The BMW S1000R and knee sliding with a pillion


Story: Donovan Fourie
Pics: J-Pix and BMW Media

People are mad. They really are. 

“Can I ride on the back?” asked lady racer Chris-Marie Schlebusch as we sat in the pits at Phakisa during MRA’s final track weekend of the year. Okay, this involves climbing aboard the back of BMW’s 2018 S1000R, the naked version of the monstrous S1000RR, while I go round this MotoGP circuit.

Would I climb on the back of anyone and go around a race track? Hell no! I would rather face all the Mongol Hordes on my ace armed with nothing but my own scrotum than go around a track pillion. I’m sure you share similar sentiments. And yet she zipped up her leathers, donned her helmet and swung a leg over the S1000R’s pillion seat, excited at the thought of reaching for personal goals. 

BMW S1000R pillion knee slide

“This seat is actually quite comfortable,” shouted she, a veteran of many a sport bike’s torturous pillion accommodation, through her helmet. “I want to try and put my knee down!”

“You what!?” I thought through gaping eyelids.

Riding around a track at pace with a pillion takes some adjustments. Firstly, you and your pillion need to work out some sort of arrangement for hanging off, because it needs to be done both fluidly and simultaneously. This takes some learning and the first few laps involve some fumbling as both of you learn the steps to each track’s dance. Eventually, that comes right, and now it’s a case of relaxing on the bike and keeping smooth. Relaxing is important, because your pillion might make moves you aren’t anticipating, and the last thing you want is to be doing is holding the bars tightly and not letting the bike adjust automatically. Keep your riding smooth, and then you can run quite a hot pace.

By the third lap, my knee was starting to touch down in some corners, and by the fourth lap it was touching down everywhere. The seating position of the Single R makes this easier, because its more upright stance gives you more room and the more subdued nature of the motor (165hp opposed to the 200-odd ponies of the Double R) means more confidence.

Eventually we were running a hotter pace, carrying more lean angle and the sound of my knee slider grinding on the tar was a familiar one, until one lap when we tipped into Phakisa’s long Turn One. My knee touched quite early, but as we neared the middle of the turn and the angle of lean increased, the sound of my slider was joined by the sound of a second.

Had she touched? She had! This is fantastic news! Well, it was, until the force of her knee digging into the tar unexpectedly lifted the bike slightly, and left us heading somewhat toward a gravelly grave.

With some panicked readjustments to avoid certain doom, the first blow done. We lapped a few more times, and soon her other knee started touching, and soon they were touching down in both corners.

BMW S1000R looks

This is a feat we were both massively proud of, and much of the credit needs to go to the Single R. It offered room, comfort, stability and confidence, a sure recipe for two-up knee grinding success, but while we applaud this motorcycle for its pillion prowess, there is a bit of a more real world problem with it.

You see, while it is an excellent motorcycle, it is beaten by other motorcycles in its class in every single aspect. It’s true – the Single R is not the top of its class in anything.

Take looks – yes it’s a handsome machine, but the classical badass contours of the Ducati Monster has it beat. Power wise, 165hp is excellent, but not as much as the 177hp of the KTM Super Duke that beats it in Torque also.

When it comes to corners, the BMW is sublime, and yet the Aprilia Tuono trumps it here, and again when it comes to electronics. Value for money goes to to the Triumph Speed Triple, plus it is one up on the Beemer for build quality. Comfort too. If we are going point out character, I’m afraid everything beats it there.

The Single R gets beaten in every single aspect by something else in its class, and yet it has one very pertinent ace up its sleeve. You see, while it isn’t the best at anything, it is still very good at everything. If you were to allocated each aspect of each motorcycle in the naked sports bike segment a rating out of ten, yes the Single R will not get the highest number for any of them. But if you then add up all the scores and get a grand total, you will find that the BMW S1000R has won by miles.

Let that sink in.

Plus it’s extremely good at going around corners. With a pillion.

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