words - Mark Fattore
photos - Keith Muir
Is this the new standard bearer for superbikes – on the road and race track? Meet BMW's latest rocketship, which manages to satisfy on so many levels

When the Melbourne Motorcycle Expo was held recently, there was a definable twinkle in the eye of BMW Motorrad Marketing Manager Miles Davis when he was extolling the virtues of the all-new HP4 superbike, based on the S 1000 RR platform which has been such a success since it was first released in 2009 – and came oh-so close to winning this year’s World Superbike title in the hands of Italian Marco Melandri (and was the 2011 Aussie champion with Glenn Allerton). Click here for a review on the 2012 S 1000 RR.

Anyway, Miles loves a good time, and after sampling the HP4 for two days recently – one day apiece on the road and track – I can see why his enthusiasm was palpable. Because there’s no beating around the bush: as a road bike the HP4 is simply outstanding and is above any other superbike I’ve ridden – although I am yet to sample a Panigale, so I’ll have to reserve my absolute judgement. As for the track, if you want some lusty performance and the ability to ride fast with a certain level of ease – as much as you can with 193hp, even with electronic wizardry to assist you – then the HP4 is a winner again.

The HP (which stands for high performance) range from BMW has been around for a while now, and this bike is the fourth instalment following on from the HP2 Megamoto and Enduro and the HP2 Sport.

Styling wise, the bike isn’t light years away from the S 1000 RR, but what BMW has done to enhance its function is what excites us the most. With the adoption of forged light-alloy wheels, titanium exhausts system and a lighter battery, BMW has carved 9kg off the standard S 1000 RR. The benefits of reducing unsprung weight are obvious: less inertia, easier changes of direction and generally less stress on the suspension and tyres.

Outside of the massive weight loss, another key plank for the HP4 is the adoption of what BMW Motorrad calls Dynamic Damping Control. The basic thrust – and very marketable selling point -- is that damping adjusts itself automatically to the prevailing conditions, including what map you’re in – Rain, Sport, Race or Slick – and a host of other considerations, including braking force, acceleration and condition of the surface you’re on. The system doesn’t alter preload, which – shock horror! – remains a manual exercise.

The semi-automatic damping system is extremely sophisticated, and makes up to 1000 adjustments per second. That excites me, let alone a tech nut, but in a real world situation it does make a difference and allows a wider level of suspension adjustment that than the S 1000 RR. It’s all about enhancing the ride, and during the road component of the launch when there was some precipitation about I set the HP4 to Rain mode and the damping softened up, which provided a really solid feel. But later in the day when conditions dried up and the HP4 was in Sport mode, it was a completely different story – much firmer and able to withstand the stresses that come with harder acceleration, cornering and braking. For example, under really hard braking, the forks didn’t compress too much, providing excellent stability for both the front and rear ends.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to put the HP4 under the hammer at Goulburn’s Wakefield Park on day two, as I was hit with a nasty gastro bug as the road ride was coming to an end. I did take in a few sessions at Wakefield Park – one each on the S 1000 RR and HP4 – but it was for more ‘ceremonial’ purposes and to allow chief snapper Keith Muir to get some track shots.

Hopefully I’ll get another chance on a track soon enough, as the HP4’s performance is simply spectacular – not that there’s anything wrong with the form that the S 1000 RR produces. Unlike the S 1000 RR, the HP4 provides full power in all riding modes, but the throttle response becomes crisper as you graduate from Rain to Slick modes.

BMW claims the same amount of peak horsepower and torque for both the S 1000 RR and HP4: 193hp (142kW) at 13,000rpm and 112Nm at 9750rpm. But the torque has been increased in the 6000-9750rpm zone for the HP4 thanks to the new exhaust and mapping changes, which makes it an even better proposition for road riders. And the beefier mid-range was extremely handy at the tight Wakefield Park layout, as was the quickshifter – which I reckon should nearly be a standard feature on all fire-breathing sports bikes.

And for racers, there’s also launch control, which restricts the bike to 8000rpm when the clutch is released. Launch control can only be activated in Slick mode, and you’d have to be a fairly nifty practitioner to better it. Allerton tried a couple of launch control starts before the bike alerted him to the fact that it had had enough – after all, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the mechanically operated clutch.

On the back-to-back comparisons between the two bikes, even in my stomach-knotting gastro state, it was clear the HP4 holds the agility strong suit against the S 1000 RR. There’s just more bite in the steering, and most of that probably has to do with the lighter, forged wheels.

My output was fairly lame, but there was some extremely hard cornering and late braking going on at Wakefield Park, with Glenn Allerton and Isle of Man TT hero Cameron Donald leading the way.

The HP4 will be available Down Under in two versions: Standard ($27,990) and Competition ($32,450). Backbone features for both configurations include ABS, traction control, a quickshifter, damping control, launch control and forged wheels. The Competition model introduces blue wheels instead of black, an extended carbon fibre spoiler, sponsor decals, HGP carbon pate holder, HP fuel tank trim, HP brake & clutch levers, and HP footrests. Other factory options include a pillion kit ($400), heated grips ($325) and alarm ($505), and the HP accessories catalogue is huge, including luggage, levers, more carbon bits, date logger, reverse gearshift linkages and windscreens.

Potential racers really need not worry about the Competition model, as they’ll be fitting their own fairings, etc. But if aesthetics are important, then look no further than the Competition model – which still provides excellent value for money, if not value for the masses. There is a difference.

BMW’s Race ABS system has been refined even more in the HP4, and there’s a setting called IDM – in deference to its development cycle in the German Superbike title. In Slick mode, the ABS allows all sorts of brake drifting and lets the tyres to reach their absolute maximum level of adhesion before the clamps are put on – even then it’s more subtle than what you’d get in the other three riding modes.

In Rain, Sport and Race modes, the ABS operates on a part integral basis, but that is jettisoned in Slick mode.

ABS aside, the retardation from the Brembo monobloc calipers is, as you’d expect, fearsome. The HP4 has a two-piece pad set, compared to four for the S 1000 RR. And the pad compound is also different.

Slick mode also offers adjustable traction control where the rider sets the level of intervention from seven (maximum) to minus seven (minimum). BMW staff recommended we ventured no lower than minus four, because at that level the bike's electronics hardly intervene – it’s free-wheeling at its best, allowing the 200-section wide rear tyre to practically hang it all out. If you can do it, it’s close to sports bike utopia.

The traction control in Slick mode can be changed on the fly, although it was difficult at Wakefield Park with hardly any time to relax between corners, let along toggle through settings. But traction control in Slick mode is only a small part of the equation, and like the S 1000 RR the HP4’s electronics are just so intuitive. That allows riders to ride – but with a safety net that is the envy of other manufacturers.

If you’ve read the above and are still a bit confused about how the whole HP4 riding mode and electronic paradigm operates, the following should clear it all up:
  • Rain mode equals softer throttle but now with maximum power and torque -- but less through the midrange. It also has conservative traction control and ABS settings.
  • Sport equals softer throttle and normal traction control and ABS settings.
  • Race equals more responsive throttle and more open traction control and ABS parameters 
  • Slick equals more responsive throttle and open parameters, personalised traction control, less wheelie control IDM ABS
As a person whose stock-in-trade is road riding with the occasional race track flirtation, the HP4’s levels of useability and obedience are absolute winners for me. Plus, you can pick and choose your levels of self-protection. As for racers, it’s easy to ride fast. Imperious on all accounts.


Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder
Capacity: 999cc
Compression ratio: 13.0:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Maximum power: 193hp (142kW) at 13,000rpm
Maximum torque: 112Nm at 9750rpm

Type: Six-speed
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet

Frame type: Aluminium bridge
Front suspension: Inverted telescopic 46mm fork, damping electronically adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, damping electronically adjustable
Front brakes: Twin 320mm discs with four-piston radial Brembo calipers, Race ABS
Rear brake: Single 220mm disc with single-piston Brembo caliper, Race ABS
Tyres: Front 120/70-17, rear 200/55-17

Claimed dry weight: 169kg (with Race ABS)
Seat height: 820mm
Wheelbase: 1423mm
Fuel capacity: 17.5 litres

Price: $27,990 Standard, $32,4509 Competition
Test bikes supplied by: BMW Motorrad Australia, www.bmwmotorrad.com.au
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

Published : Wednesday, 19 December 2012
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