Tuning The BMW S1000RR For More Phwoaar!
The accolade of super-bike of the moment changes hands often enough, nearly each year, as each of the top manufacturers take turns in playing pass-the-baton as they introduce new innovations that trump the others, or simply by increasing engine efficiency.
For the last two years, the new-kid-on-the block BMW S1000RR has been king of the hill in the super-bike world, with it’s comprehensive electronics package that has brought MotoGP technology like traction-control to the masses, oh and that absolutely bonkers engine that just seems to pull and pull to the point where you’re wondering if it’s really such a good idea to be holding on to a rocket-ship fast approaching the double-ton?
So, if you were mad enough to buy one of these bikes, as I was, then you’ve probably been more than happy with it. But as a nation of tinkerers, and falling victim to a habitual practice of improving my bikes, I decided it was time to uprate a few of the components on the S1000RR.
I wasn't happy with the standard exhaust. It’s got a nice look to it, and a nice enough sound, but to me at least, a massive part of the totally bonkers experience in owning and riding a super-bike is being made to feel like you’re riding the same race bike that you see on TV most Sundays racing around the world, and that means hearing the aggressive orchestra of sound from the engine as it fights to over-load the rear wheel’s traction.
Time to upgrade the S1000RR and unleash the beast.
So, here’s a low-down on what’s been done to the S1000RR to bring that feeling of pure excitement and questionable suitability for road-use...
Akrapovic Evolution Full Titanium Exhaust System
Sports bikes are meant to be loud. Some say loud pipes save lives as well and I’m not one to argue with that.
The standard exhaust system on the beemer is pretty advanced, it’s got twin lambda sensors in it (one near the headers, one near the silencer) to monitor the exhaust gasses, allowing it to modify the air-fuel ratio as it deems fit, and it’s also got twin butterfly valvues to both optimise the power delivery for high and low RPM, and also to limit the amount of noise it mkes when at idle to get past those pesky European emission regulations. But to meet all those regulations on noise and pollution, BMW have had to essentially cripple the bike’s performance, by restricting its exhaust flow and by incurring a significant weight penalty.
As well as restricting performance, the stock exhaust is also dead quiet. A huge part of the rush you get from riding superbikes comes from the noise of driving the engine hard and that’s been sorely missed from the S1000RR. Time to unleash the power, and noise!
So, this is where Akrapovic step-in. Akrapovic are the biggest name in motorcycle exhausts (so much so that they’re now breaking out into cars) and have perhaps the best racing pedigree going, with so many British Superbikes, World Superbikes and MotoGP machines running their wares.
Their reputation comes from the highest performance and also the highest build quality. I have yet to see an exhaust system that beats the machining and component quality of an Akrapovic this side of the MotoGP paddock.
I fitted their full, no-holds-barred racing model, the titanium Akrapovic Evolution race system which means replacing the entire stock system, including the headers, catalytic converter and silencer.
Akrapovic don’t have to meet any emission standards, but they do have to meet noise regulations for race-track usage, so thankfully this isn’t MotoGP-loud. In case some circuits are more restrictive than others, they also supply a baffle, a small piece of titanium that can be installed quickly into the end of the silencer to restrict the noise.
The stock system weighs a whopping 12 kilos and the Akrapovic 4 kilos. That’s a pretty mad 8 kilo saving that can only improve the handling and acceleration/braking of the bike.
Changing a silencer is a pretty easy job that can be done with most home tool-kits, but changing out the whole system is a different job all-together, and the BMW is unfortunately more complicated than most bikes due to the number of gizmo’s it has installed. I decided to install the Akrapovic myself, but with the help of the professionals at the Oval Motorcycle Centre (in no small part was my decision influenced by BMW’s choice of using Torx bolts everywhere instead of hex bolts, gah).
Our Akrapovic didn't come with installation instructions, but thankfully you can download them from Akrapovic’s website, so after printing 30 odd pages we were ready to go.
First thing, up onto a work-bench, strip off the fairings (so much easier on the beemer than other bikes) and then eye up everything that had to be undone... Headers, radiator moved to one side, catalytic converter and silencer.
Oh, and the butterfly valves. I was worried about these as they’re controlled via wires and servos, but the installation guide was really good and showed where to remove the wires from, leaving the servos in place. This has the benefit of not requiring messing with the electronics. In my experience, doing this on other bikes just throws up errors on the clocks/ECU if you remove the servos, so it’s much easier to leave them in place.
The installation guide says to assemble small pieces of the exhaust system and install a bit at a time, i.e. half the headers, but I preferred to fully assemble the Akrapovic system on a bench away from the bike and then carefully move it under the bike to see how everything would fit in place.
Whilst assembling the system, it’s hard to be anything but seriously impressed with the quality of the pipe-work, the welding and just how light everything is. It’s easy to see where your money goes. At no time is there any question of value. It’s without a doubt the best exhaust system I’ve ever seen.
In the headers is a threaded hole to install one of the standard lambda sensors, but we’ve junked those as we’re installing the Bazzaz fuel-injection tuning device, and have gone for the auto-tune accessory option which means we have to install the Bazzaz lambda sensor in the headers, so it’s easier to do this on the bench, away from the bike.
Matt at OMC helped me hold it in place whilst I secured the headers (the pipe-work nearest the engine outlets) onto the engine block, re-using the existing bolts as they looked brand new.
It’s fiddly stuff fitting the engine block bolts in place as there’s not much room and if you’re as clumsy as I am, there’s a risk of rounding off or cross-threading the bolts, so I did everything at half speed to ensure no mess-ups.
With the Bazzaz auto-tune exhaust lambda in place, we had an extra electronics box to secure in place. The Bazzaz instructions weren’t much help in this regard, so there wasn’t many logical places it could go as the cord between it and the sensor was really short, so we ended up looping up the excess wire and then cable-tied it to the inside of the right-hand fairing, which means it’s visible on close inspection. Hardly ideal.
Headers sorted, no rounded threads, and with the system already assembled, it’s just a case of slotting in the rest of the bolts and then realising you really should have plumped the cash for the very neat little carbon-fibre hanger bracket, allowing you to remove the pillion foot-pegs and have the bike looking like a race bike, except I didn’t, and so with no foot-pegs on the bike, I had to secure the silencer in place with a rather messy collection of cable ties, metal wire and some old rags to hold everything in place, and then ride home at 25mph, only to fit the right-hand foot-peg so it can be used to secure the silencer in place. Doh.
The stock exhaust is really quiet, but does have a nice sound to it that doesn't make it sound quite as castrated as other sports bikes have done in the past, but it can't hold a candle to the sound of a straight-piped full system. I was so excited about installing the Akrapovic after owning one or two in the past that as soon as it was fitted, and not even properly secured in place, the engine was fired-up and the OMC was filled with the sound of WUBB-WUBB-WUBB, BRAP!
I've had a gixxer thou with a Racefit Mega on before and that was loud, like really loud. It would give me a headache if I didn't wear ear-plugs and would cause me no end of trouble if I was trying to get around without waking the dead. Akrapovic make a silencer that's much like the Racefit, i.e. short and offensively loud, but nowadays that isn't what I'm looking for. I want loud, I want to hear the engine working, but I don't want to be pulled over and I don't want to fall out with my neighbours - The Akrapovic Evolution with this full-length silencer comes out trumps here as I get everything I want and no hassle.
There's something decidedly nice about being able to control when to let everyone know you're coming through, and when you just want to get to point B without looking like a mobile ASBO. Nice one Akrapovic!
High-Flow Air Filter
I’ve picked up a high-flow, after-market air-filter suitable for road use to match the increase in air-flow the exhaust offers. The idea being, the more air you put in, the more fuel you can mix with it and more air & fuel means more power!
BMW have done a great job on designing the air-box with the S1000RR. Most bikes require you to take the tank off, the injectors, faff around with the air-box and tubing and only then can you fit the filter and put it all back together again, hopefully remembering to attach all the right air hoses (personal experience not so good with this), but on the S1000RR, you just remove the plastic cover on the tank, unbolt the ECU and pull to one side, then pull the air-filter out vertically, insert the new one and do ECU/plastic cover back up. Simples!
I did order a race type air-filter, but got delivered the road version, which in hind-sight, is probably a good idea considering how dodgy UK roads can be. The benefit from having a higher-flowing race filter is perhaps one or two bhp extra top end performance according to Rhalf at SBK City.
Bazzaz Fuel-Injection Tuning Device
Fitting the simply awesome Akrapovic exhaust system is only part of the tuning process. The Akrapovic allows the bike to breath better, removing the restrictions inherent with the stock system. The next step is to get the engine to improve its air and fuel ratio (AFR), getting it nearer to an ideal ratio that will produce not only maximum power and torque, but also deliver a smoother power delivery that directly equates to a better experience for me when riding trying to get on the power hard.
The air-fuel ratio is governed by the bikes own computer, the ECU, and there’s way to modify this, so there’s two options to tune the bike’s AFR; replace the ECU with a very expensive race item that is likely to be incompatible with a road-bike, or use a fuel-injection tuning device that over-rides the ECU’s instructions with its own by controlling the fuel injectors.
I've had a few experiences with Power Commanders before, but have been hearing a lot about a new device from Bazzaz called the Z-Fi which does much the same thing. They also happen to have an authorised tuning shop a couple of miles away from me in Aldgate, SBK City, so it was a no-brainer to try it out.
For those that don’t know, after fitting a device like this, you can get a pre-supplied configuration for the device that approximates your configuration, i.e. bike, exhaust type, air-filter, etc, but they’re never as good as can be as your bike is individual and needs a configuration made specifically for it.
Bazzaz have an Z-AFM Self Map kit, which is essentially an auto-tuning accessory. It’s an electronics box that hides somewhere inside the bike, connected to the Z-Fi device, and then has its own lambda sensor, which takes readings from the exhaust by screwing into one of the holes in the exhaust headers. I got the kit, interested to see what results it could bring over a normal tune done on a dyno.
Fitting was quite simple; the electronics boxes go in the tail somewhere. Unfortunately BMW were adamant about fitting an alarm to my bike, so the space where the Bazzaz instructions tell you to install the unit is occupied by the alarm. I had to put the unit in the side of the tail unit, encased in some bubble-wrap to protect it against vibrations. The self-tune device went under the seat and the lambda sensor connector went on the right-hand side of the chassis, behind the fairing, but slightly visible. Not idea, but not a big problem in my eyes.
You get a cool blue light glowing from the Bazzaz unit when the ignition’s turned on. I was half tempted to see if we could lash-up a Max Power style perspex cover for the tail unit to show off the blue glow. I'm sure that would get some looks down at the Ace Cafe.
The self-tune kit is probably aimed more at club racers as you need to be riding at full-throttle for it to come up with a good configuration, and you’d probably benefit from doing that at each round during testing to see if you can get better performance for the conditions, i.e. circuit layout, temperature, fuel batch, etc. Bazzaz don’t recommend using it on the road for obvious reasons.
The Bazzaz Z-Fi fuel-injection tuning device costs £289 and the Z-AFM Self Map kit £324, both inc vat. This is comparable to other similar products, and Bazzaz have more accessories to go on top if you want, like a selector switch that goes on your handlebars, allowing you to change between two maps on the fly, whilst riding.
To get it configured, I booked in a session at London’s SBK City dyno centre. I love this part; what’s better than getting to watch your bike being ridden flat-out, listening to it scream whilst it gets made faster, and more powerful? Oh yeah, riding it afterwards and doing it all over again! Read on for details of the tuning session.
After installing the Bazzaz, it was time to get a custom configuration (aka a map) made up for it, to optimise the air-fuel ratio (13.1 being the target we’re aiming for here). The bike was running rough as a dog after installation due to the stock lambda sensors being removed and the change in exhaust characteristics, so I was eager to get this sorted. A quick phone call to SBK City in Aldwych and Rhalf there was only too happy to put his personal S1000RR race-bike tuning experience to use on the beemer.
Rhalf deserves some introduction, as he’s the main guy at SBK City and was one of the first people I rode on track with years ago. I remember racing around Brands Hatch in the snow with him on his R1 in Rossi-colour leathers. Good times! Nowadays he runs his own race team after taking numerous championships of his own whilst racing, so he knows a thing or two about tuning high-performance bikes.
Rhalf’s Brazilian, and proud of it. He’s got a collection of amazing race-bikes in the shop with all kinds of inspired Brazilian/British custom paint-jobs on them. His race S1000RR taking pride-of-place in shop behind the counter with over 200bhp was great motivation for getting started with the tuning...
With the bike mounted on the dyno and the tail almost protruding into the maintenance area of the shop (much to the chagrin of the mechanics, I’m sure, given the noise) it was time to do some runs to work out how the bike was running as-is with the Akrapovic fitted but the Bazzaz doing nothing. Rich, was Rhalf’s conclusion.
Rhalf’s not happy as the ambient temperature is so high today, and high temperatures lower the performance of the engine, more so with the S1000RR as the electronics actually reign back the potential of the engine to preserve it, i.e. it lowers the maximum rpm, so the bike can’t produce as much power.
Time for the noise... Letting rip with the S1000RR up to max-rpm in fifth gear is something to behold. I needed ear-plugs to stand near it, and the force the exhaust was being ejected was making my eyes watering being too close to it. Oh, and the flames, flames on the rev-limiter. Guaranteed to get the big-kid in me out.
SBK City is great for dyno tuning, as you can stand so close to the bike. Every other dyno centre I’ve been to has kept you in another room or on the other side of the shop. You just want to be close to the bike to feel what’s going on. There’s a real buzz to be had from seeing the bike being tuned.
After a couple of runs, the surprising thing is that the power and torque curves already looking bloody smooth. In-fact, it’s the smoothest curve I’ve ever seen in person. The Bazzaz had already done some auto-tuning of its own, so credit has to go to the Bazzaz here, especially after looking at some other S1000RR curves.
A few more runs were needed to let the auto-tune system do its best, which it can’t do on the road as you’re not rev’ing high enough, or for long enough. The problem we had though was that the heat was getting too much. The bike needed longer and longer to cool down in-between runs.
After a few runs, Rhalf said the tuning wasn’t improving, so we settled on a figure of 181.03 bhp and 82.75 ft/lb versus 175.41 bhp and 83.77 ft/lb of torque for the best the auto-tune could do in these conditions, which are far from ideal. The dyno graph shows that the peak power improvement comes after 10k rpm all the way through to the red-line. The mid-range was hardly lacking in the first place after the auto-tune, so to take that advantage and move to peak-power is a decision we made.
Another cool thing about the Bazzaz is that you can plug in a switch mounted on a clip-on that selects one of two maps. So if I'd have gone for it, I could have been able to select for a map for road riding with a little more mid-range, and then flicked over to Rhalf's map for more peak power.
We let the bike cool over lunch, then Rhalf did some more runs, taking time to fine-tune the Bazzaz configuration, applying his considerable S1000RR experience. After a while, he says enough is enough, the heat is limiting the tuning potential. He’s managed to get the figures up to 181.03 bhp and 82.75 ft/lb, which is a 5.62 bhp increase and unfortunately a 1 ft/lb loss in peak torque since the start of the tuning. He’s not happy, not at all, not because of the numbers, as we all know numbers don’t mean anything, but because the heat was stopping him from doing his best.
He says that the performance of the engine will improve over what the graph shows in more suitable conditions. I.E not 35+ Celsius ambient temperatures, which is madness as it’s never that hot when you’re riding the tits off a bike. It it was, I’d probably fall off from exhaustion.
I’m happy though, the bike rides a hell of a lot smoother, pulls harder and does some nice back-fires when using the quick-shifter whilst driving the bike hard out of corners. Rhalf says to come back when it cools down and see what else he can do. I’m tempted, especially if I get some more mods for the bike.
We didn’t take figures with the bike in bog-standard trim as things happened very quickly from the point of getting items and getting it on the dyno, but to give some perspective to things, Rhalf says in his experience, on average S1000RR’s are bringing in 178bhp peak power as stock, 192bhp with an Akrapovic system, and then 195bhp after tuning, all at the back wheel.
Akrapovic quote 11.15bhp as the maximum increase in power for their exhaust, which is a little less than Rhalf’s figures, so it’s probably fair to say my bike in completely standard trim without the Akrapovic exhaust and Bazzaz on this exceptionally hot day would kick out 164.26 bhp peak power, giving us a 16.77 bhp power increase over standard. That’s pretty bloody awesome in my books when I've been glad to get 5bhp increases in peak power in the past with slip-on's and a remap.
I'll take Rhalf up on his offer to get another tuning session booked in soon as it's cooling down to the point where it's more typical for this time of year and we can get some better results.
55mm Race Clip-ons
The handle-bars/clip-ons on the standard S1000RR are angled quite far in towards the tank, which for me is not so comfortable. It also means there’s less leverage to turn the bike into corners compared to if the bars were angled out slightly more to the horizontal.
So in-keeping with other bikes I’ve modified, I decided to fit some after-market clip-ons that allowed the angle of the bars to be varied, i.e. flayed out more, and also lowered slightly, to produce a more aggressive riding position that makes it easier to turn the bike in to corners, and easier to resist the aggressive acceleration of the bike.
There’s not many choices for after-market clip-ons for the S1000RR at the moment, so I decided to take a punt on some generic 55mm ones I found on eBay. They weren’t a perfect fit, either in their attachment to the forks or steering clearance, but they were fitted at London’s awesome new Oval Motorcycle Centre where Matt there was all too helpful in modifying them (shaving some metal off them!) so they fit.
Now the bike feels much better in my opinion, giving me more confidence to muscle the bike into corners.
MRA Double-Bubble Screen
This modification comes down to personal choice. The bike is so insanely fast, that when riding at high speeds, the S1000RR really buffets your head about. I’ve always preferred a double-bubble screen which pushes the^ air-flow up and over your head, keeping your head stable and making the bike feel much more manageable at high speeds.
The less you feel the buffeting from the wind, the more you can concentrate on going fast. That’s got to be a safety improvement in my books. Pretty much essential for track-riding, though the screens aren't for everyone.
The MRA screen we were supplied stands head and shoulders above the competition in my opinion. I’ve tried a ton of screens over the years, from cheap eBay race screens, to the usual blingy screens that seem to cover most of the market, but the MRA screens are thoroughbred race screens. They’re found on more race-bikes at the top end than I can count.
The quality of the MRA screen is unquestionable. From the packaging that it arrives in to ensure it doesn’t get damaged during transit or unpacking is really nice, to the installation instructions, the whole package is a slick bit of kit.
My only gripe was that it didn’t come supplied with all the fittings you need to install the screen. You have to re-use the securing parts that come with the bike, and those are meant to be one-time use items. For the price of the screen, I would expect to get a few small plastic/rubber bolts and washers.
Michelin Power Pure (rev 2) Tyres
The stock Racetecs that came on the S1000RR are done now, and whilst they have amazing out-right grip once really hot, they lack feel for road use in my opinion when you’re rarely at the temperature needed to get the most from them, so it was time to try something else.
We’ve reviewed the first generation of the dual-compound Michelin Power Pure tyres on a GSX-R 750 and had nothing but good things to say about them for predominately road use, so it’s a happy coincidence that Michelin have just released the second generation of the tyre, so it was a no-brainer to give them a go on the beemer.
This new revision of the Power Pure tyre brings two new variants, a D model that’s designed to feel more like the Pilot Power 2CT and has a smoother turn-in to corners, and the one I got, an E model that has been toughened up to allow for use on super-bikes, like the S1000RR.
So after delivery to OMC and fitment complete, it’s time to test them out on the road where I thought the original Metezelers fell short.
The first road-test.. Pull out onto the road, open the throttle and.... no grip, the rear’s spinning up. Hrm, not a good start. Traction control lights are flashing on the dash and that’s in a straight-line. I then realise the bike’s in Slick mode and isn’t really made for road use, time to dial it down a couple of notches to Sport mode and let the tyres bed-in. It’s easy to forget you have to do this nowadays and most tyres seem to have nearly full grip right from the first roll, unlike how they used to be a few years ago!
After a hundred miles or so, it’s clear these tyres take a little while to warm up and you’re not really meant to ride them in Slick mode on the road. Taking this into consideration it’s a bit odd though as there’s a lot of side-grip, making the bike a lot of fun to throw around in town, you just have to take it easy on the gas.
I now ride around town on Race mode, no higher. You need to give the rear time to warm up, but for longer rides, they’re fine and offer the same great side-grip feeling that inspires confidence to drive hard into, and out of corners.
These tyres are a worthy successor to last year’s version, and more importantly, a great compromise for road and occasional track use. It’s not often you find a tyre that has so many positives, and so few drawbacks. The only draw-back the Power Pure rev2 has is the warm-up time for city riding, but then we shouldn’t really be trying to put down such big power in the city, so what’s to complain about?
Doing this work to the bike has been a real hoot and has resulted in a bike that’s a dream on the road, but this bike isn’t made for the road. That’s like walking a lion through the streets, it’s going to bite at some point and needs to be let loose.
The new Snetterton 300 circuit has been getting a lot of coverage lately, getting nothing but glowing reports from all the regulars in our track-day forum, so it was about time the S1000RR and the mods were validated on track...
Seeing as all circuits are noise tested nowadays, I was a little worried that the Akrapovic system would be too loud, so I brought the removal baffle along with me, but after hearing the deafening boom of some 1198 up ahead, it was a walk in the park getting the Akrapovic through.
I also thought the Michelin Power Pure tyres would have a hard time trying to equate so much power through a road tyre to the track, but in all honesty, they turned out to be the ideal tyres for the day and didn’t see the traction-control or ABS lights flash once, despite trying to get a push on through one session where it rained.
The morning sighting laps were a bit of a shock, it was the second lap in and my knee was on the deck already. I haven’t taken this bike on track before, or rode this new circuit. It’s a testament to exactly how good the chassis of the S1000RR is and how quick the tyres were to warm up on the sides.
Perhaps I’ll lose a few man-points by admitting this, but I left the S1000RR in ‘Sport’ mode, the slowest dry mode on the power-selection system for the first couple of sessions, just to get a feel for the changes to the bike and the new circuit; this worked out really well and kept me smooth, then moved up to ‘Race’ mode, which turned out to be more than enough to overtake a few dedicated track bikes.
Just before lunch with my head warmed up, it was time to see if the Michelin Power Pure tyres could cope with ‘Slick’ mode, which is meant for racing tyres and the best circuit conditions only, according to BMW.
The throttle gets a 1:1 ratio and drives really hard out of the corners, and backs off the traction control/abs sensitivity. No problems at all, the bike didn’t slide once, didn’t wheelie once, just smooth progressive drive out of corners that resulted in a few “oh sheeeeet” moments as the next corner came up a little too fast. Thank god for Brembo brakes.
After lunch it started to rain, and in my experience, riding around a wet track on road tyres on a big bike isn’t a lot of fun as you’re holding so much back, but the Michelin’s were amazing and gave great feeling, allowing me to push on, driving virtually as hard out of corners and braking as hard, though I did notch the bike back down to ‘Race’ mode to ensure the electronics were a bit more sensitive, but they weren’t needed.
I’ve always had some sort of compromise at the track, either I’m crap, the bike isn’t driving like a rocket-ship out of corners, the tyres are slippery in the wet or the chassis is trying to fight me, but with this S1000RR and the mods made to it, it was a real dream. it surprised me every session and meant 100% of the day was used and a great time was had. This is without a doubt, the best bike I have ever ridden and need to let it loose at the track more often!
A special thanks goes to Rick and Neil, the two Focused Events instructors we shared a garage with and who gave expert advice on how to embarrass a few track-bike owners. See you soon guys!
Bazzaz fuel-injection tuning device: £289
Bazzaz installation and dyno work: £150
Generic eBay clip-ons: £50
You can find any of the items and services in this feature via the following websites: