BMW S 1000 RR HP4 review (2013)

BMW's HP4 in its natural habitat, waiting to prowl on any unsuspecting victims brave enough to take the keys.
With launch control, 193bhp, semi-active suspension, carbon fibre bodywork, a dry weight of 169kg, and a spec sheet that looks like it came straight off a factory World Superbike, the BMW HP4 is one special sports bike.

In fact, the HP4 was the first bike to ever be used as a safety bike in MotoGP in Texas last weekend, so when BMW asked if we wanted to spend a couple of weeks with BMW’s new £16,700 HP4 we couldn’t really refuse.

The BMW HP4 (HP stands for High Performance) is the ultimate incarnation of the words sports bike. In the annuls of time it’s what the words sports bike should be defined as. It takes the words and stretches them to a new high that puts it up there as special bikes with legends like the MotoGP replica Ducati Desmosedici and Honda’s RC30 and RC45.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale may be ultimately more sexy, more showy and almost as quick, but as a package designed to get you from A-to-B as fast as humanly possible, I’d lay my custom-sprayed Arai on the line, that nothing comes close to the HP4.
Tucked in, on the pipe and enjoying every second. It's what the HP4 is about. The ultimate sports bike? Quite possibly.
It’s not just the motor. The bike’s engine makes 193bhp and has been boosted in its mid-range between 6000rpm and 9750rpm, compared to the standard BMW S1000RR, itself hardly lacking in excitement. But then the weight has been cut too. It weighs in at 169kg dry with ABS and 199kg wet, again with ABS. That puts it into race bike territory with the World Superbike weight limit just a few kilos off at 165kg (wet) for a ready-to-race World Superbike. Remove the ABS, the lights, the indicators, the seat cowl, the starter motor and the battery and it wouldn’t be too far off.
Carbon fibre everywhere, semi-active suspension, some of the best brakes money can buy. Who said sports bikes are dead?
Essentially BMW has taken the already amazing S1000RR and refined it in every area. It gets lightweight wheels, a quickshifter, semi active suspension that reacts to the throttle position, lean angle and speed of the bike every 11 milliseconds, more midrange, upgraded brake pads (though the Brembos are still the same), launch control, adjustable traction control, a datalogger to play back your track day laps, adjustable ABS with a race mode called IDM after the German Superbike championship where the system was developed, and adjustable power modes for everything from rain to slick mode.

In this Competition Package (£19,350 versus £16,700) we have on test here, it gets carbon fibre bodywork, race-spec fold up clutch and brake levers, adjustable rear sets blue wheels and a racing sticker kit. Stealth it isn’t, in fact the paint scheme is all a bit nineties, but that’s not important when you have the most potent sports bike in the world underneath you. What’s important is how it rides.
A windy back road, no traffic, and a BMW HP4 straining to go.
The power delivery is the same in all four modes – rain, sport, race, and slick, but what changes is the intensity of the anti-wheelie control and the traction control. So if you want to not have to think about juggling the throttle between grip and flip too much, then choose Sport. It keeps everything in check. But if you want to get a full-on experience you will never forget then choose Race. It turns the traction control down, allows power wheelies, and gives a whole more intense experience. Slick is best used for the track and also allows you to adjust in as much or as little traction control as you want. Advanced racers and riders only need apply.

In Race the bike hits so hard that the first time I accelerated hard off a round-a-bout it properly took my breath away. And no, that’s not some kind or road test cliche, it actually did have me reaching for a layby and my Ventolin . Incredible doesn’t come close. The only bike I’ve ever ridden that accelerated anywhere near as hard was Nicky Hayden’s factory Honda RC213V. Seriously, and that bike won the MotoGP world championship.

The four-cylinder motor builds from 6000rpm, by 8000rpm you’re clinging on and by the time it gets to 12,000rpm you’re praying it would stop. If anyone can ride this bike on the road on full throttle for more than about ten seconds please let me know. But the thing is, it’s not over at 12,000rpm. It keeps on going to 14,200rpm when it hits the redline. At which point you’re begging for mercy, the Akrapovic race system is howling like a Formula One car and you’re actually glad it’s all over. But hit another gear, hear the puff of unburnt fuel from the exhaust as the quickshifter clicks in and it hits again, just as hard in every gear.

On a test track the bike showed 120mph in second gear on the limiter, 140mph in third gear on the limiter, and hit a true 186mph.

But what’s even more amazing than the engine is the way it manages to get it all to the ground. The BMW semi-active suspension, operates using sensors which adapt to the road surface, and the way the bike is being ridden. So it firms up depending on speed, throttle position, lean angle and revs.

You start thinking about it at first, and under braking the bike seems to be incredibly flat, but after a day or so, you just get on with riding on perfect suspension at all times. It’s the kind of moment where you think normal suspension will never feel the same again, and it allows you to ride at such incredible speeds that your local road will never feel the same again. Bumps you’ve spent years preparing yourself for disappear, crests flatten out, stability is everything, even when hard on the gas and there’s perfect traction at all times. I’m blown away just thinking about what’s possible on this bike.

With or without the traction control the Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa tyres never do anything wrong front or rear, and you can get the bike turned fast. It maybe doesn’t turn quite as fast as on standard suspension as the bike always feels slightly flatter than normal, but once it’s in nothing is going to take you off line. They may look like cut slicks, but a couple of times I got caught out in a rain storm and had no worries with the tyres, as long as you don’t lean it too hard.

The HP4 is one of those bikes that will stay with you forever, every sports bike will be measured against it, and in truth, most of the time it’s performance is so high that you can’t use most of it, But that doesn’t matter, because when you can, there’s hardly anything else on the road that can give you the same kind of adrenaline kick and carve up roads the way the HP4 does.

But what’s perhaps even more amazing is that in town it’s perfectly mannered, it does 40mpg, and it never overheats. Where a Ducati Panigale would have you sweating as the underseat bum heaters (exhausts) get up to scorching temperature, the HP4 is placid, pleasant even. The pegs are high, and the bars are low, but I did a few runs of 160 miles on the bike, only stopping for fuel and couldn’t complain about comfort. The screen allows you to cover distance, even for me at six foot four, and it even has heated grips. Tell me another track weapon on the road that has heated grips and can lap a track as fast as this?
HP4 with the Competition Package. Few bikes ride or look harder.
It is the perfect sports bike, able to take your riding to a whole new world of corner speed, acceleration, braking and grip that have rarely been experienced this side of a race bike. But unlike a race bike, everything seems compliant, it soaks up bumps and you can ride it to the shops without boiling over. It is the perfect sports bike, but in reality it is such an intense experience that  you can only start to feel part of what it’s capable of on the road. Would you be better off buying the standard and £13,655 BMW S1000RR? Probably. But you’ll always be dreaming of that Sachs semi-active suspension, that carbon-fibre bodywork, that extra mid-range, and wondering what if.

If you do fancy trying an S1000RR on track BMW offers a Track day experience for £495, including bike hire and instruction from a top-class ex-racer like Neil Hodgson, It's £295 with your own S1000RR. Full details here.

+ Points – It is the ultimate sports bike. Suspension, brakes, engine, everything
- Points – Too much?

: £16,700 (£19,350 as tested with competition pack)
Power: 193hp at 13,000rpm
Wet weight: 199kg
Seat height: n/a
Colours: Blue and white with race graphics

Carbon-fibre and titanium Akrapovic exhaust
That engine is more than a powerhouse, it's smooth in town, terrifying at 12,000rpm, and one of the greatest sports bike engines ever made.
Brembo brakes are same as the S1000RR but use a different pad compound.
Buttons adjust traction control, anti-wheelie, ABS settings, the trip, and turn traction control and ABS on and off. It's not as complicated as it looks.