When BMW’s original S 1000 RR hit the showroom floor in the summer of 2010, it was met by a wave of skepticism. Could BMW compete successfully in the premier segment of sport bikes?
That skepticism was soon swept away by a stream of glowing reviews.
The RR’s asymmetrical face, with mismatched headlights, helped it stand out, but it was its technological and mechanical advancements which truly set it apart from the competition. Publications of the day reported 181 to 183 horsepower at the S 1000 RR’s rear wheel, making it the most powerful regular production motorcycle of 2010. It also brought lean-angle-sensitive, race-level traction control and ABS to the masses. BMW may have showed up late to the party, but they were ready to boogie.
But a decade can disappear in the blink of an eye and the last 10 years have seen huge advancements in the world of motorcycling. So what changes has BMW made to the 2020 S 1000 RR to maintain its relevance?
All of them.
The BMW S 1000 RR
BMW representatives ushered us into the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum outside of Birmingham, Alabama on a balmy Wednesday evening. Plenty of words have been written about George Barber and the collection of motorcycles he has amassed in a world-class facility in the rolling hills just east of the city. The museum alone is worth the trip, but an opportunity to ride the flowing, technical racetrack is a must for motorcycle and auto enthusiasts alike.
Official business would start on the adjoining track at 7 a.m. the following day, but first we had unfettered access to the museum, including a private dinner on the museum’s top floor. Fortunately, I sat across from BMW factory test rider Nate Kern, who spent the entire meal giving us a jump on the product briefing that would be presented the following morning. Our tech-heavy conversation over dinner was invaluable in understanding the many changes to this motorcycle.
As Nate explained, BMW had two main goals for the S 1000 RR’s ground-up redesign: To put the customer first and to beat the competition. The order of those goals were not interchangeable. By prioritizing the customer, the plan was to make the bike more approachable and friendlier to use. For that, they started with the chassis.
The new RR introduces the aluminum “BMW Motorrad Flexframe” which weighs three pounds less than its predecessor. It allows for the tank to be 30 mm narrower between the rider’s knees. Combined with flatter, wider clip-ons, a new seat and rearsets, BMW claims improved ergonomics. My biggest critique here is that the clip-ons are now integrated into the top triple tree. This means the only way to adjust handlebar placement is to wait on an aftermarket option.
A new swingarm, derived from World Superbike, is mounted to the frame and is 11 mm longer than before. The slightly longer wheelbase adds stability at high speeds while the more aggressive geometry to the front end allows for a quicker turn in.
The idea behind the vertically mounted rear shock is to allow the new RR to hold a corner line much better than its predecessor. The swingarm makes this mounting configuration possible and also places the rear shock further from the heat of the engine, improving temperature stability. There is also an optional M Chassis Kit, which provides an adjustable swingarm pivot point, very similar to what we saw with the HP4 Race.
Overall, engineers were able to cut 11.2 pounds from the chassis and suspension . They then shaved an additional 8.8 pounds off of the engine.
Engine weight may be down, but claimed power is up, boasting 205 horsepower at 13,000 rpm compared to the claimed 199 ponies of its predecessor. If you’re reading this across the pond, the European version claims an additional two horsepower.
Peak torque is now a claimed 83 foot-pounds at 11,000 rpm. But what’s more impressive than peak torque is that the RR now produces over 74 foot-pounds of torque from 5,500 to 14,500 rpm, providing riders with a massive amount of usable power. The engine revs to 14,600 rpm, which is 400 rpm higher than the 2018 RR.
This is all made possible by the integration of BMW’s ShiftCam technology, which we saw introduced on the new 1250 boxer engine. Up until 9,000 rpm, the 999 cc inline-four operates on a separate “mild” cam lobe before sliding over to a more performance-oriented “hot” cam profile for the top end of the rev range.
To control this newfound power, BMW has outfitted the S 1000 RR with a completely new suite of electronics controlled via a new 6.5-inch TFT dash. I’ll try to lay out the basics for you, but my recommendation is to plan on spending some time with your owner’s manual prior to taking the S 1000 RR out for a ride.
One of the most confusing parts about this next section is figuring out what BMW means with their overuse of the word “Dynamic,” so here is a bit of a cheat sheet for you: Dynamic in reference to ABS or traction control means “lean-angle sensitive.” The exception to this is Dynamic Braking Control, where the word Dynamic means “it’ll shut the throttle off for you.” Dynamic in reference to suspension damping means “self adjusting.” And finally, Dynamic in reference to throttle response means “somewhat more aggressive than Street but not quite aggressive as Race.”
There are now four standard ride modes included in the base package: Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race. Each of these modes alter throttle response, engine torque, ABS/ABS Pro, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), and Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), which automatically adjusts suspension damping. While this might sound like pretty standard BMW talk, the real potential for tunability opens up if you opt for Ride Modes Pro.
Ride Modes Pro adds three additional rider modes: Race Pro 1, 2, and 3. In these modes, riders can fine tune their personal preferences even further. For example, the new six-axis lean-angle sensor allows the S 1000 RR to separate settings for wheelie control from DTC. When you access the Race Pro Modes, the rider can choose from four different settings to control how much front wheel lift is allowed.
The new RR now includes adjustments for engine braking derived from the HP4 Race. DTC can be fine tuned +/- 14 degrees (seven above or below zero). Dynamic Braking Control (DBC) will automatically shut off the throttle if it senses you’re accidentally applying it in a panic braking situation. In Race mode, you can dial in varying levels of DBC as well as five different levels of Dynamic ABS.
And then we come to Next-Gen Dynamic Damping Control.
As I mentioned above, DDC automatically adjusts the suspension damping (preload is still set manually). What’s new is that the “Dynamic” ratio of the damping is altered depending on what mode you’re in.
In the first four “street” modes (Rain through Race), the system is constantly adjusting 90 percent of the damping in real world time while 10 percent of the damping remains static. Damping is softer in Rain Mode and progressively increased through Race Mode but the computer is still constantly altering the majority of the suspension's damping to accommodate changing road conditions. This works great for street riding when you never know what is around the next corner, but on the race track, it can lead to an inconsistent feel from the suspension.
When the bike is switched into one of the three Race Pro Modes, the DDC reduces the dynamic feature to 10 percent while 90 percent of the damping remains static. This allows for a much more predictable feel on the track, where surface conditions are more consistent. The rider also gains the ability to separately adjust for compression and rebound damping.
The suspension itself is now manufactured by Marzocchi to BMW specifications. Up front is a 45 mm, inverted telescopic fork, and in the rear is the new Full Floater Pro shock, both with electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment and manual adjustment for spring preload.
The braking system is now manufactured with components from Nissin, Hayes, and Brembo. The front master cylinder is a Nissin unit pumping fluid to two radial-mounted, four-piston Hayes calipers clamping down on 320 mm steel rotors. The rotors are each 4.5 mm thick and together they weigh about a pound less than their predecessors. At the rear there is a single-piston Brembo caliper and a 220 mm rotor.
BMW’s main focus for the changes to the brakes were to reduce the initial bite and incorporate more of a progressive feel. In my head all I could remember was the massive karate chop to the throat bite of the brakes on the HP4 Race I rode last year. The previous generation S 1000 RR’s brakes weren’t that dramatic, but they came on very strong.
There are dozens of other small details that BMW changed with this bike, as well. The bodywork has been redesigned and while it retains the shark gills on the right side of the engine, the asymmetrical headlights are gone. The gills were retained not for styling purposes, but rather because it allowed the engineers to reduce overall engine heat by 10 percent. The lights were changed to reduce weight. Gear Shift Assist Pro has been improved for quicker, smoother shifting. While BMW stuck with Bosch for the traction control unit they opted for a switch to a Continental ABS unit because it was smaller and lighter than the Bosch. Everything focused on making the bike sleeker and lighter, thus more manageable for the customer.
All of the changes reduce the S 1000 RR’s weight to a claimed 434 pounds, 25 pounds lighter than the outgoing 459-pound 2018 RR. That’s a very impressive number. What’s even more impressive is that the M Package shaves an additional 7.7 pounds for a claimed wet weight of 427 pounds.
The M Package
BMW Motorrad has moved away from the “HP” designation for their top-of-the-line RR model. In an effort to align themselves more with the automobile side of the brand, the top of the line S 1000 RR will now be referred to as the “M Package.” This is only slightly confusing because the new R 1250 GS was just introduced with the high-performance version still using the old “HP” moniker.
The M Package includes Ride Modes Pro, M lightweight battery, and M Chassis Kit (with rear ride height adjustment and swingarm pivot point adjustment) as included in the race pack. On top of that, it adds an M Sport Seat and M Carbon Wheels.
BMW claims that the carbon wheels are stronger and more durable than the forged wheels. They had a set on hand for us to handle and they were insanely light. In addition to helping cut overall weight, these wheels reduce unsprung weight, which makes the bike easier to steer at high speeds.
The bikes that BMW provided for us all featured the M Package.
Riding the S 1000 RR
To test the new S 1000 RR, we were given four complete sessions (as well as two additional photography laps) around the track at Barber Motorsports. I had attended my very first track day at Barber seven years ago on a Triumph Bonneville and I was excited to return with a bit more experience under my belt and a more appropriate motorcycle.
Despite the fact that there was a lot of talk about the improved streetability of the RR, we didn’t have a street component to this first ride. Instead, we were sent out onto each session with a different settings to gain perspective of the bike’s street and track capabilities.
Steve Weir, BMW’s Race Support Engineer, was on hand to set up the bikes for us. We would each be running the same bike all day. The bikes were all outfitted with Diablo Supercorsa SC tires, the most aggressive DOT-legal tire in Pirelli’s lineup and only available through Pirelli’s trackside vendors. Steve adjusted individual preload settings and set tire pressure to 32 psi in the front and 22 psi at the rear.
For session one, the bikes were set to road mode. The idea was to see how the traction control and suspension settings worked in the lower levels. Coaches from California Superbike School were on hand to help riders learn the lines of the technical Barber layout. For the first session they kept speeds moderate, allowing riders to experience the bike at more real world “street” speeds.
I was behind Dylan Code, COO (Child of Owner) of California Superbike School, for the first session out. Dylan is the son of Keith Code and is a supremely fast and fantastically smooth rider. He led me around the track, pointing out turn points and demonstrating the correct line through Barber’s trickiest corners.
Nate had warned us that the rear tire would feel almost flat until it got some heat into it and he was right. It was weird trying to build speed and trust the rear end when it felt so loose. After the first few laps the tires warmed up nicely and provided fantastic feel and grip.
If I am being completely honest, I had trouble fully trusting the tires. Still in my head was the recent lowside I had at the track with the Ninja 400 on cold tires. It’s something I just need to push through and get over, but I was a bit surprised by how much it affected my mental performance as I started to pick up speed with the S 1000 RR.
The first thing that struck me was how effective the traction control was with the S 1000 RR. If you’re in Road mode and exceed 38 degrees of lean, the throttle won't let you ask for more power. It’s crazy how well this works. BMW’s rationale for having us try this on the track was to get a feel for the DTC in good conditions. If you understand how it works and feels when you don’t need it, you’ll know what to expect if you find yourself in a situation where you do need it.
As we progressed to the second session of the day the bikes were all set to “Dynamic.” As we were preparing to roll out, Nate Kern came up to me and switched my bike to “Race” mode. He argued that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the increase in power, but a rider of my size would appreciate the increased damping from the suspension.
Keep in mind that “Race” mode is still technically one of the first four standard modes, so the bike is still adjusting 90 percent of the damping at all times trying to calculate constant changes in the road. Damping is increased, but is not adjustable in this mode.
Rolling down into turn two, the change to the modes was immediately noticeable. Limits on the engine were removed and the bike was now operating at full torque. The pull from this engine across the entire rev range was incredibly impressive. Historically, inline-four engines have been very peaky in the production of power. This S 1000 RR feels amazingly broad in its delivery, something that will be appreciated on the street where riders aren’t constantly running to the redline.
Abhi Eswarappa from Bike-urious noted a slight flat spot around 7,000 rpm before the cam profile shifts at 9,000 rpm. You can actually see the dip in the torque curve on the dyno chart BMW provided. He likened it to the engine having two separate powerbands. I would have liked to take the bike out on the street for a quick ride to see if I noticed it there because on the track it didn’t seem to bother me. I was impressed with the overall range of power.
The improved damping in race mode was also noticeable. The bike felt far less wallowy and much more responsive. Reaching the bottom of corner three before climbing up the hill to turn four it felt very planted. The elevation changes at Barber are incredible but lead to a lot of blind corner entries, which can be intimidating until you learn the track.
Blasting down the straight before the 180-degree, double-apex, increasing-radius corner that is comprised of turns five and six provided the perfect opportunity to try out the new brakes. This particular corner has been nicknamed Charlotte’s Web due to the large sculpture of a spider in the grass past the runoff. It can easily trap riders and I had to constantly remind myself to run in hot, brake late, and then turn in a bit later than my brain wanted me to.
The reduction of the brakes’ initial bite has been replaced with a predictable, linear feel, with tremendous force the deeper you get into the lever. As the day wore on, I found myself increasing drive into the corners as I realized how much braking force I had at my disposal.
For my third and fourth sessions, my bike was in Race Pro 1 mode. Each of the three Race Pro modes are pre programmed to be slightly more aggressive while also remaining completely programmable. Engine Braking, DTC, ABS, Wheelie Control, and DDC can all be adjusted and fine tuned to a rider’s preference.
I was coming out of turn 10 and driving down the back straight when Kern passed me on the right, holding a wheelie deep into the braking zone. He was kind enough to wave at me before hitting the brakes, dropping the front wheel into the turn 11/12 chicane and completely losing me. His ability and familiarity with the S 1000 RR was incredibly impressive.
While I couldn’t really make use of the sharper throttle response of the “Pro” modes, the suspension damping was my favorite in this setting. As the dynamic damping was now marginalized, the bike felt much more predictable and consistent in the corners.
My biggest complaint with the bike was that we didn’t have more time with it. Four sessions wasn’t enough, partially because I selfishly wanted more time at Barber, but also because there was so much to learn. Between reacclimating myself to the track and having the settings on the bike constantly changing, I could have had a week with this bike and still not learned it all. Four sessions was just scratching the surface.
Wanting to get the opinion of someone who has arguably had more time on the track with the S 1000 RR than anyone outside BMW, I sat down with Dylan Code to get his thoughts on the new bike.
Dylan Code’s take on the new RR
“We started using the S 1000 RR at California Superbike School in January of 2010,” Dylan said. “Since then we've had every single version of the RR, including the HP4 Race. I’ve had the new RR for a few months now and have ridden it on five different tracks. Everything on this bike is new.
“The most notable change is the handling. And that's the most important thing to any rider. It's got a great motor, but it's just a bummer if the bike doesn't handle well. The way the new bike holds a line is just incredible. And with that, its ability to change direction if you need to correct a line. If you're on a line you don't like, then you can change it a little bit. It's even easier to do that. But the thing that stands out the most is you just put it on a line and it's there.
“It’s important to note, this is a new S 1000 RR, not a light version of the HP4 Race. I would say that the HP4 Race is almost kind of like an open-wheel race car, whereas the new RR is gonna be like an M4, you know, a very, very capable car but yet something you can get around in. The HP4 Race, is just a thoroughbred race bike.
“BMW’s philosophy of wanting to put the customer first is very real. They want to make a bike that wins over the riders. BMW knows at the end of the day the rider has to step off the bike and go, ‘Wow, that was great.’
“You can get a bike to have some sort of fantastic specs or whatever, but the ride needs to be fun. We get people on the bike at the school, and I don’t have warnings for them. The bike will pretty much disappear underneath you after about four laps. And most people agreed.
“The truth is there is a lot of technology here that gets lost in the details but it really works to keep the rider safe on the track as well as off the track. For example, we've done a lot of training with panic braking and about 25 percent of the riders will apply throttle while braking. And if you're trying to avoid something and you're screwing the throttle on while you're pulling the brake on, you can obviously see that the consequences could be grim, right? So things like Dynamic Braking, which cut the throttle automatically, can drastically improve safety.
“And someone might say, ‘Well, yeah, but I don't do that.’ However, you never know until you get into a panic situation. No one does it under normal circumstances, just in those panic situations. And I bet many people have done it in the past and crashed as a result and didn't know what happened. So something like that is tremendous.
“People ask me about the differences between the old bike and the new one and I tell them this one's better in every way. But you have to put that in perspective. The motor's better. Is it night and day? Is it double power? Of course not. But it's better. The handling is better. The display is definitely better. The ergos are better. So I couldn't say that any one single category is tremendously better. But because everything is a little bit better, if you add it up, the aggregate score would be much, much higher."
S 1000 RR packages and pricing
The base price of the S 1000 RR is $16,995. BMW was clear to stress with me that you can custom order an S 1000 RR a la carte from Germany in your preferred configuration. However, BMW USA will be importing the base RR with the Select Package, which starts at $18,395 and is only available in red.
This package includes TPM+, Next-Gen DDC, heated grips and cruise control. If you want all of the fancy electronic ride modes that I spent so much time explaining in this article, you need to opt for the Race Package, which increases the price $1,600 to $19,995. The Race Package adds Ride Modes Pro, forged wheels, the lightweight battery and the M Chassis Kit. That being said, BMW informed us that nearly all preorders for the S 1000 RR have been for the M Package.
At $22,095, the M Package gets you everything we talked about earlier. The most notable upgrade with this package is going to be the carbon fiber wheels and red, white, and blue paint job. When bought with this package, the wheels are actually covered under the BMW warranty. It’s also more affordable than deciding to add the wheels later.
Keep in mind that at that price, the top-of-the-line S 1000 RR configuration is more affordable than the Yamaha YZF-R1M ($22,999), Aprilia RSV4 Factory ($24,499), and Ducati’s Panigale V4S ($27,895).
When BMW introduced the original RR, it blew the competition away by offering more for less. With the newest RR, they shied away from focusing on improving only top-end horsepower and instead let Ducati and Aprilia battle it out for that title. And realistically, these crazy high horsepower numbers are just spec-sheet bragging rights. Being able to use that power is far more important.
I can’t speak to how it compares to those other bikes, but I have been on the track four separate times with the previous version of the S 1000 RR. This bike feels lighter, tighter, and more precise. I’m not worried about top-end power, but there is noticeably more power earlier in the rev range. Braking is improved, as are the electronics.
The suspension is far more adjustable, thus allowing riders to fine tune it more precisely. There are even alternate shim stacks available if you can’t get the performance you are looking for from the stock setup.
Because of its wide range of tunability and safety features, the S 1000 RR works for a wide range of riders. That’s one of the reasons CSS uses them (at the conclusion of this launch all of the press bikes will be transferred to the CSS fleet). They’ve seen a huge reduction in crashes since switching from their Kawasakis 10 years ago. The average to above average rider (I would say I fall somewhere in this category) will never touch the uppermost abilities of this bike’s performance, but you’ll probably make use of the advanced safety features, even if you don’t realize it in the moment. However, if you are an advanced-level track-day rider looking for maximum tunability, the new S 1000 RR has you covered there, as well.
The biggest downside to this bike is that there is just so much to learn. You can always just throw it in road mode and ride it, but if you really want to learn it, you’ll have to invest some serious time and effort. After a full day at the track and countless hours studying press materials and interviewing test riders, coaches, and engineers, I feel like I am only beginning to understand the RR’s potential.
It’s clear that BMW delivered on their first goal of putting the customer first. The new RR is vastly improved over the previous version. As for the second goal of beating the competition? Well, we shouldn’t have to wait too long to see how they do on that one.
|2020 BMW S 1000 RR|
|Price (MSRP as tested)||$22,095|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled, inline-four, DOHC, four titanium valves per cylinder, BMW ShiftCam|
|Bore x stroke||80 mm x 49.7 mm|
|Horsepower/torque (claimed)||205 horsepower @ 13,000 rpm / 83 foot-pounds @ 11,000 rpm|
|Transmission||Constant-mesh 6-speed gearbox with straight cut gears, Gear Shift Assist Pro|
|Front suspension||Marzocchi 45 mm inverted telescopic fork, manual preload, electronic compression and rebound adjustment|
|Rear suspension||Marzocchi full floater pro shock, manual preload, electronic compression and rebound adjustment|
|Suspension travel front/rear||4.7 inches/4.6 inches|
|Front brake||Twin 320 mm discs, Hayes four-piston radial-mount fixed calipers|
|Rear brake||Single 220 mm disc, single-piston Brembo floating caliper|
|Tires front/rear||120/70ZR17; 190/55ZR17|
|Steering head angle/trail||23.1 degrees / 3.7 inches|
|Seat height (standard)||32.4 inches|
|Wet weight (claimed)||Standard: 434 pounds; M Package: 427 pounds|