Maxing out a HP4

For my birthday, I treated myself to something special: I rented a BMW HP4 for a day.

Foto 3With 196 HP from 1000 cc, 199 kg and every electronic gizmo you can imagine, the HP4 stands at the pinnacle of German motorcycle engineering. Now, you might wonder who is crazy enough to rent such a monster. As it turns out, Sixt is! Initially, I wanted to rent a S1000RR, which is basically the same minus the magic electronic suspension of the HP4. But when the rental agent offered me an upgrade for just 20 Euros, I couldn’t resist. Read on to find out what that day brought. 

To put things into perspective, I usually ride a KTM 690 SMC. At 65 HP, it’s not exactly overpowered, but with just 154 kg, it’s a lot of fun on twisty country roads. Top speed is about 180 km/h, but its comfort zone is definitely below 130 km/h. At more than three times the power with just 30% more weight, the HP4 is clearly a different beast.

Renting the bike was almost as easy as renting a car, although I had to call the rental station directly because neither the website nor the hotline could tell me about their availability. A very kind and helpful rental agent did the paper-work, and someone from the dealership gave me a quick introduction to the bike’s features. He mostly emphasized that the bike is very powerful and that it would be a good idea to keep the traction control in the “rain” mode, maybe try out “sport”, but stay away from “race”.

So I set it to “rain”, put some ear plugs in to silence the Akrapovic exhaust and set off. Actually, I didn’t. I stalled it, blushed, restarted the engine and then set off.

I was immediately impressed by how smooth the ride was. Sure, the seating position is not exactly easy on your knees, but other than that, you can easily cruise through the city at 2000 rpm in 4th gear. But I didn’t rent a HP4 to cruise through the city, so I headed to the Autobahn which would take me to the Bergisches Land. On the onramp, I opened the throttle and OH MY GOD I’M DOING 250 km/h. Within five minutes after sitting on the HP4, I had gone faster than ever before on a bike. It’s less shocking how fast you can go, but how fast you get up to speed is a surprise. I also quickly realized that my helmet is probably not made for this kind of speed. The wind resistance pressed it against my chin, the strap almost strangled me and the wind noise made my ears ring. After 40 km on the Autobahn, I finally arrived in the Bergisches Land.

After the first turns, several things quickly became apparent. First, the chassis is a master piece of engineering. It’s absolutely stable at high speeds and surprisingly agile in tight turns. Although I’m not used to riding a sports bike and never properly learned how to ride hanging off, I could easily match the speeds of my supermoto. Second, the engine is a power house. The 690cc one-cylinder engine of my KTM has a very limited rev range. Below 3,000 rpm, the gentlest description I can use is lackluster. Starting at 4,500 rpm, it has some punch and at 7,300 rpm, the peak of power is already reached. If you want to drive fast, you have to change gears a lot. With the HP4, it’s a different story. It is perfectly drivable throughout the whole rev range from 2,000 to 14,800 rpm and it is much, much more powerful throughout the whole spectrum. The result is that you just look at the throttle and the boring, straight road you are driving on suddenly needs your full attention. Otherwise you’ll find yourself flying into the next turn at 200 km/h.

Although my driving style could sometimes be described as spirited, I like to think that my driving is mostly sensible. I generally try to not exceed the speed limit by more than 40 km/h and even when I fail at doing so, the limited power of my KTM provides an upper boundary to the madness. With the HP4, this boundary does not exist. I always wondered how people could think it was a good idea to go more than three times the posted speed limit on a road restricted to 70 km/h. The answer is that this is what bikes like the HP4 were built for.

When I decided to rent the HP4, I had one specific (and somewhat questionable) goal in mind: I wanted to go 300 km/h on a motorcycle. And so it came to pass that on next morning of my 31st birthday, my alarm clock rang at 5 am. I got up, drank a cup of coffee, put on my leather suit and took the HP4 to the Autobahn. I had chosen a straight, unrestricted part of the A555 between Cologne and Bonn for my high-speed ordeal. The little traffic that was there so early in the morning was flowing along nicely at 160 km/h and more, so I decided to give it a go. I switched to the left lane, opened the throttle, hit the gear lever and let the shift assistant do its job. I quickly hit 250 km/h. I huddled up against the tank, seeking shelter from the airflow that had grown to a tornado that tried to suck me off the bike. I was at 270 km/h. I tried to stay in the center of the line, as the tiniest steering input brought me dangerously close to the Armco. I reached 280 km/h. Suddenly, far in the distance, a car in the middle lane activated its left indicator. I released the throttle and decelerated quickly. Then, the unrestricted area ended. I exited the autobahn and made a turn to tackle it again in the opposite direction. I patiently wait until the restricted area ended and started to accelerate again. As I whizzed along, I glimpsed at the speedo and saw the magic number: 299 km/h.

I could have gone back and forth forever, but with every minute the traffic got denser. During the third run, it was not safely possible to go faster than 180 km/h anymore and I called it quits. Within one hour, I had covered 90 km. Not bad, considering that within this hour, I had checked the tire pressure, filled up the gas tank and waited at several traffic lights. The GPS later indicated a top speed of 301,6 km/h. I don’t know if that measurement is correct. I think I actually bounced off the rev limiter in 6th gear once, but maybe that was just a bump in the road and I was only doing 290 km/h after all. But honestly, I couldn’t care less.


Later that day, I did another very nice tour through the Eifel and finally returned the bike to dealer. All in all, I put about 600 km on it, and it was every bit as exciting as I expected. Having driven the HP4, I look at professional motorcycle racers with different eyes now. I always admired the mastery of MotoGP racers like Valentino Ross and the daring feat of Tourist Trophy riders like Michael Dunlop. But after just scratching on the surface of the bikes capabilities, taking it to the limit in a competitive setting has become just unfathomable.

Despite its dorky-looking face, the S1000RR always had a place in my dream garage. Actually driving its slightly more intelligent sister made me realize that me that a bike like this and me on public roads is a disaster waiting to happen. Sure, you don’t have to go 300 km/h to end up injured, permanently disabled or worse. After all, there are more than twice as many deadly accidents in households than on the road. However, the insane speeds that are possible with almost 200 HP on a bike put the odds not in your favor. There are definitely people who can enjoy themselves just cruising along at the speed limit, knowing of all the explosive power they have at their disposal. I could not. Knowing of the power is not enough for me, I have to feel it. The way I drive my KTM might be questionable, but the way I drove the HP4 was just batshit insane. And I know I would do it again.

That leads me to the only possible conclusion: for me, a sportsbike belongs on a race track and not on public roads. Consequently, the S1000RR no longer has a place in my dream garage. It is now occupied by a track-ready HP4 and a trailer.

Bonus quiz: find what does not belong into this picture. Hint: it is not the butt-ugly C1.

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