“Are you a car guy, or a bike guy?” As someone that spends a lot their time jumping between vehicles, I get asked that question a lot. Like some kind of wheel-based tribalism, people love to pigeon hole you into one camp or another. Even within the umbrella terms of ‘cars’ and ‘bikes’, you’ll find thousands of sub-sets, each with their own tribe’s men and women, validating each other’s claims and snickering at anyone outside their bubble.
I’ve always been curious by nature, and I’ve perpetually found these echo chambers to be quite toxic. They cloud rational thought, divide people, and hey, life is just far too short and fascinating to be stuck tasting one flavour. Thankfully, I’m not alone in my views. BMW is a rare example of a company that likes to explore the full spectrum of what they do, and the pleasure it can bring through various forms. They produce exhilarating cars, breathtaking motorcycles and they are more than happy for you to push them to the limit. The BMW Driving Experience has long been the perfect platform for said pushing and it doubles as a very pragmatic training program. But what about us Motorrad men? Where can we sample the latest Bavarian beauties on track? As it turned out, BMW had been cooking something in the labs for quite some time. A day where two worlds collide… where two wheels engage with four… where ‘M’ meets Motorrad… and as I discovered on the most beautiful racing circuit in the world, the results were staggering.
Philip Island is a circuit that you can appreciate just by being in its presence. It’s sweeping curves and breathtaking scenery are enough to give pause to any track aficionado. But when you arrive and it’s sprinkled with millions of dollars worth of performance machinery, you know it’s going to be one special cake. The format of the day was simple: Cars in the morning, bikes in the afternoon, and after some quick classroom theory, it was time to sample my first slice.
The BMW M4 is a relative new comber to the M car family, but its presence has been felt through the industry. With a bullet-proof 331 kW twin-turbo engine tucked into a muscular coupe skin, it has quickly become a fan favourite amongst the people, and it seemed the perfect chariot for my guided laps.
“Just apply the theory and follow my lines” was the radio call from my driving instructor. The first few laps were quite tame. Half the time I was getting used to steering, throttle response and braking, while the other half I was just smiling giddily at the ocean, realising I was driving a BMW M4 around Philip Island. But as the instructor turned up the wick, the M4 demanded much more focus. Every braking marker, every turn in point, every apex was met with precision and predictability. Its chassis was agile, it’s power uncompromising, and its feedback was sensational. Punching out a few hot laps behind the instructor, you could start to appreciate all those countless track hours developing the M4. It was set free from its urban shackles and Philip Island proved to be its natural habitat. Devastatingly, I wasn’t allowed to stay on track all day, so I travelled back to the pits and after a quick debrief, I was told to leave my helmet on and head over to the skidpan.
Now, I’m no drifting expert, but in my experience getting tail-happy, I’ve usually found it far easier getting loose on a longer wheelbase. BMW, clearly, had other ideas. “You’ll be driving our shortest wheelbase M car, the M2”. Not surprisingly, my first few attempts holding a powerslide were a little bit cowboy. There was just so much power on tap (302 kW), and with that short wheelbase, that rear end snapped quicker than a Nicki Minaj video. But, as my instructor gracefully tweaked my turn in angle and throttle application, I was able to start taming the M2 maniac. The beauty in that package is just how alive everything feels, including the human behind the controls. To BMW’s credit, they could have easily put me in a longer wheelbase car, but it wouldn’t have been as challenging nor as rewarding. In terms of drivers cars, the BMW M2 (preferably manual) is still one of the best value performance cars you can buy and the skid span only further amplified this fact.
As I sat down and regretfully removed my helmet, I was quickly handed another, only this time, it was accompanied by a leather suit. It was Motorrad time.
Now, while messing up a corner in an M4 is never a good idea, the consequences on a motorcycle can be slightly more painful. So, with this in mind, BMW partners, California Superbike School, were called in to develop our two-wheeled skillset. From riding positions to emergency decisions, our instructor made sure we entered the circuit with plenty to practice and the right headspace to maximise the glorious Philip Island circuit.
My opening few sessions were on board the BMW S 1000 R. A semi naked-sports bike that modestly conceals its capabilities by ditching a few fairings. It’s wider and more upright handlebars were the perfect platform to practice my counter-steering drills and mid-corner adjustments. Navigating Southern Loop is challenging at the best of times, but the S 1000 R (and a pretty handy instructor) helped negotiate the double apex at a speed I didn’t think was possible yet more controlled than I’d previously attempted. With 121 kW’s on tap, the R was no slouch either, slingshotting through Lukey Heights with an impressive amount of punch, and as a bike that I’ve seen used consistently as a tourer and weekender, the S 1000 R sure made an effective track bike.
With one final session to go, it was time to farewell a legend, the S 1000 RR. With the all-new 2020 model only just starting to reach customers, it was time to send off one of the great modern superbikes with a bang.
More power… more brakes… more aggression… and as my instructor was quick to remind me of, more responsibility. Rolling on the throttle from turn 12 on to the straight was a crash course in neck strength. As you banged through the quick-shift gears, the sheer power was doing it’s best to pry your helmet from the tank (the southerly didn’t help). There were times where it felt like my brain wasn’t keeping up with the chaos, but the combination of great rider training and a forgiving chassis meant that ‘ moments ‘ were few and far between. If the rumours are true and the 2020 version of the S 1000 RR is another leap forward, then we’re all in for a treat.
As an overall track day experience, I’m not sure I could ask for much more. I mean, where else do you get to experience over 2000 kW’s and 2 million dollars worth of BMW machinery, both cars and motorcycles, on one of the worlds greatest racing circuits, for less than $1400?
While BMW is a progressive company driving sustainable transport solutions, they haven’t lost touch of their roots. Many companies are going through an identity crisis of sorts, dumping history in favour of fitting into a certain box. BMW, however, is proof that you can be a market leader in areas like electric transport while working side by side with a lineup of performance vehicles. They still value the emotional connection between man and machine, they implement clever engineering to assist us, but at the end of the day, they still see value in the journey that is self-improvement.
There is beauty in the overlap. Don’t just be a ‘ car guy ‘ or a ‘ bike guy ‘, take a leaf from BMW’s book and just explore what’s out there, regardless of labels.
We have far more connecting us than we think, and when a BMW-run Philip Island Circuit is that common ground, solidarity is an incredibly fun thing to explore.