PALMA DE MAJORCA, Spain — It’s really quite amazing how tractable a highly tuned engine can be, depending, of course, on who’s doing the tuning. Exiting hairpins at barely 2,000 rpm, there’s so much torque available to my nervous right hand that, because the wet Spanish roads are so darned slippery, downshifting is, thankfully, rendered superfluous. Not having to deal with vagaries of wet weather traction while trying to contain a chomping-at-the-bit superbike is a surprise beyond the merely pleasant.
Even under this heavy load, the highly-tuned (160 rompin’, stompin’ horsepower from just under a litre of displacement) four accelerates up the steep Majorcan coastline with no snatching, no spitting and barely a performance concession to the fact that it is barely above idle. Were this a Honda Gold Wing, no one would make a fuss about such civil behavior — such behavior is expected since its gargantuan 1,832-cc flat six is a natural for prodigious low-end grunt and its pliability part of touring legend.
But this is BMW‘s S1000, the baddest, highest-revving superbike engine on the planet. Its 999-cc four-cylinder, Formula One-derived engine shocked the superbike world back in 2009 and still has the Japanese manufacturers, usually at the head of the superbike class, reeling. To be sure, this is the new 160-horsepower single-R “naked” bike version of BMW’s colossus and not the 193-hp missile that powers the double-R superbike, but it is still an engine that screams frenetically to a 12,000 rpm redline. Rare enough are the engines that spin to 10,000 rpm; this one makes power over a 10,000 rpm span. Anyone thinking that the S1000RR was a one-dimensional powerhouse that, by design, could only thrive at high rpm needs to ride the R version. A simple rejigging of the camshaft timing and some narrower, higher-velocity intake ports later and presto, change-o, the big BMW thinks it’s a Harley.
BMW has tried to instill some stability to the steering of the S1000R with a higher turning angle and longer wheelbase.
Though those who buy bikes by spec sheet will likely complain about that 33-hp downgrade of the giant-killing original, methinks it’s a good thing. For one, as I said, it imbues the S1000R with instantaneous throttle response that make wheelies a doddle (and, know this, wheelies may be “stunting” under many provincial laws, but the raison d’etre for naked bikes is the enthusiastic, and frequent, lofting of the front wheel). More pertinent, though, is the fact that the horsepower deficit is all at high revs (the R version is actually seven pound-feet stronger than the RR from 3,000 to 9,000 rpm, though its peak remains 86.2 pound-feet). Specifically, the single-R loses the double-R’s final 12,000 rpm “kick” where the café racer slips in one final burst of mega-horsepower insouciance on its way to making those aforementioned 193 horses.
That’s not a bad thing. Even with its meagre 160 ponies, the S1000R — thanks to its rearward weight bias caused by its naked-bike mandated upright riding position — starts to get decidedly light in the front end when that screaming 999-cc four hits ten grand; it would be nigh on unmanageable if there were still another kick to come at 12,000 rpm. Some may still complain of the power deficit to the top-of-the-line superbike but I’ll take tractability over inadvertent 160 km/h wheelies any day (it should be noted that the S1000 R also has anti-wheelie control built into its DTC traction control system; it needs it).
Besides, for those hooligans who might be lamenting that the S1000 has been too tamed, rest assured that tractability doesn’t mean civility. Indeed, the S1000R’s engine remains just as insistent as the Double-R version, the highly-tuned engine nervously “hunting” on steady throttle as if it can’t quite believe anyone would bother riding it below 4,000 rpm. It barks on overrun, occasionally spits when you back off from high rpm and always howls like a superbike no matter what speed your cruising at. Naysayers, again looking at that 33 horsepower deficit on the spec sheet, will try to decry the R as too civilized; in reality it still chomps at the bit like a Rottweiler with its eye on a particularly poofy poodle.
The S1000R is as capable racing on the track as it is commuting on the public road.
BMW further tries to tame the R’s wayward ways by kicking out the frame’s steering angle 0.8 degrees and increasing the trail by five millimetres, both measures adding to the R’s 22-mm longer wheelbase. All the changes are designed to render a little stability to what otherwise might be a hyperactive ride at high speeds (those who have never ridden a high-powered naked sports bike should note that in just removing the aerodynamic front fairing and raising the handlebars to a comfortable position so dramatically shifts weight to the rear wheel that the front end gets decidedly light and the steering twitchy). That said, despite the wide handlebar offering leverage, the raked-out front end does render the R’s steering heavier than the double-R’s and not quite as linear. Nonetheless, in comparison to anything else than an S1000RR, the R handles like a dream.
The resultant seating position, however, is comfy as a couch, the higher handlebar and slightly lower and further-forward footpegs a tonic to those of us who suffer from wonky spines. The seat itself is also 40-mm lower to the ground despite being more generously padded than the RR’s perch. It all adds up to a bike more comfortable than a hyper-focused superbike but with most of its capabilities.
That’s also true of the S1000R’s electronics. In base form, the naked bike’s high-tech handling enhancements are simpler than the RR’s, there being just two modes — Rain and Road — managing traction and the engine output. But, pony up $950 (on top of the $14,999 base price) for the Sports package and one gets a more sophisticated engine management package with Dynamic and Dynamic Pro (which offers minimal intervention and is definitely not for newbies). As well, there’s another option, the Dynamic package (this time, an additional $775), which adds BMW Dynamic Damping Control (DDC). By flipping through the ABS switch, one can alter both front and rear suspensions between Soft, Normal and Hard damping settings, this last largely reserved for track use. Set to its softest position, however, compliance is almost sport-touring friendly.
And, indeed, that’s the allure of the single-R version of BMW’s venomous S1000. It’s barely diminished as a track weapon and yet, thanks to the superior seating position and the sophistication of its (optional) suspension, it remains something you commute on every day. That’s the magic of the naked versions of superbikes and none do it better than BMW.
The S1000R can stretch its legs all the way up to a 12,000 rpm redline.
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