BMW’s released the custom bike you don’t have to customize
This bike looks good. Really, really, good. It’s one of the only bikes I’ve had in the past few months I simply can’t stop looking at, and it’s left me feeling perplexed.
I’ve often been critical of the café racer/scrambler movement. Unfairly so, I might add. The scene simply wasn’t my cupa’tea, but the R nineT Racer is making me rethink this prejudice and I’m starting to realize I’ve been a bit of a knob.
The R nineT Racer is minimalist, sleek, sexy. There’s little style lines everywhere from the superb stitching on the single seat to the exposed tubular chassis resplendent in a Racer-only silver to the analogue clocks with a touch of digital thrown in for the gear position selector. Then there’s the paradox of the vintage BMW racing stripes adorning the Racer’s bodywork with a modern single sided swingarm all in the same line of sight.
The Racer sports a massive vintage headlight in the same style of the Triumphs that spawned the café racer movement 50 years ago. And it’s got the hulking great boxer twin motor sticking out either side of the chassis that signals I could be on no other motorcycle than Bavaria’s finest.
The Racer is the latest in what is becoming a very long line of R nineT models. BMW couldn’t have imagined the worldwide splash the original niner of 2014 would make—even a company as big as them couldn’t keep up with demand for the retro-themed roadster—and the advent of not just 2016’s Scrambler but also the R nineT Pure and this Racer variant has done little to slow the enthusiasm.
If BMW is in the business of selling motorcycles, they are doing a very good job of it right now.
The existence of the R nineT range goes back to the world’s motorcycle customizers. Yes, the café racers and scrambler builders. For eons, it was near sacrilege to tear apart a BMW boxer machine. Now it’s fast becoming the norm for any boxer past the age of about 10-years-old.
Yet for every boxer café racer or scrambler or bobber or whatever done right, there’s plenty done wrong. This is where BMW and their Heritage Collection of motorcycles come into the picture. The original R nineT gave you a great platform to build a custom bike, or just leave it stock. Now with the Scrambler and Racer, BMW gives you the option of buying what is essentially a custom bike done right by the manufacturer, without the need to learn how to weld.
Powered by the 1170cc, 110hp fuel injected flat-twin—an engine which is fast becoming the most used engine in the history of BMW Motorrad after seeing action in the GS, GSA, HP2, R 1200 RT, R 1200 R and now the R nineT range—the Racer tips the scales at a claimed 483lb curb, with an ultra-stretched out riding position thanks to the clip-on bars and the long gas tank.
The ride position is more racer than any current generation superbike and the rider is never less than in a three-quarter race tuck. Those with bad backs and necks need not apply.
The only refreshing aspect of the riding position is this is a clip-on handlebar motorcycle almost anyone can fit on thanks to long reach. A 6”6’ rider should have no issues with a Racer’s ride position, if anything those extra short among us may struggle to get comfortable.
It’s unlikely you’ll be spending a large portion of time on a Racer, anyway. My honest feeling is 40 minutes, tops, is all I can handle with that ride position.
Rolling on a Racer, it’s hard to avoid the feeling of that massive motor pulling the bike into the tarmac. The Racer feels far from light, especially when you fold up the side stand and start moving. But the weight matters not, because the Racer is beautifully balanced and carves through corners with an ease I admit to being surprised by.
This machine uses the same unadjustable, conventional forks as the Scrambler. Those same horribly damped forks that were the big black mark against an otherwise lovely machine, in Racer form the forks work rather well. They still don’t have much in the way of high speed compression, err, comfort… but average size road bumps at speed and under braking doesn’t upset this bike nearly as much as the Scrambler with the same set up. Strange, don’t you think?
The back-end is not what I’d call supremely comfortable, especially with the tiny seat that makes anyone’s butt look big, but the rear suspension does handle most roads well and does a good job of soaking up road corrugations without transmitting a large shock to the rider.
The one constant between all the R nineT models is the 1170cc flat-twin, and I’ve ridden more bikes with this very engine than I care to remember. It’s simply an excellent design—air and oil-cooled, it is the last of its kind because by 2013, the GS was water-cooled and BMW needed to find a new home for its aging powerplant. Turns out they had the perfect place in the retro R nineT range…
I’ve become so used to this motor that it took a friend of mine to remind me of one excellent trait it possesses. The click into first gear is barely noticeable, and the rest of the gearbox action is similarly brilliant. It’s such a gentle knock from neutral to first that sometimes it’s hard to notice the shift has occurred at all, and is a testament to how good a job BMW engineers did on this gearbox all those years ago.
The engine itself has plenty of torque down low but it does run out rather quickly. The motor doesn’t like to be revved hard. Simply roll on the gas in a higher than normal gear and let the motor do the work. It’s mounted low and lazy in the chassis and that’s just how it likes to behave in the power delivery—just relax and enjoy the ride—until you get off with a sore back.
The R nineT Racer does come with ABS and there is Automatic Stability Control (ASC) as an option, but essentially the R nineT Racer is about as stripped back a BMW as you’re ever likely to see.
The engineers, designers and marketers at BMW Motorrad have done a stupendous job of tapping into the custom market and made their mark without decimating it. Once a sub-culture is taken over by the mainstream, it isn’t cool anymore, right? Not necessarily in this case. The R nineT Racer is a bike that even if you don’t want to ride, you’ll at least want to look at. That’s not enough to buy one but I have a feeling BMW will sell plenty of these things so you’ll still be able to get an eyeful every Sunday down at your local café.
2017 BMW R nineT Racer
Engine: Boxer twin
Power: 110hp @ 7750rpm (claimed)
Torque: 86lb-ft @ 6000rpm (claimed)
Bore x stroke: 101 x 73mm
Compression ratio: 12.0:1
Chassis: Tubular space frame in steel, engine self-supporting
Front suspension: 43mm conventional fork.
Wheel travel: 4.9 in
Rear suspension: Single shock absorber operated by BMW Paralever
Wheel travel: 4.7 in
Front brake: Brembo four piston caliper, 320mm disc. ABS
Rear brake: Brembo single piston, fixed caliper, 265mm disc. ABS
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear tire: 180/55 ZR17
Steering head angle: 63.6°
Seat height: 31.7in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5gal
Weight: 485 lb (curb, claimed).
Color: BMW Motorsport