BMW HP 2 Introduction in Aras Rural, Valencia, Spain
Author's note: California BMW was one of only 20 dealers invited to Spain for the dealer intro of the new BMW HP2, high performance, dual-sport bike. HP is the BMW motorcycle division's equivalent of the M-powered cars.
Photo Credits: Cary Littel
The first days in Spain were spent acclimatizing and collecting our scattered group together - dealers from Japan, Canada and the USA. I spent my free time with dealers from California and Florida, and just walking around Valencia by myself, drinking caffe con leches and studying the people. As more of our group arrived we assembled into a party of ten or so and set off to have a dinner of tapas and beer and wine and more tapas, and finally actual dinner (I think). It must have taken about three hours at least and was one of the most enjoyable dealer dinners I can ever remember. Everyone shared dishes, half the time we didn't know what we were actually eating, but it was all good, and we were all happy.
By the next morning we were ready for Spanish coffee by the bucketful, and we assembled our gear and headed off by bus for Aras Rural de los Olmos, a small village about 65 kilometers to the Northwest of Valencia, in a heavily metamorphosed sedimentary landscape, not unlike the higher foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.
We arrived around 5:00 pm and changed immediately into riding gear for the "Prologue" or introductory ride. This was a short but technical ride over a stony trail with many loose rocks and rocky steps to climb. We were in a party of six with Manfred, our leader. One group member, Stephi, fell down several times in the rocks and finally gave up, with a badly banged up elbow. The rest of us continued on and the ride actually got easier, very much like fire-road riding in California. At one point we rode through a town with streets so narrow I swear we had to tilt the bikes to be sure we'd fit through. Well it was almost that tight! We ended up at Aras Rural itself, in the Parc Ferme, at the training ground. There were several tents set up, a cook tent, a big assembly tent, six team tents and various service tents, generators, portapotties, etc. It was essentially a full-on field camp capable of supporting a hundred or more people.
There were 20 Americans, 8 Japanese, and 3 Canadians, plus 2 from BMW NA and a roughly equal number of support people, trainers, technicians, ride leaders and market specialists and product developers. After various presentations and an outline of the weekend's plans we had a splendid dinner of paella, cutlets, six kinds of salads, and the world's best brownies served up with a fruit compote and whipped cream for dessert. It is no wonder that I gained several pounds on this trip! The bar was open from the moment we stepped off the bikes, and Monika and Theresa were kept busy plying the group with beers and schnapps from before dinner until bedtime.
Meanwhile, the schnapps was flowing freely, but the organizers managed to get us arranged into six teams of four to eight people each. We retired to our team tents with our team captains, and worked with our team technicians to optimize the set-up of the bikes for our riding style and for the next day's events. This involved adjusting bars and controls, adjusting front and rear suspension with valving changes and air pressure in the rear. and leveling the bikes. Each HP2 has a spirit level built in to the frame so that you can adjust the chassis level, and a pump supplied with the bike to adjust the pneumatic rear shock. My bike came rather soft, and I stiffened it up a bit for the next day's ride. If the bars are rotated up and the risers are set in their forward (of two) positions, the bike is comfortable for a 6' person to stand up on for a long, long time.
After optimizing the bikes with our German colleagues we retired back to the main tent for more beer and schnapps (mineral water for me…) and a little more talk about tomorrow's plans. Everything was very relaxed and informal, almost un-BMW-like in its casual comfort, one might say. It had the feel of a really excellent Dual Sport dinner. The level of enthusiasm was extremely high and everybody was excited about their first experiences with the new bikes. You can be sure it was a happy and enthusiastic bunch of test riders that staggered off to bed around 11:30 that night!
The BMW staff kept insisting that we were going to be sleeping in tents, just like the Dakar rally, but around 11:00 they began leading those ready for bed off to the "tents", which turned out to be beautifully equipped wooden cabins, fully appointed with showers, beds, and all the amenities. None of us even had to share a room.
I slept like the proverbial rock and didn't wake up until he alarm at 6:30, which was an HP2 ridden by a crazy German with the engine pegged at the rev limiter. He did this for several minutes, and believe me, it was nothing even the most hung-over rider could sleep through. I've no doubt the whole town of Aras was awake and swearing in Spanish by the time he put the bike away.
By 7:00 we were up, dressed in riding gear and having breakfast in the big tent under slightly cloudy skies. It had rained the previous week, so there was little dust and the water had had time to soak into the trails, so there was almost no mud, either. Conditions were perfect, and we felt blessed.
We finished eating, donned our helmets, joined our team leaders and headed off into the Spanish countryside. There were very few rocks, and the terrain was like a fire-road in the Sierras, a bit gravelly, but little sand and lots of traction. Since we were in teams, we had team contests to complete. Our first team contest was to split the group in half, half of us had to create a roadbook and the other half had to follow it. Errors meant lost points. Our team did well, dropping only one point at the very end, but alas, that was the last event at which we would excel.
While waiting for the other half of the team to complete the route, we chatted with the charming BMW ladies who were helping to organize the event, and using the information gained as part of their thesis for business school.
The next section of riding was typical dualsport, a mixture of fast fire roads and narrow pavement, ending at the lunch stop and a beautiful lake. There were lounge chairs, tables with linen tablecloths, lots to eat and drink, and a very, very tight trials course for us to walk around and mentally prepare for.
After lunch and a siesta, the next team event was to change a tire on a GS rear wheel, using a tube and only the short little BMW tire irons. It took our team about 6 minutes, which wasn't very good, I'm afraid. The best team did the change in about 2.5 minutes. After the tire changing exercise we tried the observed trials. I went second, and although I did not fall down, as many did, I managed a lot of dabs in the tight sections, and did not put up a very good score for the team. One of my teammates managed to collide with a tree and destroy his master cylinder, so we even had a DNF in our score, which took us to the very bottom. It was so tight that even the best riders could not make it through the course without dabbing and spinning the bike around under power. The Japanese team was very impressive, either crashing disastrously or going through with barely a dab.
The trials lasted for a couple of hours, then we started back on the fire roads, ending up at a huge waterfall above a rather large, waist-deep river; about the size of the Merced River as it flows through Yosemite Park. This river was about 50 yards across, rocky and full of rapids, and mostly 2-3 feet deep. Our team challenge was to split into two groups, One group had to run the bike across the river to the opposite bank then run back and tag the other team, who had to run over and retrieve it. Man-handling a bike across this river, even using the engine, was no easy task, and there were a lot of laughs and very wet riders before we were done with this exercise. This was one of the funniest events I have ever seen at a motorcycle rally! Everyone got across and back OK, no one got hurt, and we didn't even seriously drown the bike. I believe the Japanese team was the winner of this event.
When we were done, we admired the falls, which were about 100 feet high, took off our boots and poured out the water, put our cameras and fanny packs back on and headed out on the fire roads again. On this last section we had our only mishap of the day. A rider slid out on the corner and holed his valve cover, letting out the oil, so we had a chance to use the new BMW valve cover condom. It is a big rubber cover that fits over the valve cover and is held in place with a big rubber band, to keep the oil from running out of the engine. It proved itself in service and seems to work great! I will get a part number, I promise!
More fire roads, then 10 kilometers on narrow, paved roads brought us back to the camp, where we parked our HP2's for the last time. After going for two days without a spill, I managed to trip over the Motorrad Vice President while parking and went flying! So at the awards ceremony I got a bottle of wine as the last person to crash of the whole weekend!
The beer and schnapps flowed even more freely than the night before, By the time dinner was served a lot of riders were quite lit, and the camaraderie and jokes were flowing as freely as the beer. The teams had all bonded by this time, and we sat together, reminiscing the highlights of the day and telling our best stories to each other. The BMW folks were exceptionally relaxed, since everything went off so well, and there were no injuries or damaged bikes to speak of. The team leaders got together and made a number of awards, mostly bottles of wine, and champagne for the winning team.
But what about the bike? The HP 2 is a remarkable bike! Significantly lighter than the already-light R 1200 GS, with an excellent upside-down conventional fork and a fantastic new pneumatic rear shock, it is comfortable, not stiff, but very, very difficult to bottom out or overstress the suspension even when set for comfort. The Germans rode standing up the whole time, but I sat down on the easy stuff,, and found it easy to control. Either way, it feels stable but easy to turn. The rear brake is a little touchy, and I managed to sail right off the road once by getting my boot caught between the frame and the rear brake pedal, making the rear brake permanently on. A very odd feeling, but one that I could correct with better rear brake pedal adjustment.
The front brake is wonderful, a true two-finger brake and delightful to use in the dirt. I barely used the rear brake at all. The power of the bike is unbelievable! It is astonishing and a little intimidating to be on such a fast dirt bike. I did most of my riding one gear higher than necessary, just to soften the power delivery and make it easier to avoid wheelspin. I slipped the clutch quite a bit in the rocky sections with no clutch smell and no change in lever feel, which is a very positive sign for clutch development. I am not the world's best powerslider, but the bike makes it easy! And on the street it is just a superb motard style of bike. It is a true benchmark bike for BMW, and the only thing I've ridden in years that could so perfectly replace my old G/S!
Please feel free to call or e-mail if you have any questions. Tests are starting to appear in all the magazines, so I am leaving the technical details for the websites.