New experiences-the highs and the lows
I struggled to decide on a title for this post. Most had a similar theme; Chalk and cheese, Night and day, Black or white; whilst others were less succinct, such as; Stick to what you know, Go back and start at the beginning, How to feel inept, or, I thought I could ride!
Let me explain. Iíve been a staunch Honda man since I started biking as a teenager, and Iíd been on this planet for 50 years before I first threw a leg over a BMW. Since then, and in the past two years, Iíve now ridden most of the range, not necessarily through choice, but mostly via loan bikes I was given whilst the troublesome 1200GT continued to rack up time in the dealers workshop. Recently my interest has been piqued by the new 1000RR (hasnít everyoneís?), but also by the HP2 Sport. I didnít really feel a need to test either, but when I received an invitation from my local dealer in France to attend a BMW Racing Days event, where both bikes along with several others in the range, were supposed to be available for test, I decided to take the opportunity and go and ride them. I emailed the dealer, told them which day Iíd be coming, and the bikes I wanted to test. Back came the reply, no HP2 Sport available. Why have an event where leaflets are created promising the option to ride specific models, and then not have them there? A bit miffed, I told them I wasnít going to attend as the HP2 had been the machine that I really wanted to try.
10 minutes later Marc F called. ďJust been on the HP2, you need to get along to Chuards (local Swiss dealer) open day and come and test it!Ē 15 minutes later Iím dressed and in the saddle, hotfooting it down the autoroute, full of anticipation for the test ride. Itís an open event, so of course lots of people are there. I put my name down for the HP2, 1000RR and 1300S and then wait, a longgggg timeÖÖ I console myself that itís worth waiting for, and itís an itch that I need to scratch, so when eventually the bike comes back and the keys are handed over, and Iíve been advised of the controls, Iím ready and raring to go.
Leaving the car park with everyone watching, I take it easy. The police are supposed to be up the road with a radar trap and I donít know where exactly, so Iím being cautious. The Swiss speed limit is 80kph or 50mph, not the best environment to test such a focussed machine, in fact neither is the test route. St Cergue is a road with 72 bends in 9kms, and every year people die on it. The authorities have put traffic calming bumps and ridged surfacing on some corners, and mobile radars operate regularly.
At the foot of the ascent I turn in without problem, and then I realise Iím going to be in for a hard ride! Having ridden 4 cylinder machines for a lifetime, I have developed a certain style of riding which is the total opposite of how you need to ride a twin, the major difference being I donít need to brake much, as there is plenty of braking via those two big pistons. With bends so closely spaced, itís difficult to even get out of 3rd gear, and much of the time is spent in second, and frankly Iím lost! Canít get any rhythm going, I canít find the correct entry speed as my brain isnít computing the level of engine braking Iím getting. In all honesty I feel like a rank amateur, anyone following would have thought I had only just started riding. There was no doubting the quality of the bike beneath me though. Brembo brakes, carbon mudguard and cylinder covers, and the digital dash which shames me by its low rpm and speed Iím riding at.
I should have known this would happen! Iíve ridden several Ducatis, and today is bringing back memories of the most difficult bike I ever rode, the 851. The HP2 is up there with this experience. I decide not to prolong the agony and turn back before I even reach the top. Bizarrely the descent goes much better than the ascent! Turn in is great, but speed is still pathetic, but at least I feel marginally more in control. The foot of the col is reached, the main road and a straight stretch unravel and Ifleetingly enjoy the straight-line performance, before arriving back at the car park, where the keys are returned and the next lucky rider takes his turn.
Disappointed at my ineptitude, I then spent another hour or so waiting for the next ride. I was booked to take the K1300S but decided I didnít have time, so just waited my turn for the 1000RR. Someone obviously enjoyed it too much, as he returned after at least 40 minutes, when 20 is all thatís needed! He returned the key, then departed on his KTM990 while those waiting in the line, and the Chuard staff, complained at his selfishness!
FINALLY, my turn comes, although even then another guy argues that he was booked before me. I have the keys in hand though, and after a cursory explanation of the controls Iím away, with the confirmation I can use any of the modes! Straight into Sport it is then! Instantly Iím more at home. Position is a little more comfy than the HP2, but itís the composure and engine thatís grabbing my attention. I forgot the quick shifter for the first 5 minutes as the clutch is smooth and gears slot in quickly. Past where the cops may be and I nail it. The sound is not too loud but its present. Arriving at the foot of the col again, this time I rail round at my ďnormalĒ speed rather than tiptoeing round cautiously. Although leant forward over the tank, there doesnít seem to be excessive weight on my wrists. I arrive at one bend after another, peeling in whilst gradually increasing my pace, and opening up when there are short stretches between the bends. Hairpins donít pose any problem, I can hold my chosen line, and already Iím building speed. This is how I like to ride, revs, strong brakes, acceleration, ďnormalĒ 4-cylinder fare but its effortless, it even pulls from low revs in 3rd gear out of the bends, impressive! .
All too soon Iím at the top, and turning back down I attack the bends with conviction. The front stays planted though each turn, the slipper clutch makes light work of the down shifts, and Iím soon passing other bikes with ever growing confidence. A well ridden K1200RT eventually succumbs too, as I blitz past on a short straight before nailing the brakes to turn the next left right left sequence of bends. Iím having fun, and at the bottom I stop, put it in Race mode and 1st gear, and accelerate. Rapid would be a good word, fast an obvious one, and exciting another, but as per the last 20 minutes, everything feels completely natural, safe, and intuitive. At the car park, my thoughts are consumed with the excellence of the whole package, and the overriding thought that if I owned one, my licence would be toast within days. As a track bike it would be awesome, as a road bike equally so, IF you are able to exercise constraint with your right wrist, funnily enough though, Iím betting that like me, most people who buy one, wonít be able to!
So a day of stark contrasts, from feelings of a deficit of skill and ability, to the highs of a machine massaging your skill level, and making it all seem all too easy. Iím gutted the HP2 experience didnít work out, but equally happy that the 1000RR did. To BMW, well done on producing two such excellent bikes, but if I had the cash, the 1000RR is the real bargain buy of this pair, and where Iíd be placing my money!