If you’re a fan of high-performance sportbikes, BMW’s new HP4 Race should be at or near the top of your must-ride list. This carbon-framed and -wheeled ultra-sportbike achieves new levels of what’s possible from a production superbike. Imagine about 200 horsepower in a bike weighing less than a Ninja 300!
One downside, aside from its stratospheric price, is that the HP4’s lucky and affluent owners won’t be able to flaunt it at the local Burger Barn, as it lacks lights and other accoutrements that would enable it to be sold for street use. It’s a track-only special limited to just 750 units worldwide. BMW says about 10% of them will make their way to our shores.
Okay, now the price: $78,000. To most of us, that’s a lot of cash. To others, like Ducati Superleggera owners, it’s a palatable number for a ne plus ultra sportbike with World Superbike levels of componentry and a carbon-fiber frame.
The references to the $80k Superleggera are analogous not only because it and the HP4 Race are both equipped with carbon frames and wheels and are similarly priced, but also because several SL owners were on hand with their bikes at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack earlier this week where we sampled the HP4 Race. A few of them had already placed deposits on the new BMW. This is the playground for wealthy moto enthusiasts.
At first glance, the HP4 Race appears as merely an S1000RR with a titanium Akrapovic exhaust system and a carbon race fairing slathered with sponsorship decals. A closer look, however, reveals a mother lode of top-spec componentry that can’t be found anywhere else but a World Superbike paddock, and some of them (like the carbon frame and wheels) not even allowed in WSB.
Let’s start with the HP4’s gorgeous carbon frame. The seamless unit is produced by a resin-transfer molding process based on technology BMW uses in its carbon i8 supercar chassis – its construction isn’t via traditional layers of c-f that are structurally compromised by how each layer is joined. Amazingly, BMW says its Carbondrive c-f process can build the frame in just one hour with all metal inserts and pivots already molded in. The Race’s wheels are fabricated by German subcontractor Thysen Krupp using a similar process that braids the c-f fibers into the wheel shape in a single piece.
All this carbon, including the subframe made from traditional layered c-f, along with titanium bolts and a lightweight lithium-ion battery, adds up to a claimed wet weight of 378 pounds with its aluminum tank filled with 4.6 gallons of fuel, which is a huge reduction from the S1000RR’s curb weight claim of 459 pounds. And consider this: The minimum weight of a World Superbike at the end of a race (with its tank mostly empty) is 370 pounds, which means the HP4 genuinely is lighter than a World Supers racebike!
For comparison’s sake, Ducati says the Superleggera scales in at 364 pounds with its 4.5-gallon tank 75% full, which would translate into about 371 pounds filled. Overall, based on factory specs, the Duc is a lighter package, as it’s equipped with street equipment while the BMW is not. FWIW, Ducati says the SL’s dry weight is 339.5 pounds, compared to BMW’s dry claim of 322 pounds. But keep in mind these weights are declarations from the manufacturers and might not be directly or accurately comparable.
The weight loss was clearly evident as the HP4 Race was rolled off its stand and put into my anxious hands for the first of my two sessions aboard this dream machine. I had earlier spun laps on a stock S1000RR to prepare for the HP4, and I had yet to gain solid confidence navigating the challenging 3.4-mile COTA circuit. My brain was in a heightened state of arousal as I considered whether the more powerful and lighter HP4 Race would be easier or scarier to ride, and my breathing got shallower when we were warned that we reallyshouldn’t crash BMW’s pricey wunderbike.
It fires up with a growl from the EPA-non-compliant Akra exhaust after pressing the starter button on the HP4’s bespoke racebike switchgear. The seat is placed 32.7 inches from the ground, but the subframe layout allows adjustability from 32.1 to 33.3 inches.
A 2D digital instrument panel provides an array of info for the rider, including rpm, lap times, and traction-control and engine-brake torque settings. The ECU also has launch control, wheelie control and a pit-speed limiter. Additionally, the system has a mechanic mode that shows logged data such as throttle position, suspension travel, brake pressure and lean-angle info.
The transmission has revised internal gearing and its shifter can be oriented in either a street pattern or inverted race layout. Having a few sessions aboard an S1000RR earlier, I opted to retain the street pattern to avoid potential confusion. The bike is fitted with HP Shift Assist Pro that enables clutchless up- and down-shifts. Milled footpeg mounts offer a choice of eight positions.
The HP4’s reduced weight makes itself evident in the run through COTA’s series of ess turns early in the lap, and the drastic increase in agility is largely by virtue of its carbon wheels. They lop off 1.7 pounds each from a forged aluminum wheel for a purported 30% weight reduction, let alone what the weight loss would be from a cast-aluminum wheel. Combined with the bike’s minimal mass, it has shockingly light turn-in response, with no apparent loss of stability.
As delivered for our ride, the HP4 Race seemed perfectly set up for COTA’s fabulous but newly bumpy track. It was a lot smoother when I tested Ducati’s 1199R there in 2013. If you like to geek out on chassis geometry in the quest to slash tenths of seconds from your lap times, the Race is adjustable for steering angle, swingarm-pivot height and ride height from the Öhlins TTX36 GP shock absorber, the same model fitted to the Duc SL. The HP4 is also delivered with six sprockets to hone in on perfect gearing for different tracks.
After rounding the low-speed Turn 11, nearly 0.7 mile of straightish pathway stretches out in front, an ideal testing ground for the HP4’s uprated four-cylinder motor. Inside, higher-lift camshafts conspire with longer intake funnels to produce a claimed 215 horsepower at its 0.4-pound lighter crankshaft. Forged-steel conrods are used to help handle the 14,500-rpm rev limit, up 300 from the RR which is factory rated at 199 hp. Peak ponies arrive at 13,900 rpm, 400 revs higher than the RR. Maximum twist of 88.5 lb-ft is found at 10,000 rpm, this compared to the RR’s 88.3 lb-ft at 10,500 rpm.
For reference, BMW’s WSB engines crank out around 225 hp, according to Josef Miechler, BMW’s Product Office Strategy and Product Management responsible for BMW’s 4- and 6-cylinder platforms. Ducati claims 215 hp in street trim from the Superleggera’s 1285cc V-Twin, or 220 with its race exhaust fitted.
Interestingly, the bikes we rode were fresh out of their crates, with no break-in miles on them. Unlike any production bike we can think of, BMW runs-in the motor on a test bench and then thoroughly inspects it, adjusts its valves and swaps oil before the engines are installed in their frames, “ready to reach its full potential on the racetrack right from delivery,” according to BMW.
So, I pinned the throttle and held on tight as the HP4 gathered speed with a voracity not far removed from a proper superbike. Shortly after clicking into sixth gear, the drop-away from a small rise in the track surface caused the front end to lose contact at about a-buck-70! The HP4’s power-to-weight ratio ain’t no joke.
I saw a breathtaking 180+ mph on the RR’s speedo that day, and by the ferocious way the HP4 tore through the gears, I’m sure I was approaching Turn 12 with about 190 mph of energy needing to be dispersed for the 35-mph turn ahead. Thankfully, the Brembomonoblock brakes are sublime in their effectiveness and usability. They offer a surprisingly soft initial bite, but there’s scads of power that can be applied in an exceedingly linear fashion. Out back resides a remarkably compact four-piston Brembo caliper (with ti pistons) and a 220mm disc.
Next up is COTA’s stadium section that presents tight turns and short straights that are an ideal testing ground for the HP4’s traction-control system. Designed to be uniquely audible to its rider, BMW says it’s a better way to be informed about TC intervention than by trying to observe a TC lamp on the instrument panel. The TC can be switched among 15 levels.
I initially went out with the ECU set to its Intermediate ride mode, in which the preset TC level actuated early and often. Its clearly audible stutter when intervening was reassuring to know when it was kicking in. After two laps I toggled on the fly to the Dry1 ride mode, which had a TC level of +7 programmed in and allowed more aggressive throttle application and harder drives out of corners. This being a racebike, +6 of TC on the HP4 is equal to the RR’s -4 setting.
In my second session, I toggled the TC back to +3 and enjoyed the stellar grip offered by the Pirelli Diablo SC2 slick tires. I pushed harder to try to approach the limits of the HP4 Race, but I came much closer to my own personal limits than those of the bike. The HP4 competently sucked up bumps that made the RR nervous, and it became a willing accomplice to shaving down lap times in my hands. Riding the ultra-capable HP4 Race around the awesome COTA circuit was a thrill I won’t soon forget.
The underlying question is whether this HP4 is worth the $45,000 surcharge over an optioned-up S1000RR. To those with depth of pockets as shallow as my own, I can’t make that case for the HP4 Race. But to sportbike enthusiasts like the Ducati Superleggeraowners who lined up for a spin on BMW’s hottest-ever production superbike, it might seem reasonably priced for what is a highly exclusive and unique piece of sportbike machinery.
One last note: The HP4 Race’s engine has a 5,000-kilometer limit before it needs to be exchanged for a new motor at a cost of 17,000 euro. But, while this is an onerous fee, one needs to consider how long it will take to rack up those 3,100 miles of track use. To those who can afford $78k for the bike, perhaps the charge for an engine change won’t fully drain their bank account.
|BMW HP4 RACE Specifications|
|Engine Type||Water/oil-cooled 4-cylinder four-stroke in-line engine, four titanium valves per cylinder, two overhead racing camshafts, milled oil sump, Pankl connecting rod, precision-balanced and lightened crankshaft|
|Bore x stroke||80 mm x 49.7 mm|
|Horsepower||215 hp (158 kW) at 13,900 rpm (maximum speed 14,500 rpm) (claimed)|
|Torque||88 lb-ft (120 Nm) at 10,000 rpm (claimed)|
|Compression ratio||13.7-13.9 : 1|
|Engine management||Electronic racing injection, variable intake pipe length, four selectable modes|
|Emission control||Akrapovic full titanium 4 in 2 in 1 WSBK exhaust system|
|Maximum speed||Over 186 mph|
|Fuel type||Superplus unleaded, minimum octane number 98 (RON)|
|Clutch||Multi-disc clutch in oil bath, anti-hopping clutch, mechanically operated|
|Gearbox||Constant-mesh 6-speed racing transmission (EVO) with straight-cut gears (gears 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6)|
|Drive||16/43 (adjustable as part of equipment pack: sprocket 15, 16, 17, chainwheel 41, 42, 43, 44, 45)|
|Battery||12 V/5 Ah, Li ion maintenance-free|
|Frame||Carbon monocoque RTM frame with steering head angle and swing-arm pivot adjustment, load-bearing engine|
|Front Suspension||Öhlins FGR 300 WSBK fork, adjustable rebound and compression-stage damping, adjustable spring preload, Öhlins SD052 adjustable steering damper, front wheel quick-change system thanks to rotatable forklegs with front-wheel cover mounted (brake calipers need not be removed to change a wheel) spring stiffness 10.5 N/mm|
|Rear Suspension||Aluminum WSBK swing arm, Öhlins TTX 36 GP central spring strut, adjustable rebound and compression-stage damping, adjustable spring preload, top spring strut pivot point adjustable (0/3 mm), adjustable spring strut deflection (tension strut), contact surfaces for wheel spacer bush on chain tensioners for simple/hands free wheel fitting, chain tensioner titanium on outside, aluminum on inside, CFRP auxiliary stand mountings on swing arm, spring stiffness 95N/mm|
|Suspension travel front / rear||5.1” / 4.7” (130 mm / 120 mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.7” (1440 mm)|
|Castor||4.0” (adjustable between 3.7” – 4.4”)|
|Steering head angle||65.5° (adjustable 0.0°, +/-0.5°, +/-1°)|
|Wheels||Carbon wheels including press-fitted wheel spacer bushes for easy wheel fitting|
|Front Wheel||3.50 x 17″|
|Rear Wheel||6.00 x 17″|
|Front Tires||120/70 ZR 17 Pirelli Diabolo Superbike Slick SC2|
|Rear Tires||200/60 ZR 17 Pirelli Diabolo Superbike Slick SC2|
|Front Brake||Brembo Racing twin disc brake, T-floating racing brake discs, 320×6.75 mm diameter, 4-piston monobloc WSBK GP4-PR fixed caliper with titanium pistons, Brembo Racing RCS19X18 master cylinder, including adjustable Brembo Racing brake lever, Brembo Racing clutch lever (without clutch switch)|
|Rear Brake||Brembo Racing single-disc brake, 4-piston WSBK fixed caliper with titanium pistons, brake disc diameter 220×4.0 mm|
|Length||81.6” (2,070 mm)|
|Width (incl. mirrors)||30.6” (777 mm)|
|Height (excl. mirrors)||47.0” (1,193 mm)|
|Seat height, unladen weight||32.7” (831 mm) rider seat low / high, 32.1” / 33.3” (816 / 846 mm)|
|Inner leg curve, unladen weight||Approximately 73.2” (1,859 mm) rider seat low/ high, 72.0” / approx. 74.4” (1,829 mm / approx. 1,889 mm)|
|Unladen weight, road ready, fully fueled 1)||378 lbs (171.4 kg)|
|Dry weight||322 lbs (146 kg)|
|Usable tank volume||4.6 gal (17.5 l)|
|Reserve||Approx. 1 gal (4 l)|