I’m jaded. Not too many motorcycles really pique my interest these days longer than a few minutes as I pour over the specs and study the lines and shapes to see where the designers got it right and where they got it wrong. Sure, there are the exceptions, the marvelously weird and wicked examples such as the 1290 Super Duke R, but I would never own it. In fact, with access to so many bikes, I’ve found it hard to see myself signing on the bottom line for any recently produced motorcycle. Until now. The 2014 BMW R nineT has grabbed ahold of me and won’t let go.
Unveiled last October, the R nineT is a stripped-down and classy rendition that pays homage to BMW’s 90th anniversary. It bears resemblance to R models gone-by and is a modern take on what a riding motorcycle is in its simplest form. No need for traction control and ride modes here. But don’t call it retro, BMW’s designers prefer to think of it as a modern classic that is ripe for customization. It all sounds like the marketing gurus have got to me, I know. But one look and one ride and you’ll know they got it right.
The R nineT’s presentation to the U.S. media was made at BMW’s DesignworksUSA campus in Southern California, and was it quite different than the usual BMW pre-ride briefing. Usually there are hours of technical specs, charts and graphs highlighting the latest bits of innovation and evolution. This time, however Ola Stengard, BMW Motorrrad’s Head of Vehicle Design, took the floor first. He went on to speak to the look and feel of the nineT, and why it is unlike other models in BMW’s lineup. The simplest way of explaining the nineT is as a reversal of the maxim “form follows function,” with the bike being styled to look good before engineers made it perform well.
And it is a looker. Right off the bat, the beautifully-styled aluminum tank, painted black with brushed knee panels, catches your eye. Usually the closer you look at modern motorcycles the details are not that appealing, but here the details hold your attention. The triple-clamps, front fender stays, headlight hanger and rear shock preload knob are all forged aluminum pieces rather than cast. Bits like the rear shock preload adjuster further impress. The reflector of the traditionally round headlight has even been penned masterfully. Only the charcoal canister parallel to the rear shock and the exhaust power valve are lackluster. Whether the gold anodizing on the front fork was a good choice became a much debated topic within our group of editors; I am on the side of thumbs up.
Sitting on the flat two-piece seat, reach to the ground is easy. Moving feet onto the pegs, the bend of your legs is comfortable and slightly sporty. The wide aluminum bar is set back just enough to give you a slight lean forward. The Spartan switchgear is easy to reach and has a familiar BMW touch.
The older air-cooled Boxer engine springs to life quickly and has a more muscular rumble from the twin Akrapovic-built mufflers than the tin-like tone of GS models. Twist the throttle and the note is excellent throughout the rev range with a nice pop and gurgle on decel.
Power output from the 1170cc Boxer Twin is rated by BMW at 110 horsepower and 88 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t a massive amount considering the 489-pound curb weight. But it’s a joy to get the nineT up to speed with low and midrange torque that is both easy to use and satisfying. Jamming out of corners is a blast grunting through the midrange all the way to the top-end rush that begins to taper off around 8000 rpm. It’s not going to get away from you by any means, but it makes for an enjoyable ride.
Rowing through the gears is effortless with a light shift lever that never misses its mark. Every shift is precise if not too smooth; a classic-looking bike like this should have some roughness.
(Above) Whether the gold anodizing on the front fork was a good choice became a much debated topic within our group of editors; I am on the side of thumbs up. (Below) The 2014 BMW R nineT has a more muscular rumble from the twin Akrapovic-built mufflers than the tin-like tone of stock GS models.
Suspension action at the rear of the R nineT is handled by the same Paralever single-sided swingarm as the R1200GS, mated to a rear shock with preload and rebound only. Up front a down-spec S1000RR fork handles the bumps rather than the usual Boxer front-end, the Telelever. Why a non-adjustable fork rather than the tried and true Telelever? It just wouldn’t look right.
Suspension action is soft at both ends for comfort cruising through town and for moderate canyon carving. Of course, upping the aggression on less-than-perfect pavement will find you squirming and bucking at the rear while the front dives more than is optimal when on the brakes hard. The suspension fits the intended usage as a well-rounded standard rather than as a racer.
Turning effort is light with the help of the straight and wide bars, and once in the corner the ride is stable. The 17-inch Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact Tube tires match the handling capabilities of the suspension. For my 225-pound frame, two turns of rear preload helped level out the ride and sharpened the handling without adding any twitchiness. A steering damper is installed as stock, but it never felt like I needed it, perhaps because it’s doing its job seamlessly. Either way the nineT is a solid handler.
Braking performance is decent but not ideal. The four-piston radial-mount calipers have strong bite and excellent feel, but first you have to get through the first half of the front lever travel. It gives a mushy feel before the power kicks in. The rear is mushy as well, but not on the same level. The only electronic aid on the nineT is the BMW standard ABS, and it works well although the rear is a bit too intrusive for my tastes.
The ride on the nineT is great, but the time looking and studying the lines of the bike is just as satisfying. Every time I got off the motorcycle I stared at it and thought about what I would do to personalize it to my taste. And that is probably the most impressive part of the R nineT; the options are nearly endless. With just a handful of fasteners you can remove the passenger peg supports and rear seat. Café to bobber in no time. Want to take it further? BMW has a host of parts ready to rock such as exhausts, seats and a cool rear cowl. The aftermarket scene has already jumped in as well; Roland Sands Designs has billet valve covers, breast plate, headlight bezel and numerous other parts that completely transform the look of the nineT. And then there is what you can come up with in your own mind and garage.
My mind was going throughout the press ride and I was lucky enough to ride in the same group as Roland Sands himself. I told him I’d like to build a custom nineT in the style of the John Player Specials iconic 1970s F1 livery. At each stop I told him I’d do this or that. He offered to sketch it up for me (pictured above) and now I’m really hooked. I’ve already made a BMW R nineT mine, even though I don’t own one yet.
The thing about the R nineT is that it is not high-powered or sharp-edged. It’s just fun and that is the most important part of riding a motorcycle. I smiled and laughed more on the nineT than I have on any other press launch. There might not be as much adrenaline, but it is a more enjoyable experience than most any other bike out there right now. I’m seriously calculating where I can come up with $14,900. The line at the dealership just got longer by one.