You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in pit lane at the Jerez Circuit watching the gentle morning light illuminate this holy land of motorcycle roadracing and the beautiful new paint and bodywork on BMW’s S1000RR-based HP4. Here’s what I mean: The handling needed for fast lap times at the track fights ride quality preferred by street riders like the tides. What works for you might not work for someone else, and what, exactly, works for you, anyway?
While the HP4’s racy livery evokes a different emotion than BMW’s more conservative traditional look, I didn’t make the long trek to Spain for bold new graphics. Indeed, this particular day was all about performance: 193 claimed horsepower, 372 pounds dry, updated Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Race ABS, launch control and—hey, what’s this?—Dynamic Damping Control (DDC).
As I settled into the saddle, the jewelry-like finish of the adjustable levers and footpegs caught my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to think about ergonomics. Almost immediately, with little instruction, BMW unleashed 40 journalists of varying abilities onto this fast, flowing circuit—a sure recipe for disaster. “I hope BMW brought enough spare parts,” I said with a chuckle.
I accelerated down pit lane on the rear wheel, the HP4’s brute torque immediately evident. But big power doesn’t always correlate with fast lap times. When I rode the standard S1000RR at Miller Motorsports Park earlier this year (“Superbikes 2012”), big throttle openings produced the sensation of time-warp speed, but a quick lap required a lot of physical exertion.
That’s not the case with the HP4. This improved 999cc inline-Four doesn’t feel like the bulk of its weight is carried in the gas tank, so directional changes are much easier, the chassis settles quickly to the apex of the corner and I was able to get down to business immediately. Adding speed with each curve, I noticed that the initial supple street feel had been seamlessly replaced by confidence-inspiring support, stability and accuracy.
Hello, Dynamic Damping Control. Nice to meet you.
Using throttle position, wheel speeds and suspension movement, DDC adjusts every 10 milliseconds to rider input and road conditions, increasing damping during acceleration, heavy braking and directional changes, and softening the blow in other critical areas, such as full lean, to increase edge grip.
After my first track session, a BMW tech took me through the features of the digital dash display. Manipulating 14 levels of DDC fork control and 14 levels of rebound/compression adjustments on the shock proved to be quite intuitive. The same tech also introduced me to DTC’s four riding modes—Rain, Sport, Race and high-performance Slick mode with its 14 levels of fully adjustable traction control. All modes retain full peak engine power. Impressive.
After my education, I followed chief chassis engineer Ralf Schwickerath back onto the track, and he quickly left me in his vapors. Engineers ride? Yeah, like really ride! I took a little time to adjust to the reduced traction control and stiffer suspension settings, and, as my lap times improved, my grin began to widen. With DTC reduced, I was able to get the rear Pirelli hung out and sliding while the front tire barely maintained its connection with the asphalt. Wheelie control disengages at less than 30 degrees of lean, releasing the full fury of the 193 ponies. Using the quick shifter, I was able to grab gears with machine-gun repetition and carry the wheel up Jerez’s front straight.
Braking is handled by robust Brembo Monobloc calipers and floating 320mm rotors. Even when I pulled hard on the front brake lever, ABS only allowed the rear tire to leave the ground for a split second. Trail braking into corners, I could feel the lever fluctuate and reduce braking power as the front tire lost grip on the edge of the tire. Even with all of its forgiving details, ABS falls short just shy of maximum stopping power; the lever becomes soft and doesn’t allow for a last-ditch overtaking effort.
Circulating the track on my closing lap, power-sliding at nearly full lean with wide-open throttle, I marveled at how incredibly forgiving this machine is. Okay, initial throttle response introduces a bit too much power, with the surge of torque at full lean working against available side grip and rider confidence. Even so, with the sun hanging low in the sky, this dream track day came to an end without a single mishap—far short of the carnage I predicted.
So, yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.