Common Tread

BMW HP4 Race first (and probably only) ride review

Oct 19, 2018

“That… That was literally one of the most amazing moments I have ever had on a motorcycle,” I said, removing my helmet, my hands still shaking with a healthy dose of adrenaline.

I had just finished my second session on the track at New Jersey Motorsports Park on the BMW HP4 Race and to say it was unlike any bike I have ever ridden almost felt like an understatement. Dylan Code, son of Keith Code and head project manager for California Superbike School, helped me put the bike up on its stand.

“Did it feel better that time out?” Dylan asked me, with just a hint of a smile. After my first session, I had commented that I felt extremely cramped on the bike. Having watched me, Dylan agreed. He then proceeded to show me how to raise the seat to give my six-feet, three-inch frame nearly two additional inches of room to move around on the bike. The changes to the bike’s geometry were instantly noticeable.

“Go cool down, get some water, and we’ll see if we can’t get you out for one final session,” he said as he spun the tire warmers into place, ensuring the race slicks stayed nice and toasty. I eagerly obliged, grabbing a water bottle and a seat in the shade in search of relief from the summer heat.

BMW HP4 Race
Meet BMW's most exclusive sport bike, the HP4 Race. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Meeting the BMW HP4 Race

Let’s back up for a second and discuss how I found myself riding one of the most (if not the most) exclusive BMW motorcycles ever produced.

BMW HP4 Race
Having a HP4 Race on hand at California Superbike School for students to try out is a genius marketing approach from BMW. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

It all started with that phone call from Dylan. BMW had been kind enough to loan California Superbike School an HP4 Race for prospective buyers to try out. While I am in no way a “prospective buyer” for the $78,000 motorcycle (unless Lance has plans for a very substantial raise in my future…), Dylan thought it would be a unique opportunity for me to try out this very special motorcycle, even if I had no intention of paying for it.

A unique experience is putting it lightly.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with BMW’s HP designation, it simply stands for High Performance. By their own definition, “It’s a unit within BMW Motorrad that makes top tier parts and special motorcycles.” While previous HP bikes exist, such as the HP2 Enduro, HP2 Sport, HP2 Megamoto, and HP4, with the HP4 Race, BMW went further than ever to create a truly unique experience for its owner.

BMW HP4 Race
Don't let the similar exteriors fool you, these bikes are completely different. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Limited to 750 production units, the HP4 Race was built from the ground up to be completely distinct from anything else in BMW’s lineup. At a first glance, it might look like a heavily modified S 1000 RR, but the truth is, aside from similar styling cues, the two bikes have very little in common.

Whereas the previous HP4 and S 1000 RR models maintained street legality, the HP4 Race is a track-only machine. Engineers were given a blank sheet of paper and told to design the best track bike possible, sparing no expense. They didn’t have to worry about the EPA or the DOT. Nor did they have to start with a platform that was already in existence, as the HP4 Race isn’t homologated to any race class.

“In a lot of ways, this bike is better than even the S 1000 RR bikes being raced at the World Superbike level,” Dylan told me as he went over the bike’s details. “For those bikes, you have to start with a stock bike, tear it down, chop it up, and piece together a new machine from what you have left. But with this HP4 Race, they built what they wanted from day one. BMW describes these as ‘production prototypes’.”

BMW HP4 Race
BMW describes the HP4 Race as a "production prototype". Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Breaking down the HP4 Race

At its core lies a World Superbike engine. The pistons and connecting rods are paired by weight and attached to a balanced crankshaft. Each of the 16 valves (four per cylinder) are made from titanium. The engines are given a series of dyno tests to run them in and a complete endoscope of each engine is completed before it is fit into a chassis. Engine assembly is completed by one person to ensure precision.

The result is 215 rear-wheel horsepower at 13,900 rpm and 88 foot-pounds of torque at 10,000 rpm. But because the bike weighs almost 90 pounds less than a stock S 1000 RR, BMW claims it feels more like 227 horsepower in a side-by-side comparison.

At 378 pounds wet, it’s roughly the same weight as the new Ninja 400 and almost five times as powerful. Dylan tells me it’s about five pounds heavier than a MotoGP bike.

BMW HP4 Race
Carbon fiber is used to cut weight. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Carbon fiber and titanium play a huge role in the reduction of weight on the HP4 Race. It features a full carbon fiber frame, fairing set, and wheels. The frame is about nine pounds lighter than a stock S 1000 RR unit and the wheels are a little over three pounds lighter for the pair, thus reducing rotational inertia and steering resistance. The exhaust is a full-titanium, four-into-two-into-one, World Superbike Akrapovic unit. Even the engine bolts and fasteners are made from titanium.

Along with the seat, which I mentioned earlier, nearly every aspect of the bike is adjustable to pair with your specific ergonomic preference. The seat (which is really a carbon fiber tail section that replaces the traditional sub-frame) can be set to 32.1, 32.7 or 33.3 inches. I found the tallest settings gave my knees the most comfortable amount of space between the rearsets and the seat. The rearsets themselves have eight different settings, but I didn’t have the opportunity to make any alterations there.

BMW HP4 Race
Note the adjustments available for the clip-ons as well as the steering stem. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

In addition to being able to customize the bike’s ergonomics, the rider also has complete control of adjusting the steering geometry on the HP4 Race. Spacers are included to adjust the pivot point of the swingarm, the steering offset, and the steering head angle. The linkage on the rear shock can be adjusted between 108 mm and 118 mm. There are even additional sprockets included to alter the acceleration and the top speed of the bike from 187 to 206 mph.

The bike is slowed by two four-piston monoblock WSBK GP4-PR Brembo calipers clamping down on T-floated rotors with titanium pistons. At the rear is another Brembo four-piston WSBK fixed caliper with titanium pistons. Their stopping power is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

BMW HP4 Race
The four-piston monoblock WSBK GP4-PR Brembo calipers and the Öhlins FGR 300 WSBK fork are works of art. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The same goes for the suspension. Up front, the HP4 Race gets a Öhlins FGR 300 WSBK fork with adjustments for preload, as well as compression and rebound damping. The fork features rotatable fork legs with the front-wheel cover mounted so the brake calipers don’t have to be removed to change a wheel. There is also a Öhlins SD052 adjustable steering damper.

BMW HP4 Race
The fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 GP shock. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Like I mentioned earlier, the rear shock mounts to the fully aluminum WSBK swingarm via a linkage that features an adjustable tension strut. This allows riders to alter the progressive feel of the shock, depending on track conditions. The shock itself is a fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 GP.

The electronics on the HP4 Race are provided by 2D. Nearly every aspect of the bike's electronics can be adjusted via software updates to the ECU. In stock form, there are four rider modes to choose from: Wet, INT, Dry 1, and Dry 2.

BMW HP4 Race
A breakdown of what to expect from the driving modes. BMW image.

Each mode changes the progressive delivery of throttle, traction control, and wheelie control and is dependent on the selected gear (I think the included picture does a good job of breaking this down). Riders also have the availability to increase or decrease traction control and engine braking plus or minus seven clicks over the base setting of the selected riding mode. 

BMW HP4 Race
While the controls look a bit overwhelming at first, they're actually quite simple. BMW image.

Dylan also explained to me the sequence for initiating launch mode. He was very clear that you had to keep the bike at WOT for it to work correctly. Riding a $78,000 machine for the first time was intimidating enough, let alone going wide open out of the pits. I decided to pass on testing this feature as I headed out for my first session.

Three sessions with the HP4 Race

The starting sequence for the bike was completely different from anything I had previously experienced. You have to start the bike, let it warm up, and then shut it off. It takes about 10 minutes for the engine oil to reach the proper temperature. At that point the bike is restarted, and you wait for the coolant to return to operating temperature. In an effort to save weight, there is no radiator fan on the cooling system. 

BMW HP4 Race Spurgeon Dunbar
Overwhelmed and riding timidly before I had the seat adjusted. Photo by etechphoto.com.

My first session consisted of five laps around the Thunderbolt track at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Luckily Dylan was kind enough to give me a few tries at this bike because the first session was pretty much a wash. I was in my head, distracted by all of the information Dylan had dumped on me in the morning’s classroom session.

I found myself attacking the first lap timidly because I forgot the tires had already been brought up to temperature via tire warmers. I kept using the clutch to shift even though the HP4 Race features an electronic quickshifter. There was also this nagging thought rolling around in my head that the HP4 cost roughly one-third of the price of my house. There was a lot to think about as the first five laps slipped away.

BMW HP4 Race
The seat pan is made from carbon fiber and replaces the rear subframe. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The main problem I had was that I was super cramped. I found it really hard to move around on the bike and my knees were locking up. I felt like I was wrestling against the Beemer and by the time the checkered flag was waving I was ready to head in. Having expressed my frustrations to Dylan, he adjusted the seat height and sent me back out for a second session.

I immediately felt more comfortable on the bike and began to relax.

Whereas on the first session I had the bike set in Intermediate mode, I progressed into Dry 1 for my second session. This provided a noticeable improvement to throttle response in the first three gears. The throttle was smooth and came on much more civilized than I was expecting.

BMW HP4 Race
Riding the HP4 Race is a lot easier than I was expecting. It's better the faster you push it. Photo by etechphoto.com.

The HP4 Race sounds like a rabid hellhound released from a cage but it handles itself with the refinement of the Queen Mother at high tea. As I relaxed, the bike became progressively easier to ride.

Power comes on evenly and predictably, building quickly with a tremendous amount of thrust as the rpms climb toward the 14,500 rpm redline. With the seat height set to 33.3 inches, I had more room to move around and felt much more in control of the bike. My pace slowly increased.

BMW HP4 Race
Loosening up and having fun. Photo by etechphoto.com.

Heading down the back straight, the front wheel lofted over “Wheelie Hill” and gently returned to the ground as the electronics did their thing. Handling was beyond sharp. Driving hard into turn four, I carried speed through the right-hand corner to the curbing before flipping the bike over to make turn five, which is tight lefthander. This transition can trip up a lot of riders, including myself, but the HP4 Race felt extremely planted. I hit the apex and quickly rolled on the throttle. The bike didn’t flinch.

I was literally laughing in my helmet as I rolled into the pits at the end of my second session. With dark clouds sitting low on the horizon threatening to end my day, the HP4 Race was put up and I took a quick break for lunch. As I sat eating a sandwich, Dylan talked with me about his impressions during his time with the bike.

Dylan Code on the HP4 Race

“My first ride with the HP4 Race wasn’t much unlike your own,” Dylan admitted. “When I first got on the bike, I was pretty scared to go fast. It's such an exotic bike and there hadn't been a bunch of people riding it prior to me. I was kind of going in blind.

Dylan Code BMW HP4 Race
Dylan Code striving for 100 percent on the BMW HP4 Race. California Superbike School photo.

“After my first session I was like, alright, this feels good. So, I kept going. With most street bikes, when you start getting into the last 10 percent, they start to push back a little bit. And as you push even further towards that theoretical 100 percent, then you get even more pushback. And really what I’ve learned with the HP4 Race is that it really just does what you want without that resistance.

“The truth is, there isn't any one thing that is truly remarkable about this bike. There are other bikes that are just as light, just as powerful, have the same kind of brakes. You can find elements of the HP4 Race in so many different other motorcycles. But BMW put them all together in this one package. That’s what makes this bike so incredible.

“If you don't like something about the bike, chances are you can change it. If you don't like the power delivery, you can make the thing feel like a twin, you can make it feel like a two-stroke, you can do whatever you want with it because the ECU is completely unlocked. You can change so many different elements and aspects of the motorcycle that, in some ways, it's like the only track bike you need, if you can afford it.

“I have had a few students bring their personal HP4 Races to the school and everyone that I've come in contact with who's actually purchased one is giddy about it. We're talking grown men who've been around riding motorcycles for a long time, they’re just beside themselves. And that’s my biggest take away.

BMW HP4 Race Dylan Code
An average track day with the BMW HP4 Race is anything but average. California Superbike School photo.

“I'm at the track like 100 days a year. Tracks all over the world. I wouldn't say I'm jaded, but I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself because I've had so many good days in the past. Then this bike comes along and suddenly it's like rediscovering track riding, it's just so much fun. It's like your second track day all over again, and that's what I love about it.”

My final session

While Dylan gets 100 track days a year, I get five, maybe. So as soon as lunch was over I quickly suited up and headed back to the bike. I wanted to sneak in one last session before the rain set in.

Knowing that Dylan was intimidated the first time he rode the HP4 Race made me feel a little bit better as I set out for my third and final session. I knew I would probably never get to ride this bike again and I just relaxed and enjoyed it. If I was wrestling with the bike in my first session, we were dancing together in my third.

BMW HP4 Race
And before I knew it, the checkered flag waved and my time with the HP4 Race was done. Photo by etechphoto.com.

I wasn’t worried about lap times or beating personal bests, I was just trying to soak up every last emotion that this bike evoked in me. At its core, riding isn’t meant to be a cerebral experience, but so often that is how Lemmy, Lance, and I are forced to approach the evaluation of new machines. Pushing all of the spec sheets out of my head, I focused on how much fun I was having and how lucky I was to have this opportunity. I was no longer evaluating the HP4 Race for our readers, I was just a boy on a very expensive motorcycle trying to hold on to a fleeting moment in time.

And with that the checkered flag ended my time with the BMW HP4 Race.

Conclusion

Mounting the HP4 Race is like strapping yourself to a rocket ship. A rocket ship with razor-like handling and brakes that slow things down like Chuck Norris giving a roundhouse kick to the throat. I could keep writing, but I’m never going to be able to fully convey what it’s like to ride this bike.

While I grew more confident with the HP4 Race with each of my three sessions, I was never quite able to outrun the nagging voice in my brain reminding me I’d have to sell my home in order to pay for it should I crash.

BMW HP4 Race
Opportunities like getting to ride the HP4 Race are not lost on me. I consider myself extremely lucky for the chance to throw a leg over this machine. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Helping me put the Beemer up on its stands, Dylan confided to me that while he’s really come to love HP4 Race he feels he needs two in order to really enjoy it.

“If you have two,” he explained, “then you won't worship it so much. Because if you've got two, then you're like, yeah, I’ve got two, let’s ride."

However, I consider myself extremely lucky just to have gotten to ride one, let alone own one, or two for that matter. And the truth is most folks will never get a chance to turn a lap on this motorcycle.. But if you are one of the special few presented with the opportunity to throw a leg over an HP4 Race, I would encourage you to take it for a ride. Even if you can’t afford to take it home with you. 

2018 BMW HP4 Race
Price (MSRP) $78,000
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder, four-stroke engine, four titanium valves per cylinder, double overhead racing camshafts, milled oil sump, Pankl connecting rod, precision balanced and lightened crankshaft
Displacement 999 cc
Bore x stroke 80 mm x 49.7 mm
Fuel management Electronic racing injection, variable intake pipe length, four selectable modes
Power 215 horsepower @ 13,900 rpm
Torque 88 foot-pounds @ 10,000 rpm
Transmission Constant-mesh 6-speed racing transmission (EVO) with straight-cut gears
Clutch Multi-disc clutch in oil bath, anti-hopping clutch, mechanically operated, Brembo Racing clutch lever (without clutch switch)
Frame  Carbon monocoque RTM frame with steering head angle and swingarm pivot adjustment
Final drive  16/43 (adjustable as part of equipment pack: sprocket 15, 16, 17, chainwheel 41, 42, 43, 44, 45)
Front suspension Öhlins FGR 300 WSBK fork, adjustable preload and rebound and compression-stage damping, spring stiffness 10.5 N/mm
Rear suspension Öhlins TTX 36 GP shock, adjustable preload and rebound and compression-stage damping, top spring strut pivot point adjustable (0/3 mm), adjustable spring strut deflection (tension strut length), spring stiffness 95 N/mm
Front brake Dual Brembo Racing four-piston monoblock WSBK GP4-PR fixed calipers with titanium pistons, Brembo Racing RCS 19X18 master cylinder, including adjustable Brembo Racing brake lever
Rear brake Single Brembo Racing four-piston WSBK fixed caliper with titanium pistons 
Tires front/rear 120/70 ZR 17 Pirelli Diabolo Superbike Slick SC2; 200/60 ZR 17 Pirelli Diabolo Superbike Slick SC2
Rake 24.5 degrees (adjustable 0.0°, +/-0.5°, +/-1°)
Trail 4 inches (adjustable between 3.7 - 4.4 inches) 
Wheelbase 56.7 inches
Seat height High Position: 33.3 inches, Standard Position: 32.7 inches, Low Position: 32.1 inches
Tank capacity 4.6 gallons
Wet weight 378 pounds