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Perception drives the world. Not so long ago, BMW’s motorcycles conjured up images of steadfast touring motorcycles, fully kitted retirees bestrode them, enjoying the years with spouses in tow, but not fully devoid of fun.
Five years ago, BMW introduced the S1000RR to the racing world, and a year later, to showrooms. The S1000RR was a runaway success: It ran away from the competition on the track, and was an even stronger seller on the road. At the height of its popularity, we heard of crash wrecks selling for more money than brand new supersport bikes.
The prowess of the S1000RR has made it become newly-minted legend, and has elevated BMW to that of cutting-edge superbike manufacturer. However, not everyone gets along with superbikes. Superbikes are race built machines, requiring, more often than not, race-built pilots with flexibility to match. Sure, you could commute or tour on one if determined enough, but it might wear you down. So why not put on a yoke mounted handlebar, delete the fairing and make a more comfy, but still sporty, steed?
Toplessness of a different sort
The first cited example of the supernaked breed was the Aprilia Tuono. In 2002, Aprilia did the ‘delete fairings, add handlebars’ trick to its RSV sportbike, and the fun-packed, popular-selling Tuono was the result.
Like other things in motorcycle history, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact provenance of this idea: In 1994 Ducati unveiled its first Monster, which was, you guessed it, a sporty, unfaired bike. Go back further and pioneers on the bike-modding scene had already long since churned out ‘street fighters’, or sports bikes which had been crashed repeatedly for street races or stunts, so it was cheaper to simply ride them sans-fairing, and it looked far more aggro as well.
Whatever the case, the supernaked is very much established in 2014 with contenders such as the Aprilia Tuono V4R, Ducati Monster 1200 S, Kawasaki Z1000, KTM Super Duke R and Triumph Speed Triple.
They’re associated with short wheel-bases, stripped down looks, torquey engines that allow effortless wheelies and other top-notch components that wouldn’t be out of place on the fastest litre/litre-plus sport bikes.
So it’s little surprise super-nakeds have become the new cool. Fully-faired superbikes are kept for the young and flexible or the reserve of serious pundits doing circuit work. For BMW, a non-faired S 1000RR for the street was nothing but logical, so what we have before us today is the S 1000R – yes, the supernaked version of the very accomplished sport bike, minus one R.
The guts of the thing is of course, the 999cc engine that was the most powerful production mill when it debuted in the S 1000RR. It has significantly less horsepower – 33bhp less – which might matter to you if you’re counting specs against the names mentioned previously. 160hp at 11,000rpm (2,000rpm less in total) and 112Nm at 9,250rpm, weighing in at just 207kg (wet).
BMW’s engineers say they didn’t want to chase numbers, but to improve all-round ride-ability. In that respect, peak torque is the same, although it’s now made 500rpm earlier (at 9,250rpm). What’s new on the engine? Quite a bit outside the block. In fact, the S 1000R sounds very far from simply being a ‘parts bin special’, as engineers claim the S1000R engine has been retuned for mid-range, which as most street riders know is where the fun and magic happens. To that end, there’s a redesigned cylinder head, new camshafts, revised injection system and new exhaust, and from riding it, a closer-ratio gearbox.
The central frame (a perimeter aluminium unit) is the same, although nearly everything else, chassis wise, is modified from the sportbike, with a much evolved geometry. Rake is increased by 0.8 degrees, trail increased by 5mm, wheelbase lengthened 22mm, axle moved farther back in the swingarm, 3mm lower swingarm pivot, 14mm bike height reduction to accommodate the rearward weight bias of an upright sitting position.
Spec-wise, Singapore’s bikes gets a very generous equipment list, and our test unit was loaded with the full range of riding modes (rain, road, dynamic and dynamic pro), Race ABS, quick shifter, traction control (DTC), stability control (ASC), heated grips and even cruise control. Customers have a choice of buying the base version which is fitted with fully adjustable Sachs suspension or the full-spec version with DDC (BMW’s semi active electronic suspension). Riding mode and suspension settings (DDC) can be changed on the move.
Naturally when the call came in, and with certain office schedules being juggled at the same time, it just so happens that our first test ride of the S 1000R is not going to be on the main road, but the stomping ground of its double-R brother. Serendipitous, since I personally own an S 1000RR and use it at the track, some times more than once a week (Hence the name! – DW).
Grunt And Squeal
As is often our luck with Johor Circuit, the heavens decided to open just before the track did. Fortunately, this time we’re not riding nearly $100k worth of red Italians!
When it finally stopped dripping, we did our exploratory laps with the riding management set in Rain mode. The first we thing noticed was how the throttle response was remarkably crisp, unlike the detached feeling you get with the S 1000RR in Rain mode. Though trimmed to ‘just’ 136HP, Rain mode was entertaining, allowing the wheels to spin-up on an abruptly-pinned throttle. With suspension set at ‘Soft, single rider’, the S1000R was able to glide through the slippery stuff, offering feedback and confidence in spades, and even allowing pinned throttle exits. Protesters to electronic riding aids say, “Yeah, but it’s the nannies helping you”, but this doesn’t account for the way the bike handles.
After a handful of laps and some more waiting, the dry line began to form at last, so it was time to go back out and see what the S 1000R could do in full power (160HP), in Dynamic mode. All in all, we over 30 laps with about half of them on a damp track, plus commuting to and from Pasir Gudang itself.
Of course the biggest question is: How fast does it feel? Well with the subtly reshaped torque curve, the S 1000R doesn’t feel any slower than its origin. In fact, applying the throttle liberally propels the S1000R forward with immediate ferocity that makes the S1000RR feel almost limp. Not that the S1000RR has ever been known to be a slouch in the torque department, mind you.
There isn’t more torque, and while it’s made earlier, it’s interesting to note that the S1000R makes more power that the S1000RR below 9000rpm. On the road, it certainly feels quicker, with a bigger mid-range punch, especially short-shifting through the improved (more positive, lighter action) gear box.
On the track, judging by the top speeds reached along the “straights” at Johor Circuit, the S1000R will probably be just 10-15km/h slower than the mighty S1000RR. Track regulars there will know this is no mean feat.
BMW has done a superb job with chassis revisions . Coupled with refined traction and anti-wheelie control, the S1000R thrusts forwards relentlessly on a pinned throttle without a hint of wheelie. No wasted torque/ power, no unwanted wheelies or having to baby the throttle. Literally, just pin, up-shifting as you go.
Featuring the same quick-shifter from the S1000RR, the S1000R’s has been programmed to allow even creamier gear changes (BMW has gotten the “kill-time” near perfect), which is perfectly mated with a gear shift that’s more positive and improved in feel.
It’s very likely the first super-naked I’ve ridden that can actually put all its power into the rear wheel (and the floor), with unintrusive electronic rider aids doing their job immaculately.
Feel like goofing around? Simply close the throttle and reopen, and the front wheel lifts effortlessly into the air as if the front wheel is filled with helium. If you don’t have the space for anti-social behaviour though, you’ll be glad to know that the S 1000R is noticeably louder than the RR too. It emits a crisp, tuned exhaust note that’s complimented by an off-throttle “bruupp, bruupp” burble when the throttle is shut, and it’s so entertaining that one’s encouraged to downshift through the gears just because.
Hammer And Chisel
But if the engine now feels like it’s even more steroid-engorged, despite making less power, the handling is another impressive point. The transition from sportbike to super-naked is sometimes difficult, since taller set handlebars aren’t an instant cure for handling.
On track at our resident proving ground, Johor Circuit, the S1000R feels very like much like the S1000RR – the which has been my track hack for past few years. It’s certainly the most stable super-naked I’ve ridden at the circuit, both when accelerating and under the brakes. Though adjustable, the steering damper kept head shake in check, whilst the wide handlebars complemented the neutral steering. The S1000R also inherits the S1000RR’s two-piece Brembo calipers. So no surprises here, the bike stops very well, with the Nissin master-cylinder giving good feel.
Most impressive, the S1000R affords bigger riders like me, more space to move around. Often I have to consciously avoid banging my visor on the handlebar clamp, or hunching over the tank. Coupled with a sit-in (and not on) seat position, the S1000R affords two to three inches more space that allows taller riders like me to tuck completely behind the handlebar (and clamp), such that wind blast seemed minimal.
Johor Circuit is known to be a bumpy track, and over the session, not once was the bike unsettled, nor was I distracted with the type of rodeo ride poorer-suspended bikes deliver at PG. Kudos to the sublime DDC suspension, which I left in “Soft, single rider” mode for the majority of the time. Dynamic Damping Control (DDC, as found on other BMW bikes) is an electronic semi-active suspension system that senses what the bike is doing and adjusts the damping to match every ten milliseconds. This allows for automatic (though not predictive) changes to suspension damping settings to cater for varying road and riding conditions, at a fraction of a second. Damping control can be pre-selected (soft, normal, hard), and catered to one or two riders. Preload is however manually adjusted to accommodate different rider weights. It’s a $2,500 option, but if you have a little spare cash, it adds a whole new dimension to the bike’s capabilities.
So what’s the overall verdict? Well, switching from Rain to Dynamic mode means all the systems (which are as BMW says, ‘fully synchronised’) go back to ‘full-blast’ and as a result, lap times were immediately shaved by three seconds. How would the S 1000R compare with the S 1000RR? I’d say it’s only two or three seconds slower per lap at Johor Circuit. Which really isn’t far off. BMW claims 160bhp for the naked at the crank, but the S1000R has also been reported to make 159bhp at the wheel, which puts it in the same league as a Honda CBR1000RR or Yamaha R1. Equally quick? It’ll boil down to aerodynamics and how adapted one is to the upright riding posture.
What we found impressive though, was just how composed and capable the entire package is. As mentioned, the electronics are even less obtrusive than the RR’s and one of the more notable contrasts between the two bikes. This allows you to set-and-forget the settings, letting you concentrate more on the riding itself.
We’ll explore living with the S 1000R in the next issue, but the thing to note for now is that it might be 24bhp less powerful, have one less ‘R’ in name, and no fairing, but the BMW S1000R’s blend of roaring mid-range and handling confidence is everything a supernaked, or any bike, should be.
BMW S1000R (with DDC)
Engine type 999cc, 16V, inline 4
Bore X Stroke 80 x 49.7mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual with quickshifter
Max power 160bhp at 11,000rpm
Max torque 121Nm at 9,250rpm
0 to 100km/h 3.1 seconds (est.)
Top speed >200km/h (est.)
Dry Weight 207kg
Seat Height 814mm
Price $38,000 (OTR)
Front Suspension 46mm USD forks, electronic adjustment (DDC)
Rear Suspension Adjustable rebound, electronic adjustment (DDC)
Front Brakes Dual 320mm floating disc, Brembo four-piston, ABS
Rear Brakes Single 220mm disc, 2-piston