What It’s Like to Ride the 2019 BMW S1000RR, A Wet Review

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The 2019 BMW S1000RR is one of our most anticipated motorcycles for this model year, and for its media debut, BMW Motorrad set up a press launch at the esteemed Circuito Estoril in Portugal. Unfortunately, BMW Motorrad didn’t think to invite Asphalt & Rubber to this superbike’s press debut, but we showed up anyways.

This is because BMW Motorrad did invite our friend Jonathan Balsvik to the launch, despite his publication – Sweden’s Bike magazine – recently shutting its doors. With Jonathan looking for a place to publish, and us eager to share what this new S1000RR is all about, we bring you this ride review. Many thanks to Jonathan for helping us bring the good word of the “Double-R” to the sport-biking masses.

It should be noted though, that because of the heavy rains during the press launch, Jonathan’s review is a bit limited in what it can cover, both because of the rain-soaked track and because of BMW’s control riders, who slowed the pace of the track sessions quite considerably.

With these limitations in mind, we hope to bring you a follow-up review in the coming months, assuming BMW Motorrad USA can provide us with a bike to ride. -JB

Raising the Bar, A History Lesson

Many were skeptical when BMW announced that it would compete in the 2009 World Superbike championship with a 1000cc inline-four engine, and with a production machine debuting the year after. But, the German newcomer turned the class on its head, and defined what you should expect of a superbike in the 21th century.

The bar for performance was greatly increased, with dyno runs showing that the BMW S1000RR had over ten percent more horsepower than the rivals – just under 200hp in total.

For the first time, a street-legal superbike was equipped with extensive electronic aids – ABS, riding modes, quickshifter, and traction control. Everything was competitively priced too, and not in the form of an exclusive halo bike. For many years, the BMW S1000RR won the magazines tests and the competitors scrambled to respond.

However, the ambitions in World Superbike did not go as smoothly. It wasn’t until 2012 that a win came along, though in the Superstock class. There, BMW came to dominate, and in its first season won all races except one. And as far as Isle of Man TT goes, the S1000RR has been quite successful ever since Michael Dunlop got his hands on it.

Germany’s’ “Double-R” set the tone for the last decade of sport bikes. It did take a few years, but the competitors finally caught up to BMW, and in some cases, they have continued past with similar themes on their machines: significantly more power and more racing-derived technology.

Now for the model’s 10th anniversary, BMW wants to redefine the motorcycle that redefined the entire field. Say hello to the 2019 BMW S1000RR.

So, What’s New?

The new BMW S1000RR has been in development for four years, and it’s not a question of only small refinements, but instead big steps in unexpected directions. For example, we see that BMW has switched from Brembo to Hayes, Sachs to Marzocchi and Bosch to Continental. But, more on that later.

Let’s start with how the bike tips the scale at 20 lbs less than the previous generation, for a total of 436 lbs at the curb. Big chunks of weight have been cut all over the bike – the engine alone is 9 lbs lighter. The new exhaust is made from thinner steel sheets, the refined frame, and the new rims drops another 3 lbs – individually. This and many small contributions result in a much neater package.

The new “Flex Frame” is a development of the previous aluminum frame, but with the engine becoming a more load-bearing element. It is now opened out on the inside of the frame. To put the design in words; imagine a “C” instead of the more traditional “O” extrusion.

A rarity in the production space, but the trend on the track, the swingarm is of an underslung model, which helps to cut weight, but also places cornering forces closer to the asphalt. There is also a new linkage, which gives a vertical position to the rear shock, instead of at a tilt.

Not Your Father’s Inline-Four

Let’s go back for a minute – 9 lbs cut just on the engine sounds an awful lot, doesn’t it? How did that happen? By doing more with less. For example, the oil and water pump are now a combined module, and the crankshaft has fewer parts that do the same job, thus cutting 3 lbs from the package.

But, the smallest improvements have other reasons for being interesting, beyond their sheer weight. The new engine is fitted with hollow-bored titanium intake valves, which are 10% lighter – a world first for a motorcycle production engine.

The rocker arms have also been made 20% lighter, which in absolute numbers isn’t a lot – from 11 grams to 8 grams a piece – but it has an impact on engine performance. As such, maximum revs have gone up from 14,200 to 14,600, and together with BMW’s shiftcam technology, an already powerful engine has become even more of a feat.

The inline-four now produces 204hp at 13,500 rpm, 8hp more than previously and 500 revolutions higher. While the lighter components make for less rotating mass, it is primarily from the addition of Shiftcam valvetrain where we see the big changes.

It enables variable valve timing and valve stroke for the intake, with two cams per valve. One cam for partial load with a reduced valve stroke, and one cam for full load above 9,000 rpm with maximum valve stroke.

The benefit is a more optimized spread of the fuel inside the cylinder throughout the range, giving more of that addictive torque and power. There is significant improvement in the mid-range, with at least 74 lbs•ft from 5,500 rpm, and the same maximum of 83 lbs•ft, slightly later. It also improves fuel efficiency by 4%, praise be.

Some New Names

But what was the deal with all the changes in supplier? BMW puts a lot of resources in designing and developing their own components, but manufactures them with the expertise of the traditional suppliers.

The company believes you need a range of partners for components – for several reasons – but the foremost being innovation. To help push the technological envelope, BMW doesn’t grab and tweak off-the-shelf components, but rather goes to several suppliers and says, “this is the specification and design we want, how would you make it happen?”

For example, looking at the brakes. Nissin still delivers the front master cylinder and Brembo the discs. But instead of Brembo calipers, BMW has developed a new set with the help of Hayes.

This development style perhaps becomes most apparent with the electronics. Bosch has improved its six-axis inertial measurement unit and on that side of things, they decided to stick with Bosch hardware. But Continental could deliver an even smaller, lighter ABS modulator, so BMW went with that one instead of the old Bosch unit. Again, to BMW’s specification, and with their own software.

When BMW says it’s an all new bike, they have the changes to back it up. This is more than just a design departure from the classical S1000RR-style. But does it feel new?

Getting Our Hands….Wet

There is a line of brand-new M-kited S1000RRs, there are tires literally for days, there is the inviting embrace of Portugal’s Estoril race track, and then there is the rain. Bummer.

Our first session on the all-new BMW S1000RR is in mixed, but mostly wet conditions with street tires, but after that it’s all rain and wets. This, sadly, took away the opportunity to properly test some of the interesting new pieces with the S1000RR in its intended element.

But, rain does put heavier emphasis on certain aspects of the motorcycle, which helps elevate that nuance, at least so my optimistic side tells itself.

The first thing you notice jumping onboard the BMW S1000RR is the new riding position. The bars have been placed higher and at less of an angle, similar to the Ducati Panigale V4.

The overall shape of the bike is narrower, especially at the tank, which now doesn’t spread your legs as wide. As S10000RR owners will remember, the older generation bikes were very much “on top of the bike” in their riding position, whereas this new model places you in it.

The new 5.6-inch TFT-display is really something. It has the complexity of a simple tablet, with a lot of features that take some time getting your head around, but it encompasses a lot and has good readability. It has one design for street riding (BMW calls this “Pure”), and three layouts for track riding (called “Core”).

As usual there are a few standard riding modes; Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race with their equivalent characteristics for the throttle response and torque delivery.

We never got the chance to test the sportier modes, for obvious reason, but riding around the many sharp corners of Estoril the smooth response of the throttle becomes apparent. Making the transfer from brakes to gas is seamless, and with the torque turned down on the first couple of gears, it’s an easy job to apply the right amount.

The launch bikes are kitted with the Pro Modes, which are three programmable modes that allow you individually to set DTC, ABS Pro, wheelie control (now separate from the DTC), throttle response and engine braking. With the Pro Modes follows launch control and a pit lane limiter.

Thankfully, BMW Motorrad has made the HP Shift Assistant Pro a standard feature now, and it makes shifting both up and down effortless. The raspy blip of the throttle on downshifts puts a smile on your face.Surprisingly, Hill Start Control is also included.

In the Saddle

With the weather being what it is, BMW didn’t just put the riding mode in Rain, but overall selected gentle, soft settings. One thing that you can’t adjust via the display, however, is the brakes. The new radially mounted four-piston Hayes calipers in the front have a more progressive bite, which matches the throttle response and makes for a motorcycle that’s very comfortable to ride around in the wet.

BMW says this brake feel was fully intentional, because most riders tend to grab too much of a handful when applying the brakes and not easing into it for more efficient braking. In practically, it doesn’t have that sharp initial bite as most Brembo brake systems, but gives good feeling and effect that feels on par, at least for as much as you can tell in the wet.

Around the soaked Estoril track, the softer settings of the suspension help the bike stay drama free. Heading into the corner under braking the front gives you the right amount of support and the transfer of momentum getting on the gas is smooth. Picking the bike up and winding up the throttle, the rear suspension gives good feeling when the tire starts to break out.

What impresses the most is the rider aids. The traction control has 14 settings in total, 7 on the plus side and 7 on the negative, and while riding in the wet – a few steps into the plus side – it is clear how the software adjusts the power delivery without any harsh cuts. You can feel the rear working to send the power to the asphalt, but nothing to indicate – besides a flashing light on the display – that an electronic safety net is keeping you safe from a high-side.

Of course, in the higher settings the system limits a bit too much, but through just the press of a button on the left handlebar it’s easy to find the right level – in which case it is hard to notice the assistance at play.

The suspension has not only gone from 46mm Sachs to 45mm Marzocchi, but the latest generation of BMWs dynamic damping control (DDC) semi-active suspension has had a change in philosophy. There is now a clearer separation between the mechatronics of adjusting settings from the handlebar controls and the semi-active suspension system.

Via the typical BMW controls, you can change the rebound and compression of the rear suspension, whereas the front has a unified “damping” setting for both.

The active system that changes the suspension depending on conditions can now not only be shut off completely, but this has been limited only to upright riding, meaning braking and when you’ve gotten yourself out of the corner. This is to have a more consistent feeling. BMW is also now making a shim package is available for those who need tuning beyond what’s available electronically.

Through the chicane the weight loss is apparent. The bike flicks much more effortlessly from left to right. This is enabled also by the new riding position and a tweaked geometry. The castor has been reduced from 96.5mm to 93.9mm, the steering head angle is now 0.4 degrees steeper at 66.9°, and the wheelbase has been slightly extended.

Heading out on Estoril’s 1000-yard straight, the inline-four feels familiar. The S1000RR’s engine has always been impressive and remains to be the highlight of the machine. While the rain mode may hinder sensing the refinement at its fullest, it’s one of the few things that reminds you about the old bike – the raw power and torque. Even from down in the range the bike just pulls, which makes for less work shifting, just let the torque do its thing.

Where the old model used to miss out was the chassis. It had great brakes, and it was a stable, high speed missile. But, the old S1000RR could be a bit more cumbersome than its refined competitors, and the suspension didn’t give quite the same feeling as the Öhlins-equipped alternatives.

The first impression is that much of this has been addressed with the new BMW S1000RR. The riding characteristics are closer to the top of the competition, especially the other Europeans, but it is unclear from our test how the S1000RR stacks against them comparatively, and if the bevy of new components will be able to hold their own. Better conditions and a comparative test are necessary to answer that.

Some Notes for the Track Day Rider

While an evaluation of the BMW’s street performance will have to wait, there are some noteworthy things for the enthusiast who primarily wants to go to the track.

The good news: the shift pattern is reversible and street components are easily detachable. Whether you get the “M Package” or not, the S1000RR can be equipped with a GPS dongle that shows your lap times on the display.

Less exciting are the compromises made in the name of chasing of weight reduction figures, as BMW has had to make some compromises.

For example, the handlebars are integrated into the top fork crown as one single unit. Meaning they are both non-adjustable and if you damage them in a crash, you will have to change out the entire unit. Also, if you want to use ordinary clip-ons, you will have to get two small parts that replace the factory handlebars.

If you don’t want to invest in the carbon fiber wheels, the Motorsport paint finish, and the sport seat of the M Package, then you have the interesting option of getting the Race Package instead.

This also gives you Pro Modes, the light weight battery, forged wheels instead of carbon, and the same chassis kit with rear ride height adjustment and swingarm pivot. It saves 3.5 lbs, in comparison to almost 8 lbs with the M Package, but has a cheaper price tag.

But, Would I Buy One?

The standard 2019 BMW S1000RR has a MSRP of $16,995. Whereas, the bikes at the press launch had the M Package (which means they featured Pro Modes, carbon fiber wheels, a light weight battery, sport seat, chassis kit) as well the Dynamic package (DDC, heated grips, and cruise control).

This of course adds quite a bit to the price tag, but we are not sure how much. as BMW Motorrad still hasn’t given us prices for anything but the base model. However, the European prices indicate this would put the “M” bike we rode on par with or just under the Yamaha R1M and its $22 999 price tag.

While DDC can be a great comfort for street riding, and it was a nice addition in the wet, I am not sure it is worth the money for the track rider – and the Dynamic package costs slightly more than the Race kit. Semi-active suspension has been a bit tricky for sport bikes, and it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but BMWs new approach might win over some people.

Personally, I would have gone with just the Race package, specifically for the chassis kit and the Pro Modes. I would just ding the carbon wheels with poor tire changes anyway, and then use the money saved from not installing the DDC to sort out the suspension properly, if necessary.

Looking at BMWs aim to make a much lighter, faster and easier to handle superbike I’d have to say mission accomplished. While an obviously capable motorcycle which is bound to put smiles on a lot of faces, it is too soon to say how it will perform against the competition and if I would buy one over the others – several question marks remain from the drenched launch.

But, first impressions show the new BMW S1000RR has reaffirmed itself as a top contender yet again. With the right options, the RR could be a great kit that challenges the exotic homologation bikes without an overly hefty price tag.

Deliveries are expected to begin in June. We can’t wait to ride this bike against the competition…and in drier conditions.