Motorcycle manufacturers have always produced special versions of their top-line production bikes. But 2017 has seen some seriously exotic, and expensive beasts step into the spotlight. The latest of which is the BMW HP4.
In the last two years, some motorcycle manufacturers have released what can only be called hyperbikes. Motorcycles, whose power and performance chew-up superlatives like dog biscuits, defying journalists and road testers to try and think up new ones to describe them.
The 998 cc supercharged Kawasaki H2R, caused quite a stir back in 2015. Not only because it pushed out a mind-numbing 310bhp, but also because of its $55,000 price tag.
But if you thought that was a brave move on Kawasaki’s part, then you probably weren’t ready for Honda’s bigger surprise announced shortly afterward. The 215bhp Honda RC213V-S made instant headlines, and at almost $200,000 it’s not hard to see why.
Interestingly, road testers at the time were so blown away by its hand-built quality, race bike handling, and lightning acceleration; they deemed it value for money.
Fast forward to 2017, and we see BMW joining the hyper-party with the HP4 Race. Okay, let’s get the price over with first, it’s around the $88,000 mark, which doesn’t put it in Honda’s league but makes the Kawasaki look almost bargain basement.
The HP4 didn’t just appear out of nowhere, so let’s take a quick look at its lineage. As if to completely dispel the myth that they were only capable of producing globe-trotting twin-cylinder adventure bikes, BMW took the covers off their all-new S1000RR in 2008.
The 999cc inline four was a revelation, and although built initially to compete in the 2009 World Superbike Championship, less than a year later it was on the showroom floor.
It was a brave move by BMW; all four Japanese manufacturers had been taking turns at producing class-leading, one-liter supersport bikes for years. Here, was BMW jumping into one of the most hotly contested markets, with their very first attempt at a four-cylinder sports bike.
Needless to say, the bike was a huge hit, not only due to its class-leading 190bhp rev-hungry engine but also because of its electronic rider aids. Four-option traction control may seem pretty basic by today’s standards, but in 2009 it was positively groundbreaking on a production bike.
The S1000RR has taken prestigious awards from the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the following years, several upgrades have seen boosts in performance, while shaving weight.
In 2012, the factory announced the first of the HP4 specials. Compared to a top of the line S1000RR, it came in at nine kilos less and although produced the same power, was re-mapped for more mid range torque.
Brembo brakes were added, which together with an ABS developed for their Superbike racing machines, combined to give a brake system with more response and bite.
Handling improvements were thanks to the upgraded electronic suspension mods. These mods worked with lean angle, ABS, and traction control, to give a much-improved ride quality, regardless of speed and conditions.
The HP4 was phased out in 2014, but not before BMW had their first Isle of Man TT race win in 75 years. With legendary Racer Michael Dunlop onboard, he took the 1000cc BMW to victory in the Superbike class and three days later did the same in the Superstock race.
The icing on the cake came on Friday 6th June, when Dunlop took the S1000RR to its third TT victory, thundering home ahead of the pack in the prestigious Senior TT.
More was to come. Two years later the highly talented Irish Race, once more took the top spot in Superbike and Senior races on what was essentially the same bike. Dunlop set an all-time race lap record of 133.9mph in the process. A staggering achievement for both man and machine, considering this is an average speed measured over the famous 37-mile long, mountain course.
One more upgrade in 2016, saw the S1000RR get even more power and improved multi-layer, fully adjustable electronics together with cruise control and heated grips. These improvements gave the bike an unparalleled level of speed, comfort, and stability that left the competition floundering to keep up.
The huge list of exotic optional extras for the bike should perhaps have been a preview of what was to come. Especially with such broad hints left by the concept bike, shown briefly at the end of the year.
Expectations were high, with many waiting to see if the concept would ever become a reality. In the spring of 2017 soon everyone realized that their expectations hadn’t been high enough.
Launched at Auto Shanghai 2017, the HP4 Race looked every inch the showstopper it was. Positively bristling with noticeable upgrades, it was the bike’s carbon fiber frame that stole the spotlight. Although not the first motorcycle manufacturer to go down this route, (Cagiva, Ducati, and the legendary Britten, all had limited success using carbon) BMW are the first to use the concept in a production motorcycle.
Their confidence to travel this route is of course down to the success of BMW’s car manufacturing arm. BMW are currently world leaders in mass-producing carbon fiber components, having designed the technology capable of making carbon parts both cheaply and quickly.
The HP4’s monocoque construction frame weighs an unbelievable 7.8kgs and comes with a matching rear sub-frame, that is adjustable for three height settings. Wheels made from Carbon fiber, say BMW, are 30% lighter than the nearest aluminum alternatives.
And when considering the HP4’s carbon fiber attributes, especially taking into account the power kicked out by the engine, you’d be forgiven for harboring thoughts of potential fragility. Let me tell you right now; there’s no need.
According to rigorous laboratory tests, if you made the same engine component from carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel the carbon component would be half the weight of the former. Not to mention, five times stronger than the latter. I guess though that BMW knew this already. They state that the bike’s design is such that in the event of it kissing the tarmac, the frame and wheels will be the last things to fail.
Fully fuelled and ready to rock, it weighs a mere 171kg, making it even lighter than their World Superbike Championship entry.
Tuning of the hand built 215 horsepower motor, has been taken care of by the factory’s race engine department. It includes all new intake and exhaust cams and a specially lightened and balanced crankshaft.
Con rods and pistons are hands chosen to match perfectly for weight and balance, and the bike features a close-ratio gearbox. All of which, converts to a slightly higher-revving engine (14,500rpm, 300rpm higher than the standard S1000RR) and a peak torque figure of 120Nm which is delivered slightly sooner at 10,000 rpm.
With so much effort going into the frame and engine, it’s no surprise that they’ve also pushed the boat out regarding suspension too. Holding things together at the front, are state of the art Ohlins FGR 300 forks. We’re talking Moto GP quality race forks here, and if you wanted to buy them over the counter, you could expect only pocket-change back from 14k. Your purchase wouldn’t include the race quality Brembo GP4 PR monoblock calipers either.
Chosen for its cutting edge performance are the Ohlins TTX 36 GP rear shock, mated to the same spec aluminum swingarm used by the factory’s Superbike racing team.
Since its launch almost eight years ago, the S1000RR has become synonymous with electronic rider aids. Through continual development, the HP4 has some of the most advanced electronics in the industry.
So, in no specific order, here’s what you get with the HP4 Race. Dynamic Traction Control programmable for different gears together with 15 levels of adjustment. Wheelie control, once again for selected gears. A launch control and pit lane limiter and an engine braking control system that also comes with 15 levels.
And the fun doesn’t end there! The bike’s 2D dash contains a mechanic mode that conveys engine management information, and changes to rider mode the moment first gear is engaged. If that weren’t enough, it also records lap times via GPS.
The BMW HP4 Race is an astonishing piece of engineering, representing a company that continually pushes the boundaries of technology. Its performance and parts proved in countless hours of all-out racing competitions such as WSB and Superstock races. This technology shows not only in the bike’s performance and spec sheet but also in its price tag of $88,000. All this supposing, of course, you can still find one of the 750 hands built bikes.
It’s not all bad though. The Race also comes with a small spares kit with spacers and inserts that will allow you to adjust the swinging arm height and angle of the steering head. BMW has even thrown in a couple of spare chains and sprockets too. Now come one, that’s probably saved you a couple of hundred bucks right there.