2023 BMW S 1000 RR Ride Review
Jun 27, 2023
It’s been about a month since I rode the 2023 BMW S 1000 RR and the thing still looms large in my mind like some kind of celebrity encounter or unexpected, life-altering brush with fate. Seeing myself as having “been there and done that” with sportsbikes, I’m old enough to know better; they are so focused and uncomfortable that unless you’re 21 years old and a black belt yoga master, the sportbike genre are like a religious experience 1% of the time and an uncomfortable explosion of power and the wrong tool for the job for the other 99. The fact that this 99% is also where owners will spend most of their life riding the bike means that you really, really have to like the 1% part to make it all worthwhile.
But let’s wind the clock back a decade or two and look at the bike’s ancestors. In what seemed like bankruptingly-poor timing on BMW’s behalf, the company revealed the first version in 2009, largely to allow them to compete in the Superbike World Championship. And while that in itself seems perfectly fine, it also coincided with a downturn in sportbike sales globally as buyers realised that you didn’t have to be uncomfortable to go fast and manufacturers started diversifying their offerings by introducing nakeds and cafe-style options onto their showroom floors. The bean counters in Munich must have been quietly terrified that the whole platform would tank and that they’d be the ones left to pick up the financial pieces.
Legend has it that the BMW engineers decided to stand on the shoulders of giants during the design phase of the bike by purchasing a handful of used K5 and K6 Suzuki GSX-R 1000s to see how the commonly-acknowledged “best sportsbike ever made” was, erm, made. A common practice in the industry, pulling apart your competitor’s bikes to see how they tick allows engineers and designers to leapfrog the competition and spend their bucks on improving things rather than just catching up. And improve they did; in a reversal of the common “Germans invent the engineering breakthrough and the Japanese perfect it” scenario for things like ABS, four-wheel drive and traction control, the Germans took Japanese tech and set the bar for all future sportbikes. And they set it high, too.
14 years later and here we are. Facelifts and a focus on improving the bike’s tech toys has now produced the 2023 S 1000 RR. Replete with the oh-so-now front winglets along with all manner of sensors, detectors and gyroscopes for making you a faster, better rider, please do meet the latest of what some pundits would argue is the world’s best ever sportbike. But is it? With competitors like Ducati’s Panigale V4 and the Yamaha YZF-R1, it’s really not short of competition. So is it worth your while, money and chiropractic bills? Let’s ride the lightning and see…
Clearly intended by BMW to take on the best the opposition have to offer, the thing is dripping with top shelf tech, mod cons and even some street-biased additions to ensure that it’s ticking all the boxes in any reasonably competitive comparison. This includes the drawcard things like a massive in-line four spitting out 210 bhp and 83 lb-ft of torque, dynamic suspension, quick shifter, all manner of wheelie and traction controls, a TFT display with GPS lap timer and data logger for 300 tracks around the world. Look further down the list and you’ll also see cruise control, heated grips, tire pressure sensors, M Motorsport brakes, a lightweight battery and the ability to attach a GoPro to the tail without ugly 3rd party mounts.
In what amounted to a middle finger to 50 years of Japanese engineering knowledge, BMW managed to leapfrog almost all of Japan’s inline four engines when they dropped their first incarnation of the S 1000 RR power plant back in 2009. And it’s only gotten better since then; I’m still having trouble getting my head around how an engine can spin to 14,500 rpm without generating some kind of 4D wormhole to another dimension, but trust me when I say it does. No doubt helping the engine out here is a variable valve timing system BMW calls “ShiftCam” and servo-adjustable intake passages.
The S 1000 RR’s main draw card has always been its mastery of all these new-fangled electronics that were (and still are) coming to the forefront of the sport, enabling average riders like you or I to corral two-hundred-plus horses. Doing this without removing yourself from the human race or upskilling to the level of a World Superbike contender was previously impossible; but now-a-days it’s easier than blowing your nose. It seems a bit silly to say, but the bike is crammed with an army of sensors that allow you to ride the pants off it and at face value, this really is the bike’s crowning achievement. This and the incredible engine.
The real headline news here is the evolution of this tech from the basic systems contained within the first gen of the S 1000 RR to what’s available in 2023. With kick-arse sensors to let the bike’s brain know what’s happening at any given millisecond and enough processing power in the aforementioned brain to ensure that it will grab you by the scruff of the neck and save your backside should your right hand be asking more of the bike than your skill can manage, it somehow is able to also make you feel like a hero while simultaneously not making you feel like it’s babying you.
BMW proudly announces the bike’s winglets across its advertising materials; anyone with even the most passing interest in sportbikes should be able to tell you that they are the tech-du-jour of 2023, thanks to their appearance in MotoGP. While I’m not entirely convinced that they are anything more than fashionable accoutrements placed on a bike that (let’s face it) will spend most of its time on public roads doing legal speeds, the BMW design you see here is neither gaudy nor do they look tacked on. In fact, from most angles they tend to blend into the aggressive, racy lines of the bike so as to not appear like some try-hard rear spoiler on a boy racer’s Honda Civic VTEC.
The front and back Marzocchi shockers and carbon fibre wheels on this particular version of the bike will impress anyone with a heartbeat. But as with many of the features above, much of the more geeky 2023 mods I’ll mention have been filtered down to the bike from the brand’s World Superbike contenders. This includes engine tweaks including cylinder head mods, a new airbox design, an extra tooth on the rear sprocket, updates to the quickshifter, some small chassis changes and some even smaller rake and trail geometry increases. All up, these are clearly more evolutionary than revolutionary changes.
The engine is a liquid-cooled 999cc, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke in-line four power plant with twin overhead chain-driven camshafts. Compression is a rather spectacular 13.3:1 and boy, its meaty, aggressive idle backs this up. All this means an incredible 210 horsepower @ 13,000 rpm and a maximum torque figure of 83 ft-lbs @ 11,000 rpm. Top speed is “over” 186 mph; but at that velocity you’ll drain the 16.5 ltr (4.4 gal) tank pretty quickly. The M version of the bike weighs in at an impressive 197 kgs (434 lbs) and the seat height is 823 mm (32.4 in). My bike was sneakered with Dunlop Sportsmart TT rubber, with a 120/70 x 17 on the front and a 195/55 x 17 at the rear.
Anyone who tells you that riding a 210 bhp sportbike with a 14,500 RPM redline isn’t intimidating is either lying to you or well overdue a sociopathy psych test; part of me feels like riding the bike on public roads is a pornographic act of indecency. The other part cowers in the shadows of the bike’s tough looks and cruise missile specs, worried that my skill set and abilities will test the bike about as much as an ant troubles a steamroller. But as if I would say no. This thought crystallises as the team at my local BMW dealership wheel the aforementioned weapon into view. While sportbike’s usual “totally bitchin” stylings and angry, aggressive lines usually leave me cold, I’d be lying if I told you they weren’t impressive to behold.
Previous run-ins with sportbikes has led me to a quick and accurate way of assessing just how incredibly uncomfortable new bikes will be; all you need to do is look at the height difference (or lack thereof) between the seat and the ‘bars. And while the BMW is no super comfy retiree-recliner, it’s not pushing too many chiropractic limits, either. At least, that’s what my eyes tell me, but more on this later. For now, I’m left to circle the bike in awe as I take it all in. I notice that the tyre’s farthest reaches are covered in boogers; a sure sign that this particular bike has been properly “sent” on a racetrack sometime in the recent past. It’s also a salient reminder that this bike – as with all real sportbikes – will spend its life trying to reconcile two very irreconcilable worlds; those of public roads and private racetracks.
With more circling, I spot some bling on the bike that may or may not be part of the M Motorsport package. From previous loaner/press bikes, I’ve come to realise that sometimes they are tricked out over and above the showroom spec and assuming that all the parts attached are standard is a mistake. Here it seems that all the bells and whistles are part of the factory “S 1000 RR M Sport Additions” package, which gives you (take a deep breath) tyre pressure monitors, M carbon wheels, an M seat, M brake callipers in blue, a black fuel filler cap, an M rider footrest system, an M endurance chain, an Akrapovic sports silencer, an M chassis kit, more riding modes, dynamic damping control, heated grips, cruise control, and last but not least, a USB charging socket.
The lovely TFT display and vast array of bar-mounted buttons will be instantly familiar to anyone owning or familiar with BMW’s latest creations. No, the bike isn’t that bespoke. But it’s still a very slick affair with BMW’s buttonage hard to fault, even on their more basic models. The bike’s tank is quite a hump – at least visually – no doubt a product of the design battle between rider placement and fuel capacity. A common sight on most sportbikes, you inevitably end up mounting the tank like a jockey; Ducati’s V4 Panigale is remarkably similar but Yamaha’s R1 seems to manage something less humpback, though.
Other smaller observations of note include a rather ridiculous rear plate holder with an annoyingly long piece of black plastic that holds nothing more than a small red plastic reflector. Aussie licence plates being relatively small when compared to those in (say) Europe mean that the thing looks awkward and if I ever managed to score one for my permanent collection, that’d be the first thing I’d lop off. Well, by the looks of it BMW have made the whole tail tidy removable for track day fun, anyhoo. And speaking of removable parts, the combo mirrors/indicators do appear a little flab-tastic at first sight, but these too seem to be engineered to be easily ditched should you wish to adopt a track day silhouette.
It’s a very “me” thing to say but standing back and looking at the bike in toto, it’s hardly what you’d call “clean” or “minimal”. Sure, the sportbike market segment wants products that hit your eyeballs as hard as they do your senses but it only takes one look at a Panigale V4 to realise that bikes can be both aggressive and (relatively) minimal in their design. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess; I doubt there’s too many potential owners out there bemoaning the lack of classic looks and abundance of overly busy design ideas that may or may not age well in the next decade. Especially in this colourway. If you’ve got your heart set on the S 1000 RR but you don’t want every police officer in 100 miles eyeing you off, then maybe the black-on-black variation is more your speed? Nice problem to have, I guess.
Bringing the bike home in plain sight of my better half provoked some interesting reactions in me; like an illegal firearm or a baggie full of some illegal drug, I avoided revealing too much about the bike for fear of her worrying. So the sentence, “Hey, did you know that this bike I’m riding now has more power than the average family car yet it weighs only about 15 percent of one and its top speed is 300 kmh,” never left my lips. Thing is, once the bike is left to cool to room temperature and then restarted, it’s true potential and sheer anger is about as secret as Donald Trump’s baldness. Banish the idea of sneaking out of the house for a quiet Sunday morning ride without disturbing the neighbours – the S 1000 RR is one step away from yelling drunken abuse through an old PA system that’s in desperate need of a good service.
And in a first for me, the engine’s warming up process also corresponds to a shifting redline on the TFT display, meaning that if you fire the thing up and immediately ride off down the street, it’ll be 10 minutes or so before the redline settles at the stratospheric fourteen-and-a-half-effing-thousand revs where it unfeasibly seems to spend most of its life. Of course, unless you are preparing to race the bike on track, this process is entirely theoretical as exploring that particular section of the rev range in any other situation will most likely result in you being arrested and thrown into a cell with mass murderers, cannibals, rapists, or some horrid hybrid of all three. Such is the surrealistic amount of power this bike has on tap.
With this thought in mind, I grab the BMW-branded keys, light the bike’s blue touch paper and I definitely don’t stand back. With a riding position that’s akin to making love in an advanced yoga class and yet purportedly amongst the least extreme of all the litre bikes, hopes that the sportbikes might have somehow become a touch more usable since my own 2011 GSX-R are quickly shattered. And why would they? Bikes like this aren’t made to be comfortable, just like formula one cars and BDSM gear, it’s just not a requirement of the object’s design brief. Having a rider sit comfortably on a bike also means they have a negative effect on lean angles, wind resistance, and the centre of gravity. Older bastards like me tend to complain about how silly sportbikes are but the fact of the matter is, it’s part of what they need to be for them to succeed.
Once underway, all the usual sportbike traits are there in spades. Your knees feel like they are somewhere up under your chin and your hands and wrists begin aching in less time than it takes to get the bike warmed up. But I stop whingeing and settle into the ride accepting my very speedy fate. The first and most obvious thing that the bike makes me aware of is that while it’s clearly a weapon of enormous potential, its user friendliness is similar to that of most other “normal” bikes. Just a handful of years ago, a bike with this potential – aside from being prohibitively expensive – would also have been a completely unrideable arsehole of a thing that would only make sense on the very edge of its (and your) abilities. But behold! Heated grips. Tyre pressure sensors. Cruise control. What next, a fighter jet with cup holders?
Of course, it’s all the high tech do-hickies that make the bike so agreeable riding around town. The mind boggles as to the processing power BMW has utilised here. But whatever that may be, the end result is still extremely impressive. The fact that something so awesome can still manage a ride down the shops for bread and milk without bursting into a giant ball of flames is amazing. But it’s not all lactose and roses. As with its brethren, stalling the S 1000 RR is as easy as look at you thanks to that silly redline and the matching torque curve. I have no doubt that BMW could rectify the trait with little to no effort, but why would they when the solution is to rev what has to be one of the world’s greatest ever in-line fours? As if you needed an excuse.
And while the steering is no doubt incredible, when you’re off the pace it’s easy to tire of the telepathic transference of information from the surface of the road to your hands. I swear, at one point I ran over a five cent piece and felt the coin’s stamp date enunciate itself across the palm of my hands. It’s that good. Other smaller points worth noting are the fact that the redline is so stupidly high, the rev counter becomes rather arbitrary by the fact that the segments are just so small. BMW remedies this by making the numerals grow visually to impress upon you just what they mean, but I’ll admit to ignoring them in the same way a Bugatti Veyron driver might do with any speeds displayed on the dash that are less than a gazillion.
Of course, a bike like this in the city is equal parts hysterically funny and supremely ridiculous. Like a Vespa at Le Mans or a loose jackhammer at a Swiss Watch convention, it’s completely and utterly the wrong tool for the job. If you’re silly enough to be considering the purchase of an S 1000 RR and (be honest with yourself here) the main type of riding you’ll be doing is to work and back punctuated by a few Sunday rides that briefly allow you to raise speeds and maybe attack a few corners, both you and the bike will be pulling your hair out sooner rather than later. The sad fact is that like many Ferraris, Hummers and pretty much every car Jay Leno owns, 90% of the riding that most of us do in our normal, quite little lives would be much better provided by a vanilla 500cc Honda CB-something-or-other than a bike like this. I guess there’s no accounting for egos, is there?
Both relieved to break free of the city and its prohibitive speed limits, the S 1000 RR and I cut through the trees of Sydney’s Royal National park on the Sunday after I first arrived home with the bike. The irony of the fact that it was another Double Demerits long weekend was not lost on me; not that I was considering anything ill-advised. With the BMW you see here, it’s more likely to be a momentary lapse of reason than any premeditated illegalities that will get you into trouble. Such is the rather strict and sorry state of motor vehicle policing in my home state, never mind the mere handful of points I have left on my licence. But that’s another story for another day. Right now I’m proving what is probably motorcycling’s most obvious forgone conclusion. This bike’s abilities are second to none.
With the scary-but-oh-so-delightful trait of being able to lay on it’s side at the mere whiff of a bend in the road, the bike (like all good corner carvers) makes the twists and turns of my regular Sunday ride somehow seem less severe or more tame, leaving you with the burning question of just why you aren’t using this newfound skills the bike has gifted you to tear shit up and see if you can get your elbow down. This constant, siren-like calling from the bike to the racing dark side is yet another reminder that riding it at mere fractions of the bike’s abilities, you and it will very quickly stray into lean angles and speeds that are never a good idea on public roads. And the dash records max lean angles for later reference. And that’s before you consider the fact that your skills are almost always going to be laughed at by the S 1000 RR the moment you walk away from it. I managed a left-hander at one point here that maxed out at 41 degrees – and I wasn’t even trying.
But who am I kidding? Riding this bike in any situation is an honour and a privilege. Road, track or driveway. And while I may never have the time, skills or the bitumen access to really test its mettle, drifting through a set of well-cambered curves on a Sunday morning is a treat in anyone’s books. Such supreme composure, seemingly infinite power reserves and never ending lean angles are enough for even a basic klutz like me to know I’m onto a good thing. Hell, I’m no wine expert but uncork a bottle of Chateau Poop-du-Nerf (or whatever it’s called) and it’s not like I’d spit the stuff out in disgust. That’s why we are all fitted with imaginations as standard; while we can’t do everything we try at 110%, we can usually muster a pretty good attempt and then extrapolate the rest.
There are a few niggles that I note down along the way. Catch the bike out in third gear at too low revs and it’ll do a remarkably accurate impression of a 1950s Soviet tractor. This must be its Eastern German influences showing through. Also be it cold or warm, neutral seems harder to find than is reasonable, with my foot doing the first-second-first-second shuffle in a frustrating attempt to bring the Munich maniac to a stand-still. And when cold, I felt a few clutch shudderings as I manoeuvred the bike in my driveway. In stark contrast to this, the gearbox and quickshifter combo is easily one of the best I’ve ever tried. Blasting up through the straight-cut cogs with almost any combination of throttle, revs, and shift points absolutely fails to make the ‘box stumble. Instead it just does its job beautifully, like dragging a silk scarf across a supermodel’s neck. Find me a better set-up on any motorcycle at any price point and I’ll gladly eat my kangaroo skin gloves for you.
Unlike its R 1250 RS stablemate, the bike’s cruise control is smooth to cancel should you apply the brakes. Why this should be so is one we’ll leave up to the gods of motorcycling, but it’s true. As is the eternal rule with sportbikes, the mirrors are pretty much useless, showing nothing but your elbows and a smeared, vibrating blur where traffic and lurking police vehicles should be. Other bikes have allowed me to steady things by pressing a finger on the oscillating mirror to mute the buzz and get a clearer view of what may or may not be a potential speeding fine, but not the S 1000 RR. No amount of prodding or poking stopped the shake and I quickly got tired of doing a little flabby-armed chicken dance to remove my elbows from view. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more and neither should you.
Pulling up in the cafe car park south of the Nasho, the bike draws all the eyeballs and attention that you’d expect it to. And yes, it’s also another reason why owners want one. Deserved or otherwise, you always get to bask in the bike’s glory. And I do too. “What’s it like?” an onlooker asks me. Without thinking, I reply, “It’s dangerous, uncomfortable, loud, expensive and way too flashy… and I think I love it.” They chuckle once I explain that I don’t actually own the thing. What’s that saying about having to explain jokes means that they aren’t jokes at all? Not as clever as I think I am, clearly. Then jogging my own memory, I remember to note down on my phone that the bike cruises at freeway speeds in 6th gear showing 120 kmh on the speedo while the engine spins at around 5,000 revs. That may sound high, but with a full nine and a half thousand more revs to go before it hits the redline, it sounds and acts like it’s barely trying.
Tempting fate, I continued south after my coffee to visit a mate in Wollongong, the next “big” city south of Sydney on the Australian coast. One thing led to another and hey presto, I’m riding back home at around 3pm. The riding position is really kicking my butt now, and every red light is greeted by me cheering inside my helmet as it provides me with a chance to stretch and get a little relief from the incessant pains in my everythings. It’s also worth noting that the cruise control was another welcome addition to aid this cause in the fact that it could be set while hands were freed up to stretch and backs could be straightened, too. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a line item on the cruise control engineer’s list of deliverables. I also can’t help but wonder what random members of the public thought when they observed me and the RR tearing along at freeway speed while I had both hands on my hips, rolling my shoulders and arching my back. Note to self: write a best-selling book on Sportsbike Yoga.
Pulling up to a red light a few days later, I smiled as another S 1000 RR rider pulled up alongside me, ready for a chat. The woman onboard was way younger than me, and also a little shorter. “Nice bike!” she proclaimed, beaming at me through her helmet in a sign of our mutual good taste. “I love it to bits,” I said, quickly following up with a, “But boy oh boy, it’s uncomfortable on long trips…” “Really?” she proclaimed? “I love mine. Best bike I’ve ever owned!” It just goes to show, no matter how many bikes you’ve ridden, you can’t escape your own body and mindset. She was clearly a fan and like a good jockey and racehorse combo, it probably pays dividends not to be as tall (or as old, wrinkly, or busted up) as me.
Objectively speaking, the 2023 S 1000 RR is pretty much faultless. Harass me for my real thoughts and I’d have to nominate the mirrors as being properly flawed and I’d very much like to be able to find neutral in the ’box without saying repeated hellos to first and second. Granted, that would disappear with more time in the saddle and a bit of muscle memory but it was still frustrating and it had me laugh/cursing more than once. Maybe my particular bike needs an adjustment of sorts, but what with the absolute perfection I experienced from the rest of the gears and quickshifter, it seemed bang on as an entire unit. And as with all modern sportbikes, I do wonder if the Transformers-style looks and overly fussy lines (to my eyes, at least) will age well. For all I know, in 20 year’s time we’ll be fawning over them in the same way we’re now craving all those ludicrous neon colours and wall-to-wall plastics covering 80s sportbikes.
I’ve probably said more than enough on the whole comfort thing up until now, but I guess it’d be wise to neatly wrap things up here with a closing argument. Yes, the S 1000 RR is uncomfortable. Any sportbike worth its room and board is. But complaining about this would be akin to complaining that a scalpel is too sharp or that a death metal band is too loud. It’s just not possible to make a bike this fast and this good in corners any other way. If you figure out a way to do this, then you’ll no doubt make yourself a very rich biker; in the meantime anyone who wants to go really fast and take corners with the road whizzing past their shoulder a few millimetres away will need to accept that all-day comfort and MotoGP-winning performances are mutually exclusive design goals.
If you are in the market for a sportbike and you’re crystal clear on all the pros and cons, then you’d be silly to put the 2023 S 1000 RR anywhere else but at the top of your list. Yes, you should ride Yamaha’s R1. The M Motorsports kit you see on this bike will add to the overall cost of the BMW, but the base price of the Panigale V4 is so far above these two bikes that I’m not sure it’s comparing apples and apples. I’d still ride it anyway, if only to experience it.
It’s a fact that ego makes up a large part of the purchasing decision when buying a sportsbike; you only have to look and see the types of riders who rock up to Sunday rides on them. They most definitely aren’t jaded old riders like me. Almost invariably, they are 30-somethings with the physique to handle the comfort issues and a desire to be the fastest kid on the block that remains unquenched. For the rest of us, a bike like this would make an incredible addition to a small collection whereby you can take it out for a squirt now and then knowing full well that most of the big, long rides will be done on something that’s more suitable for the job.
Then there’s the trackday heroes. There’s very little doubt that this incarnation of the S 1000 RR would see you kicking all sorts of arse at your local track on a weekend. Or probably more accurately, it’ll give you zero excuses not to improve your own riding. You can rest safe in the knowledge that this bike will have your back when you’re riding at ten tenths while also having the electronic aids that are of a level or refinement to ensure that they are helping and not hindering your times. All the added lap timers and GPS tools that come with the bike will really shine on track, too. If you are slow on this bike, it’s 100% down to you. Part of me is jealous of those who can regularly ride this bike on track, where it’s so obviously meant to live and flourish. For the rest of us, owning one while living near any semblance of modern society and its public roads… well, you may as well put a SpaceX booster rocket in your garage for all the good it’s going to do you on your average Sunday ride.
I’ve been previously quoted as saying that sportbikes were a largely redundant genre of motorcycles. Put simply, their position at the top of the sales charts in the 1990s was an historical quirk that glossed over the painful fact that as a daily form of transport, they were comically inappropriate and required nothing less than a kind of mass delusion on the behalf of owners and manufacturers to allow it to happen. But we’ve all moved on. Nowadays there’s plenty of bikes that are fast, comfortable and useful over a wide variety of riding styles and road types. So sportbikes like the 2023 S 1000 RR are useless and redundant, yeah? Like hell they are; they’ll be redundant when going fast on two wheels is redundant. And if I have my say, that’ll be the day after the sun goes supernova and burns us all back into carbon black stardust.
Up until that point, I’d suggest that the 2023 incarnation of BMW’s litre sportbike is odds on the best of its kind, bar none. To beat it you’ll be shelling out many more bucks for not that much more usable performance and if you cut corners by looking at some lesser competitors you’ll be kicking yourself every time you see one of these red, white and blue (and dark blue) machines cross your path. Sure, please do ride the R1 and Panigale. I’m not in a position to subjectively compare all three right here and now, but I’d happily bet my firstborn’s kidneys that this bike would trounce them all when you do your sums. It’s that good.
See Also: 2023 BMW Model Lineup