We make no secret of our motorcycle passion here at european car Magazine, despite our focus on four wheels. We'll always grab any opportunity to throw a leg over two-wheeled transportation whenever the need arises.
And the need arose at the recent Pebble Beach Concours week, where the prospect of slow-moving lines of traffic and multiple event locations made a motorcycle more appealing.
Fortunately, our friends at BMW North America made its very exclusive HP4 model available to us, allowing us to skip to the traffic and get more time at the events. Although we also decided to skip some events and spend more time on the bike, as it turned out...
The BMW HP4 is a limited edition based on the S1000RR superbike. Only 175 are in the country and we had the opportunity to wreck two of them when a deer decided to make an unexpected appearance!
Why do they jump in front of noisy vehicles instead of running from them? Quite how it escaped up a 30ft vertical cliff face, we'll never know but it got our attention, for sure.
Priced from $20525, the HP4 gets the same 193hp engine as the bike it's based on, but an Akrapovic exhaust ensures it's delivered with more mid-range and an ungodly sound. We also found the power delivery velvet-smooth, with no hesitation, even at low RPM. I could be wrong but it seemed smoother than the stock S1000RR, allowing you to hold onto higher gears in tight turns on the gravel-strewn roads, driving out with less risk of wheelspin.
Finished in BMW's Racing blue and white paint scheme, the HP4 can also be identified by lashings of carbon fiber goodness and a build quality that marks out BMW from the other liter bike manufacturers.
The suspension was pretty stiff for the very poorly paved roads we threw the bikes down. Even the Dynamic Damping Control was unable to compensate for the harsh bumps, although I'll admit we left it in Sport for most of the ride simply because of the speed we were doing. If you could endure the big bumps, the reward was one of the sharpest turning bikes we've experienced. In fact, it was surprisingly user-friendly for such an uncompromising sports machine. Our bikes were fitted with BMW's ABS and adjustable traction control, which gave you peace of mind while riding, but only our deer scare called any of them into action. Or I simply didn't sense the traction control working while powering out of turns. Certainly the anti-wheelie electronics were doing their job pretty well, keeping a busy front end mostly on the ground.
Having ridden the regular S1000RR several times, I'd come to the conclusion that it was rather edgy, a little nervous for my needs - more extreme than my 2008 Yamaha R1 even. And yet the HP4 proved a much more usable machine that was a pleasure to ride, helping to justify its high price tag.
Since we were attending the swanky Pebble Beach week and riding such an extraordinary machine, we decided to splash out on some new riding gear - we didn't want to rock up to an event where entry cost more than my first car in scruffy old gear.
Preferring Alpinestars clothing to almost anything else, we visited a few local stores and made our selection, with our priorities being protection, style and comfort. We wanted to mingle with the wealthy, but not be compromised if one of them knocked us off the bike!
So we started with the Jaws leather jacket with an optional hard shell back protector replacing the foam that comes with it. This augmented the shoulder and elbow protectors already fitted. The leather itself is 1.3mm thick, allowing for good abrasion resistance.
It's available in black and white but we opted for solid black with the white A/Stars logos. To keep you cool, the leather panels on the front and back are perforated. There are also fabric panels on the sleeve and front section plus zipped openings to allow more airflow. With the quilted liner removed, the Jaws jacket has good air movement, keeping you comfortable in hot weather.
For practicality, it has two zipped outer pockets and three velcroed inner ones. It will also zip into Alpinestar pants and has neoprene collar and cuffs for greater comfort.
While an expensive leather jacket should get you past most bouncers on the door, the choice of pants is more crucial. We were torn between a good overpant that we could wear over smart pants, or a pair of Alpinestars denim jeans. After several days of indecision we opted for the Axiom denim pants with knee and hip protection.
The darker denim looked more classic and the cut didn't suggest you'd ridden to the venue. In fact, they worked very well. The only snag we encountered was the comical leg length, requiring about 3" to be cut off the bottom, causing problems with the zipper on the lower inner leg.
After a tailor did the business, we strapped motocross-style knee protectors underneath, in place of the Axiom's foam pads. These were both more resilient and better placed than the foam, ensuring better protection.
Hot feet can cause your body temperature to rise rapidly, so we tried several different riding boots, eschewing our usual GP-style calf-length boots for Alpinestars low-cut S-MX1 boots. These still cover the ankles, which is vital protection for riding but were more comfortable when walking the show grounds. They offer hard shells for the heels and toes as well as fabric sections over the front of the foot. These provide amazing airflow that keep your feet wonderfully cool while in motion - not sure why all boots don't offer something similar...
The final piece of protection was the Alpinestars SP8 leather gloves. These replaced the GP Tech gloves I usually wear but are difficult to get off in a hurry. However, the slightly shorter SP8 still offered good wrist protection, third to fourth finger bridge, foam padding, polymer knuckle protection and suede palms for better grip.
With all this gear, heat is still a factor, especially when stationary, so Alpinestars underwear has been a revelation. The Summer Tech T-shirt wicks away all your sweat, keeping outer layers dry. I also use the padded shorts, both for another layer of protection as well as moisture control. Finally, A/Stars' range of summer socks is a godsend. They wick away moisture and help prevent heat accumulation. Before I found these items I was very uncomfortable riding in the California summer, but Alpinestars changed that.
Offering good protection for high-speed riding, the new gear was well ventilated for summer temps and looked smart both on and off the bike. So we managed to pull off the impossible dream of avoiding the traffic around the events and mingling with the other visitors without looking like scary bikers. Mission accomplished.