You know the story by now. BMW spent years making very good motorbikes. Very good, but hardly exciting. Then a rush of blood to their corporate heads resulted in the Paris-Dakar winning GS. Which, by the way, wasn't really that much of a success outside of a hardcore enthusiast base. Mainly because it wasn't very well marketed as it wasn't their core market. Fair enough. Then in 2009 there was some sort of temporary insanity in Munich which resulted in a factory entry in that year's World Superbike Championship and, a year later, the arrival of the road going S1000RR.
That 2010 bike was a revelation. BMW, that most sensible and, dare I say, responsible, of manufacturers came out of the blocks and, on the road at least, utterly destroyed the opposition. The combination of brutal power, agile handling and world-beating electronics made the S1000RR The Bike To Beat. And it was a long while before anyone really got close.
Of course, you could tell it was a BMW becuse it still had some eccentricities. Weird headlights. Enormous exhaust. Heated grips.
As with any bike at the cutting edge, regular updates kept it current. 2015 was a fairly big one, with the bike gaining more power, losing some weight and, for reasons know only to BMW, swapping the assymetric headlights around - still boss-eyed but on opposite sides. Weird. You can read our review of the 2018 version of that bike here.
Then in 2018 another revision was announced, which hit the UK streets in significant numbers in 2019. And the 2020 version of that bike is what is on test here.
It's lighter, more powerful and much, much cleverer. because the old one was lardy, gutless and bereft of electronics. Said nobody, ever. In a major departure from the norm, it has symmetrical headlights. It has a smaller exhaust. It looks, in fact, almost (whisper it) mainstream. In fact while out reviewing it a chap came over for a socially distant chat, as usually happens if you stop anywhere where other bikers are gathered and tea is served, and asked me if it was the new Fireblade. Now OK, I was wearing my track leathers (it was a really hot day and they are perforated so the coolest bike gear I have) which happen to have Honda written all over them, but it says a lot about the unremarkable appearance of the bike that anyone could make that assumption.
Let's get something straight now. Appearance is the only thing that's unremarkable about this bike.
The chassis has been tweaked to make it more agile and provide more feedback. The mix of analogue and digital clocks has been reduced by a single full colour TFT screen. The electronics have been overhauled, updated and added to. But the most significant changes have taken place inside that new, lighter, slimmer engine. BMW have come up with something called Shiftcam. I guess you could say it's like Honda's VTEC except...it isn't. But from the seat, other than the fact that you don't notice the shunting that you get with certain other variable valve timing systems as you ride around the shift point, the overall effect is much the same - basically you get a cam that is optimised for low and mid-range revs until you need a high speed cam when a bit of magic happens and you get a high speed cam.
That's the basic facts out of the way. Let's go for a spin.
It will, I'm sure, come as absolutely no surprise to hear that starting is very straightforward. But there's a catch. Turn on the ignition and the new, incredibly clear, TFT dash springs into life with a neat animation. Stab the starter (no need to hold in the clutch though habit means I always do) and the bike starts instanstly, settling into a...hang on. It doesnt really settle - for the first thirty seconds or so it hunts and surges and generally messes around. Then the revs drop and it settles into a smooth, quiet tickover. The start routine is part of some internal calibration that the bike foes through every start - when it's warm it probably takes five seconds - but it's worth waiting for it to finish because riding away while it's going on feels horrible.You'll also notice that the dash is mainly red, as the default display has the tacho as a large strip across the middle of the screen, and the red line is set low until the engine has warmed up.
That default display, which you can see to the right, is a paragon of clarity. The top line shows, in this picture, trip mileage. To the right is the current riding mode. Next row down is speed and the current speed limit. Yes, really - I'll explain that in a minute. The rev counter runs across the middle, with the gear indicator below and to the right. The bottom line has the battery and signal level of my mobile phone (!) and the current time. The top line is changed by pushing the menu button on the left bar up, and it cycles through tank range, trip meter, mileometer and the FTSE 500. OK, so maybe not, but you can also tell it to display tyre pressures and a bunch of other stuff. Push that menu button down and it takes you to various setting and info screens, as well as offering different dash layouts if you prefer (see further down for an example).
It's probably a good time to talk about the dash a bit more. When I was told that one of the selling points was a TFT dash I was pretty unimpressed. A pair of analogue clocks was good enough for the first thirty years or so of my riding life, and full colour displays don't add much vlaue in my eyes. But it's so much more than that. While the incorporation as standard of tyre pressure monitoring is certainly useful, it's the connectivity that really openeed my eyes. Download the (free) BMW Motorrad Connected app to your smartphone of choice. Download the (free) maps of your choice. Connect to the bike using its built-in bluetooth. Find a destination, choose whether you want a fast, short or windy route. Tell it to go ahead and you get turn by turn instructions on the dash. And it tells you the speed limit, which you may or may not appreciate. It's not always accurate as it's GPS based so can't cater for roadworks, for instance, but the directions are pretty good. And, as I mentioned, it's a free satnav. What's not to like?
Let's just stay on the dash for a bit. Press the menu button on the left handlebar down and you get a, surprisingly, menu screen. You can get information on the bike - tyre pressures and general maintenance stuff, for instance. You can access the settings page which is far to complex to explain here. I'll just settle for saying that if you can think of a parameter that might be customisable through the software, that's probably where you'll find it. Make no mistake, this bikemakes it remarkably easy to completely ruin it through injudicious tinkering. You also have a comms page and a navigation page, both of which should be quite self explanatory. And you get a Sports page. That gives you a selection of more sports oriented dash layouts, one of which is just below and on the left. In this case the top shows speed, riding mode, tyre pressures and gear on the top row. The left shows you how much traction control has intervened to keep you out of the hedge (this was at the end of my ride back from collecting the bike, so I was exercising a lot of self control). On the right is a scale of how hard you have braked. Obviously the middle is the rev counter, and in the middle of that is a lean angle display. On road tyres, wthout any sliders, the first time I rode the bike. To say it's confidence inspiring is something of an understatement. Then at the bottom is the battery and signal strength of the connected mobile phone, and the clock.
Anyway, after that little digression, let's take it for a ride. The clutch is light and positive, and the gearbox action is similarly nice. The levers are adjustable, of course, and actually seem to fit very well for a change. Pulling away is undramatic, though obviously give it a handful and it becomes very dramatic indeed. The electronics, by default, will do their very best to stop you from firing yourself off the back in The Overcommitted Wheelie Of Death. You may, if you wish, disable this rather useful safety feature in the settings page of the dash..
There's a bit of vibration at low revs, but it's unobtrusive and it goes away pretty soon. The mirrors are clear and well positioned. Unlike the previous bike, these have indicators built in and are relatively rigidly mounted. Which is actually really good because when you park in a bike bay you don't have to adjust your mirrors before leaving because someone has inevitably knocked them out of whack squeezing past their bike after parking. They also, subjectively, look better. Or at least more modern. Surprisingly, the bike is very quiet. In fact, for just about the first time ever I found myself wishing a tets bike was just a little more rorty. Easy enough to fix, of course, and I guess it's probably good for any chance you may have of talking yourself out of a ticket if the bike is ever so responsible and grown-up quiet.
Tickets. Yes, it'll be easy to get them, even with the excellent mirrors. Because there's no way to avoid it this is a stupendously fast motorbike. Now if you've glanced at the specs on the right you'll be muttering something like "Gosh, who'd have thought?" And it's a fair point - find any litre class sportsbike that isn't ballistically quick. But I've spent a lot of time and miles on the previous generation S1000RR. I've also spent a lot of track time on a full SBK spec Fireblade, and ridden a lot of others. It rather goes with the territory, even if I've not had the opportunity to review them. This is on a different scale. Not just the sheer performance, but the utterly effortless delivery. Come up behind something doing, say, 50. You're in third. Or fourth. Or any gear you like, actually. In top the acceleration, when the chance for a cheeky overtake arises, is perfectly adequate. In fact it's quick. But in, say, third it's utterly brutal. The numbers on the speedo change so fast that the dash literally can't keep up - you're just doing 88 for a few seconds. Then you're doing 188. I have a new test route, which has a combination of motorway, A roads, B roads and country lanes. I can confidently say that this bike is the easiest thing ever to maintain a very respectable average speed, regardless of any other traffic there may be around. Because just about any gap at all is big enough for an overtake if you're awake. The downside of the ease with which speed limits can be despatched, should you be so inclined, is that it's very easy to attract unwelcome attention. So staying awake is doubly important, both to pick up opportunities and to prevent yourself from inadvertently straying into areas of the performance envelope which might cause temporary loss of liberty.
Staggering performance is no good without handling to match. Ask anyone who's ridden a full power mid-80s V-Max. All I can say is that by the time I had reached the main road from the dealership I was confident enough to throw the bike around as though I'd had it for years. BMW claim to have made it more agile and improved stability. There wasn't anything wrong with the last model - you could ride it off the edge of the tyres and it would be OK. But you'd need to work up to it. Not on this one. While I would never advocate riding off the edge of the tyres (I have the metalwork to confirm that) the level of instant confidence I got from the bike was amazing. As standard it came with Michelin Pilot Power tyres though apparently that's a bit of pot luck, as you may get Metzeler or Bridgestone. First time I've ridden on Michelins since a very big crash, and either they've come a very long way or this bike is amazing. Or both.
Take that handling and add some proper unlit skip brakes. Then add electronics to them which allow you to grab a massive handful when you've overcooked that corner, and while you hear the engineering department wailing that they can't change the laws of physics (and the handbook reminds you of this immutable fact)...somehow you lose the speed, the bike doesn't get all bent out of shape and you avoid headbutting the clocks, oncoming truck or roadside furniture. There's some serious witchcraft going on in those little black boxes. You may, if you wish, disable this in the settings page of the dash.
Then we get on to the crazy bits that you would never expect to find on a sportsbike. The heated grips have three settings, ranging from take the chill off at 0300 on a summer morning to make your hands uncomfortably warm in midwinter. Stop on a slope, pull the front brake hard and let go. A green H appears on the dash...and you don't roll backwards. Yes, you have Hill Start Assist. Just pop it into gear and as you lket the clutch out the brakes release. As I've already suggested, you also have tyre pressure monitoring, which is actually quite useful. And a bang-on accurate fuel guage. Though I confess I've not run it to completely empty to prove it, but it seems pretty close. Having spent a couple of full days in the saddle I can confirm that it's not hideously uncomfortable, It's not a comfy tourer, but after eight hours solid riding my only problem was a slightly sore bum. No cramp, no aching joints. You could certainly, for instance, ride out to The Nurburgring after work on Friday, have a weekend on the track and then ride back without needing to prebook an osteopath.
One thing deserving a mention of its own. The only thing that was truly lacking on the previous wonky-eyed version wasthe headlights. They looked great, gave the bike a distinct character...but were sadly inadequate at providing enough illumination to charge through the dark at any speed. The new bike, while less characterful, are, and please excuse the pun, brilliant. The de-rigeur grumpy looking LED parking lights are supplemented by LED dip and high beam lights. Both sides do both, which is obviously a bonus to start with. Beam pattern is crisp and sensibly positioned, while high-beam is set exactly right. Which is a good job, because there appears to be no way of an owner adjusting it. Even in the dash.
Now it's quite likely that you'll want to take this thing on the track. Where else will you be able to use that performance? To help, BMW have made it as easy as possible to remove the mirrors and rear lights. Mirrors contain the front indicators, the rear indicators also contain the rear and brake lights. It probably takes fifteen minutes the first time, five or six after you know where everything is. You can also swap the gearchange orientation if you want - maybe the bike is too easy to ride so you want to give yourself something else to think about. And oif course there is a Race mode where you can turn off just about everything, decide how much rear wheel sliding you want to allow, how big wheelies you want to pull, how much ABS you're going to have, now compliant the suspension will be, how vicious the throttle response... Basically you can take settings for anything from normal human through hero up to alien. You ought to note that BMW will nto be held liable for the consequences of you biting off more than you can chew. Neither will MotorbikesToday. Just for the record. If you want to use your bike a bit more seriously on track then there is also a built in pitlane speed limiter and launch control.
It's worth taking a quick look at the different versions available. BMW have moved away from providing a basic bike with loads of options, and instead have gone for three levels with some packs that basically give you features from the level above.
The "entry level" bike is the S1000RR. This gives you the clever dash but no tyre pressure sensor, no slide control, pitlane limter, launch control or anti-wheelie, no heated grips or cruise control and conventional suspension instead of the super-trick Dynamic Damer Control on the Sport version.
The S1000RR Sport, as tested here, adds all the bits that the entry level doesn't have. Though to confuse things you can get an entry level bike to Sport equipment levels with the addition of a couple of packages (though it's cheaper to buy the Sport if you're going down that route).
Then there's the S1000R M Sport. This is a bit more trick, having a fully adjustable chassis (rear ride height/swingarm pivot position and head angle) giving the enthusiastic tweaker even more scope to ruin the handling, a pair of beautiful carbon wheels, a lightweight battery and a lovely paint scheme. It also adds a hefty three grand to the price tag. But it does look nice.
So, to sum up. I fear I may be sounding like a bit of a fanboy here. But I genuinely can't find anything to criticise about this bike. It's priced similarly to offerings from other manufacturers. It looks, in my eyes at least, really good. It's fast, it handles and it stops. It's comfortable enough, it's practical. There are even little hooks under the pillion seat to attach bungees. Oh. It has a pillion. Unless your prospective passenger is fairly small and very bendy you ought not to expect to take them any distance before their discomfort threshold is reached. But it does give you somewhere to strap your bag. In short, I actually think this is the best motorbike I've ever ridden. And I don't say that lightly.
Thanks to Vines of Guildford in general and Simon in particular for a brilliant level of service and general looking after. COVID precautions make their normally friendly and sociable environment a little complicated, but they're still lovely people to deal with. Give them a try if you're after something new.