The exclusive BMW HP2 Sport is projected to cost £14,500, which here in the States exhanges to just shy of $29,000.
Expectations are a mental minefield. Raised hopes can end with smiles all round, but if you’re luckless (like me) expectation often results in a proper shoeing of the noggin. With BMW’s HP2 Sport, I so desperately wanted it to be a worthy benefactor of the High Performance moniker already gracing Bee-em’s Megamoto and Enduro – two bikes that perform like bikes powered by something other than an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, twin-cylinder Boxer engine. An engine design so old fossilized relics are being found under roots of uprooted rain forests.
The HP2 Sport does, according to its main claims to fame of a 128 hp engine and 178kg (392-lb) dry weight, tick the right boxes to make it a half decent sportsbike. But in this day and age where Japanese superbikes convincingly rule the power-house for just over half the HP2’s projected £14,500 asking price, half decent just isn’t good enough.
The HP2 needs to be nearly as good a track tool as the successful endurance racer BMW campaigned in the World endurance championship this year. Better in fact, because first and foremost it is a road-going bike where comfort, reliability and economy have to be included in its sales pitch.
Ten laps of Spain’s Ascari race circuit under the HP2’s Metzeler Racetec K3 tires and I’m almost breaking into a laugh because normally it’d be a sweat. If there was any doubt about the HP2’s sports capability, then it’s been laid to rest at the same time the protective plastic slider on the right hand cylinder’s carbon fiber rocker kissed the tarmac. And it wasn’t just a peck on the cheek kiss; more of a full-on lip-crushing, teeth-clashing snog.
It’s not because the Boxer motor’s cylinders stick out too far or sit too low. No, not at all. The reason for the melting of plastic is the bike’s ability to be thrown into a turn with the ease of throwing a dog a biscuit. The chassis is unbelievably agile – quick steering, lightning quick and any one of the 500 other coined phrases used to describe the way a bike rapidly drops into a corner. There are several other reasons involved, too.
While it is the most powerful sport-focused BMW for years, does the new BMW HP2 Sport justify a hefty price tag? It depends on if you like scraping cylinder heads on the sportiest bike to come from the Bavarian marque.
The Metzeler tires are bloody marvelous – the rear’s 190/55-profile helps the bike roll over onto its side smoothly and quickly. Secondly, the basic tubular steel chassis and Ohlins suspension comes together to perfectly suit a smooth, fast riding style.
There’s more feel from the HP2’s Telelever front end than the latest GSX-R1000 could give with ten minutes spent fiddling its damping adjusters. And the rear’s set up of Paralever shaft and single shock is a good as any chain-driven bike. Add all this up and you’ve got a bike that instills the same level of confidence as clocking up several laps of your local knee-down roundabout on a 600 supersport with snot-like tires.
Another five laps and I’ve also learned there’s a lot of room in the seat in which to move around. Not that there is any real need to hang-off the bike while tearing up the Queen’s crumbling highway. The ride position is forward set but nowhere near replica racebike territory. I’ll stick my neck out here by saying all-day riding will be no more uncomfortable on the HP2 than it is on, say, BMW’s naked K1200R. The screen height is low but no worse than a CBR600RR or similar. Moving the clip-on-style bars puts you into a comfortable racing tuck where the low screen then comes into effect.
Although the bike allows you to ride possessed with a MotoGP spirit, any man or woman riding in this way away from a track is likely to be checking out the wall color of his local A&E rather than B&Q’s paint charts at the weekend. At a track you can fully explore the HP2’s limits in relative safety. Those limits are, as mentioned, the rocker covers followed by the gear lever. Don’t worry about footpegs because even in their standard position the adjustable rearsets fail to touch.
Brembo’s new ranges of Monobloc radial-mount calipers are earning a reputation for fearsome braking. The HP2’s are no different in this respect – hauling the bike to a halt very, very rapidly – but the Magura master-cylinder gives a greater range of feel through the lever. Two fingers will get the brakes to bite instantly, snapping your head and kink elbow joints forward, or as progressively as you want. It all depends on your corner arrival speed and experience…
Experienced riders will love the way braking can be left to the last possible moment. Not purely for the way the speed is instantly scrubbed off, but also in the way the Telelever suspension simply dips before a solid-like feeling washes up through the bars. Not solid like digging up concrete with a spade, because the Ohlins shock under the top yoke is working hard via the link arms in soaking up bumps. Stability is everything here and it means the HP2’s brakes can, if need be, be applied right up to the apex. The danger of the front washing out like any bike remains, but the amount of feedback from the front end is such that your brain knows when to ease off brake lever pressure, or stop riding beyond your limit.
The Opposed-Twin might not be the fastest motor on the planet, but there’s something to be said for its smooth, predictable power delivery when it comes time to crack that throttle open early at steep lean angles.
The weight of the HP2’s shaft drive system, and the very fact that it is shaft final drive, doesn’t figure at all. The system is so near to perfect that choosing between normal chain drive and shaft, I’d opt for the latter every time for road use. Chain would be good for the track if only to alter final drive gearing for different circuits.
Like the front end, an Ohlins single shock at the rear does the business of keeping the bike settled everywhere while feeding the spine with Braille-like info on what the rear Metzeler is doing. It’s also pleasing to report the standard suspension settings were near-on perfect for Ascari circuit. The only adjustment made to my bike was additional rear preload and rebound to get the bike back on an even keel – 16-stones of leathered rider is enough to get the Ohlin’s spring to compress in surprise. Up to then, the bike’s front end would gyrate slightly through a 100mph right hander.
It is easy for this BMW to hit 100, 110, 120mph and more because the HP2’s engine delivers the goods easily. As easily as the bike can be ridden at low rpm thanks to a healthy spread of torque from 2000 rpm. Throttle response isn’t instantaneous in the low-to-mid rpm range, but those two pistons still send enough torque to the rear tire to push you forward at a great rate. It’s actually quite nice knowing you can open the throttle hard mid turn and get enough drive without the rear tire struggling to keep traction.
Try the same trick above 6500 rpm and you’ll find plenty of kick available to leave a trail of black rubber. This kick feels like it’s there all the way to the 9500 rpm redline. I say feel because the engine revs out very quickly. Toe the gearlever up just as the LED shift lights light up in harmony and the quick-shifter does the business of cutting sparks and fuel just enough for the next gear to hook up with minimal interruption in forward drive. Simulating town traffic speed is difficult on a track, but with space it proved the quick-shifter is just as precise around the 3000 rpm area.
Between 3500 and 7000 rpm and on a neutral throttle it isn’t so good, especially if hooking the next gear with a lazy foot action. The gear you’ve gone for meshes with a pronounced lurch through the bike in the same way as flicking the kill switch to off then back on. Sensitivity is non-adjustable, so either use the clutch as normal (it bypasses the quick-shift) or don’t be clumsy with the throttle and gear lever. Simply short shift and use the engine’s torque to get up to speed.
While the HP2 doesn’t produce anywhere near as much power as today’s superbikes, it is a fact that once the German bike latches onto a FireBlade on the open roads, the Blade will not get away. BMW didn’t call it the HP2 Sport for nothing.
Find it hard to believe that BMW could make a thoroughbred sportsbike out of an engine and chassis design we all thought was best suited to tourers and sport-tourers? So did we. But we should all stand corrected. Of course, you can make a decent sportsbike out of nearly anything with money. This is the primary reason for the HP2’s proposed £14,000 + price (although the finished price officially still hasn’t been set, according to BMW Motorrad of Germany). The other is it carries some of the best components money will buy.
The HP2’s higher 128bhp engine output comes thanks to a new DOHC layout working on larger (inlet 39mm, exhaust 33), radially-placed valves (2 inlet, 2 exhaust). It also means the engine can reach the 128 hp plateau at a claimed 8750 rpm and achieves max torque of 84.8 ft/lbs at 6000 rpm.
Is the HP2 Sport worth £14,000? If you are a BMW purist, then yes, because it is the best BMW available. If you want to ride something different amongst the hordes of marauding Japanese bikes, again yes. You also have to look at the bike as a whole by taking in the braking and suspension systems, expensive carbon fiber subframe, fairing, 2D MotoGP replica dash and recouping the design costs of developing the new DOHC engine.
So yes, in the same way Ducati charges a premium for its ‘R’ models, BMW’s HP2 Sport is worth it. There’s another reason why: anyone of any experience can ride the HP2 in any situation because it’s a BMW. And that’s exactly how the German company wanted it to be.
Rudolf Schneider, 37, project manager for the HP2 Sport Boxer engine:
“We started working on the engine design in spring 2006. It didn’t take long to get ideas for a more powerful engine from CAD stage, to an electric powered version – checking the new valve system, tolerances and so on – to a working engine in the test cell. How long? Not long at all when you have enthusiastic management and crazy engineers like me. But always the target is to make/be the best possible.
“The main directive was to make the racing bike and road bike with minimal differences between the two. The bikes are the same except for the obvious like racing suspension, Akropovic exhaust and fuelling to suit – the air filter, ECU and frame are the same,” said the 37-year-old.
“With the endurance racing bike it was a serious way to test the new engine. But don’t think I am satisfied with what we have – with engine development every day is, shall we say, interesting.
“I don’t think you will see the engine in any other models just yet because it is difficult to produce – the machining work is very detailed. As for the question is this the end of the Boxer engine? Twenty years ago people asked the same question and look what we have today.”
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