One could take two approaches to understanding what BMW has done to the R nineT to give us the 2017 BMW R nineT Racer. The glass half-empty crowd will talk about the components that fell away to help keep the Racer’s price down. The glass half-full perspective would stress the cool new additions to the platform that resulted in the Racer.

I’ve been of two minds ever since I first saw photos of the Racer’s swoopy, retro fairing last October. Visually, the motorcycle pushes my buttons, much in the way that the optional fairing equipped Triumph Thruxton R did when it was released. However, I have to admit that I am puzzled at how BMW could grace this R nineT with the name Racer while simultaneously removing some of its performance parts. Would helping to ease the entry cost of such a stylish motorcycle make up for the loss of a degree of sportiness? Well, after taking a nice, long sip, I think the BMW R nineT Racer is pretty tasty.

2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler First Ride Review

2017 BMW R NineT Urban G/S Preview

2017 BMW R NineT Pure And R NineT Racer Previews

BMW has taken the R nineT line and broken it down into two groups. The first is the line’s flagship, the R nineT, a bike that has experienced success that surprised even its designers. Being the line’s flagship, BMW wants to make sure it remains the top dog of the line – both in price and perceived value. So, it sports the fanciest componentry.

Next comes what BMW calls the R nineT derivatives which are the factory version of some of the many customizing options for which the nineT was supposed to be the blank canvas. To date, we’ve got the R nineT Scrambler, the R nineT Pure, and the R nineT Racer. Later this year, we’ll also see the R nineT Urban GS. Each of these variants reflects the beauty and the flexibility of the nineT’s modular design.

2017 BMW R nineT Racer

No mechanical changes were made to the R nineT engine for the Racer.

All of the nineTs utilize the same air/oil-cooled 1170cc Boxer-Twin in the same mechanical state of tune. Naturally, since different exhausts will require slightly different EFI tuning, there will be some variation in order to meet EPA regulations. Otherwise, the 1200 delivers the mountains of torque we’ve experienced in our previous nineT tests where it twisted out 76.1 lb-ft of torque and 101.5 hp on the MotoGP Werks dyno.

Retro Roadster Comparo + Video

Bolted to the engine, the trellis frame serves as the leaping off point for all the variants. There are three rear subframe permutations for the differing seating accommodations. For example, the Pure and Scrambler both come with a dual saddle as standard, so the subframe that holds the dual saddle and passenger footpeg mounts is also included. The Racer, on the other hand, with its solo saddle and speed hump doesn’t require the hardware associated with passengers.

I also got a very brief ride aboard the R nineT Pure, which is essentially the same bike as the Racer but with higher handlebars and less rear-set pegs. Oh, and no fairing or tachometer.

2017 BMW R nineT Racer

The note from the 2-into-1 exhaust is smile-inducing. The Boxer’s power delivery is robust, though vibration becomes apparent above 5,000 rpm.

Quite a few other changes separate the R nineT from its derivatives – all of which were made in the name of cost savings. The derivative tank is painted steel rather than brushed aluminum. Cast wheels replace the spoked ones. A traditional telescopic fork replaces the gold inverted one. Radial-mounted monoblock calipers are exchanged for lower-spec four-piston Brembo units. All nineT derivatives except the Racer do without a tachometer. For those who absolutely must have the omitted items, many – but not all – are available as factory options at the time of purchase. For example, those who want the original nineT’s sexy fork will need to resort to their own devices.

The Racer is all about the bikini fairing. Although one might think that it would add a bunch of weight to the bike, the removal of the passenger accommodations means that the Racer owner only pays a 2-lb. weight penalty. For those who are interested, BMW claims the Racer tips the scales to 485 lb. ready to ride. Not bad for 1170cc of torque-cranking displacement.

2017 BMW R nineT Racer

No, the calipers aren’t radial-mounted, but the Brembos do a perfectly adequate job at scrubbing off speed. The same can be said of the Metzeler Roadtec tires, which are more than up to the task, offering nary a twitch nor a wiggle in two days of spirited riding.

The Racer’s riding position is decidedly old-school sporty that is highlighted by the looooong reach to the clip-ons. If you’re a rider whose experience with sporting machinery consists solely of bikes in the post-R1 era where cockpits are compact spaces from which to scythe apexes, you’re in for a shock with the Racer which sets the rider’s upper body in a position reminiscent of the period when Gixxer 1100s roamed the earth. The swoopy lines that make the Racer so visually captivating owes much to the cafe-racer era with the rider stretched out over a long tank in search of less wind resistance.

The good news is that when on the highway or on a winding road at a sporting pace the wind blast helps hold the rider up, taking the strain off the rider’s wrists. At around town speeds, though, the wrists take the brunt of the load while your core gets a workout. Once on the open road these sins are forgiven as the rider muscles the bike through corner after corner. Muscle is the operative word, too. The stubby clip-ons don’t offer huge amounts of leverage. So, if you want the Racer to turn quickly, you have to deliver firm inputs. All of this is fine at speed, but the lack of leverage can make the Racer feel ponderous in parking-lot maneuvers.

2017 BMW R nineT Racer

Although the pegs are slightly rear-set compared to the standard nineT, the height of the pegs rotates the rider’s pelvis rearward, making the angle the lower back must bend in the reach for the clip-ons more acute. Shifting the pegs a little further rearward would alleviate this issue.

However, get the Racer in a series of high-speed sweepers, and it clearly finds its happy place. The engine thrums out of its 2-into–1 exhaust. The suspension works quite well until the pavement gets too choppy where it begins to transfer some harshness to the rider. The defining characteristic of the Racer at speed is stability. Dial in the desired angle of lean and the Racer happily carves its way through the bend.

So, what about those R nineT derivative compromises? The front suspension was more than up to the task for everything I asked of it. At street-reasonable speeds on decent pavement, the only time you’ll truly miss the gold anodized inverted fork is when you’re walking towards the Racer in a parking lot – or rolling into a bike spot in front of other riders. Similarly, while radial-mount, four-piston monoblock calipers offer more bite and better feel, the four-piston Brembos on the Racer do an admirable job of scrubbing speed. Yes, we all want the best components on our motorcycles, but when you really consider it, having pretty dang good ones doesn’t feel like much of a compromise on the open road.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at what Tom “Photo Boy” Roderick wrote after a couple hours riding the Racer in front of my camera: “In my mind’s eye – while sweeping through corners, gaining elevation on Angeles Crest Highway – I was Mike Hailwood navigating the mountain section on the Isle of Man. The R nineT Racer is a true modern period piece, and none-too-recently have I felt cooler riding another motorcycle.”

2017 BMW R nineT Racer

Well, hello, you sexy thing.

The 2017 BMW R nineT Racer makes a hell of a first date, letting you know right away the level of commitment it expects from you. Stylistically, it hits all the right notes for a fully modern, retro-inspired café-ed roadster. Performance is in line with its looks, too. While it’s not cutting edge, the Racer excels in streetable fun and would be a hoot at the occasional track day, too. In my mind, BMW made the right compromises to keep the price lower than the standard R nineT – although finding a Racer at the base MSRP of $13,295 will be just about impossible. (The price as tested of our sample unit is $14,440 thanks to optional heated grips and Automatic Stability Control (traction control).) The 2017 BMW R nineT Racer is in dealerships now.

2017 BMW R nineT Racer
+ Highs

  • Sexy retro looks
  • Well matched engine and suspension
  • Good brakes don’t have to be radial-mounted
– Sighs

  • Authentic café-racer riding position, complete with sore wrists
  • Narrow clip-ons require effort for quick turns
  • Would be nicer if its rear-sets were more rear set

 

2017 BMW R nineT Racer Specifications
MSRP $13295 ($14,440.00 as tested)
Engine Type 1170cc air-cooled opposed-Twin
Bore and Stroke 101mm x 73mm
Compression Ratio 12.0:1
Valve Train DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel System EFI
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Shaft
Front Suspension 43 mm telescopic fork
Rear Suspension Monoshock, spring preload, rebound adjustability, 4.7 inches of travel
Front Brake Dual, four-piston calipers, 320mm discs, ABS
Rear Brake Single caliper, 265mm disc, ABS
Front Tire 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire 180/55 ZR 17
Rake/Trail 26.4 deg/4.1 in
Wheelbase 58.7 in.
Seat Height 31.7 in.
Curb Weight 485 lbs (claimed), fully fuelled
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal.
Colors Light White

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  • JMDGT

    The nits picked are exactly the right ones. If you want a cafe racer that’s what you get. I love this platform as I am a fan of the boxer engine. I would like to add a RnineT to the collection. Not this racer. The Thruxton R looks to be more rideable. I’d take the Thruxton before this bike. That’s just me. I still like it though. Nice review.

    • spiff

      The Thruxton is the bench mark in it’s class.

      • Proheli

        And the Thruxton has a top spec option. They should have called this one the Cafe Crawler. I do think its cool. I read one time about the only thing you can really do to make the consumer unhappy is to tell them you are going to give them something and then not give it to them. Here we see a perfect example of this idea.

        • Max Wellian

          I have a Thruxton (non R) and it’s damn good as it is. Personally, all the fancy gold bits are so much bling. The bike simply isn’t fast enough (especially on the street) to need top spec racing brakes. And the suspension is so unduly complex, it requires a shop to adjust it. And it is an absolute brick as it comes out of the factory.
          The BMW doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t have enough racing hardware on it, it bugs me because the ergonomics for me were just awful. Where I feel like a snug bug in a rug on my Thruxton, I feel more like someone enduring punishment on a torture rack on that particular Beemer.

          • Proheli

            Max, even if I agreed with you, we’d still have to change the name to the Cafe-Almost-Racer. Or, the Cafe-don’t-actually-ride-it-fast-Racer, from BMW. 🙂

            I think that BMW knows their market, and they know this is a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th bike in the stable. And that means there are two groups of buyers. 1. Guys that for what ever reason aren’t ever really going to push the pace, so the way this bike sits is just fine and dandy, and 2. The guys that Are going to push the pace, and hang tight with their sport bike buddies for a few corners. These owners will put a few grand into the bike, fork cartridges, farkles, a slip-on, etc. They already know enough about motorcycles to know that just a little more money can make all the difference. Do I think still think they should have put a better set of forks on it to salvage their Cafe Racer moniker? Yep.

          • Born to Ride

            Fast guys are fast regardless of what they are riding. Last weekend I got walked on by a dude on an FZ07. He was so quick that despite a 20hp and 20+ft-lb deficit to my bike, he was even pulling on me in the straights due to the superior drive he was getting out of the corners. After a few hill climbs trying to catch him, I finally caught up and was astonished to find that the bike was completely stock save for a pair of Q3 tires that were completely melted to the sidewalls. I asked how he can push that hard and his response was, “yeah, it pogos a bit WOT through the sweepers” and shrugged. I’m sure he could embarrass the crap out of me or you on this “Cafe-Almost-Racer”.

          • Proheli

            Okay Okay, you guys are win. Ducati were idiots when they put nice suspension on the Sport Classic, and Triumph have no idea what the heck they are doing either, putting Ohlins on the Thruxton or new 765. i guess everyone like me who enjoys a plush ride and enjoys having great control, for enjoyments sake, when you push the pace a little bit, is just a reckless nasty egomaniac, who probably had terrible psychotic parents and schools that didn’t get him past 4th grade. Lets see, did I leave anything out?

          • Max Wellian

            They could put the best bits they could find on it and it ain’t gonna compete with a GSXR on a racetrack. People were Cafe (ur uh street) racing long before Brembo or Ohlin were a thing.
            No doubt in my mind it’ll do more than most could throw at it, particularly on the street. If they want to mod it up to boost their ego, good for them.
            But let’s get real, no one on the street is going to put near enough heat in the brakes to need race calipers and while a high dollar suspension may be marginally better than the OEM, it ain’t gonna turn Harley Half Helmet into Rossi, even if HHH had the slightest cloo how to tune it.

          • BDan75

            Got that right. If I could afford this bike (and I really wish I could), it would not be because I wanted something fast–that’s already covered. To be perfectly honest, half the pleasure of this one for me would just be looking at it in the garage, and watching other people check it out at traffic lights, etc. I’m not normally so shallow with bikes, but for some reason this one’s all about looks for me.

    • Born to Ride

      Yeah I agree, I still prefer the “flagship”. Seeing BMW at the bottom of consumer reports for reliability doesn’t inspire confidence though. I love the R nine T because it is basically the bike I’ve been wanting Ducati or Suzuki to build for a long time. Why does it have to be a BMW…

      • BDan75

        FWIW, I’m thinking your BMW reliability concerns are probably less of an issue with this bike. For one, not much in the way of electronics. Probably more importantly, the entire drivetrain was lifted from the previous gen R1200GS, which has a gazillion road miles and (I believe) a reputation for being pretty bulletproof–maybe aside from early issues with the final drive? Anyway, basic maintenance is also a snap.

      • JMDGT

        There is nothing wrong with BMW. I have two of them and have never had an issue. My roadster is a 2004. They are like any machine. Take care of them and they will take care of you. The RnineT has a great motor and shaft drive. A bonus feature to me. It’s in my top ten.

        • Born to Ride

          See the issue is there is a huge divide between happy BMW owners with countless trouble free miles, and the: “my piston rings wore out, final drive failed, and wiring harness melted down in the same week” BMW owners. I guess it’s the same thing with Ducatis and I’ve been getting along just fine for years now.

          • JMDGT

            I hear you. I have heard horror stories about every brand on the planet. Buy what you want. Buy what you like. BMW has a three year warranty. If it is a real concern buy the extended. They stand behind their bikes. When they had the issue with the adjustable suspensions on th RT they bent over backwards to make it right with anyone that bought one. I always bought Honda since high school thinking they were bullet proof. The only issue I ever had was with my VFR. It was fixed under warranty. Every mfg. has it’s share of misfortune but I am convinced any modern bike if taken care of will last a very long time. The key being regular maintenance. I need a Ducati.

          • Born to Ride

            Ducati’s are beautiful and soulful bikes. The noises they make and the response you get from the engine and chassis is unlike anything else out there. However they are not without their own gremlins. Whether it’s horrendously lean fuel mapping, an exhaust valve that ruins throttle response at certain engine RPM, or idiotic exhaust routing that make the bikes miserable to ride on a hot day. Last month I test rode the brand new monster 1200s. The bike had, without exaggeration, the worst gearbox in a modern motorcycle I’d ever experienced. The testastretta gearboxes are known to be notchy, but I could not find neutral at a stop without revving the engine, and clicked into false neutrals between 2-3, 3-4, and 4-5. In addition, the anti-wheelie nanny just completely ruins the throttle response and has to be turned off every time you get on the bike. However, the M1200R is the most dialed in, perfect out of the box motorcycle I’ve ever swung a leg over. Within 15 seconds I felt like I had been riding the thing my whole life. More electronics does not equal more bike. YMMV

          • JMDGT

            I am waiting for my local dealer to get the Street Triple RS they plan on using as a demo. They already have a new demo SuperSport. I plan on riding both bikes. Test rides in my opinion only accomplish so much. It helps to know someone that has one since long term testing is out of the question. I’d like to have each bike for at least a week but that’s not going to happen. I would like to own both of these bikes. I’d also like to have an Africa Twin manual shift version. If I end up being able to buy these machines that will give me possession of at least one bike made by my favorite manufacturers. The icing on the cake will be a Tuono. It is a must have bike. I hope to get it last. The SuperSport purrs like a kitten even with the stock exhaust. Ride safe.

    • Craig Hoffman

      A friend has a Thruxton R and it is an interesting bike. The front end is overkill and the brakes are insane given the performance parameters of the chassis and engine. The R is the first bike I have ever ridden where I got off and thought the brakes were way too sensitive and powerful. Even using 1 finger, on the lever, the rider has to be careful.

      My main beef with the Thrux is the narrow rev range. The higher tuned “R” engine has more power than the standard one, but the effective zone of the power is narrower as the R still shuts down and 7K and does not really go to work until it is spinning well over 4K. I love the way the R looks and sounds, but suspect I would like actually enjoy riding the standard Thruxton more, as that engine is not trying so hard and just a jolly torquey parallel twin.

      This BMW looks cool and I know I would like it’s engine more than the Thruxton with it’s greater rev range and power, but the riding position likely would kill it for me. The Beemer is a cafe racer, and as sexy as that is, if I am honest with myself, I do not want a cafe racer…

      • JMDGT

        I’ll bet the engine can be tuned to non R spec with a power commander. I hope to test ride the Street Triple RS and SuperSport in the next few weeks. They have a Thruxton demo also. I need to ride that too. I am curious what the torque of the RS feels like. They describe it as a torquey motor. The R version being tuned differently is said to be the better street bike.

      • Max Wellian

        No difference between Thruxton engines. And the Thruxton is not a bike for making track power. It’s an exquisite street mill. I agree with you that all the racy bits on the R are so much overkill. Selling people more than they need is how the game is played…

        • Craig Hoffman

          The thing I like with the Thrux (and I am sure this BMW) is the solid punting forward rear ended by a bus sensation from all that torque when an upshift is made 😉

          • Max Wellian

            That’s precisely where the Thruxton shines. Up to 4k+ rpm it is butter smooth. You can toss it in a corner with reckless abandon in a gear higher than you’d think it should be and just roll on the power for a perfect cut.
            It is about as good as any bike on the backroads I’ve ever ridden. That said, while running up to 7k rpm does buy the bike some additional power, it’s more buzz than go. And sans wind protection, running over 90 mph ain’t too pleasant either.
            If one likes the soothing thrum of a twin and sporty street riding, these things are great and great to look at. If one is looking to set a track on fire, I’d look elsewhere.

  • Mahatma

    We’ve been holding our breath for this one!

  • Old MOron

    Saw one of these on the road last week. They are handsome bikes.
    Good review, T-rod.

    • spiff

      Evans is hurt right now.

      • Old MOron

        Doh! Uh, great review, Evans.

        • Old MOron

          PS: Based on his jacket, I thought the guy guy in the pictures was T-rod. And now that I see Evans is credited as the photographer, it probably is T-rod in the pictures – unless Thai Long Lee was pressed into modeling duty again.

  • Patriot159

    There is a boatload of super cool bikes available now, esp. from the Euro mfgs. BUT, as I approach 60 yrs. old, comfort is a priority making this rendition not so desirable. It is ‘bang tidy’ though!