2017 BMW R NineT Racer Review - First Ride

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

The latest addition to BMW's heritage line features an abundance of sex appeal

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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 Type1170cc air-cooled opposed-Twin
Bore and Stroke101mm x 73mm
Compression Ratio12.0:1
Valve TrainDOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel SystemEFI
Final DriveShaft
Front Suspension43 mm telescopic fork
Rear SuspensionMonoshock, spring preload, rebound adjustability, 4.7 inches of travel
Front BrakeDual, four-piston calipers, 320mm discs, ABS
Rear BrakeSingle caliper, 265mm disc, ABS
Front Tire120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire180/55 ZR 17
Rake/Trail26.4 deg/4.1 in
Wheelbase58.7 in.
Seat Height31.7 in.
Curb Weight485 lbs (claimed), fully fuelled
Fuel Capacity4.5 gal.
ColorsLight White
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

More by Evans Brasfield

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5 of 20 comments
  • Old MOron Old MOron on Apr 23, 2017

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

    • See 2 previous
    • Old MOron Old MOron on Apr 24, 2017

      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 Patriot159 on Apr 26, 2017

    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!