The BMW R nineT is malleable. Its shape and design can change with a few turns of a wrench, and its character changes with the drop of a knee. This well-rounded, retro-styled roadster with the charm of a café racer and the spunk of a naked will introduce BMW Motorrad to a new generation of buyers, who, until now, believed BMW bikes were sold only in pairs to married couples who ride cross-country in matching outfits.
With the R nineT, BMW is reminding those in the know--and also telling those who know no better-- about its 90 years of creative bike building. The R nineT is the newest and coolest bike in BMW’s R Series, which started in 1923 with the R32, BMW’s first production motorcycle. (Now you get the cheeky “R nineT” name.) What sets this BMW apart from its kin is its styling. It’s tidy yet complex. Compact yet fluid. Macho yet elegant. It’s stunning, right down to its details, like its gorgeous wire-spoke wheels, the white French stitch on the outside edge of its shapely leather seat, the brushed-aluminum inserts on its gas tank, and its anteater-noise air intake.
People see this thing, remark on its beauty, and then, without fail, start telling you how they’d customize it. “I’d kill the rear light assembly, put on drop mirrors, and then buy some flush front turn signals,” said one guy in a Chipotle parking lot. It’s like he felt compelled to do so, and that’s exactly what BMW wants. When BMW started building the R nineT, customer customization was at the top of its priority list. The R nineT has a modular frame, meaning the bike can go from a two-passenger roadster to a one-passenger bobber by removing just eight bolts. The motorcycle’s engine wiring harness and the wiring harness for general systems were kept separate, meaning no tangled mess of wires when someone goes to swap out the headlight. And BMW pre-drilled holes on the side of the bike to help along people who want to replace the clunky rear taillight assembly with a smaller, stealthier, side-mounted aftermarket option, which made our pal in the Chipotle lot pretty happy. It’s a carefully crafted, well-engineered machine, this.
The BMW R nineT has a 1,170-cc, air- and oil-cooled, two-cylinder engine that produces 110 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque. It’s a boxer engine, so the two cylinders are opposed, positioned parallel to the ground. See those two, huge humps coming out of the sides of the bike? Those are the engine’s heads. The pistons move left and right, not up and down like most, and that makes the R nineT shimmy side to side ever so slightly at stoplights, but the engine smoothes out when you start moving. Almost 80 percent of the engine’s torque is available at just 2,500 rpm, and all that grunt goes to the rear wheel through a 6-speed gearbox and a driveshaft. Get your launch right, and the R nineT will hit 60 mph in about 3.6 seconds.
The motorcycle is docile and easy to toss around. It has a big engine, sure, but that engine is squeezed into a petite frame. At just under 500 pounds, it’s not svelte, but the R nineT doesn’t push through corners like a true porker, and instead dives into them with confidence. The R nineT’s gas tank is wide and dimpled and easy for your knees to hug when you slide off the seat and whip into a turn.
During spirited riding it’s best to keep the engine on boil and high in the rev range, but the opposed-twin has enough low-end power to pull the bike out of even the slowest corners quickly if you miss a downshift. Roll off the throttle and squeeze the lever for the big, ABS-equipped Brembo brakes, and a hearty blat, blat, blat shoots from the double-barrel exhaust. We went faster and leaned harder into every turn, wondering if we’d eventually get low enough to smack one of the engine’s heads against the pavement. (We didn’t, only because scraping the outer edge of the foot brake along the ground scared us straight.)
Starting at about $15,000, the BMW R nineT isn't cheap. While it’s a bike the masses may not line up to buy, it’s built with the masses in mind. The R nineT nods to its heritage, showcases new technologies in a timeless package, and challenges people’s imaginations. It’s as comfortable cutting it up on back roads as it is getting gawked at in parking lots, and people appreciate its grace and power even when they’re not the one hanging on its handlebars. And most importantly, no one riding a BMW R nineT thinks matching outfits are a good idea.