We see if comfortable equals fast
What are they?
Heli-Bars is a well known company which specializes in producing motorcycle handlebars that are more comfortable than stock. Their emphasis has been primarily on making machines more suitable for long distance riding but now they also feature a line called TracStar, which is aimed at the sportbike crowd. The big question when testing a product like this is obvious. Does improving street comfort come at the expense of racetrack efficiency?
The installation of these bars was very straightforward. In fact, this is listed as a direct stock replacement, which means that no other parts should be necessary to do the install. We found this to be absolutely true. A glossy color spread of instructions is included. There are very accurate photos of each step of the process, along with supporting text. There were no surprises and the entire job from parking to riding the bike took less than ninety minutes. We recommend following their instructions to the letter, including the one about placing/stuffing a rag around the work area. Besides protecting from scratches, this step may help you to avoid having to remove body work to retrieve a screw if you happen to drop one at the wrong spot. Our installation time does not include a trip to the hardware store, where we bought a 36 mm socket for the triple clamp bolt and a small #8 Torx bit that was thin enough along its stem to fit into a severely recessed hole.
What they do
The normal way of making a sportbike more comfortable involves bar risers, which are essentially lifting blocks for the handlebars. This has always seemed contradictory, since a lot of engineering gets violated when you move the handlebars to a different location. The Heli Bars kit for the BMW S1000RR attacks the problem a different way, by setting the downward slope of the clip-ons at a shallower angle. These bars made the position feel closer to that of a sport touring riding position while maintaining the look and feel of a sport bike. In fact, experienced riders would not immediately recognize that these are aftermarket bars, especially since the mounting points and manufacturing style are identical to the OEM pieces. Compared to the very steep angle of the stock bars, the modified slope of the Heli-Bars results in a bar end that is a full two inches higher than stock. That two inches is enough to make a significant difference. The bars also pull back toward the rider more than stock. The results of these changes are a more upright riding position and a more natural position of the hand and forearm.
To test the bike with the new bars, we conducted before and after riding sessions over the same one hour loop, which included surface streets, highway miles and twisties. The first thing noticed was increased confidence when maneuvering on surface streets around congested traffic. This was the result of both the added leverage and the slightly more upright position. The second obvious improvement was that the bars promoted a proper riding position, putting the forearms closer to parallel with the ground and the elbows at about the same height as the hands. Once into the curves, flicking the bike into a corner was definitely easier and the bars engendered more confidence going around blind turns. The result was that Heli-Bars encouraged a faster pace through curves, high speed sweepers and switchback on-ramps. As you would expect, highway comfort was vastly improved. S1000RR riders regularly complain that their hands and wrists get numb within about 20 minutes of riding. (Which incidentally, is the length of an average trackday session.) We too had experienced this with the stock pieces but that numbness did not occur when riding with the Heli-Bars. The noticed improvement in street comfort alone would have been enough to justify switching to these bars but we still had a track test to perform.
Autobahn Country Club, in Joliet, Illinois, was where we conducted the track portion of this review. The Full Course at this facility has 23 turns so there was plenty of opportunity to experience the bars in a variety of different cornering situations. We'd ridden here a few months previously with the stock bars, which provided a frame of reference for comparison. On the track we noticed that it felt much more natural to drape our outside arm over the gas tank. It was also easier to experiment with different entry points, as the added leverage of the Heli-Bars provided extra confidence when flicking the bike into turns. Switchback transitions were also made with less effort. The pavement was wet for a few of these sessions, giving us the opportunity to see how the bars performed in catching a slide. Even at this extreme, the Heli-Bars were very predictable and showed no tendency to make us overcorrect. In fact, there was nowhere on the track that we found ourselves wishing we had the original-equipment bars.
For both road and track use, these Heli-Bars proved their worth. In every environment, the big BMW was a more comfortable and better behaved motorcycle. This $319.00 improvement quite literally transformed the bike's ergonomics, making it much nicer to live with no matter what environment it was used in or how aggressively it was ridden. Here at TrackdayMag.com, we're used to sacrificing comfort to get better performance. In this case, much to our surprise, it was upping our comfort level that increased performance!