike. The 2018 S1000RR produces more power and more torque than the factory supported Alstare GSX-R that Corser rode to victory in 2005. Not only that, but the power and performance are effortlessly accessible. While that's partly down to a fantastic set of electronics (more on that later), the real magic is producing an engine that simply delivers enormous amounts of power in an utterly predictable manner. Now let's carry on riding.
Around town the S1000RR is easy to ride. It's light and flickable enough, and is narrow enough, to make dealing with traffic quite simple, while the throttle and brakes are responsive enough to avoid any unplanned dramas. It's still very, very easy to find yourself doing double the speed limit by the time you've crossed a junction after pulling away when the lights change, but it's also easy not to. As regards simply riding, the layout is perfect and everything works intuitively.
Get out of town and there's a bit of Mr Hyde muscling in on that nice Dr Jekyll. Only a bit - the S1000RR remains urbane and beautifully mannered. But it's oh so easy, so addictively easy to ride very fast. Because the faster you go, the better it gets. That's a terrible cliché for which I apologise unreservedly, but it happens to be true. The suspension, which is on the firm side of plush at lower speeds, moves through impressive to sublime, with the adaptive damping taking whatever the road throws at it and shrugging it off without a head-shake, wobble or unrefined bounce. The engine stops purring and growls, while the power delivery remains pretty linear but becomes rather more urgent. The assisted gearshift, which is wasted at town speeds, comes into its own and achieves brilliance by fading into the background until you forget about it. And the brakes simply do their job without fading or threatening any unruly behaviour at all. An example - pressing on a bit I was approaching a roundabout. Lots of visibility so I could see I was safe to ease off if I needed to. I braked unnecessarily later and harder than I needed, and just as I sensed the back starting to go light, before I could react and back off slightly the bike did it for me. I felt the back steady, saw the dash indicator telling me it had done something...and yet I didn't decrease the rate at which I was slowing down. I have no idea how it works, but I pushed it again and again and the same thing happened each time. It's the same nailing the throttle, out of a roundabout for example. You feel just the slightest bit of interference - not a hesitation or anything so crass, just a sort of holding back - and again a discreet flash on the dashboard tells you the bike has just kept you out of trouble while you carry on accelerating at some crazy rate. Put the ride mode into "Race" and it'll let your front wheel come about six inches off the ground and hold it there. Keep the throttle pinned and go through the gears and you can wheelie all the way up to the point it won't accelerate any more. Or you go to jail, whichever happens first. Probably worth reminding you, gentle reader, that while the electronics won't let you flip the bike on the throttle, they don't actually allow you to steer while wheelying. So this might possibly be something you should know the bike does but don't necessarily need to demonstrate. BMW do make a point of stressing that while the electronics are very good, they don't override the laws of physics which are, I'm assured, immutable and not subject to appeal.
Handling is a very subjective area, but the best description I can give from my perspective is simply perfect. Unlike some sports bikes the S1000RR doesn't exactly go where you think - there is distinct effort required. But having to make that effort takes an anodyne, sterile experience and turns it into something altogether more involving. Don't get me wrong - this bike is about as far from hard work as you can get, but you do get a degree more emotional engagement from riding fast than the otherwise pretty ruthless efficiency might lead you to expect. It's difficult to explain logically. All I can say is that I really like this bike.
That's not to say the whole bike is perfect. It isn't. There are actually two areas where it falls down - one rather more serious than the other. It may sound trivial, but the horn is pathetic. You may not think that's a big deal on a 200bhp motorbike, and you may have a point. But if you ride a bike in town on a regular basis then you'll know that the horn is a properly big deal. Which makes the weedy, slightly embarrassing affair fitted to the S1000RR (and, I suspect, every other variant of the S1000 as well) something of a problem.
Not as much a problem as the headlights, though. If ever a motorcycle was crying out for a set of super-powerful LED lights, this is it. The capability to ride extremely fast, very easily does not sit well with having a pair of candles on the front. OK, so I'm perhaps exaggerating slightly, but the fact is the headlights fitted are not enough for a bike with this much performance on tap once the sun goes down. The annoying thing is that I'm pretty sure it's fixable with some aftermarket goodies - either an HID kit or one of the better LEDs perhaps - but as it stands the headlights are the only really black mark I can out against the bike. And it might be just because I'm used to the frankly staggering headlights in my car and the HID on our very long term GSX-R - maybe someone else would find them acceptable. Maybe.
To sum up, then, the BMW S1000RR Sport is blisteringly fast, comfortable and beautifully made. It handles very well and provides a far more engaging ride than you'd expect. It sounds good, it's well equipped and the electronics will do their (very impressive) best to keep you out of hospital, basic laws of physics not withstanding. It is a very, very good motorbike.
I've ridden most of the other litre bikes in contention now, though not for long enough to do a proper road test. Personally I think this is the best of the bunch for all round every day usability combined with mind boggling performance when you want it. It really is that good, and while the final choice has to be quite individual, I'd say if you wandered into your local BMW emporium and plonked a load of money down on this you would be unlikely to be disappointed.
Talking of BMW dealers, it's worth mentioning Vines of Guildford in general and Simon in particular for a brilliant level of service and general looking after. They make great coffee too, which makes them worth a visit, especially if you're in the market for a new bike. Or some convivial conversation...