After my visit to the One Moto Show in Portland, and after having had a chance to spend some time with BMW’s head of design Ola Stenegärd and the BMW R nineT project lead Roland Stocker, I was now curious to test their creation.
I know I’m late to the party. This bike has generated all the sensation in 2013 and 2014, and still demands plenty of attention in 2015. Despite all of that, I confess only now I get to pay close attention to it. I had been looking for an urban bike that was not a sports, cruiser or adventure bike, but I had been obfuscated by another bike that had been getting a lot of press during that same time – more on that later. What is important is that when I took the R nineT for a ride it was an all new bike to me. I got to ride it with an open mind, unbiased from the opinions of previous reviewers.
That’s how I like to ride a new machine, as if I’m exploring a blank canvas. My biases were from sitting on it and perceiving the handle bars to be perhaps a bit low (from my adventure rider perspective), from knowing about the water/oil cooler boxer motors from my previous riding experiences with the 2012 R1200GS, and from what I had heard from Ola and Roland about the project itself, not their riding experience with it. Well, that and it is a beautiful machine, I wanted to like it. What is important is that I had not heard or read or paid special attention to anything that mentioned what is was like to ride this bike.
On a sunny Saturday, a couple of weeks after my visit to Portland I had the chance to test the R nineT demo bike here at the Eugene store. I started the motor and it felt as a typical twin boxer, trying to rotate the whole motorcycle clockwise as you blip the throttle. It is something you get used to after the first or second time you blip its throttle at a stop, one of those things that are part of the twin boxer experience. Nothing new. Once in motion however, the motor felt so much composed, more than what I remember from my experience with it on previous air/oil cooled R1200GS’s.
I took the bike to the wine country in the south Willamette Valley where I explored how it handled two-lane country roads with shapes of all kinds from tight switchbacks to fast sweeping curves. Despite the ergonomics being different than what I would have chosen it to be, I prefer taller handlebars for a more upright position, as soon as the bike was in motion I’d forgotten all those thoughts. It just fit me so well. It seems this is always the case with BMW’s, I don’t know how they manage it, but their bikes’ riding positions have always been great for me, no matter what BMW I’ve ridden.
The first thing I noticed when in motion was the exhaust note. I was using my super quiet Schuberth C3Pro helmet on top of good earplugs, and the sound that managed to go past this double layer of good protection was just the right amount of a deep tone, somewhat angry exhaust note. I would assume it was a very well studied and engineered note. I have to say it is just perfect in volume and tone, providing great feedback to the rider and letting you know you are riding a true roadster. And if you want louder, just remove the baffles.
The next thing I noticed is how smoothly the motor responds to throttle input. I didn’t get that thrilling instant acceleration from minimum throttle input I get on my 2013 Ducati Multistrada (and I really like that, by the way). But then, the R nineT is a different animal. Although it is not sports bike fast, I did not miss much in terms of throttle response when I asked the bike for something more exciting. For a naked bike with a relaxed stance, this bike actually delivers more than I expected in terms of power and acceleration. And not only that, the acceleration felt very linear on its broad torque range. The motor was a willing partner going up the RPM range with ease.
The other surprise element was the smooth gear box. What a gem. I was not sure what was going on, was I really changing gears or was it doing on its own? Gears went in precisely, fast and quietly. You close the throttle, the revs come down quickly, a quick press of the clutch, slight input on the lever and the next gear is in, back on the throttle. All of this work is assisted by the sweet sounds from the exhaust, making sure you know what is what and when is when at all times. Like it always should be on a motorcycle.
Now, how to explain how nice it is to ride this machine? I guess the recipe starts from combining the perfect ergonomics, add to it the exhaust note and the clean input it gives the rider, and then the smooth acceleration. On top of that, count on the gear box where gears get it in as if on their own… I guess that is the experience of complete riding satisfaction. One more thing to add is the absence of a windscreen. All you get is clean air. One of the drawbacks of adventure motorcycles is their small windscreens, coupled with the upright seating position. Everything in life carries an inherent compromise. On the R nineT on speeds up to 60 or 70 mph, depending on wind speed and direction, you are riding comfortably on clean air. All you hear are the motorcycle mechanicals in action and the distinct exhaust note. Past 70mph and your chest starts pulling you back. Last weekend I went riding with friends and the maximum speed on that ride was about 70mph. I would had been fine if I were riding an R nineT on that 125 miles loop. There are trips when 70mph is the average speed, of course, and for those scenarios, you would certainly want some protection, at least to keep the wind from directly hitting your chest and pulling you back. The good thing is that this bike has an assortment of accessories and parts catalog from renowned parts makers.
Such as is the case for Wunderlich, with a nice vintage looking windshield among other parts they make for this motorcycle.
Rizoma has a full set of parts for this bike as well. Cafe Racer anyone?
And of course, there is Roland Sands, who was involved with this bike’s project, and has come up with an assortment of cool products for this bike.
Finally, BMW itself offer a few options of their own. Actually, the bike is sold as a customizable machine. You can easily remove the rear sub-frame, for example.
That is, you can find a windshield to your liking, if you will take it on longer rides and get a proper rear view mirror for it as well (more on the mirror later). You can make this bike your own by customizing it to your liking with off the shelve tastefully designed parts.
Back to my test ride of the R nineT, one other design item I would like to point out is how this bike carries a theme, throughout any visible component, it seems. A theme that merges the BMW industrial look of the last decade with something more artistic, I would venture saying.
The theme of the dashboard is transferred to the tank, the seat, and many other parts of the bike. However, it never quite repeats itself, the shapes are all different across different parts with different materials, there is a clear theme across them, however. It is like when riding this motorcycle, it has the ergos, the motor, the gear box and the exhaust in total harmony. So is the bike’s design, carrying an interesting harmony on itself. That, to me, is one key attractive element about this bike. If I had to pick one word to describe this bike, it would be harmonious. There isn’t an odd element to it.
Although it has the air/oil cooled motor of the 2014 R1200R (1170cc, 110bhp @ 7550 RPM), this bike is a roadster of its own. In fact, after coming back from my ride I took a second look at a 2014 R1200R that was on the show room and all of a sudden the R1200R looked clunky and out of place. My perspective had been transformed by spending quality time with the R nineT.
First issue is that 1st and 2nd gear are close to each other and then there is a gap to 3rd gear. I actually liked where second gear is for it makes for nice 2nd gear uphill hairpins, it puts you in the meat of the torque with plenty of range left for accelerating out of the apex before moving to 3rd gear. You will learn on those times when you are short-shifting, you will likely consider carrying second gear a bit further before getting to third. Not a big deal.
As a second issue, although this bike is very svelte at the seat and feet position, the foot pegs are exactly on the way my feet would be hitting the ground. So you get this annoying sensation of foot pegs hitting the chins. To solve it I made sure I placed my foot forward from the pegs and rested my calf on the foot peg, letting its spring move the peg backwards if I needed more direct connection to the ground. Your mileage may vary. For example, if you have longer legs, you should be fine with more options to place your feet on the ground at stops and this would not be an issue. For my 31 inch inseam, this became a small but obvious annoyance at every stop.
The third issue is the suspension. It works great at the regular speeds, and I actually did not have any problems with riding this bike on those roads in the wine country. But once you push it harder, the bike feels less planted. I’m not sure this bike is meant to be ridden fast, and even if that was the case, it would not be my intention, if I owned this bike. I would avoid taking it out of the nice sweet spot of performance it offers, running the gears in the 4-6k range. Having said that, if higher performance is demanded, a suspension upgrade can be made. I do not consider it a show stopper. I would even keep it stock if I bought it.
The fourth issue are the mirrors. They really do not give you much of a rear view. No problems, though, as you can get plenty of options on the catalog of accessories from Rizoma, RSD and others with products that will take care of this issue with style.
The question is: Would I buy this motorcycle? As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been on the market for an urban motorcycle. Something that is easy to saddle up to run city errands and perhaps to take on short trips to the wineries around town, maybe a stretch to the ocean or the mountains every now and then. All my bikes are tall adventure styled bikes, not necessarily ideal for doing my short weekend rounds. My options to fill this gap have been the Triumph Bonneville, the Moto Guzzi V7, and lately my attention has been directed at the Scrambler Ducati. Remember when I mentioned “obfuscation” at the beginning of this post? Now the BMW R nineT has been filed as prominent candidate on my short list.
There are a few items that go in favor of the R nineT as my choice for local rides. Number one is its size. It carries enough weight to offer a steady ride without compromising my sought after urban nimbleness, allowing it to be comfortable on short but also on longer journeys and has plenty of power for that. Also, there has been talk about this motor being discontinued once European legislation is implemented in 2016. The R1200GS has had the liquid cooled motor since 2013, the R1200R has the liquid cooled motor for its 2015 model year. Will the R nineT be forced to go the same route? If that would be the case, perhaps 2016 would be the last model of this bike as we know it. If that happens the air/oil cooled RnineT would become an instant classic. If that is the case, I would want to make sure I get an air cooled version of this bike before the door closes behind it.
Unlike other BMW designs, which on their whole are sort of Bauhaus as in they have a function or a job, be it touring, sports or adventure, this bike has none of that. It is there for the fun of riding, pure and simple. And it delivers fun in spades. The question is: isn’t there something else in the market that would deliver similar fun costing sensibly less? That is the one item running against it in my book, especially considering I’m also looking at upgrading a couple of my other bikes.
A second point going against it are the rumors circulating on the motorcycle forums and magazines, speculating about a scrambler version of this machine. Would it be possible, considering a potential legislated European ultimatum on this motor? If it is possible, the Scrambler version would be my choice! The deal would be sealed, no questions would be asked.
Anyway, I have time to decide, I will wait and see where things go – there is a lot of movement at this end of the motorcycle segment, some of it were actually generated by the R nineT’s successful story itself. Bottom line, this is an excellent motorcycle and I can see it in my garage, sitting on the front of the line closest to the door, always ready to be my ride of choice when I don’t plan to go too far. Knowing my style, eventually I would take it on longer trips – just to enjoy it at its fullest.
That was it, my friends, thank you for reading. As a bonus for you who read this post all the way to the end, here is a video about this bike. It is from the fall of 2013, you probably have seen it already. If that is the case, it is time to see it again. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is part of BMW’s marketing campaign for this bike, staging how Ola and Roland introduced this motorcycle to people who can appreciate it, the kind of people who would be showing their own creations at Portland’s One Moto Show, for example.
A motorcycle is beyond transportation. It is something else because it connects you… with life.
Warning: In closing, here is my final advice, please read it with attention. This is the kind of motorcycle I do not recommend anyone to test ride unless they are ready for a change, have a healthy balance on their bank account, or a good credit score and, on top of that, a nice accommodating spouse. Because this bike may balance your foundations and your definition of what is fun about riding and consequently create an unbalance on your check book. Be careful or it will follow you home. I’ve actually seen it happen! You’ve been warned.