Getting to ride the BMW M 1000 RR Safety bike at the BIC was an absolute honour.
From start to end, this entire saga happened in less than 36 hours, and they rank amongst the most exciting, nerve-wracking and ultimately memorable hours of my life so far. It all started with a phone call on Thursday evening: “Would you like to ride the MotoGP safety bike tomorrow at the BIC?”
After finally being convinced that BMW India was not, in fact, pulling the world’s greatest prank on me, I rushed home to pack my gear bag. Cue a blurry 5am departure from Mumbai the next morning and after many hours of transit in the air and on the ground, we pulled into the BIC.
What a sense of déjà vu. The last time I saw the BIC all decorated and exploding with activity like this was ten years ago for F1 – so, so good to see this track back to what it always should have been. About five minutes later, the second wave of memories slammed home – security can be exceptionally painful at these events!
With everything being so last minute, the right sort of accreditation couldn’t be made in time, but eventually, BMW and Dorna officials wrangled some appropriate passes that could get us in. And then it was just a waiting game.
Checking out the tyre warmers; and getting the bike ready for track action.
At this point, all I knew was that I would get three laps on the BMW M 1000 RR Safety Bike. This would be at the very end of the day, after the MotoGP FP2 session ended. That was supposed to be at around 5pm, but big red flag delays had skewed the schedule to the point that we weren’t sure if my ride would happen at all.
By 5:30pm, we were herded into the pit box where the Safety Bike was stored. This was when I was given the news I’d been desperately hoping not to hear. There was only one Safety Bike – this was it and there was no spare machine tucked away. The pressure suddenly got a whole lot higher.
Learning all about the electronic and gearshift settings from the Motorrad expert who looks after the safety bike.
And then I was told that it was running a GP shift, which is exactly the opposite of the shift pattern we’re used to. Racers generally prefer that pattern for numerous reasons, primarily because it helps them easily upshift mid corner when the bike is leaned over. For the rest of us, it’s completely counterintuitive and here was another thing I could not afford to mess up. The last thing you’d want to do is accidentally downshift at 15,000rpm and 250+ kph down the BIC back straight…
Mercifully, the rest of the bike was pretty stock, so it would be familiar to the S 1000 RR, only with a little more power (212hp) and a little less weight (192kg) thanks to a heap of exotic materials. A familiar bike and a familiar track were small blessings considering what was coming next.
No other celebrity or traditional journalist, Indian or international, would get to ride this bike. The only outsiders who did were ex-GP racers Simon Crafar, Neil Hodgson and Randy de Puniet – and me. And just for an extra topping of crème de la stress, I was scheduled to be the last rider out on track on Friday evening. Eventually, I was released from the BIC pitlane at 6.20pm, well after the sun had started to disappear. As it turns out, twilight doesn’t mix so well with a dark visor and a motorcycle that has a smoked windscreen at 200 plus kph.
But once the visor comes down, all the stress and anxiety melt away because there’s only so much brain space to focus on the task at hand. Those three laps were a balancing act of trying to ride the bike properly yet safely, and also soaking in the magnificence of what I was doing.
Here I was on a 55 lakh rupee (ex-showroom, mind you) piece of carbon-fibre exotica (that, amazingly enough, you can buy here in India) on the Buddh International Circuit bang in the middle of the very first Indian GP weekend. Elation, wonder and gratitude don’t get much higher than this.
The M 1000 RR itself was predictably mega. It’s a riveting, angry and menacing-looking thing with even bigger wings than the latest S 1000 RR. Almost everything you see is carbon-fibre, including the entire cockpit area and the fairings, which are wider on the M to give the rider greater wind protection. My favourite element was probably the gaping air intake that’s so large you can stick your whole arm into it – naturally, I tested this.
With the electronics set in Race Pro 1 mode and the tyres toasty hot out of the warmers, I set out to see what the BIC is now like to ride. For some reason, Turn 3 felt a little different and more awkward, but the rest of the track was remarkably similar; only with more grip than I recall. Otherwise, it’s the same fast and flowing layout that I’ve always loved on a big bike, and one that the GP riders also seem to really enjoy.
This ride was never about ‘testing’ the M 1000 RR, but the bike itself is just mega. Obviously, I wasn’t stupid to try pushing it too hard, but fun was most certainly had. The front wheel would rise off the ground on the occasional corner exit and I’ll always cherish the floating, wiggling sensation in the bars under hard acceleration. The S 1000 RR has always been a mega weapon around a large track like the BIC and the M 1000 RR only takes that experience higher. Both in terms of its actual capabilities as well as the sheer specialness of its exotic metal and carbon-fibre extravagance.
The bike, the track and the moment – almost too good to be true!
This will be a memory of a lifetime. It was a whirlwind schedule and we had a painfully limited opportunity to capture the moment, but none of that matters. I’ll forever treasure getting to ride such a special motorcycle at such a special place and at such a special time.