The Bavarian Motor Works (aka BMW) is well known for producing some legendary machinery. It comes as no surprise then, that their Motorrad motorcycle segment carries the same reputation. It’s not a new venture however, in fact it started back in the Twenties, and both professional and backstreet builders everywhere have been customising them ever since.
So, launched in 2014, the idea behind the R nineT was to give these custom builders a blank canvas to easily chop and mould into their vision of whatever a Roadster or Cafe Racer should be. There are several design elements specially configured to allow the bike to be easily modified, like separate wiring harnesses and minimal bolts attaching the rear subframe as well as lighting units all round.
As it happens, I like BMW’s version just fine as is, and I suspect I’m not alone. In fact, dressed in the new 2019 paint schemes and parts that Motorrad calls ‘Option 719’ it’s more than fine, and an absolute beauty to look at. Our tester arrived in the two-tone black and gold, which matches perfectly with the gold front suspension. The usual Seventies era brand trademarks are still there — the big circular headlight with chrome trim, the huge fuel tank and narrow rear end. But look deeper and you’ll see a lot of hints that this bike runs on very current technology.
Suspension happens via an upside down telescopic Ohlins up front and single floating swingarm at the rear. Yes i’ts on the firmer side, but fully adjustable, and together with the rather short wheelbase this setup connects the nimble frame to the road in a way that makes cornering an exhilarating experience. It truly feels like its running on rails and begs to be thrown from side to side. Brakes are served up through ABS equipped four-pot Brembo’s (double sided on the front wheel) which is more stopping power than you’d ever likely need. They are, in short, superb.
At the heart of this bike lies an old favourite — the 1,170cc air-cooled flat twin boxer ‘oilhead’ engine, which still has the inlet manifold at the rear of the cylinders and the exhaust at the front. This has less to do with anything technical, and more for the simple reason that it just looks more old-school and it’s what the custom crowd prefers.
Being a transversely mounted power mill, there is quite a bit of sideways roll present when blipping the throttle at standstill. Thankfully, these forces aren’t felt during normal riding, and the frame maintains the line you’ve chosen when accelerating out of a curve. Torque delivery is very linear from as low as 2,000rpm all the way to 6,000rpm, with no discernible power band or surging to deal with. You’d think it all sounds very boring, but it’s exactly this kind of predictability that makes the beemer such a reassuring ride. Overtaking, even in sixth, happens effortlessly with plenty of power still left to spare and the exhaust note from Akrapovic pipes is as expected, hugely satisfying.
Riding position is always a subjective affair, and I’d say Cafe Racers by their very nature were never meant for the long haul. It’s no different here, and with the firm, minimalist seat and close fitted rear foot pegs — anything over an hour or so in the saddle becomes noticeable. The handlebars are not quite as low positioned as retro clip-ons, but still low enough to have a lot of bodyweight resting on your wrists, and the relatively thin rubber grips don’t exactly help matters in this department. Comfort actually increases with speed however, and once you cross the point where wind pressure on your chest takes some weight off your arms it’s less of an issue.
Rider controls could be described as sparse and closely-grouped, with only the basics fitted and more than a few times my thumb was searching for the indicator, only to hit the horn instead. There is also no fuel gauge present, but you do get an idiot light in the speedo / tach cluster when time comes to fill up. The lack of equipment is actually refreshing, in essence it forces you to just get on with motorcycling without too many distractions and gizmos.
There’s really not a lot to dislike about the R nineT, and besides the obvious BMW heritage and prestige it’s an amazingly fun and good looking machine. If you’re in the market for a Cafe toy this could be what you were looking for, and with no shortage of customization ideas when the mood strikes — it’s virtually future-proof.