When you stop for a minute to consider things, you really do have to hand it to BMW. For years, if not decades, their motorcycle range had a very clearly defined place in two wheeled society. They had what politicians call ‘The Grey Vote’. They made sensible motorcycles. They didn’t have the need or desire to try to wow their customer with fancy paint schemes, or even anything resembling modern design cues. And with this they happily plodded along, happy that they were considered as ‘the thinking man’s motorcycle’ But in the last ten years this has changed. Drastically.
Nowadays, you’ll find BMW competing at the head of the World Superbike Championship, dominating many national enduro series, and winning multiple World Stunt Riding Championship with Christian Pfeiffer on their F800. All of which is very grand, but BMW have also managed a very clever trick. Despite all of this, they still haven’t alienated their ‘older’ customers. They still produce fantastic Touring bikes, their GS range continues to outsell virtually everything, and now the S1000 RR has made the Germans the doyen of the Supersports category – something that would have been laughed at less than a decade ago.
In 2005, the boffins (or is that marketers?) decided to create a halo range called HP – High Performance. They knew that there was an element of their customers that wanted something a little more special, something that raised the bar a little. The first to come out of this stable would be the HP2 Enduro – essentially a stripped down R1200 GS, with a little more power, some unique looks, higher grade parts and a significantly higher price tag. I rode one, it blew me away. In fact it was just insane – imagine a dirt bike with 105 bhp! This was then followed my the even zanier HP2 MegaMoto which was more or less a pure road going version of the Enduro. At this point, the public were starting to see through the smoke and mirrors and realise that these were overpriced parts bin specials. BMW needed something truely special.
And boy is what came next special! When the first images of the roadgoing HP2 Sport surfaced, I nearly thought it was a windup, or even just a creative Photoshop job. But no, soon word came from Munich that those crazy Germans were actually going to build a road going version of the HP2 racer that had suddenly began competing rather successfully in Endurance Championships. And crucially, this thing looked very special. It still does! Dripping in carbon fibre, its half white, half carbon lacquered paint scheme is drool inducing. Massive Brembo callipers are bolted onto its telelever suspension, its beautifully sculpted exhaust nestles under the one piece carbon fibre rear subframe. As you sit on, you are greeted by a carbon framed LCD display that will give you every bit of information and telemetry that you could wish for.
Turning on the ignition, this screen is crowned by a series of LED lights which during the engines warm-up phase, give you a visual reference for oil temperature, while the digital rev counter displays an active red line which moved higher up the revs as the engine warms up. Firing up the engine, you do notice a little bit of vibration from the boxer engine, but nothing out of the ordinary considering that this is a tuned motor. There is a beautiful purr from the engine as it idles just over 1400 rpm. Pulling away, the riding position is ‘sporty’, but its actually relatively comfortable for me, and in true sportsbike fashion I quickly see that the rear mirrors are virtually useless. Once up to temperatutre, I decide to try out the gearbox’s quickshifter which is standard on the bike. Winding on the throttle, the speed rises very fast, and then, without lifting off I gently raise my left foot to slot in the next gear. It happens almost seamlessly and in a way that makes you feel like you really are on a race bike.
The flat twin produces more than enough torque, and there is sufficient engine braking that gives you the option to just roll off the gas when approaching corners allowing the bike to remain nice and settled underneath. The other benefit of rolling off the power is the glorious sound from the exhaust on the overrun. Although not excessively loud, it spits pops and farts as you let off the gas, which will encourage you to give it a massive fistful out of the corner just so that you can roll off to hear it all again. The bike’s on-board computer gives you a multitude of displays as you flick through the bar mounted menu button, although I found most of these to be more track orientated.
But all of these little things boil away into insignificance. Ride this machine for even a small amount of time and you realise that its not just special, it make you feel special on it too. Every detail on this bike has been thought out, engineered, modified in the pursuit of creating something that really stands out from the crowd – even the number plate holder is crafted from carbon fibre! I love the fact that this bike changes perceptions. When parked up outside a busy cafe, I smile as I overhear people say in surprised tones, “Oh, its a BMW…” Sportsbikes aren’t meant to be powered by flat twins. They’re not meant to be shaft driven. Until recently they weren’t meant to be BMW’s! But this is, and three years after its launch, it bike still looks fresh, raises eyebrows and draws approving nods of appreciation from motoring aficionados.