A Closer Look – 2020 BMW S1000RR

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Considering I only had a couple of hours of seat time on the S1000RR, calling this “A Closer Look” is being generous. But I already blew my “First Ride” title on a high-level overview for Maxim, and this story includes the details I want to share with you about BMW’s newest superbike. Consider this a warning – it’s long, and there are way too many mentions of electronics. Hope you can still enjoy!


Photos by Kevin Wing


Nate Kern has been BMW Motorrad’s US Brand Ambassador for the S1000RR since well before the bike was released here a decade ago. He’s also won multiple championships on the R nineT, which you may remember from my suggestion last year to donate towards his attempt to compete in BoxerCup 2.0.

But for a brief moment in time at Barber Motorsports Park, none of the titles mean anything to me – I’m just in awe. I’m waiting in pit lane to have photos taken with the 2020 BMW S1000RR on track, and I’m passing the time by watching Nate rip off laps on the new model. Every time he hits the main straightaway, Nate lofts the front wheel and gives us all a show. He’s half motorcyclist, half entertainer, and right now I’m appreciating both sides.

In the past, Mr. Kern has said that the S1000RR is like a child to him, noting that he’s “witnessed the whole evolution of this motorcycle.” So, let’s go back to the start.

An Abbreviated History

When BMW first announced the S1000RR in 2008, the motorcycle media wasn’t sure what to expect – Motorcycle.com called it “a bold new direction for the formerly staid German brand.” The spec list was impressive, but BMW’s “sporty” offerings to date were machines like the K1, R1100S, and K1200S so customers were right to be wary. Then the bike came out, and it was a revelation. Back to Motorcycle.com: “For fundamentally changing the liter-size sportbike class, BMW’s ferocious yet refined S1000RR deserves our Motorcycle of the Year award.”

The bike was amazing. The “Acid Green” paint job? Not so much.

In short, it was more powerful than anything else in the class, but it was also much easier to ride at the limit thanks to electronic aids that regular riders had never seen before. The best example I can give is an anecdote from Dylan Code at California Superbike School, who mentioned what happened when the school switched from the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R to the BMW S1000RR for their student fleet. One would think that the increased power and weight would pose additional challenges for students, but in the first year of the switch, the crash rate dropped by 40%.

Over the years, the RR has accumulated a customer profile that parallels other BMW motorcycles – the owners have more experience and they ride more in a given year than the average sportbike rider. Specifically, the average S1000RR owner has 23 years of riding experience (compared to 10 years) and they ride 2,600 miles/year (compared to 1,700 miles/year). The inherent attraction of sportbikes for younger customers means that the the average RR owner is 9 years younger than the average BMW owner, but the latter number is approximately 55.

The S1000RR was even BMW’s best selling model in the US in 2015 after the second generation was introduced (14% of BMW’s US sales), but something else happened that same year which had a big impact: Yamaha introduced the R1 and R1M. Nate Kern simply says, “nobody complained about the handling [of the S1000RR] until 2015 when the R1M came out.” The 2017 updates to the Aprilia RSV4 didn’t help, either.

I got 30 minutes with the R1M last year at Utah Motorsports Campus, and the Ohlins Smart Electronic Control system was the best suspension I had ever sampled.

So, how is BMW fighting back?

The 2020 BMW S1000RR – On Paper

According to Nate, BMW had two goals during development:

1. At any racetrack in the world, the new bike was to be 1 second faster. But this had to be done with a “customer first” approach, meaning that BMW had to make something that was usable for a wide variety of skill levels, not just a hardcore machine that was only approachable for club racers and the like. As I’ll expound on later, I don’t have the track skills to verify this.

I’m not slow, but I sure as hell ain’t fast!

2. A minimum weight reduction of 25 pounds.
I do have the math skills to verify this: 11.2 of those pounds were saved from the frame and suspension. The new aluminum main frame is 3 pounds lighter, and it’s been dubbed “Flexframe” as it has specific levels of flexibility engineered in that supposedly lead to more feedback and better traction. It also does a better job of utilizing the engine as a stressed member, which contributes to a reduction in width of up to 1.18″. BMW has found lots of places to shave weight – the handlebar is 0.53 pounds lighter, the gearshift lever is 0.20 pounds lighter, the swingarm is 0.66 pounds lighter, even the stock Michelin tires are 0.18 pounds lighter than the rubber they replace!

It should be noted that for this event, BMW ditched the Michelins and equipped our test bikes with Pirellis, specifically the Diablo Supercorsa SC1 up front and the Diablo Supercorsa SC2 Rear in the rear. These are Pirelli’s best-performing street legal tires – apparently you can only buy them through “Pirelli-official trackside vendors.”

An interesting “what if”: BMW claims the new frame is only .79″ wider than it would have been with a V-4 engine.

But the most impressive part of the diet is the new engine, which somehow lost 8.8 pounds and got 0.5″ narrower while getting stronger. The motor makes a claimed 205 horsepower at 13,000 rpm and 83 pound-feet of torque at 11,000rpm. If I was to instigate, I would note that 44Teeth just dyno’d the bike in a way-too-long video and got 196 at the rear wheel on the same dyno where they got 189 out of a Ducati Panigale V4S (Ducati claims 214 at the crank). What’s interesting is how the S1000 makes said power. Typically, a high-output inline-4 is underwhelming down low and terrifying up top. If you read my review of the BMW R1250GS, you hopefully remember ShiftCam, BMW’s variable timing system that offers up two lobe profiles on the intake cam based on engine load. While it debuted on the “R” boxer twin, it’s now in play with the “S” inline four. With the boxer, the switch between profiles happened at 5k rpm. Now the magic number is 9k.

The “shark gills” create a vacuum which keeps the motor a claimed 10 degrees colder.

Under 9k, the cam profile puts a priority on low-end torque so you get more drive out of the corners. It even helps with gas mileage – BMW says the new bike gets 37 mpg, up 2 from last year. Above 9k, the cam profile instead emphasizes the top-end power hit that you know and love from this style of motor. What this gets you is the best of both worlds, and an impressively wide usable range of power: the S1KRR makes more than 74 pound-feet of torque from 5,500 rpm – 14,500 rpm.

BMW did not supply dyno charts at the US launch, but at the international launch back in March they did share a comparison between the 2010, 2018, and this year’s model. Michael Mann included it as part of his review on Bennetts BikeSocial. Click this link to check out the dyno – look at the bump in torque compared to last year’s bike (the new bike is a 2019 in Europe). If you’re geeking out like me and want more details, my favorite explanation on how ShiftCam works in the S1000RR motor is this video by Racing School Europe. I wish BMW had one of these engine cutouts for us to play with it at the US launch, I think it does a great job showing how it all functions:

Also borrowed from the GS is the 6.5″ TFT screen, which is fantastic and a little bit overwhelming. Once you get familiar with the display, it can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. The simplest form is what BMW calls the “Pure” screen, which focuses on the speed, tach, and gear position.

It will also show you the speed limit if you’re connected to your BMW Motorrad phone app.

There are additional “Core” modes that can include data such as lean angle and lap timers, and you can adjust the tachometer to be bar style or the more traditional round style. The display is also how you’ll control most of the settings for the different ride modes.

Overwhelmed yet?

There are four standard modes: Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race. Then there are three optional modes (Race Pro 1/2/3) that are configurable as shown above. The four standard modes have presets that you could probably guess as I’ve listed them in order of aggression. Once you get into the Race Pro models, you can tailor settings including the engine output, engine braking, and the intervention levels of ABS, Traction Control, and Wheelie Control. You can also play with the damping, compression, and rebound of the Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) suspension.

Settings change depending on your selected ride mode.

The 45mm USD forks and “Full Floater Pro” (BMW uses the term “Pro” way too much) suspension are built by Marzocchi. Based on throttle/brake inputs, lean angle, and how much of the travel has already been used up, the valving can be adjusted in 10 milliseconds. The DDC suspension is included as part of the $1,400 Select Package, which also gives you tire pressure monitors, heated grips, and cruise control.

There are two other packages for you to consider, but first let’s look at the base bike. New standard features compared to last year include full LED lighting, the 6.5″ TFT screen, dual-direction quickshifter, on-board computer with the jog dial multi-controller, Hill Start Control (keeps the bike in place when starting up or downhill), the Dynamic ride mode, an adjustable clutch lever, and ABS Pro. BMW values all of this at over $2,000, and they’ve bumped up MSRP by $1,000 to $16,995. With that said, BMW isn’t planning on importing any base bikes – you’ll have to special order that from your dealership. Almost every bike sold in the US will come with the Select Package and/or the packages detailed below.

The new headlights and the “Racing Red” livery make me think of the Ducati Desmosedici.

If you’re a car enthusiast, you know that the letter “M” is quite special for BMW. For reasons I’ve never figured out, the bikes never got any M love, we just had “HP” branded on everything from accessories to models like the HP2 or HP4. Well, that finally changes as the S1000RR is the first BMW motorcycle with a M Package, and it’s quite impressive. For $3,700, you get lots of “M”s:

M Carbon Wheels – aftermarket carbon fiber wheels are usually over $3,000 for a pair by themselves, plus these come with a factory warranty.
M Sport Seat
M Lightweight Battery
M Chassis Kit – adjustable rear ride height and swingarm pivot point (+2mm| 0 |-2mm).
Ride Modes Pro – an umbrella term for all of the Race Pro 1/2/3 modes, Launch Control, Wheelie Control, Pit Lane Limiter, Hill Start Control Pro (automatic engagement when hill is +/- 5 degrees), and more.

The M Package cuts an additional 7 pounds of weight, down to a total of 427.

Our test bikes were equipped with the M Sport Seat.

You also get the nifty BMW Motorsport-inspired white/red/blue livery. Currently, non-M bikes are only available in Racing Red, though a new color will be announced next month at BMW Motorrad Days.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, there’s a separate Race Package for the very few people who want a dedicated track bike. For $1,600, you’ll get Ride Modes Pro, Forged Wheels, the M Lightweight Battery, and the M Chassis Kit.

My intended usage would be almost entirely commuting/sport riding on weekends with a rare track day. For that, I would pony up for the Select Package and the M Package (but I’d try to keep the stock seat), which totals out to $22,095.

Conveniently, that’s how our bikes were equipped!

Those are the features that I think are worth sharing, but Nate Kern shared his three personal highlights with me over dinner and I think they’re worth ending with. In order of importance to him:
1.) Chassis Geometry. Thanks to the narrower engine, the ergonomics of the new bike are better so you can get your knees in and your elbows out.
2.) ShiftCam. As he puts it, “life begins much earlier on the new bike.”
3.) Swingarm Design. The new “WSBK Swingarm” design allows BMW to mount the rear shock vertically, which means they were able to significantly drop the spring rate from 95 N⋅m to 65 N⋅m. That translates to a plusher ride and less work for the rear tire to do.

How did all the changes work out?

The 2020 BMW S1000RR – On Track

Rain mode is cheating. If you fall off in rain mode, you should rethink riding.Nate Kern
I am not a big track guy. I’m not even a little track guy – this is only my third time on a track with a motorcycle, and one of them was an endurance race with a minuscule Honda XR100R. This means a.) I don’t have much experience with the competition and b.) I can’t push the limits of what the S1000RR is capable of. But I have to start somewhere, right? So if you’re a top-class racer, you’ll be better served with the riding opinions of someone like Rennie Scaysbrook, Jensen Beeler, or Troy Siahaan when they get their stories up. But if you’re a weekend warrior or someone who’s flirting with the idea of taking your bike on the track, here’s what I think:

What a great way to start a work day.

For our first session, the bikes were set up in Road mode. The first couple of laps, I followed a piece of advice that Spurgeon Dunbar of RevZilla’s Common Tread (here’s his review) passed on to me from his visits to California Superbike School (story 1, story 2) – specifically to stay in 3rd gear and never touch the brakes as the best way to focus on lines and learn the track. I could only maintain this for a couple of laps before my lack of discipline made me go faster, but it did show off how flexible the new motor is, especially in terms of low-end torque thanks to ShiftCam. To be frank, my first session was more about getting familiar with the track than it was about learning the bike. My only real observation was that the suspension was too soft for track work, but I wasn’t worried about that seeing as we were in Road mode.

In the second session, the bikes were put in “Dynamic” mode. As one of the ride leaders switched the mode for me, he said, “Heads up, it’s in Dynamic mode. Now it’s a real motorcycle.” The suspension felt better as it had firmed up, and I finally knew the track well enough to pick up the pace. My main takeaway was how easy the bike was to flick from side to side. There were several portions of the track where the S1000RR felt like a 600 – the lighter crankshaft, carbon wheels, and overall diet really pay off.

BMW had a spare carbon fiber rear wheel for us to play show-and-tell with. Drool.

The other surprise was less pleasant. Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber initially clued me into this, but there’s a flat spot in the power from approximately 7,000-8,000 rpm. I only encountered it when exiting the Turn 5/6 combo, but I encountered it every single time I was accelerating out of that section. I had flashbacks to my personal K1200R, which had a similar dead spot at 6,000 because BMW tuned it lean where emission testing occurred. I (mostly) fixed with a BoosterPlug, but this will require a more sophisticated solution. If you’re accelerating from very low revs, it starts to feel strong around 4k, pauses around 7.5k, and then ShiftCam switches at 9k and you’re screaming. It’s mildly reminiscent of the feeling you get from turbo lag, though not nearly as severe.

I asked a BMW representative about it after the track day was over and they basically said that the US bike has been slightly hampered by the EPA. It wouldn’t be the only way that US regulations interfered with the new S1000RR: oddly enough, the original brake light/turn signal combination was deemed too bright by the DOT, so BMW had to redesign it! With regards to the fueling, there may have been a suggestion to talk to Alpha Racing in Germany (the official partner of BMW Motorrad’s WorldSBK team, not to be confused with Alpha SBK in New York), but I’m pretty confident that the usual exhaust + tune that many riders buy anyway will be sufficient.

Forget the powerband, you should just get a new exhaust for the cosmetic improvement.

Next time out, I was in Race mode – sharper power delivery and stiffer suspension. No surprises here, this was my favorite of the standard ride modes on track. As I got faster, I started to appreciate some of the smaller details. Nate Kern mentioned that he fought hard to get machined footpegs as stock fitment, because if you have good traction on the pegs you’ll relax your upper body. I’d say it paid off. I don’t have any seat time on the previous gen S1KRR so I can’t compare the new ergonomics, but considering it’s a superbike I was relatively comfortable – much more so than I was on the Yamaha R1. Normally you wouldn’t care about mirrors on a race track, but it gave me an excuse to see how the vibration was at 100+ mph and they were still usable. The performance of Race mode made me feel like Dynamic mode might be unnecessary, but that opinion could change if I was on the street.

In our remaining sessions, we got to play around with the configurable Race Pro modes. The biggest difference is in the suspension. In the standard modes (Rain/Road/Dynamic/Race), 10% of the calculated suspension damping force is preset and the remaining 90% is active, responding to imperfections in the road. In Race Pro 1/2/3, the percentages switch. Now, 90% of the force is predetermined (and it’s quite stiff as you’re presumed to be on a track) and only 10% is dynamic. This yields much more consistent response from the suspension as the track surface is quite smooth. It’s a big improvement that also gives me hope about how comfortable the ride could be on the street. Can you tell that I wish we got some street time with these bikes? I’m hoping to rectify that soon.

In Race Pro 1/2/3, you can also adjust traction control (settings between -7 and +7) on the fly with a dedicated switch in the left hand controls. A BMW rep recommended that I start at Level 1, and I found no reason to deviate from that slightly conservative setting. I found the TC intervention to be quite seamless, though I was surprised by how often it kicked in. The TC light flashes when the system is working, and it flickers faster when it’s working harder. I saw the yellow indicator throughout corners all over track, and even in a straight line when already traveling at a decent clip. Here’s an example of the TC system claiming it was assisting while I was leaving Turn 6 in second gear:

It’s moments like this that lead to one of my very few complaints about the S1000RR: in hindsight, it sometimes felt like a bunch of software engineers in Germany built a video game on two wheels and I was just hanging on for the ride. Riding is so visceral that I never felt that way when I was actually on the bike. But when I think back on my ride (and see that traction control was on even when I was going over 100 mph in a straight line on good quality pavement), it almost feels like cheating and takes away a little bit of the sense of accomplishment.

And you know what? I’m totally fine with that because it’s a very minor price to pay for the safety net that BMW’s electronics provide. At the start of the day, I was a track day newbie who looked like I was out on a street ride. By the time lunch rolled around I was still a track day newbie, but now I was coming into Turn 1 at 130+ mph, braking hard enough that the rear wheel would get light and start dancing around. The DDC suspension firmed up the front forks to minimize dive while ABS Pro kept the wheels in line and the bike upright. Before my time on the S1KRR, the biggest bike I had gotten a knee down on was a Yamaha R3. I don’t think dragging knee is a goal in itself, but it’s definitely a sign that I’m feeling comfortable and going quick. After lunch, I was following Nate Kern around Barber and scratching up knee pucks through a third of the corners on track – I have helmet cam video from my lap following Nate but I won’t share it because I’m embarrassed about how much I’m giggling.

Overheard at the launch by a fellow reviewer: “Why would anyone not get the M package?” I’d have to agree.

Traditionalists can complain about all the electronic assists, but on the S1000RR they allowed me to access more speed and thrills than I would have been able to enjoy otherwise – that’s why I constantly had a smile inside of my helmet. I don’t care if a bike makes 205 horsepower versus 201 – I’m not going to be able to take advantage of the difference and I think the delivery is more important than the peak number. But I definitely benefit from traction control that briefly makes me feel like a hero, exiting a corner as the rear tire slides sideways a couple of inches before politely falling back in line. The newest generation of electronics are an amazing way to get yourself to the next level of excitement. Nate says that he used to call the electronic supports “intrusions“. He doesn’t feel that way any more.

The 2020 BMW S1000RR – Let’s Wrap This Up

When I review a bike, I’ve usually also had seat time on a few competitors. That’s not the case this time around, sorry. All I can say is that I was more comfortable and competent on the S1000RR than I was on the R1. I think the BMW is a better fit for taller riders and it should be much more streetable than the competition thanks to features like cruise control, heated grips, and to a lesser extent, phone integration and hill hold control.

Speaking of the competition: BMW is typically associated with being a premium brand with the prices to match, but they’re surprisingly competitive if you look at superbikes equipped with electronic suspension. Don’t forget, at these prices the BMW is the only one with expensive carbon fiber wheels:

Honda CBR1000RR SP: $19,999
72%
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R SE: $21,899
76%
BMW S1000RR: $22,095
79%
Yamaha R1M: $22,999
82%
Ducati Panigale V4S: $27,895
100%

Last time I brought up pricing, commenter MarylandMoto correctly noted the importance of maintenance schedules when it comes to operating costs. Here’s some basics:

Oil/Filter
Spark Plugs
Air Filter
Valve Check
Fork Fluid
Brake Fluid

6,000 miles or annually
18,000 miles
6,000 miles
18,000 miles
18,000 miles
first year, then every two years
I assume by now you’ve figured out that I really like the BMW S1000RR, mainly because it makes me better and that means I have more fun. At this point I have three concerns: the dead spot at 7k still bothers me, and I don’t know how it’ll translate to the public roads where most people will log miles on this bike. I’m unsure if the fueling issue will be less noticeable on the street because you’re not accelerating at full throttle very often or more noticeable because you’ll be spending more time around 7k rpms, but I’m very sure that I’ll be requesting a loaner back in Los Angeles to find out.

Secondly, I don’t think the S1000RR looks like a BMW anymore and that bums me out. The original design had asymmetrical headlights, a styling element that the company has used since 1999 with the R1100S. You may not like it, but you can identify it quickly, and to me it was part of BMW’s design. There was also a claim that the squinty-eyed look saved weight, but that’s no longer necessary because the new LED units are so light. Without the BMW Motorsport livery or logos, you could tell me this was from any manufacturer and I’d probably believe you.

Do you think it’s good looking?

Finally – there’s a restaurant named Abhi in Birmingham just 20 minutes away from the track, and I didn’t get to go! There was such potential for jokes about reviews like “Came back tonight and once again, Abhi didn’t disappoint.” That review was clearly not written by VyVy.

I guess that’s only two real issues with the bike, then.

The S1000RR was truly a game-changer when it was first released, and it took quite a while for other manufacturers to catch up. This new bike won’t make as large of a splash because the electronic race has tightened, but it’s still hugely impressive and BMW is going to sell a ton of them. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is – you’re going to enjoy the new BMW S1000RR.

Check out the 2020 BMW S1000RR!
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