Coarse yet refined, brutal yet controllable – on the face of it=, the updated S1000R is everything a supernaked should be
YOU’D BE FORGIVEN for thinking the new S1000R is nothing of the sort. Looks like the old one. Sounds like the old one. But it’s not the old one. It’s mostly new, yet mostly similar. It’s a distinction with little difference.
But it has a new frame, from the 2015-on S1000RR. New bodywork. New electronics. An optional auto-blipper. A lean angle sensor for the rider aids. Two kilos less weight, five more horsepower, and an Akrapovic end can as standard – part of ‘optimised’ exhaust/induction noise whilst appeasing Euro noise/emissions directives. The bars are mounted differently to reduce vibes, too.
It’s good timing: the update was partly brought about by those pesky Euro regs, partly because it was due after three years anyway. But last year the Japanese finally matched the European manufacturers at the fast/ unfaired lark, with the MT-10 specifically. Yamaha stopped scrimping – no last-generation engines, cheap frames, cheaper chassis parts. Like BMW, KTM and Ducati, Yamaha did a proper job – the best job. The BMW was our favourite naked... until the MT-10.
No better time for improvements then. But dynamic issues weren’t the BMW’s problem – it was already faster in a straight line and at coming to a stop (although the MT-10 was better on track). They matched each other move for move on the road, but the BMW cost more and lacked the same friendly, always-up-for-it fun feel that the Yamaha possesses from tickover to flat-out. The Beemer was that little bit more serious, that little bit harder to love: it’s Rossi versus Stoner. Equals on their day, but only one would make you laugh down the pub.
So it’d be nice if the new bits of metal and wires with 0s and 1s travelling through them in a different order added grin factor as well as extra go. Not that I was grinning at all for the first few miles of the launch in Spain. It pissed down. But the good thing about taking the fairing off a sportsbike and softening a few bits is that you get a taut, poised and quality chassis, with a riding position that makes it all the easier to control. So it’s perfectly happy on wet roads – especially with the ride mode flicked to Rain, which tones the engine response down, turns the rider aids up and puts the semi-active suspension in the softest damping parameters.
It’s everything you’d expect the defining inline four package of
‘Put it in Road mode and it comes alive, with stronger poke where it’s wanted, and instant urge the moment you pick up the gas’
the last seven years to be – everything feels right, does what you want. The engine has a coarse character that involves in its own way – distinct from the crossplane Yamaha, but no less appealing. Conventional firing order or not, it has an addictive exhaust tone, and snarls, cracks and pops on the overrun. As getting wetter than Jacques Cousteau’s swimming trunks goes, I actually enjoyed it.
Later, it dried out. Mode switch to Road: less ABS/TC, sharper throttle response and more damping control. This is the mode the old one was happiest in – flick to Dynamic and the ride got harsh without any real benefit to handling, the motor lairier than it needed to be. Road was plenty.
Road still is plenty. It makes the Beemer come alive, give its best. Relieved of 30bhp at peak but with stronger poke where it’s wanted on the road, with instant urge the moment you pick up the gas without any nasty jerks and snatches. BMW’s DDS electronic suspension isn’t at its best here – Road is the best of the lot, though it’s no better than before in any discernible way.
One-piece Brembo brakes are the same as 2016, but it was one of the best stopping bikes we ever tested before. They’re not the brakes for you if you like a gentle initial take-up and progressive power build. They are progressive, but they start with savage bite, building to tyre carcass-crumpling stopping force. Subtlety is not their strong point.
Toggle the grey button on the twistgrip housing (not the heated grip button) once more, and the rest of the bike is raised to a level of intensity that
‘Conventional firing order or not, it has an addictive exhaust note, and snarls, crackles and pops on the overrun’
matches the stoppers. Dynamic mode makes itself felt immediately if you do switch to it on the move (which it’ll let you do): the suspension gets harsh, the throttle is more like a gameshow buzzer. Touch it and you get instant noise and are jerked along the road in the manner a harassed parent drags a naughty child.
Meanwhile, the suspension gives you a bit of a battering, with no real benefit to steering or mid-corner composure, at least on the road. So invariably you end up back in Road – happier, in more comfort and possibly going quicker.
You’ll notice I haven’t really made much mention of the improvements. It’s for good reason: it’s hard to tell in isolation. It’s a great bike, but the same sort of great it was before. Nothing jumps out and strikes you as new, exciting, different. Anyone who tells you it’s better without back-to-back testing one with the old bike is bullshitting you: it feels just like an S1000R always did. I’m prepared to believe it is more pokey, and the new electronics are bound to be a bit better – it stands to reason. It looks a bit more fresh, and sounds fruity for a standard
bike. The new auto-blipper function on the shift-assist is welcome, although it didn’t seem as smooth on this bike as it has on S1000RRs and XRs we’ve previously tested. Maybe the gearbox needs more miles – this one was just run-in.
So Mr Clever Clogs magazine editor had the bright idea of ferrying the test bike back to the UK before they’re generally available here to compare with Whitey’s MT-10 and a Z1000R to see if the changes are more obvious in context with its rivals. We spent a morning riding them around Cambridgeshire, and then met snapper Mark for pictures.
That’s when Mr Clever Clogs became Mr Stupid Arse. Simple three-bike action picture, me in front on the S1000R. Throttle, slide, grip, up the inside kerb (!), tumble, scrape, ouch. I’d turned the traction control off for a wheelie earlier, in nasty Dynamic mode no less. Sharp throttle, cold road, no traction control... I might have got away with slip/grip/wobble and smashed bollocks if it hadn’t found the high kerb when it oversteered. That’s when it got really bad.
The kerb in question did a right number on the bike, given the 35mph-ish speed – bodywork/ footrests/bars as you might expect, plus a gouged frame and generator ripped from the crankcases for good measure. A comprehensive write off. Game over for getting pics in the UK. And for Austin riding it – it was to be his long-term test bike... Fortunately, before I destroyed it, Johnny had ridden it enough to compare it to the Z1000R, and I’d done enough miles on both it and the MT-10 to see how those two measure up, so all is not lost. Just one brand new BMW, an Arai and my dignity, left in the shallow, water-filled ditch I landed in. Arse.
g , before, and now has an Akra can as standard
Frame on this year’s bike is from the 15-on S1000RR
Analogue rev counter and LCD display are a fine combination
Road mode will suit most riders most of the time
Shift-assist Pro... a quickshifter to you and I