Japanese manufacturers have long dominated the literbike category, although it was Suzuki who walked away with the crown in the majority of our past literbike comparisons. Kawasaki would steal the limelight on occasion (namely in ’04 and ’08), while Honda and Yamaha would always put in a good showing. The true shift in tide would come in 2009, when BMW introduced its S 1000 RR to the 1000cc class. With its unrivaled power, sophisticated electronics and well-sorted chassis, the S 1000 RR walked away from the competition in both our 2010 and 2011 literbike shootouts (“Europe Invades,” June ‘10 and “The Empire Strikes Back,” July ‘11). Just like that, the Japanese manufacturers’ reign on the class came to an end.
Given its success (not only in magazine shootouts, but on showroom floors and at racetracks around the world) and given the gloomy state of the motorcycle industry, we assumed the BMW would go another year — maybe two — without being updated. Just when we thought we knew it all, BMW announced its reworked 2012 S 1000 RR, dubbed the “facelift” model. You know what they say about assuming.
In Search of Perfection
Don’t let the term “facelift” fool you either; the 2012 S 1000 RR is quite different than its predecessor. Four riding modes are still offered (Rain, Sport, Race and Slick), but the bike’s throttle and power curves have all been drastically reworked. Rain mode now offers 163 horsepower instead of “only” 152 horsepower and has been bestowed with its own throttle curve. Sport, Race and Slick modes share a second curve, which provides a more direct and spontaneous response (note that in the past, each mode had its own throttle curve). There are now three power curves instead of just two; Rain and Sport get their own, while Race and Slick share a third. Final gearing ratio has been changed too, from 17:44 to 17:45, for improved throttle response and acceleration in any gear.
The S 1000 RR’s throttle valve now features a softer return spring to offset the changes to the power delivery programming and the twist grip has a shorter pull for a more sensitive and quicker actuation. The 2012 RR’s engine is structurally unchanged though. That’s not to say the bike is lacking in power; the 2012 RR is claimed to produce the same class-leading 193-plus horsepower (at the crankshaft) as the previous generation. A reworked stainless steel exhaust with a redesigned catalytic converter and headpipes is fitted and the airbox has been modified. The velocity stacks are reshaped as well, and the ram-air cross section is 20-percent larger for improved airflow. What the aforementioned changes equate to is an alleged boost in midrange power, especially between 5000 and 7500 rpm.
The BMW has consistently delivered knockout punches in comparison tests, although that’s not to say it was dominant in every aspect. The S 1000 RR was criticized in many tests for its slower steering characteristics, especially when compared to bikes like the lithe CBR1000RR and Aprilia RSV4. BMW engineers have addressed those concerns for 2012 by modifying the S 1000 RR’s geometry. A new forged and milled triple clamp provides a 2.5mm-shorter offset; trail has been duly increased by 2.5mm and grows from 96mm to 98.5mm. The wheelbase has been shortened 9.3mm — a thankful change considering the BMW previously had one of the longest wheelbases in its class — and front ride height has been increased 5mm by dropping the front fork through the triple clamp. Turn exits were also an issue for the S 1000 RR, which would transfer most of its weight rearward when hard on the throttle. BMW has offset this issue by raising the swingarm pivot 4mm, which increases anti-squat. The one-tooth-larger rear sprocket also helps.
A new forged and milled triple...
A new forged and milled triple clamp with a 2.5mm-reduced offset is fitted, increasing trail accordingly. Rake has been changed just slightly as well.
The 46mm Sachs front fork...
The 46mm Sachs front fork has been fitted with a mid valve for more direct compression damping and dropped through the triple clamps 5mm.
A reworked front fork and modified rear shock complement the bike’s geometry changes. A mid-valve in the front fork is intended to provide more direct compression damping and changes to the compression adjuster are now more linear, according to the S 1000 RR Chassis Project Manager Ralf Schwickerath. The rear shock is now 4mm shorter to offset the increased swingarm pivot height and features a larger 18mm piston (compared to the previous model’s 14mm example) for increased oil flow through the compression adjuster. In addition, a check valve has been utilized so that the compression damping isn’t negatively affected when rebound adjustments are made. The needle geometry has been modified on both valves and the shock’s top-out spring is both longer and different in terms of stiffness.
The tail section of the ’12...
The tail section of the ’12 RR is lean and mean, yet the seat still offers plenty of room for larger riders to move about the saddle.
With so much attention paid to the S 1000 RR’s revised chassis and electronics, it’s easy to overlook the smaller tweaks that have been made for 2012. You’d hardly notice, for instance, that the tail section has been trimmed down for improved aerodynamics, or that the asymmetrical side panels have been nipped and tucked accordingly. Those side panels have also been outfitted with winglets, which BMW claims “boost its aerodynamics by dissipating the wind pressure on hands and arms at high speeds.” We were minus a wind tunnel at the S 1000 RR launch to test that statement.
A new mechanical ten-way-adjustable steering damper is tucked up under the front fairing and out of eyesight, but is intended to provide more appropriate damping depending on whether you are at the track or riding around town. The RR’s LCD panel is also updated and can now be dimmed to five separate levels, plus provides even more functions than before (track-day enthusiasts will enjoy the fact that, from the LCD panel, you can deactivate the lamp fault display if you unplug the headlamp). The tachometer display has also been redesigned for easier viewing.
Heated grips will come as...
Heated grips will come as an option for 2012. Yes, we’re serious.
Affixed to the nipped and...
Affixed to the nipped and tucked S 1000 RR asymmetrical side panels are a pair of these winglets, which BMW claims improves aerodynamics.
The BMW’s analog tachometer...
The BMW’s analog tachometer readout has been revised and is much easier to make sense of when barreling down the front straight at speed. The green lamp in the left corner is the best-lap-in-progress lamp, which indicates to the rider if he/she is on a flyer.
Added functions like the best-lap-in-progress lamp and speedwarning program are more exciting. The best-lap-in-progress program is for track use and indicates to the rider, in real time, segment by segment, whether the current lap is better than the previously set best lap. The speedwarning function is conversely for street use, and could actually save your butt. When the self-indicated speed is exceeded the shift lamp lights up and the word “SPEED” appears on the display, warning you to slow down.
HP race parts are also available for the S 1000 RR, should you have the money and time to spend utilizing them to their full potential. And how could we leave out the final option (read: excessive, but cool add-on) made available for 2012: heated grips. Yes, you read that correctly, heated grips with two levels will be an option for those who don’t live in ever-sunny Southern California.
Swingarm pivot has been raised...
Swingarm pivot has been raised 4mm and a 45-tooth sprocket replaces last year's 44-tooth example. The result is increased anti-squat, which helps the BMW finish corners.
When the Tech Talk Stops
The real question is whether or not the surplus of small changes makes the S 1000 RR that much better than its predecessor. We headed to the famed Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain to find out. What better place to test the reworked S 1000 RR? The 2.5-mile track is tight, with a grouping of corners that would test the bike’s agility and select sweepers that would test not only the BMW’s modified traction control system, but also its stability when cranked over.
Important to mention is that during the launch, each of the S 1000 RR test bikes were outfitted with the various options such as Dynamic Traction control (DTC), the Gearshift Assistant powershifter and heated grips, all of which have and will prove their worth.
We cycled over to rain mode for our first on-track session so that we could get accustomed to the track and equally acquainted with the revised mode. Immediately apparent was the additional power that BMW engineers have fed into this once heavily restricted mode. The bike delivers that additional power in a manageable way — one that would be beneficial if the track were wet. The bank angle sensors won’t allow you to put the power to the ground though, unless the bike is stood well up on the large part of the tire, and the Race ABS threshold is lowered enough that the system can easily be activated with just moderately aggressive actuation of the lever. Given that the track was dry, we opted to switch modes as soon as the Metzeler K3 tires (which are great in their own right) were up to temp. And yes, the heated grips work quite well. Toasty!
Slick and Race mode share...
Slick and Race mode share their own power and torque curves, while Sport and Rain get their own. The more linear torque curve of Sport mode increases the RR's rideability. Plus, Rain mode now offers 163 horsepower instead of "only" 152 horsepower.
No 2011 S 1000 RR models were on hand during the launch to directly compare the power delivery, but the 2012 model feels much more refined in Sport mode. The difference is attributed to the new power curve, which has been designated solely for this neutered mode and provides a more linear buildup of power. This equates to a much more suitable ride when conditions aren’t ideal, or for instance, when you are still getting the feel for a new track. Don’t think for a second though that the S 1000 RR is incapable of turning quick lap times when in Sport mode. The traction control max intervention lean angle is backed off, so there’s a lot more acceleration available. So long as you are smooth with the throttle and work to pick the bike up out of the corner, impeccable drives are still manageable. All 193 horsepower are available past 10,500 rpm too, so the straights will still fly by in a hurry.
The BMW’s wheelie detection was “optimized” for 2012, according to BMW engineers — a thankful modification considering the 2011 S 1000 RR’s system was rather gruff and had the bike pogo-sticking over nearly every rise as power was retarded and then returned. The only change is to the throttle valves however, which are now designed to open more gently when a wheelie is detected. Despite the change, the wheelie detection still feels rather aggressive in Race mode. And when lofting the front wheel out of a number of corners, we found the bike to be nearly as aggressive when bringing the front wheel back to earth. In our opinion, the bike would benefit from a more advanced wheelie control system like that of the (more expensive) Aprilia APRC SE model that we tested earlier in the year (“Max Potential,” September ‘11), which lets the front wheel hover just inches off the ground while the bike continues driving forward.
In Slick mode the 2012 S 1000 RR is every bit the animal we remember it to be, although that onslaught of power is controlled — and delivered — in a much different manner. The bike’s DTC has been revised to mimic the performance that the BMW Race Power Kit previously offered. The result is a much more transparent system that you rarely feel activating. Experienced riders will notice that you can steer the 2012 BMW with the rear more than ever in Slick mode. The system not only lets you step the rear out more, but it also cuts the power much smoother, which means the rear of the bike isn’t left undulating as much upon intervention.
The 2012 S 1000 RR features...
The 2012 S 1000 RR features the same radial-mount Brembo calipers biting on dual 320mm discs, which work well to bleed off the surplus of speed the 999cc engine is capable of building. The ABS system has been slightly revised to work better with the changes to the suspension and the pumping from the fork we used to experience when the system was activated is thankfully gone.
The S 1000 RR’s engine braking characteristics have also been altered in Slick mode to provide “increased directional stability during braking and turning,” says BMW. But with so little engine braking built into the S 1000 RR, it’s easy to overshoot a corner and get caught out. BMW staff notes that you can tune this out with the HP Race Calibration kit, if you’re into spending money on that kind of thing. When you do get into a corner a little hot, the radial-mount Brembo calipers biting on 320mm discs do an admirable job of getting things slowed down in a hurry. As with the previous model year’s brakes, the initial bite is strong and there is great power all the way through the pull. The RR’s Race ABS still seems to take a little bit of edge off the bike when speeds pick up. And as we have done in the past, we were able to activate the system on occasion when entering the track’s fast turn one. This was of course under extreme braking. Nevertheless, the system’s cycling left an unnerving feeling in our stomach.
When not making small mistakes, we couldn’t help but gaze down at the best-lap-in-progress lamp to see if the display showed green. The light surely kept us entertained throughout the day at the track, and albeit an option we never thought we’d see on a sportbike, we have to admit that this feature is one most riders will utilize often.
Helping you keep that light on more and more is the bike’s revised power delivery and suspension. In numerous tests, we have squawked about how the bike’s ultra-sensitive throttle required a surgeon-like touch. The new RR doesn’t have such a trait though, thanks in part to those new throttle curves. And despite the shorter-pull throttle, it’s extremely easy to put all of the BMW’s power to the ground in a controllable manner, a characteristic that street riders will appreciate just as much as track-day riders.
The fully adjustable Sachs...
The fully adjustable Sachs rear shock is now 4mm shorter to offset the 4mm rise in swingarm pivot height. The shock also features a larger 18mm piston which allows more oil to flow through the low/mid-speed valve and a longer top-out spring. Ride height changes can still be made by flipping the cam-shaped upper shock mount.
And riders of all disciplines will appreciate the reworked 46mm Sachs front fork and shock, both of which are noticeably more composed. The front fork provides a great deal more feedback too, especially upon corner entry. It also provides a great deal more confidence when the bike is cranked over on its side, where the previous fork felt somewhat stiff and vague. Out back, the Sachs rear shock and altered swingarm pivot height allow the BMW to finish corners with relative ease. What the shock seems to benefit most from is its longer top-out spring, which keeps the bike more controlled in the rear under heavy braking and over small ripples in the pavement. Without having any other literbikes on hand to compare to, it’s hard to determine whether or not the bike is handily better in terms of agility, but we will say that in either of the track’s tight sections that required quick steering, the new S 1000 RR seemed to be at ease.
The 2012 RR will be available in an array of different schemes including: plain Racing Red with Alpine white, Bluefire, Saphire black metallic and BMW Motorrad Motorsport colors. Pricing was yet to be announced as we went to press.
But is it better?
It’s not one change that makes the 2012 S 1000 RR that much better than its predecessor, but a handful of small tweaks that make it that much more confidence inspiring and that much more fun to ride. With a number of other manufacturer’s releasing their own updated literbike weapons, the class is sure to see some excitement for 2012. Based on the RR’s past success and based on the new model’s superb feel however, we have a feeling the competition is going to have their hands full at this year’s shootout. Stay tuned as we gather the troops. SR
2012 BMW S 1000 RR
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 49.7mm
Compression ratio: 13.0:1
Induction: BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
Rake/trail: 24 degrees/3.9 in. (98.5mm)
Wheelbase: 56 in. (1422.7mm)
Seat height: 32.3 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. (17.5L)
Claimed wet weight: 450 lb. (204kg); 455 lb. (207kg) with Race ABS