A mid-life revamp for BMW’s ballistic S 1000 R sees it gain exactly what it doesn’t need: More power and less weight. Gulp!
SINGAPORE — The thing about a sportsbike is that when you climb aboard, you can almost hear it whisper seductively, “Show me what you got…” That’s when you fire up the engine, twist the throttle, and either destroy your licence or worse, destroy yourself, trying to make the most of the bike’s potential. Unless you know what you’re doing, of course, which is a rare quality in mortal men when it comes to trying to control 200 horses.
Trashing your licence or yourself is still a risk with BMW’s S 1000 R, but much less so. It is, as the deletion of one R suggests, it’s a supernaked. First debuting in 2014, it’s in essence a stripped down and naked version of the now-iconic S 1000 RR.
The latter is a race-winning sportsbike that our sister magazine TopGear Singapore once put up against a McLaren in a 400m sprint. (In case you’re wondering, the BMW won handily in three out of three of those drag races, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since it’s been shown to outsprint Bugattis with ease. When TopGear rode it it did display a white-knuckle tendency to heave the front wheel into the air at more than 200km/h, though.)
Different headlamps, minimal bodywork, wide handlebars and a retuned engine are the net result of stripping the RR down to the R, and for the Model Year 2018 the bike gets a couple of new features, along with a slight increase in power (5hp) that’s accompanied by 2kg of weight loss.
It’s hard to tell, but there have been changes to the bodywork (it’s now clad in even less plastic, and used to have a bellypan). But it’s not hard to identify the facelifted bike from the version that debuted four years ago if you know what to look for: the “R” motif has migrated from the fuel tank to the little mini-fairings above the engine, and the exhaust is now an Akrapovic HP unit. It’s standard from the factory, meaning the fuzz will never hassle you about its legality, and you won’t have to cough up extra money to get an aftermarket can. How sweet is that?
Speaking of sweetness, the noise made by the Akrapovic is syrup for the ears. It’s laden with bass and never sounds annoyingly mosquito-like, and when you downshift or roll off the throttle you’re treated to a series of delightful, giggle-inducing pops and crackles. It’s exactly the kind of exhaust people raid the aftermarket catalogue for, in other words, and it just sounds right.
That’s appropriate, because when you swing a leg over the BMW and drop yourself into the saddle, it just feels so right, too. The riding position is comfortable (meaning it’s hell on neither your wrists nor your back), and the wide handlebars give you plenty of leverage to work the front wheel with.
What strikes you about the BMW is that for something so fiendishly powerful, it’s just supremely easy to ride in town. There isn’t much steering lock available, so some tighter U-turns can be tricky, but other than that it’s doddle. The cooling system seems to channel hot air at your left leg, but if you’re properly attired (and you should be) in long pants you’ll be fine, and the low seat height and light weight conspire to make the S 1000 R as easy as it gets to manoeuvre at low speeds.
The engine’s fueling helps there too, enabling the BMW’s engine to dole out its power in smooth, easily-controlled waves of torque. Mind you, they’re pretty big waves. The S 1000 RR might be a Bugatti-killer but the S 1000 R somehow feels as if it hits a bit harder, especially on real roads (as opposed to the track).
It’s down on power compared to the RR, but there’s more torque and it arrives early on, so it’s just ballistically fast, picking up speed violently enough to knock the wind out of your lungs, strain your neck, and blur your vision blur if you’re not used to it.
In fact, the engine provides the heart of the S 1000 R experience, delivering a rush of raw forward propulsion that’s just addictive. If you had, say, a BMW 5 Series, it would need more than 1,000 horsepower to have as much oomph, on a power-per-kilo basis. And it would probably be uncontrollable.
The same can’t be said for the S 1000 R, however. There’s a built-in friendliness to the handling, with plenty of ground clearance for leaning and what feels like a fairly short wheelbase that adds a sense of agility. You can tip it over from side to side as you carve one corner after another, and no matter how hard you’re going it always seems like the bike has more to give.
That said, you’re helped along by a few systems.
Like the more upright, adventure-styled S 1000 XR, the bike now receives a semi-auto gearshift system called Gear Shift Assist Pro that works utterly brilliantly. Once you’re rolling along you can execute clutchless shifts up and down the six-speed gearbox effortlessly; handy if you’re squeezing the excellent front Brembos and need to kick down the gears without worrying about blipping the throttle at the same time.
ABS Pro, or cornering ABS, is another now-standard feature, and it’s a skin-saving blessing. With it, you can squeeze the front brake lightly if you’ve gone too hot into a corner, and there’s much less chance that you’ll make the front wheel lock up and dump you, your pride, and your pride-and-joy onto the road, leaving the lot to slide into the scenery in a shower of sparks.
That’s the sort of tech you might not notice in day-to-day riding, but you’ll be damn glad it’s there when you’re out on the open road, tackling some inviting but unfamiliar bends. By “open road” we mean those you’ll find in the Malaysian countryside, of course, where a bike like this belongs.
In fact, tagging along with Performance Motors’ rideaway to Malacca on the S 1000 R revealed not just its B-road supremacy, but its surprising long-distance comfort, too. Bandar Melaka itself is usually a couple of hours away from Singapore if you hoof it on the highway, but the Performance route took in hundreds of kilometres of back roads, long excursions into unmapped plantations and a short jaunt to a coastal restaurant.
Think six hours or more of blasting along what is essentially a greased missile on two wheels; it’s tiring just thinking about it, but on the S 1000 R, I reckon I could have gone for at least a couple of hours more.
You won’t be able to carry much luggage, of course, since the pillion saddle is on the small side, but the bike’s nakedness isn’t a problem — up to a point. That point is roughly 140km/h, below which the tiny screen actually works well to keep the wind from trying to shove your head clean off your shoulders.
There’s a buzziness to the engine that’s most pronounced around 4,000rpm, and to some extent the S 1000 family is just vibey like that. The engine doesn’t have balancer shafts because it’s much more about grunt than polish — there are plenty of BMWs to buy if refinement is what you want.
That hasn’t stopped BMW from engineering a bit of enforced tameness into the bike. There are riding modes to choose, starting with “Rain” for the softest power delivery.
Some riders prefer that on B-roads, since it allows the power to be fed in more smoothly, but I didn’t find the BMW too much of a handful in the standing “Comfort” more, or that “Dynamic” setting, for that matter.
Choosing that hardens up the active suspension, too, but if you ask me the S 1000 R never really morphs into an unrideable bull. Who knows, the track-focused “Dynamic Pro” setting might be different altogether (I didn’t try it), but the BMW is otherwise a spectacular all-rounder. It’s light and easy to ride in town, comfy enough for light touring duties, and a demon on B-roads.
It’s probably no slouch on the circuit, as MotoBuyer found out in 2014, but if you’re a trackday hero you might as well have an RR in the multi-storey carpark. The S 1000 R, meanwhile, is a sensational all-rounder that somehow blends unrelenting acceleration with benign usability. It’s never going to challenge you to show it what you can do when you climb aboard, but is more the kind of bike that wants to show you what you can do together.
NEED TO KNOW BMW S 1000 R (2018 model)
Engine type 999cc, 16V, inline 4
Bore X Stroke 80 x 49.7mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual with up/down quickshifter
Max power 165hp at 11,000rpm
Max torque 114Nm at 9,250rpm
0 to 100km/h 3.0 seconds (est.)
Top speed >200km/h (est.)
Weight 205kg (fully fueled)
Seat Height 814mm
Price S$44,500 including S$5,000 COE subsidy
Agent: Performance Motors Limited