Author's note: This was indeed an April Fool's Joke - the first I've fallen for in 9 years and 364 days working for Gizmag/New Atlas.We take some solace in the fact that there's nothing remotely funny about it, it's eminently plausible and indeed not a bad idea, and it sounds like something BMW would do well. So… Good joke BMW Motorrad… I guess…
BMW is set to release a two-wheel drive R1200GS, using a 45-horsepower front hub motor that takes the bike's peak output to a staggering 170 hp (127 kW). And in true BMW fashion, the company has been pretty clever about it, too.
It's hard to think of another motorcycle company that's pushing technology harder than BMW right now. Take a look at the K1600GT we rode a few weeks ago – from active suspension to self-leveling headlights that look around the corners, BMWs now rock technology you just don't see elsewhere yet, as well as being early with a heap of gadgetry that you now see all over the place. I couldn't find a kitchen sink on the GT, but then I didn't check the right hand pannier.
What's next? How about a 2WD upgrade to the monstrous R1200GS adventure machine, using a switchable 45-hp electric hub motor that brings the bike's total power output to a massive 170 horses?
The motorcycle world has flirted with two-wheel drive systems on a number of occasions, and these designs have been roundly praised for how well they handle hill climbs, mud and rough terrain – basically anywhere you'd expect the rear wheel to struggle with traction. Let's have a look at a couple of them.
Yamaha's 2-TRAC system for dirtbikes powered the front wheel using a hydraulic pump hanging off the motor. Christini upped the ante using a complex system of gears and shafts running down through the front end. Where the Yamaha system suffered some fairly significant power losses, the Christini effort lost "less than a tenth of a horsepower."
But presumably it was this Wunderlich design that caught the eye of BMW's engineering team. Using an electric hub drive in the front wheel eliminated a lot of the complexity involved in building a 2WD system, and also enabled Wunderlick to put a handy reverse feature on the huge R1200GS.
The new BMW R1200GS xDrive Hybrid doesn't seem to have a reverse function, but it takes things in some interesting directions.
In order to offset the additional 880 g (1.9 lb) of unsprung weight incurred by the hub drive motor, BMW has ditched one of the front brake discs, making it a single disc brake system at the front end. To compensate for the loss of braking power, the hub drive itself is used as a regenerative brake. It adds significant braking power, and it's plumbed into the GS's ABS system.
Remarkably, taking that second disc off saves a whopping 2.9 kg (6.4 lb), so the unsprung weight of that front end is actually reduced by the addition of the drive system, even if gyroscopic mass is increased. And BMW claims that even with the battery and control systems added, the xDrive Hybrid won't be any heavier than a standard R1200GS.
The hub motor is also built into the traction control system. Sine 45 hp is more than enough to get you into trouble on a loose surface, the system won't let it accelerate past the point of slip. That makes this the first bike we've seen with a traction-controlled front wheel.
The system is engaged and disengaged using yet another button on the tortured left switchblock, which already featured enough switches, knobs, scroll wheels, buttons and clicky things to keep a toddler amused for an hour. At some point they're going to have to toss it all in for voice control.
A BMW test team has been running prototype 2WD bikes in some of the most punishing conditions imaginable, including riding to the North Pole and back in ice and snow more than a meter thick. Better them than me, I reckon.
The only BMW hybrid I've ever played with was the i8 sportscar. Adding the immediate torque of an electric powertrain to the top-end performance of a regular engine made that thing an absolute weapon to drive.
In some ways, it's a pity we probably won't see a similar 2WD system developed for massive best-of-both-worlds performance on a sporty streetbike because the weight transfer to the rear under hard acceleration tends to lift the front wheel off the road. But, well, that weight transfer and wheel lift has its own appeal to many of us.
BMW says the R1200GS xDrive Hybrid should be in showrooms by the second half of 2017. We look forward to learning more, and seeing if similar systems get rolled out to other models in the BMW adventure range.