2018 BMW R NineT Urban G/S Review - First Ride

John Burns
by John Burns

BMW saved its hippest Heritage bike for last

The only thing better than producing a hit might be producing one by accident. BMW knew the R nineT was a cool bike they hoped the younger set would like, but they claim to be surprised by just how successful it’s been. They didn’t really corral as many bearded millennials as they’d hoped, since their numbers tell them the average nineT buyer is 49 years old and as wealthy as the typical K1600 buyer. But maybe that’s because that first 2013 R nineT was a $15,000 motorcycle?

2017 BMW R nineT Urban G/S

Editor Score: 84.75%
Engine 17.75/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score84.75/100

2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler First Ride Review

2017 BMW R NineT Racer Review – First Ride

2017 BMW R NineT Pure And R NineT Racer Previews

Since then, they’ve been working to bring that price down to a more affordable place. Putting “Scrambler” in a bike’s title is another good sales tool lately, and the R nineT Scrambler got its priced trimmed to $13k via a few cost-cutting moves, such as using a steel tank instead of an aluminum one, less-expensive suspension, etc.

After the original R nineT and the Scrambler came the R nineT Racer, the R nineT Pure, and now the fifth and, BMW says, final bike in its “Heritage” line, R nineT Urban G/S. Urban is the perfect name for it, since this one’s styled after BMW’s original Paris-Dakar R 80 G/S of 1980. Wait, what? Well, really, ADV bikes have advanced enough since 1980 that the new Urban really does feel more at home on city streets than it would in the Sahara; here’s to hoping we never have to find out for sure. (Maybe they meant “Urbane”, and the e was lost in translation?)

For fully $5 less than the Scrambler, at $12,995 the Urban adds that swell original G/S vintage paint scheme, including the red seat, a dirtbikey-looking front fender beak and bikini fairing, and a single-muffler exhaust that exits lower on the left than the Scrambler’s two-muff high-pipe design. Other than those things and a bunch of details (nice details), the Scrambler and Urban both get a 43mm conventional fork up front (mit gaiters) carrying a 19-inch cast front wheel.

All the loaners wear tubeless wire spoke wheels, a $500 option; Continental TKC 80 rubber is a $0-dollar option.

At the rear, the same single shock controls the same shaft-drive Paralever rear end, carrying the same 4.5 x 17-inch rear wheel. Suspension travel is the same 4.9-inch front, 5.5-inch rear. About the only difference we can spot in the spec chart is that the Urban’s seat is 33.5 inches from the deck instead of the Scrambler’s 32.5, and BMW says the Urban weighs two pounds more, 487, with its 4.5-gallon tank topped up.

Which ain’t exactly light: Ducati’s Scrambler is substantially lighter (and 400cc smaller…–Ed.), Triumph claims 454 pounds for its new Street Scrambler without fuel, which means it’s probably right there with the BMW. Neither of those bikes have 1170cc of displacement, though, and the Urban moves right out when you crack the throttle. The claim is 110 horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque, which translated to 102 rear-wheel horses and 76 lb-ft on our dyno for the original R nineT. The guttural rumble coming out of the single pipe seems burlier than the nineT’s twice pipes, which is nice as you roll through downtown Santa Monica. If anybody protests, you can tell them you’re Euro-4 compliant. There’s also a new cable-operated EXUP-type exhaust valve down there in the midpipe, “to meet the desire for a classic Boxer sound while still complying with the noise emissions directive ECE R41-04.”

Another place where a few bucks were saved was by deleting the tachometer, which is mostly unnecessary on a big Twin you can hear and feel as much as this one. I kept looking for a low fuel light that never came on, but at about 130 miles, a yellow triangle and a little “R” comes on and the tripmeter starts counting backwards…

That first 1980 G/S we’re harkening back to here was 798cc and claimed just 50 hp, and the new bike’s powerful enough you almost wish they still made an 800 if it made the bike 50 pounds lighter. On the street, it’s no problem. On dirt roads, well, a little less weight would mean bikes like this might see more dirt roads.

But there are no dirt roads in Santa Monica, and precious little dirt. Squeezing down Ocean Boulevard through the buses and Priuses, the big mirrors on the wide aluminum handlebar are a tight squeeze, but the clutch pull is light and the ergos are excellent. On a day when planes were unable to fly in Phoenix due to temps above 118, a deep marine layer over the Pacific coast required me to flip the heated grips (a $250 option) onto low. Easy to do with the Urban’s dedicated right-grip button.

Serf’s up. The seating position is ideal for sporty riding.

Once loose in the Malibu hills, everything comes together very nicely, and you can switch the heated grips off as the new Metzelers come up to operating temperature. The big Boxer motor produces so much torque down low, it shoots the bike ahead every time you grab a gear unless you dip the clutch a little, but it doesn’t take long to remember these bike’s slight shifting idiosyncrasies; in exchange for that, the big longitudinal crankshaft lends ship-like stability that still responds quick enough when you ask for a change of course, and the Urban is seriously fast compared to other “Scramblers” when you find a straight. Throttle response is crisp, smooth and linear. At first, the engine noise seems a bit flatulent, but after a while you begin to think of it more as vintage speedboat, segueing into some kind of cool WW2 airplane.

Careful, there’s 110 horsepower coming out of there. You can remove the whole rear section of frame that carries the passenger pegs if you want to, and substitute a rear cargo rack for the passenger seat.

Suspension is firmer than you might expect, and feels better balanced than the original nineT, which went down by the bow every time you used its front brake hard. The Urban, with its higher bar and stiffer front end, works better as a sportbike on tight roads, even with its 19-inch front tire. When stopped, the seat doesn’t feel as high as the 33.5 inches BMW specs it at. The high handlebar fits 5-foot-8 me pretty well when standing, you can pop the rubbers out of the toothy footpegs, and I would not be too afraid to set off down an unbeaten path on the Urban, especially if you went with the TKC 80s.

At least BMW’s ad agency people found some unpavement. ASC (Automatic Stability Control) is another available option: $400. Switchable ABS is standard.

According to the specs, the Urban has the same gearing as the original R nineT, which always felt a bit short. There’s tons of power to cruise as fast as you want on the freeway, but you can definitely feel the Boxer motor thrumming through the Urban’s grips beginning from about 75 mph to 85 mph. Then it’s back again at about 100, which is a bit too fast for comfort on a bike this upright, anyway (though there’s plenty more top-end left). But this is the first bike BMW’s ever loaned us with only 6 miles on the odometer; I’ve been told Boxers smooth out as they gain miles.

2018 BMW R nineT Urban G/S

+ Highs

  • Sweet retro BMW Paris-Dakar looks
  • No-kidding performance, great ergos
  • Upscale detailing everywhere you look

– Sighs

  • $$$ add up in a hurry with a few must-have options…
  • A tad buzzy around 80ish
  • Too nice to abuse in the manner it’s itching for

Aside from that nitpick, bikes like this are fantastic for everyday scooting around town; Urban actually fits – though the burly, powerful engine in this one will put the hurt on everybody else’s Scrambler. Throw some soft bags over the seat to carry your organic produce home from Whole Foods, throw your SO on back for an adventure ten Starbucks away. Roland Sands is making cool billet covers for BMW, and yes of course there’s a clothing line (that does not include lederhosen or dirndls).

Great bike, a step or two ahead of the Scrambler competition in terms of performance – and I have to say my personal favorite of the BMW “Heritage” models. Then again, a Ducati Scrambler Icon is $4,000 cheaper, and guys old enough to remember the 1980 R80 G/S probably aren’t exactly the young crowd BMW’s hoping to reach with this one. So we wish them best of luck when it comes to attracting hipsters, but it’s also nice to reflect that it’s the, ahhh, more mature crowd that’s able to appreciate the finer things in life – especially the discriminating mature crowd that’s always loved its BMW Boxers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them snap these things up.

2018 BMW R nineT Urban G/S Specifications

Horsepower (claimed)110 hp @ 7,750 rpm
Torque (claimed)86 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm
Engine Capacity1170cc
Engine Type180-degree oil-cooled Boxer Twin
Bore x Stroke101mm x 73mm
Fuel SystemEFI
TransmissionConstant-mesh 6-speed
ClutchHydraulically actuated dry clutch
Final DriveShaft
FrameTubular space frame
Front Suspension43mm telescopic fork, 4.9-in. travel
Rear SuspensionParalever, 5.5-in wheel travel
Front Brakes320mm dual disc, four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear Brakes265mm single disc, two-piston caliper, ABS
Front Tire120/70-19
Rear Tire170/60-17
Seat Height33.5 in
Curb Weight (claimed)487 lbs
Fuel Capacity4.5 gal
ElectronicsABS, ASC (optional)
John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 19 comments
  • Gee S Gee S on Jun 29, 2017

    Does anyone else think that a review of a motorcycle with "G/S" in its title ought to have been ridden on some dirt?

    This review reads like one for any generic sportbike.

    Every other review I've seen of this motorcycle commented on lack of suspension compliance -- even on NYC rough pavement -- that was completely over its head in anything resembling offroad operation.

    This is a nice engine and a nice paintjob that is essentially BMW pimping out the GS Heritage for people who don't know better.

  • Jaame Wolfaardt Jaame Wolfaardt on Nov 01, 2017

    Air/oil cooled? =(No problems) Drive shaft(Excellent -No maintenance) Add luggage... Now you only begin to weigh in at what the 1200GS weighs. Bonus!! Accessorise as you must? but make it your own. So this bike is very cool