Published on August 17th, 2014 | by Boris
2014 BMW R nineT REVIEW – CAFE GRACER
My thanks as always to Nick Edards at Half Light Photography for the killer riding shots.
I remember first seeing this R nineT at the last Sydney Motorcycle Expo and thinking, “Gee, that’s a sexy thing, that.”
I think Miles, BMW’s overly-energetic marketing director, was standing nearby reading my thoughts.
“How good’s that?” he smiled.
“It’s a knockout,” I replied.
It felt kinda strange to be standing on the BMW stand discussing motorcycle aesthetics, but it’s a funny old world. And in this funny old world, a company renowned for almost always choosing function over form, BMW has created the RnineT. And in doing so, built one of the prettiest bikes on the market.
I was very keen to ride one. I have long been a fan of how the Germans set about igniting my motorcycling touch-paper. They already build the World’s Best Bike (WBB) in the GS, and their guided-missile-like S1000RR is still the current benchmark for sportsbikes.
But the R nineT was somewhat of a departure for them. This was as much a 90th birthday celebration as it was a design aimed at what BMW sees as a burgeoning new market – a market where looks are possibly more important that works .
And that is a world I know very well.
I can point to a veritable highway littered with half-arsed and full-arsed customisation exercises that lies in my wake. At some stage, I have had a crack at everything in my garage – from Suzuki Katanas, to shaft-driven Kwakas, and hate-souled Shovelheads and less-hatey Evos; and all completed with varying degrees of success and madness. But always with a song in my heart and consummate bravery in my soul.
Eventually, one of the R nineTs trickled its way down to me, and at the end of my three weeks, I was enlightened.
It is, to my eye, a stunning-looking bike. But it is meant to be personalised to the individual rider. BMW built it that way. The tubular steel frame uses the engine as a load-bearing component and comes in two bits. The front bit with an integral steering-head and the back bit, which is a pillion subframe mounted to the swingarm. This back piece is removable and you can make it a single-seater and your girlfriend can follow you around in a cab, if that’s how you wanna roll. The exhaust (exiting on the left-hand-side of the bike), which BMW will happily replace with a full titanium Akrapovic system if you nod your head at the time of purchase, can, with the installation of either a long or short connecting pipe, be mounted high or low.
I do not know how easy this is to do, since I didn’t do it, but it’s nice to have such an option direct from the factory.
Want some more scope?
Here ya go.
The rear-axle housing is pre-drilled with three holes, so you can mount a number-plate and a tail-light and throw everything behind your arse into the bin. You can even stick on a fatter 17-inch rear hoop and send monster roosts of water into the back of your head like a true believer when it rains.
I didn’t do any of that, either. But once again, the options are welcome.
But what about function?
It’s a BMW, stupid.
The front-end is straight off the S1000RR. But it’s not adjustable – and that’s just fine. The back is for pre-load and dampening. That’s it. In fact, you’ll note that the R nineT has nothing at all to assist you along your way apart from the ABS. There are no engine modes, no traction control, and no heated grips. It’s bare, raw and actually quite refreshing in that guise.
The engine, which produces an eager 110bhp and 87-foot-pounds of torque, sounds meatier than every other stock Boxer twin I’ve ridden, and delivers its power in quite surprising shovel-loads. It goes harder than you think it might. After all, it’s only a couple of horses down from the original Fireblade, and it’s a twin, so it knows how to grunt it out at you.
It steers pin-sharp and fairly fast, but its rock steady and confidence-inspiring when banked over. It’s smooth (even if you’re not) when you have it on the pipe, the red-mist is in your eyes, and you’re hunting bastards down on your favourite twisties. Just pick a nice gear and leave it there when you’re in the bends – the throttle-response is crisp and all the torque was where I like my torque to be when I’m discovering how fast I’m really not able to go. Once again, BMW has created a bike that is easy to ride at a pace.
But there is one thing that drove me mad. And I understand that perhaps this was a madness I needed to be driven to in order to evolve the R nineT into its final form. So I am not saying this like it’s a bad thing, and it may not even be a problem for you. It was never a problem for me when I was masquerading as a zesty German Großherzog lashing his sehr hübsche Beh-em-veh motorrad through the Bavarian alps. It was only a problem when I was being Borrie-going-to-and-from work.
The seating ergos and I just did not find a viable working solution. Either the footpegs need to be further back (they are in a straight vertical line down from my genitals), or the handlebars need to be higher or further forward or clip-ons for there to be comfort in that world for me. Sure, the seat is a thinly-padded spanking paddle without any of the luscious glute-love BMW offers on its other bikes, but I can step past that and do more squats in the gym until my arse toughens its bitch up. The issue for me was the actual riding position when I was waddling around town or doing long, boring stretches of road.
But hopping from café to café, with white bits of foam collecting in the corners of your mouth and your eyes shining with feral road-lust – no problem. Let’s rock’n’roll.
If the R nineT was mine I would change that riding position. And while changing it, I would still gaze rapturously at the R nineT. For it is a thing of special beauty. But I would keep searching for a seating solution it until I went mad or found something that worked. You, being shaped different to me, might not have this problem.
But it’s this whole customisation thing that makes the R nineT so unique. You’re meant to fool with it. It’s in the rules.
Yea verily, thou must and shalt customise all motorcycles. For that is the way and the truth and the light.
I have sawed at enough Harleys and Jap bikes to understand how glorious such an exercise can be. Much more so than just sticking on an aftermarket can and some fancy mirrors. I can also attest to the fact that it can send your soul screaming into Hell, especially if one takes this bike customisation business into the Full Retard zone.
Is that what you should be doing with the R nineT?
Why the hell not?
Jesus hates a pussy.
SECOND OPINION BY AL
“I don’t like it”, said the girl-child when we stopped a hundred and fifty kilometres out of town and sat down to some fresh baked pies.
“Why?” I asked.
“The pedals are too high”, she said. “It hurts my legs. The seat is too small. It hurts my butt. There’s nothing to hold on to.” She paused, and considered the up-side. “It’s a nice colour, though. And it sounds nice. But even so, meh.”
She has some valid points. It’s a strange bike, the R nineT. BMW traditionally was all about delivering the rider long distances in comfort with the minimum of fuss. Often with a friend, and some luggage. Now that everyone knows that, they’ve gone for the hipster market.
Personally, I think it’s weird. Those Telelever forks BMW make are probably the best telescopic forks ever, so they’ve put conventional upside-down types on instead. They’ve put wire spoke rims with tube-type tyres on it, even though other model BMWs have wire spoke rims that take tubeless tyres. The R1200s have a great seat on them, so they’ve taken it off and replaced it with a plank. The rear mudguard has no valence, and looks home-made.
The part of the BMW web site devoted to the R nineT (get it?) speaks of “great options for individualisation” and “pure riding pleasure” and “the classic enthusiast”. “Design your motorcycle, design your life”, it proclaims. “One name, one purist lifestyle.”
The idea, apparently, is that a touch under $21,000 buys you a blank canvas, and you then accessorise, thus building the purist lifestyle. BMW offer a seat that’s not a plank, a café-racer style seat hump, rubber knee-pads for the fuel tank, LED turn signals, an Akrapovič muffler and various carbon-fibre plastic covers.
I don’t put much store in the appearance of a motorcycle. Form should follow function is my belief. Visually, I think the R nineT looks handsome enough, except for that skinny seat, which looks a bit low rent. I’m more interested in what it’s like to ride.
And it’s a hoot. For the first hundred or so kilometres, anyway.
It’s a low bike, with a low centre of gravity. BMW are very keen on a low centre of gravity. They’ve been building boxer twins since 1923. When they first went four-cylinder with the K bikes, they put the engine on its side to keep that C of G low. The first Ks were heavy things, but it didn’t seem to matter that much. And the second generation of K bikes had the engine severely canted for the same reason.
The R nineT is easy to manoeuvre while parking, as it is low and only weighs 220kg wet. It shakes a bit at idle, like a 1200cc twin should. Blipping the throttle gives a sharper response than I remember on the old R1200R, and more torque reaction. I reckon they’ve cut the flywheel weight.
It’s the old air/oil cooled boxer motor, not the new water-cooled one. Chosen, I guess, for its looks. It has great punch off idle, and it revs very quickly for a big twin. The shakes disappear around 2,000 rpm. It doesn’t sound like a BMW and the stock exhaust is quite loud.
I didn’t enjoy heavy traffic on the R nineT. It has a steering damper, and I found it difficult to place the bike accurately while lane filtering. It has stylish skinny mirrors, and I had big blind spots. But in light traffic, it’s great fun. The motor is punchy, and the steering is light, thanks to a 25.5 degree steering head angle. Getting out of town, you roll the throttle on in tunnels to hear that exhaust note bounce off the walls.
Oh, and it crackles on over-run. Not much, but it does. That can’t be an accident. I reckon BMW have engineered a lean condition into the fuel map on over-run to let just enough unburned mixture into the pipe to make it pop a few times when you back off.
It’s comfortable enough at first. The handlebars are wide and closer to you than on the R1200R. The four-piston Brembo radial caliper front brakes are powerful if a little grabby at walking speeds.
It has self-cancelling turn signals. All bikes should.
The instruments are conventional dials with needles to keep those of the purist lifestyle happy, with an LCD panel between them. The panel has an odometer, two tripmeters, a clock, a gear position indicator, two fuel consumption indicators (now and average) and a number that I couldn’t work out. When I picked up the bike, it said “54”. I took a long gentle ride with the girl-child on the back and it went up to 55, and then 56. Then I rode around by myself for a while and it went back down to 54. Damned if I know.
BMW transmissions felt a bit agricultural a decade ago. Not anymore. Shifting is slick, silent and effortless.
The front fork has no adjustability, but the front suspension felt good, so I am obviously the weight BMW thinks I should be. The rear shock has a remote preload adjusting wheel which I used half way through the pillion ride. It needed a little more rebound damping as well, but that required a screwdriver, which I didn’t have. I gave it half a turn extra when I got home. It was better.
Despite the basic suspension, it corners well. The stiff chassis and forks make it pretty stable, and the steering angle and low centre of gravity make it easy to change direction.
After a hundred or so kilometres, the seat starts to bite. Also, the ‘bars should be a bit further forward, and the footpegs should be a bit further back. After three hundred or so kilometres, the fuel light comes on, at which time you have three litres left.
I’m not sure I’d want to take the R nineT that far out of town on a regular basis. A puncture would ruin your day even if you carried a spare tube, tyre levers and tools. It wouldn’t help that the R nineT has no centrestand. The words I use when removing a wheel from a motorcycle with no centrestand can lift paint.
It seems to have hit its target market, though. It is rumoured that BMW already have orders for the entire 2014 production run. The model has its own web forum at www.ninetowners.com. The highest number of posts in the Tech section are under two headings: Appearance and Body and Accessories and Gear. There are many threads about wheels and tyres. The pleasures of repairing punctures in tubed tyres are discussed. The classic enthusiasts understand.
I still think it’s weird. It must be my undesigned lifestyle.
WHAT BMW IS HAPPY TO OFFER YOU AS A STARTING POINT
- Tank rucksack with attachment system.
- Rear bag with attachment system.
- Kneepads for tank sides.
- Aluminium tail cover with padded backrest.
- Custom rider’s seat with RnineT logo.
- Comfort rear seat.
- HP Carbon cover for engine block.
- HP Carbon front mudguard.
- Titanium Akrapović exhaust system.
- Connector pipe, long, with bracket and cover for Akrapović silencer, high-mounted.
- Connector pipe, short, for Akrapović silencer, low-mounted.
- Mount for standard Akrapović silencer or accessory rear silencer (low-mounted), if pillion seat is removed.
- Anti-theft alarm system.
- Heated grips.
- LED indicators.
- Mounting cradle for BMW Navigator, with connection to electrical system.