Herr Hipster, your bike has arrived. The BMW R nineT impresses with its premium finish details and a pared profile boiled down to its essentials. Seeing the bike in pictures doesn’t do justice to the wow factor experienced when seeing it in the flesh.
The nineT is the product of influences both expected and unexpected. As the name implies, the R nineT is a bit of an homage to the 90th year since BMW’s R 32 debuted in 1923. The nineT uses a modern version of that bike’s horizontally opposed engine, here the air/oil-cooled Boxer motor from the R1200R and last year’s RT.
The R1200R is a ruthlessly practical machine that can do nearly everything. Everything but look cool. For an injection of coolness, BMW leaned on Ola Stenegard, a Swedish national who has risen to BMW Motorrad’s Head of Vehicle Design. Stenegard has a background in custom bikes (mostly Harleys and Triumphs) which gives him a design ethos different from what is typical for BMW, and it really resonates when looking at the nineT. Stenegard assisted in the design of the Lo Rider concept shown in 2008, which was a clear predecessor to the nineT.
With BMW busy cranking out new models, Stenegard says most of the work on the nineT was done “off the grid,” adding that this bike had a design team smaller than any BMW model in at least a decade. “It was hard to get the numbers behind it. It’s something I never thought we would do at BMW.”
It turns out the nineT’s numbers are working out just fine. It’s already reached sales that place it fourth in BMW’s lineup. Of particular interest, the nineT boasts the youngest average age of any BMW buyer, and it’s attracted lots of interest from people who aren’t the typical BMW customer.
“BMW is no longer ‘the bike that my father rides,’” comments Sergio Carvajal, Product Manager for Motorrad USA:
The ability to customize the nineT was a key aspect during design, creating, according to Stenegard, “a blank canvas.” For example, the wiring harness for the engine is separated from the vehicle wiring harness, which significantly eases the installation of aftermarket electrical accessory items such as headlights, turn signals and even instrumentation.
The tubular steel spaceframe developed for the nineT also has provisions for customization. It consists of four modular elements: the main frame (using the Boxer engine as a load-bearing element); a rear main frame; a frame end-piece; and a pillion frame. The latter two elements are cleverly removable by simply unfastening eight bolts.
Additionally, the housing for the Paralever axle drive includes three mounting points that can be used to attach a bracket for positioning the license plate and brake/tail light unit on one side.
The nineT’s finishing details are exquisite and need to be seen in the flesh to fully appreciate. Its fuel tank is constructed from aluminum, a relatively costly metal to form and weld. The tank is accented by hand-brushed and unpainted sides that are clear-coated to preserve their beauty.
Other tasty aluminum accents are spread throughout. Note the front fender brackets, seat supports and triple clamps are made from superior forged aluminum parts with glass-bead-blasted and naturally anodized finishes. Even the steering damper mount, barely noticeable, is a lovely forged aluminum piece and Stenagard’s favorite unsung component. The lightweight metal is also used in the tapered handlebar and its clamps. Even-lighter magnesium is used for the valve covers.
Wire-spoke wheels with black-anodized alloy rims provide retro charm, accented by black aluminum hubs and stainless steel spokes. Stacked stainless steel mufflers produced by Akrapovic look cool for stock items even though they obscure the rear wheel otherwise exposed by the single-sided Paralever swingarm. BMW offers a titanium muffler from Akrapovic ($957) that can be placed low or high depending on which extra-cost mid-pipe routing you order.
The nineT is even smaller and tidier than it appears in pictures, and its seat feels even lower than the reasonably low 30.9-inch height claimed by BMW. The bike feels remarkably slim between the knees. BMW says it weighs 489 pounds with about 26 pounds of fuel in the tank.
Footpegs are placed comfortably forward for an undemanding leg bend, while the reach for the handlebar is a modest stretch forward. Both hand levers are span-adjustable to fit digits of all sizes. Instrumentation is a blend of classic and modern, with an analog speedo and tach flanking an LCD panel that displays range and fuel economy in addition to a typical clock, tripmeters and a prominent gear-position indicator.
With its ignition lit, the nineT sounds and feels like any pre-Wasser-Boxer engine, thumping slightly sideways as it unevenly idles – either annoying or charismatic depending on a rider’s mood. The tuning of the 1170cc air/oil-cooled motor is unchanged, twisting out crankshaft-rated numbers of 88 ft-lb of torque at 6000 rpm and 110 hp at 7550 rpm. It’s rev-limited to 8500 rpm.
Those power figures seem quite tame until the throttle is twisted. For extra squirt, BMW installed gearing lifted from the RT-P law-enforcement model, lowering the final-drive ratio from 2.75:1 to 2.91:1. As a result, low-end grunt is considerable and nearly incredible, thrusting the nineT forward with shoulder-stretching alacrity at any speed. BMW says a 0-60-mph sprint requires just 3.6 seconds.
Gearshifts require little effort, but transferring gears requires some acclimatization to shift it smoothly. Considerable engine braking can chirp the rear tire during sloppy downshifts. Proper throttle blipping smoothes it out and retorts satisfying popping and burbling during decel.
Low-speed agility is somewhat muted by a non-adjustable steering damper, but the wide handlebar supplies leverage necessary for quick maneuvers when required. Still, the nineT prefers gracefully arcing through corners than being slammed into them. Rake and trail (25.5 degrees, 4.04 inches) are about average for this type of bike, and its wheelbase of 58.1 inches is fairly short for a shaft-driven motorcycle.
As on all modern BMWs, ABS is standard equipment. But don’t bother looking for other electronic rider aids. An elemental riding experience calls for simplicity, so you won’t find adjustable ride modes or traction control here. And when I asked Stenegard if he considered using linked brakes on the nineT, he shook his head and gave a one-word answer: “Burnouts!”
Also not found on the nineT is the Telelever front end fitted to every other R-series BMW. In its place is an inverted fork borrowed from the S1000RR minus the RR’s adjustability. A traditional fork was chosen to ease customization. As a side benefit, the nineT feels and responds more naturally than bikes with the Tele.
In action, the fork doesn’t respond as fluidly as the RR’s – I’d be tempted to fit the RR’s internals to the nineT’s fork if I owned it. In repose, the gold-anodized fork legs look a bit out of place on a motorcycle otherwise consisting of just black and silver. Stenegard says his design team debated using black-anodized tubes but settled on gold.
Bolted to the fork are stout, radial-mounted monoblock calipers biting forcefully on 320mm rotors. After getting accustomed to their sharpness, I judged them as excellent.
Out back is the least impressive bit of the nineT. While the Paralever drastically simplifies maintenance, the shaft-drive system comes with the penalty of some ride compliance. Surely the combined unsprung weight of the spoked wheel and the inner tubes needed for the tire/rim combo negatively affect the ride quality. On the plus side, a hydraulic preload adjuster makes it easy to set up rear sag for various loads, while stepless rebound damping is just a screwdriver twist away.
The seat proves to be surprisingly comfortable for the ironing board its shape resembles. Padding is a few steps away from generous, but it offers plenty of room to alter positions and remains agreeable for more than an hour. The riding position makes an 80-mph cruise (at 4200 rpm) surprisingly tolerable despite the absence of wind protection.
With that lovely 4.8-gallon tank full of premium fuel, the nineT delivers a range of nearly 200 miles at the 40-plus mpg consumption we measured.
And yet, practicality is at the back of a nineT rider’s mind. The existing R1200R is much more practical and versatile, and it’s marginally cheaper than the nineT’s $14,900 MSRP. But its miles short of the panache the nineT provides.
Get the 1200R if you want to ride across the country with an accessory windshield and saddlebags. Get the nineT if you want to ride the coolest BMW in years. Maybe decades. Perhaps ever.
|2014 BMW R nineT Specifications|
|Engine Type||Air/oil-cooled flat twin (‘Boxer’) 4-stroke engine, two camshafts and four radially aligned valves per cylinder, central balancer shaft|
|Engine Capacity||1170 cc|
|Bore x Stroke||101 mm x 73 mm|
|Fuel System||Electronic intake pipe injection|
|Horsepower||110 @ 7550 rpm (claimed)|
|Torque||88 ft-lb. @ 6000 rpm (claimed)|
|Transmission||Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth|
|Clutch||Single dry plate clutch, hydraulically operated|
|Frame||Four-section frame consisting of one front and three rear sections, load-bearing engine-gearbox unit, removable pillion frame for single ride use|
|Front Suspension||Upside-Down telescopic fork with 46 mm diameter|
|Rear Suspension||Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; central spring strut, spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable|
|Front Brakes||Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 320 mm, four-piston radial calipers|
|Rear Brakes||Single disc brake, diameter 265 mm, double-piston floating caliper|
|Front Tire||120/70 ZR 17|
|Rear Tire||180/55 ZR 17|
|Curb Weight||489 lbs (claimed)|
|Fuel Capacity||4.8 gal|