FIRST RIDE REVIEW: BMW’s 2020 S1000RR

BMW’s 2020 S1000RR looks better, feels better, performs better, and responds better than what could be called its predecessors.

In my line of work, I am often faced with the task of learning as much as I can on a brand new motorcycle, in a brand new environment, in a limited amount of time. I must then process the data acquired and retain it to compose a comprehensive review of the said new motorcycle. When you add a healthy dose of overall excitement and the sheer joy of being on the first wave of testing motorcycles, you now have a proper cocktail of pressure. I know this reads as first world problems and I won’t garner much sympathy or pity. But that’s not what this is about.

At the US press introduction for the 2020 BMW S1000RR, the level of excitement was palpable from all involved. You would have sworn that it was the second coming. And in many ways, it is. This 2020 S1000RR looks better, feels better, performs better, and responds better than what could be called its predecessors. Frankly, any S1000RR before this model could not hold a proverbial candle to it.

The “meet and greet,” aptly put by BMW Motorrad’s Brand Ambassador Nate Kern, was held at the iconic Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham, Alabama. A majority of the press introductions involve a product presentation, a rider’s meeting, and then we are turned loose on the track or venture out onto the asphalt to begin the product evaluation. Not so, with the 2020 S1000RR. The meet and greet progressed in stages that offered strategic exposure to all that the S1000RR had to offer, mode by mode.

Before getting into the sum of all of its parts, you must take notice of the 2020 S1000RR’s attention-commanding aesthetics. Gone are the asymmetrical headlights of the prior model, that did serve a purpose other than saying “Hey look at me, I’m an S1000RR”. New LED lighting in the headlight, turn signals, and tail light elevates the bike’s visual style straight away. The new front end creates a more intimidating and confident appearance from both a front-on, as well as a profile perspective.

A new gas tank that offers improved ergonomics and better gripping with your upper legs provides stability and comfort. The new tail section is precise and purposeful, housing a detachable license plate bracket that makes the conversion for track days or racing simple.

Then there are the wheels. While the base model is equipped with the expected cast-aluminum wheels, the M model is rolling on premium carbon fiber rims, straight from the factory with a factory warranty.

The fairings have been simplified to showcase the new frame, that again improves visuals and equally shaves weight. The only remaining feature of the previous model year, visually, is the shark gill-like partitions on the throttle side fairing. They are there to provide additional air ventilation for the engine, and it’s components. Looking over the visual design of the bike, appreciating all its subtle nuances, it becomes very evident that the strategic placement of the openings in the fairing and the direction of the body lines are intended to demand and command regard and recognition. My eyes were drawn from the nose to the tail, pausing at moments in between, appreciating the engineered disposition of the machine.

The 2020 is equipped with a new aluminum swingarm that looks amazing and also shaves weight in comparison to older models. The 2020’s aluminum undercarriage (a first on a street bike), the front 45mm forks and the rear adjustable vertical suspension setup minimize the reaction from the chassis, especially under acceleration and braking. This set up provides impressive stability, of which I would come to appreciate while in the saddle.

Dual 320mm floating brake discs are located on the front end while a single 220mm disc is situated at the rear. The four-piston fixed brake calipers are assisted by a single rear floating single-piston caliper. In my opinion, BMW’s application of ABS and the host of other technology is the core of the S1000RR’s technological heritage. The 2020 BMW S1000RR represents the essence of BMW’s mantra, “the ultimate driving machine,” replacing the word driving with riding.

The first straddle on a new bike is always exciting. Being a larger rider, I look for moments of being uncomfortable or feeling bunched up as ergonomics can often be an issue for me. What I found to be the case on the 2020 was a case of the snuggles. The location of the handlebars in relation to the position of the rear sets in regards to the seat height and tank shape provided a welcoming snug fit. I wasn’t overreaching, nor was I crunched up. It wasn’t too tall, nor was it squatty. Flat-footed with everything in reach, I was impressed with the dimensions and enjoyed the comfort, directly. And then I turned the key, and the dash lit up.

Staring back at me was a brilliantly illuminated 6.5 inch TFT instrument panel. The dash readout has four standard screen modes that can be further customized based upon your preferences and needs: Pure Ride, Core 1, 2, and 3. Containing all the usable data that I could use and even some that I didn’t know about, the customizable information center refrains from being too busy and presents an attractive, easy on the eyes proper readout for the bike’s functions and data.

“Let’s just call it what it is…” declared Kern during our product intro. “It’s a meet and greet.” Kern explored the 2020’s four main riding modes of the S1000RR M Package that we were evaluating: Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Race. For the first four sessions of the day, I would explore each mode, spinning laps around the marvelous Barber Motorsports Park. I began in Rain mode, where I appreciated the stability and confidence of the 2020. It proved to be an excellent mode for the new bike, new track combination. In Rain mode, the entire system of “assist” is engaged. The suite of components includes ABS, Traction Control, DTC Wheelie Function, and Engine Braking. Someone would literally have to kick you from the side for you to fall off this bike. Not saying that having an off is impossible, but for the average rider, the engaged systems in Rain mode not only increases your chances of not having a moment, it also broadens and expands the learning curve. This mode allows the rider to push the edge and explore the limits of the riding with their S1000RR while minimizing the risk factor.

The first session was also an introduction to the 2020’s new inline four-valve engine. With a claimed maximum power output of 205 horses (at 13,000 RPM) and maximum torque output at 83-foot-pounds at (11,000 RPM), engine power and throttle response have never been an issue for the S1000RR. Taking the good and making it great, the 2020 model has refined its delivery with a smooth and even throttle response. Even in Rain mode, the S1000RR’s engine performance level was clear and present. In Rain mode, the components in place are there to moderate the balance between the power that the engine produces and the overall performance and rider experience.

The second session of the day was spent in Road mode. In Road mode, many of the same “assist” components are still engaged, however not at the same level. For instance, the throttle response between Rain and Road mode is significant with both modes offering extremely smooth delivery of power. Road mode’s response becomes slightly more aggressive at an elevated pace and higher gear selection. The ABS adjusts to the optimum setting for dry riding conditions. Think about it this way, in the real world, if you were riding and you were to get caught in the rain, the settings in Rain mode provide the safety net required to get you to your destination with the least amount of risk. Road mode offers the same comfort with settings that are optimum for those days when it’s not raining. The Rain mode is for maximum safety. Road mode allows you to begin to play. Having warmed up to the track in the second session, that is what I began to sort out. The 2020 S1000RR is right at home at the track but has the functionalities that make it a premium option as a road bike. Then, for session three and four. I was introduced to the modes Dynamic and Race.

The Dynamic mode begins to open up the pure potential of the 2020 S1000RR. Maintaining it’s confidence and stability, the bike’s assists are even less engaged. In what could be considered the highest level mode for street riding, the settings enable you to push the envelope further. You could say that the leash is let out quite a bit. And if you want to see just how far down the rabbit hole goes, there’s Race mode. Race mode is otherworldly. Unbridled but not unhinged, the settings are designed for mode’s namesake. In this mode, let’s just call it what it is, you are piloting a race bike. The power management and the delivery of said power are inspiring. Aggressive and smooth in equal parts, the throttle response is direct and straight away. In Race mode, the flip is switched, and the assists are removed. The ABS, DDC, Traction Control, Engine braking are all adjusted for track conditions and maximum performance.

The remainder of the laps of the day spent with the S1000RR were bittersweet. The reality of the day coming to an end, having to give the key back and walking away from the 2020 came all too fast. The bike immediately endears itself to you, begging for more exploration of its capabilities and potential. I wouldn’t have been obliged to spend a few more hours, days, weeks with it. Merely scratching the surface at the “meet and greet,” the bike’s performance on the circuit sheds a great deal of light of what it could do on the street. The rider interface does not only displays a tremendous amount of bike info and performance data, but it also offers a comprehensive customization feature to make the bike, the ride and overall experience as unique as you want it to be.

BMW has arrived at a pivotal nexus where technology, engineering, performance, and execution has created an impressive package that delivers on all levels. “Game changer” is overused, but in this case, it is what it is. BMW got so many things right with this 2020 model. My only critique is the aesthetics of the catalytic converter in the midsection of the exhaust. Let’s be honest, that’s going to get swapped out before the bike leaves the dealership, so it’s a moot point. Nate Kern’s methodology and how he conducted the meet and greet was a progressive approach that allowed for specific introductions to each of the bike’s main level of ride modes and their features. As I mentioned, in my line of work, I am often tasked with learning as much as I can about a new product in a new environment, in a limited amount of time. The process in which this day unfolded allowed me to acquire and retain data with the only regret being wanting much more time in the saddle. With an understanding of what the 2020 S1000RR brings to the track, it won’t be long before I get to throw a leg over the S1000RR again, for a real-world, real street evaluation. Stay tuned.

Images: Kevin Wing//Etech Photo

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