2006 BMW HP2 Bike Test

July 2, 2006
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

The Boxer Twin design on an HP2 produces more vibes and more ponies than the GS version. As you can see  the protruding cylinders effectively box in a rider’s legs  no pun intended. While nothing to worry about on the highway  off-roading gets interesting with the wide layout.
The Boxer Twin design on an HP2 produces more vibes and more ponies than the GS version. As you can see, the protruding cylinders effectively box in a rider’s legs, no pun intended. While nothing to worry about on the highway, off-roading gets interesting with the wide layout.

Utilizing virtually the same engine as the R1200GS, the HP2 gets its 92 ponies and 74 lb-ft of torque from the pair of horizontally opposing cylinders of BMW’s popular Boxer engine. Each cylinder has a bore and stroke of 101mm x 73mm and an 11:1 compression ratio. Dual 36mm intake valves and 31mm exhaust valves control the flow of fuel and emissions for the air/oil cooled Flat-Twin. The motor has been modified slightly from the GS to assist in weight reduction so crucial to the off-road world. Where the GS is intended to spend the majority of its time on the pavement, the HP2 is not, and so the GS’s balancer shaft has been removed with little concern for a rider’s numb butt.

“It was quite a surprise that the motor churns out as much power as it does,” Ken admits. “The engine operates without the counter-balancer so it does vibrate a bit more than the GS does, but it also has more bottom-end snort. When combined with the lighter chassis, it actually makes the HP2 feel much more powerful. You can wheelie the bike easily and lofting the front wheel over obstacles is actually possible. You are not often going to be able to pull that off on a GS.”

The only other differences are the addition of a splash guard on the air intake which is located above the right-side cylinder, and a remapping of the ECU (Engine Control Unit) for added horsepower. The exhaust system is a mixture of old and new with a smaller, 4.4-pound lighter muffler that is connected to a GS manifold.

Riding the HP2 in serious terrain would be much easier with a full-blown knobby. Controlling the power and size of this bike can be daunting at times  so we’re looking forward to a long-term test to sort out the issues we had in converting from highway to dirt.
Riding the HP2 in serious terrain would be much easier with a full-blown knobby. Controlling the power and size of this bike can be daunting at times, so we’re looking forward to a long-term test to sort out the issues we had in converting from highway to dirt.

The HP2 takes anywhere between 300 and 750 miles to break in and ours was delivered with exactly 700 miles on the odometer, so early qualms with power output, notchy shifting and the like were of no concern. All of the gearing ratios are the same between the two bikes, with the off-road HP2 getting reinforced bearings in the 6-speed transmission for additional durability. Shifting the shaft-driven Beemer is clunky compared to traditional chain-driven off-roaders, but Ken verified that it was nothing out of the ordinary for BMWs.

In a twisted sense, the HP2 is like a Honda CRF50 on steroids. Not Barry Bonds’ does-he/does-he-not roids, we’re talking about a blatant ball-shrinking, vein-popping Jose Canseco juice-fest. They rule opposite ends of the size spectrum, have disproportionate radiator shrouds, identical exhaust notes, stubby front fenders, tamed-down knobbies and motors hang off the front of the chassis rather than being cradled.

A tubular-steel trellis frame utilizes the motor as a stressed-member as it dangles beneath a steering head that offers a very mellow 29.5 degrees of rake and lengthy 5 inches of trail. The design is based on the chassis used on the factory R900R Dakar Rally bikes used from 1999-2001. In the dirt bike world, the HP2 is very long with its 63.4 inch wheelbase. The elongated body and relaxed rake angle make for a very stable platform at speed. For dirt bike applications, this immediately points to desert racing.

Off-road racing stud-muffin Jimmy Lewis has been an intricate part of developing the Beemer and recently guided the HP2 to a seventh-place finish in the Pro Motorcycle class at the SCORE Baja 500. The dominant desert machine over the past decade has been Honda’s XR650R, which has 27.8 degrees of rake and 4.3 inches of trail for comparison, and the Honda’s wheelbase is more than five inches shorter. Even the GS has a more compact stance of 59.8 inches.

Ken has plenty of experience on the BMW lineup so it was no wonder he was able to hop on and immediately feel like Johnny Racer. Unfortunately  he suffered worse than anyone in our group with the German engineers’ bias toward long-legged riders.
Ken has plenty of experience on the BMW lineup so it was no wonder he was able to hop on and immediately feel like Johnny Racer. Unfortunately, he suffered worse than anyone in our group with the German engineers’ bias toward long-legged riders.

Riding the HP2 is comfortable with a seat plusher than some off-road bikes, but more firm than street tourers like the GS. The peg height makes sitting very easy on the knees and the wide handlebars are comfortably placed as well, though a bit distant for off-roading. You do sit down into the bike more than on most dirt machines, and the large by design and small in capacity, 2.9 gallon fuel tank stretches your groin if you try to get really forward. That isn’t much of a problem, however, since the cylinders inhibit movement to the front of the bike. Aggressive riding positions are basically limited to standing since an attempt to throw your leg out in a corner results in bruised shins. Riders are forced to move their leg directly outwards thanks to the Boxer configuration, which creates a very different balance point than normal riding technique.

“The jugs hanging off each side of the Boxer motor are always the first thing off-road riders brought up when they took a peek at the HP2,” says Ken. “Despite that it was caked in dirt and grime, had just been ridden through Hell and back, people still whined about the cylinder heads. Get over it. If you crash a bike, bad things happen so be prepared. The HP2 was pretty durable in our test, although no major incidents took place. The optional BMW cylinder-head guards (and emergency kit for leaky valve covers) are highly recommended.

“The riding position is excellent for my taste,” Kenny continues. “The bars are wide and the riding position doesn’t put too much weight on my wrists. The seat was a little bit stiff over the long haul, but it is, first and foremost, an off-road machine, so you shouldn’t spend a lot of time sitting in the saddle anyway.”

The control layout is simple and effective. A gear indicator is one feature that easily could have been overlooked  but it is definitely a worthwhile addition. Those mirrors  though wide and spindly are awesome in function. Never did they loosen on off-road terrain.
The control layout is simple and effective. A gear indicator is one feature that easily could have been overlooked, but it is definitely a worthwhile addition. Those mirrors, though wide and spindly are awesome in function. Never did they loosen on off-road terrain and the placement allows both mirrors to easily clear the rider’s arms.

Unlike many dirt bikes, the HP2 gives riders the luxury of keeping track of their speed with a simple analog speedometer. A clean, minimalist digital display to the right of the speedo offers gear indication, engine temp, trip information, fuel range and warning signals. The hydraulic clutch is smooth and, with such a torquey motor, we never really had to abuse it off-road. Brake levers were very effective as well, with the steel-braided front brake line and rubber rear hose contributing to good rider feedback.

Both the front brake lever and rear brake pedal are adjustable. The hand lever uses a set screw to tailor the distance between the lever and hand grip. A folding spacer on the rear pedal is intended to offer variation for standing and seated riding. We tried it both ways, but found that leaving the spacer in place for the standing position worked best for all applications. A dual-piston, single-action caliper pinch a single 305mm front rotor and a 264mm rear.

“The brakes actually work really well on the HP2,” notes Ken. “The front binder is plenty powerful on the street and offers up a decent amount of feel which makes it decent in the dirt as well. The rear brakes lock up pretty easy on the dirt but seemed to be good enough on the street where there was at least some resistance offered up from the asphalt.” Much of the rear end’s impulse to lock up on the dirt was attributed to the mild Karoo tire.

Suspension-wise, BMW has fitted a 45mm inverted fork with 10.6 inches of travel instead of the Telelever system used on the rest of BMW’s Boxer bikes. For adjustments, it has a clicker at the bottom of the fork legs for traditional compression damping and one at the top for travel-dependent compression damping. There is no spring preload or rebound damping adjustments. While the Telelever has anti-dive properties, the HP2’s conventional long-travel fork suffers from heavy diving when the throttle is chopped or under braking. Despite this, performance on highway and during moderate off-road use is very good and extremely comfortable. Stiffening the fork to the point that it could handle larger impacts and resist diving only made the front end intolerably harsh at lower speeds and over smaller obstacles like the imbedded rocks common to gravel roads.

Small jumps like this were acceptable  but much more and the bike’s weight would overwhelm the suspension on both ends. In the Beemer’s defense  we could have made the unique components handle off-roading much more to our liking  but it would have come at the expense of other aspects of riding.
Small jumps like this were acceptable, but much more and the bike’s weight would overwhelm the suspension on both ends. In the Beemer’s defense, we could have made the unique components handle off-roading much more to our liking, but it would have come at the expense of other aspects of riding.

The pitching front end and intermediate knobby on the tubeless 90/90-21 front meat gives a squirmy feel on the pavement when riding hard. The 140/80-17 rear tire was also a bit vague on the highways, but both tires did a decent job of making the transition from street to dirt, though we’d opt for a more aggressive knobby if riding primarily off-road.

BMW joined forces with Continental Automotive Systems to create the HP2’s innovative air shock. At just over five pounds, the shock looks enormous, but the concept is simple. Instead of having the usual independent adjustments for preload and compression and rebound damping, the trick shock instead has adjustment for its air volume that varies the ride height while also having an effect on both compression and rebound damping. According to BMW, “adjusting the air pressure to the rider’s weight is enough to ensure the optimum balance of compression and rebound damping.” A dial on the shock can be switched from “Sport” to “Competition,” which varies the internal valving for better action when the bike is being hammered off-road.

We love the idea of an air-only shock, but the adjustment and application of the technology wasn’t all we were hoping for. The problem we ran into wasn’t so much that the shock couldn’t be pumped up to meet the rigors of off-road, but that to do so raised the seat height to oxygen-starving elevations. BMW uses another simple concept to adjust the ride height. Keeping an eye on the bubble level mounted on the right side of the frame where your knee would normally rest, a rider can adjust rear sag without taking any measurements. Simply add air to the shock to raise the rear end and bleed air to lower it. Centering the bubble for my 190 pounds required such a towering seat height that my 5’11” frame had no chance of comfortably touching the ground, never mind Ken. BMW does offer an optional seat that lowers the height by 0.8 inches, which we would have loved to try out.

Long-travel suspension offers more ground clearance for the bulky jugs than on the GS model  but the Adventur Touring machine has better front-end dive resistance with its Telelever system.
Long-travel suspension offers more ground clearance for the bulky jugs than on the GS model, but the street-biased Adventure-Touring machine has better front-end-dive resistance with its Telelever system.

“The suspension is pretty soft for an off-road machine but it sure makes for a nice ride when you’re logging miles on the chopped-up mountain roads we chose for our dual-purpose journey,” says Kenny. “If you plan on jumping this hog, you’ll want to spend more time and effort sorting out the rear shock. The fork is soft too, but seems more willing to handle hits than the rear. Keep in mind we’re talking about relatively small jumps here, nothing moto-sized. That would be plain crazy.”

Wailing down a dusty power-line road or carving canyon highways hardly necessitate dropping a foot, but sooner or later you have to stop. Though I never thought I’d say this, I was ready to trade two wheels for four after 10 minutes of hitting every stop light on the way out of town. The additional air pressure turned small imperfections in the pavement from no-brainers to ass-painers. Off-road riding also suffered at lower speeds, though it did perform much better on sharp impacts due to the increased air volume available for compression. All told, I was much more willing to deal with soft suspension for the sake of comfort and plushness, to which Ken fully agrees. Both ends work well enough if kept within the boundaries of dual-sporting, but the suspension is a limiting factor of what the HP2 is capable of.

Riders will have about as good a chance of touching ground with the HP2 on one wheel as they will on two. The optional lower seat height will probably be a big seller for BMW.
Riders will have about as good a chance of touching ground with the HP2 on one wheel as they will on two. The optional lower seat height will probably be a big seller for BMW.

“Besides the overly tall seat height, the biggest gripe I had with the performance of the bike was that the suspension was a bit too plush for hard off-road riding,” he says. “The good news is that with some more time and help from our BMW dealer, it sounds like we could have got it closer.”

So what exactly is the HP2? In its current form, the bike will never pose a serious threat in the adventure-touring class because of its small fuel capacity, no luggage options and a shortage of comfort compared to other bikes in the class. Although we did not get to play with it, the BMW Motorrad Navigator II GPS unit is one aftermarket feature that is available for the HP2.

“My complaint on the street centered on the rider accommodations,” moans Ken. “If the seat was a bit softer and there were a few BMW accessories in place like optional heated grips and hand guards, maybe a slightly taller windscreen as well, then this bike could well be one of the best multi-purpose rides on the adventure-touring market today.”

The HP2 obviously isn’t a motocross bike because of its weight, soft suspension, long wheelbase, shaft drive, horn and blinkers – not to mention the price tag. Tossing in the fact that its motor is about three times wider than any comparable bike puts a kibosh on the enduro angle. It’s not a cruiser, not a sportbike, and not a standard either. It is, in fact, an unwonted yet undeniably phenomenal dual-sport. Our average fuel economy throughout our testing was a penny pinching 42.4 mpg. The lowest that we recorded was 37.1 mpg during a long stretch of hard off-road riding.

Our two-day test showcased the best of what this bike can do. It’s fast and smooth on the paved sections and has the ground clearance to give those bulky jugs some breathing room on the trail. That same 12.6 inches of clearance allows the bike to be ridden aggressively off-road where the unique suspension components handle most everything you encounter with confidence so long as the pace is reasonable.

If you can scratch up the scratch for this new BMW  investing in a relationship of this nature can be very worthwhile. Those of you looking for a high-dollar piece of status-wielding eye candy  look no further. But those of you seeking a loyal companion to join you in staring at the flames of a remo
If you can scratch up the scratch for this new BMW, investing in a relationship of this nature can be very worthwhile. Those of you looking for a high-dollar piece of status-wielding eye candy, look no further. But those of you seeking a loyal companion to join you in staring at the flames of a remote campfire, the HP2 can give you that, and more.

“In back-to-back rides with our tour guide’s 2005 GS, the thing that both bikes had in common was soft suspension and a tall seat height that made dabbing a bit of a stretch for my stubby legs,” says Ken. “It was easier to reach the ground on the GS but the extra weight negated any advantage when it came time to muscle the bike through some rough obstacles. I still had a lot more confidence in the HP2. The lighter weight and less bodywork to damage make it an easy choice when it is time to venture on the road less traveled.”

The joy of riding this bike sneaks up on you, and it wasn’t until a few days after our trip that Ken and I realized how badly we were itching to ride it again. It’s no wonder BMW has a loyal following of adventuresome riders. The GS is a street rider’s way of probing those hard to reach places, but the HP2 is the answer for off-roaders who want to leave their buddies in the dust when the going gets rough. BMW has opened the door for any serious dirt rider who can afford a $19,990 retail price to transform themselves into a modern day explorer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, PowerBall is up to 25 million and my fetish for High Performance German beauties is growing stronger by the minute.

It’s spendy, we know. But tell us what you think anyway in the forum.