BMW send us to Spain for the new S Thou’ and some R NineT variants. It rained. Lots...
Why launch one bike, when you can launch three at a time in sunny Spain? BMW’s new S 1000 R Sport, plus R nineT Racer & Pure are put under the microscope beneath the Spanish sun. Well, for an hour or so...
Just my luck – every launch I’ve been on this year has been underwater! The launch of three of BMW’s latest and greatest promised much, and though we had a single hour of dry time, the rest was spent under appalling conditions. Dammit...
The bikes in question are the updated S 1000 R naked hustler, and the R nineT Pure and Racer. Of course, though, the big interest is the bombastic S Thou’.
The engine has been re-jiggered to meet Euro 4 spec’ but via an extra effective catalyser rather than internal wrangling. They claim an extra 5bhp up top, probably via the ECU. The bike also now comes, as standard, with the HP Akrapovic exhaust. Nice!
The electronics system has been updated, and now features both an up and downshifter. There’s an extra custom mode available when you plug the ‘Dynamic’ stick into the port under the seat, too, which activates a pit-lane limiter and launch control, as well as enabling you multiple options to fiddle including switching the ABS off. The ABS is now the ‘cornering’ version.
Another big change is the frame (and new sub-frame), based on the latest S 1000 RR and helping to lop two kilos off the bike’s weight. Geometry remains similar, but the electronic DDC suspension is subject to the very latest (and brilliant) algorithms.
Smaller changes include the new vibration-free handlebars, a new dash angle to reduce glare, and the fairings have been reduced in size. What do these changes amount to? Well, the previous version is ace, just losing out to Aprilia’s Tuono 1100 by a slim margin. Now, however, it’s clear this bike will give the Aprilia a much harder time in 2017. Cats & dogs Yep, it was piddling down when we left the hotel, but it was only a few hundred yards before I was reminded how good the DDC suspension is while traversing a huge sleeping policeman. If you’ve not experienced it, it’s remarkable, taking something serious to fox its excellent damping capabilities.
I’d got the bike set in Rain mode, which allows enough power for speedy progress and the Bridgestone S20s keep the chassis honest. Another new trait glaring through early was the steering. It’s most definitely sharper (and not just down to the optional forged HP wheels on my bike) and quicker to manoeuvre, which serves to make the bike feel lighter and more responsive. I was comfortable enough to even fly into a drenched hairpin a little too quick attempting to test the new cornering ABS. As with any bike fitted with this Bosch system, it feel like witchcraft! Then we stopped to switch bikes. One retro step too far I headed straight for the R nineT Racer because I think it looks very cool. I’ve never been a fan of the Boxer engine that powers it, but hopes were high. High, but dashed within a few hundred yards, and it’s to do with the riding position. It’s too long, too low, and it’s clear that were it a bit more compact, you’d have far more control.
It is, however, fun when chasing the lead rider up and down Spanish hills, wet roads or otherwise. The bike comes with BMW’s basic (upgradeable)TC system and that takes care of the sizeable torque punch available at your wrist when grip is at a premium. The motor is a proper tractor of a lump, shovelling heaps of grunt at you. Being fair, the top-end isn’t too shabby although really you want to keep feeding it gears in its sweet spot.
By this point the roads had dried a little, and the Racer offers a stable handling platform, but you’ve got to work at it because control isn’t natural. It’ll do what you ask, but in turn asks more of you to achieve it. It wasn’t long before a painful dull ache had set into my right shoulder and wouldn’t go away. I had kind of enjoyed thrashing it, but it was with no small bit of relief that when the sun popped out we stopped to cram in some photos and I could awkwardly lever myself off the thing.
It was during this photo stop that I jumped on the Pure version, the bike I was expecting to hate. The Pure is a blank platform for owners to customise and, good, as the bike’s looks do nothing for me. It’s bland and blurs into the background almost unnoticed. But it’s supposed to – you’ve to make it your own. The important part is how it feels to ride, and it surprised the hell out of me! After the Racer I wasn’t expecting much, but the more ‘normal’ chassis and riding position allows accurate and effective control over what it offers. Compared to the Racer, it was a ballerina/gymnast performing on a comfy sofa. The 110bhp engine felt more potent here, delivering a serious punch off the line. It also sounded great, quite how BMW have managed this with Euro 4 astounds me. It’ll even wheelie nicely in the first couple of gears when the TC is switched off! It was in part probably the recalcitrant nature of the Racer that made the Pure so impressive, but it genuinely is a very competent, enjoyable bike to ride. Well done you! Ah, that’s better... Jumping back on the big S Thou’ however was, frankly, bliss. There’s much to savour on the upgraded 1000 R. I stuck it into ‘Dynamic’ mode allowing full-beans, and the unshackled motor responded accordingly.
Christ, it’s fast – really, really fast. And angry, oh so very angry when you’re battering the rev-limiter and using the slick quick-shifter to bang in another gear. The down-shifter is slick, but does suffer the same foibles as on the Superbike. It doesn’t like going down the box when you’ve a small amount of lean. Braking upright you get the little ‘blip’ as it slips down the box, smooth as butter. But with lean you’re often met with a static lever, meaning you must employ the clutch. It’s not a problem per se, you learn to ride around it and BMW aren’t alone with this issue, it’s just a trait of the equipment and most of time it’s genuinely brilliant.
As is the chassis. The roads, while dry, were still slippery as an unfortunate fellow found out to his cost, but dry enough to sample the new agility. The rear, even set on calmer rider modes, feels higher than before which doubtless accounts partly for the increased steering prowess. The DDS suspension constantly impressed especially on fast, high-speed sweeping corners where it displays an absurd level of steadfast stability.
When it’s time to pull wheelies, the rear shock supports you perfectly, even allowing you to find your balance point faster and safer. But the bikes we were riding hadn’t got the ‘Dynamic’ stick plugged in, and whereas the previous bike allowed stunting whenever regardless of rider mode, here it intrudes. In first and second gear it’s okay, but in third it instantly summons the fun police. Switch TC off and it’s worse, as the basic ASC control activates and that’s even stricter. It takes some experimentation to find the right balance – Road mode with TC off, to be able to hoist big (and obviously clever), fourth gear mingers. I’ve been assured though, that with the electronics fully released the bike will do what you like, when you like, even with the otherwise excellent TC activated, just as it used to. Awesome... No pain in the rain Sadly the sunshine was short lived, clouds gathered apace, the rain fell and the roads became awash. Not just wet, think Noah’s Ark levels of wash! Often the water we traversed could be measured in feet – the worst conditions I’ve ridden through in a decade. Water spilled from the top of boots, bikes created huge bow waves flying high above lids, waterproofs were useless and even waterproof pockets inside rucksacks gave in, ruining mobile phones and passports. In short – biblical.
So, quite why I chose to stay in full-power mode with the TC off, I’ll never know, but it did give me insight into just how much of a delightful and effective machine the S Thou’ truly is. Spanish roads are ruthlessly lethal when wet, but the level of control plus the excellent throttle response kept me upright, safe and secure, and also allowed me to actually enjoy this shit storm, aided by the excellent Bridgestone S20 tyres. I was amazed at how fast I could enter corners inches deep, splash through and then progressively accelerate out. One long corner in particular made me realise what an incredible bike I was riding while chasing our unfazed lead rider. It was a fast uphill right, third gear, and so slippery the rear would step out with just a sliver of gas. The fuelling is that good, and so accurate, I was able to tap it off a whisker until it behaved and start playing with it. That’s not me, I’m not one to step bikes out often, most definitely not on purpose and sure as hell never in the rain. We’re only talking an inch or two here, but with the DDS rear shock working its magic in conjunction with super accurate controls, I’ve never felt more comfortable doing it. It was really bonkers!
We stopped to wait for some stragglers and I asked myself what the hell was I doing, so slung the bike into Rain mode with TC on. It’s there to be used, and is genuinely useful but, crucially, without curbing the bike’s spirit. A balance only a few manufacturers get right with rider aids. BMW are a leading light in this regard. Epilogue Let’s begin with the R nineT brigade. The Racer is a wonderful looker, with a hearty though agricultural motor, capable chassis and enough mod-cons such as TC and ABS. But the riding position could dictate a purchase. Plus, I watched a short rider turning one around and it bordered on the comical. I would thoroughly recommend a test ride first.
The Pure is a terrific bike, but apart from the banging soundtrack, a little anonymous. There are other BMWs far worthier of FB readers. Yet, weirdly, I’d have the Racer over the Pure every time. It looks brilliant, and if you want to appear cool and feel a twin’s thumpy blat, it does the job perfectly.
But the S Thou’ is our bag and then some, a genuine step up in terms of both chassis, gizmos and overall performance. We’ll have to get it back in the UK to try it in dry conditions. BMW laughs in Euro 4’s face, offering even more bang for your buck, and we can ask for no more than that!
We also got to ride this... ...and this!
Corner exit = incoming big wheelies!
... while the Pure ain’t no looker!
The Racer looks fantastic...