BMW HP4 - First Ride

Ten reasons why the 193-horsepower, S1000RR-based BMW HP4 will make you a better motorcycle rider.

BMW HP4 Sportbike

First Ride: BMW HP4

I flew to Spain to ride the new limited-edition HP4, the latest incarnation of BMW’s already-impressive, World-Superbike-contending S1000RR. After spending a day lapping the famous Circuit of Jerez on this monumental new motorcycle, I asked myself, “How might the upgrades that were outlined in the press kit and I experienced on the racetrack benefit buyers of this motorcycle?” Here are my conclusions:

1. Dynamic Damping Control (DDC): As a former racer, I'm often leery of new technology. Typically, the latest, greatest whatever is either the promise of teething problems or just an old-fashioned sales gimmick. Well, BMW's semi-active suspension is neither of those. Designed to adapt immediately to your speed, riding style and road conditions, it's so refined and effective that I believe it's the future of motorcycle handling.

Using throttle position, wheel speeds and suspension travel, DDC makes adjustments every 10 milliseconds, increasing rider support, feedback and confidence. At Jerez, DDC gave me more control in situations where heavy braking, fast directional changes and acceleration were required, yet the fork and shock remained supple at full lean, increasing edge grip from the tires.

2. Dynamic Traction Control (DTC): Why do top racers complain about traction control? Because it works, effectively taking away advantages with throttle control that they've worked so hard to refine. This is great news for the other 99.9 percent of riders like you and me. The advanced DTC on the HP4 will help you lap faster; the worse the conditions, the more you will gain.

Four increasingly aggressive modes—Rain, Sport, Race and Slick—developed in the German Superbike championship utilize data gleaned from lean angle, throttle position, wheel speeds and suspension action. Mode choice alters the way in which the motorcycle performs for the chosen condition. Maximum engine power, however, is not affected even in ultra-conservative Rain.

Managing front-tire contact with the tarmac during hard acceleration is an important component of DTC, which works in seamless harmony with wheelie control. Once lean angle is less than 30 degrees, the system disengages, so I was easily able to carry the front end through several gears as I accelerated onto Jerez’s front straight.

3. Quick Shift and Launch Control: A modern racebike isn't complete without a quick shifter and race-start launch control. Corner exits were non-events as I banged through the gears, the front tire gracefully hovering just above the pavement. Drag racers take note: Just press and hold the engine start button to engage launch control. Once the system is activated, maximum revs are restricted to 8000 rpm until you reach 43 mph.

4. Reduced weight: BMW says the HP4 weighs just 379 pounds dry, 19 less than the S1000RR. Majority of the weight reduction reportedly came from forged aluminum wheels and a titanium exhaust system. Along with the obvious benefits in stopping and acceleration, the biggest gain from weight reduction came in corner transitions. In the past, I've been critical of the S1000RR's heavy feel during corner transitions; the HP4 changes directions more easily, gets to the apex with greater accuracy and is less physically demanding to ride.

5. Brembo Monoblocs and Race ABS: Beefy Brembo Monobloc calipers and floating 320mm front brake rotors get the job done. But good is not good enough, and four-mode Race ABS offers a nice safety blanket that walks the line between aggression and road conditions. At Jerez, the ABS function was phenomenal. Trail braking into corners, I could actually feel the lever fluctuating as the front tire lost edge grip. And braking as hard as I could straight up-and-down, I could not get the rear tire to leave the ground for more than a split second. One caveat: Although ideal for the street, Race ABS doesn't leave a last-ditch option for racers because the lever gets soft just shy of maximum braking.

BMW HP4 Sportbike

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

6. One hundred ninety-three horsepower: Heaps and heaps of motor. Need I say more?

7. Chassis: The HP4's chassis is modern in feel yet very forgiving. This is more difficult to achieve than it may sound. A modern chassis needs to be stiff for steering accuracy and tall enough for weight transfer, directional changes and drive grip. These attributes will often leave the rider two steps behind on a nervous-handling machine that pitches fore-and-aft too much. BMW hasn't compromised, and the HP4 inspires confidence with a no-surprises, bolted-down feeling yet still delivers the accuracy needed for the racetrack.

8. Ergonomics: We can thank the HP4's lead chassis engineer for two standout attributes: First, he's a top-10 performer in the German Superbike Championship, so it's safe to say he knows what works; second, he's huge! His arm is the length of one of my legs—no joke. The adjustable ergonomics on the HP4 look like finely crafted jewelry and work just as well, allowing the rider to custom-tailor bike fit.

9. Stage 1, 2 and 3 race kits: So, you want to go racing? BMW offers three track-only levels of performance for the HP4 that are likely the best bang for your buck for aftermarket parts and support. All stages offer an increase in horsepower—201, 205 (AMA Pro SuperBike) and 212 (World Superbike)—along with the ability to fine-tune DDC, DTC, ABS, Launch Control and engine management corner-by-corner on the track. That should be enough to make your head spin! Good thing you also get access to BMW's race-support staff to help with setup.

10. Extra space in your garage: Finally, you may have to say farewell to your winter cobweb collector. That's right, the HP4 is a game-changer. The previous necessary evil of owning one bike that is stiff enough for the track and another supple enough for the street has taken the path of the dodo bird. Plus, with the extra space in your garage, your happy partner may even be apt to let you participate in more track days. Couple that with blockbuster performance and increased confidence provided by traction control and ABS, plus the extra seat time having just one machine will afford, and I'm willing to bet the new HP4 will make you a better rider.

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4

First Ride Review: BMW HP4