2015 BMW RnineT | SHORT SHIFT

TIME MACHINES: The Beemer as Fountain of Youth

They say: Powerful. Unique. Highly emotional. We say: Was that before or after you sparked up the welder?

The popularity of retro-styled motorcycles can be explained a few ways. First, the aesthetic of 30 or 40 years ago appeals to motorcyclists of all ages—those looking for a modern version of their first love and ones enamored by the essence of yesteryear. We have property in both camps, but there is another significant draw from our point of view: simplicity. Retro bikes depend less on high technology and features to attract riders and more on pure form and style.

BMW 's RnineT joins the fraternity with ease. Non-switchable ABS is standard; then there's the digital dash and fuel injection. Other than that, you won't find many electric doodads. No traction control, no ride modes, no quickshifter, no heated grips (not even as an option).

A gently curved handlebar mounts atop an upside-down fork and a beautifully appointed round headlight, while a flat seat sits just behind the hand-finished aluminum tank. Simple doesn’t mean cheap, especially from BMW, as aluminum pieces (most either forged or brushed) take the place of plastic in many areas. Coincidentally, those parts represent nearly all of the newly constructed portions of the nineT.

Sure, the steel-trellis frame is new, as are the fenders, shock, fork internals, headlight, tank, seat, and mufflers. Not to take anything away from these art pieces, but nearly everything else on the nineT has been assembled using what BMW calls "proven parts." That explains the previous-generation, R1200R-derived drivetrain dangling from the frame. The fork is technically new, but the tubes and sliders are taken from an S1000RR . Muffling the nineT is a new silencer set, but everything leading to it is standard-issue BMW: engine, clutch, transmission, drivetrain, even the wheels. Final-drive gearing is 6 percent shorter than an R model's; otherwise it's unchanged.

As a design exercise, the RnineT is impressive. And we think the resulting aesthetic is right on the money: classic but refined, bold but not trying too hard. Or even trying to be something else. This is not a Harley knockoff or a wannabe Triumph.

The asymmetrical intake snorkel and bare engine accentuate the nineT’s attitude, as does the classic dash.

Aesthetically, the nineT hews to historic BMW styling, but the performance is fully up to date. Contrary to the current café racer aesthetic, the footpegs sit forward enough to feel more under the rider’s knees than butt. The handlebar feels wide and low, giving the riding position a sporty touch. Also sporty—yet refined—is the 1,170cc boxer between your knees. This isn’t BMW’s latest and greatest water-cooled engine (of R1200GS and RT fame) but rather a version of Bavaria’s previous-generation air-/oil-cooled boxer. And the feel is much different—slower revving, more mechanically present—than BMW’s latest machines.

A screen shows trip info and gear position, but for a BMW the cockpit is positively spartan.

Bringing the engine to life adds to the raw feel of the nineT, with a purposeful growl from the Akrapovic-made exhaust and just the right amount of vibration at idle to exude a brawny character. To lift it off the kickstand you’ll know that it’s not a light bike, but set off down the road and much of the nineT’s 488 pounds seem to melt away. In addition to feeling surprisingly agile on the move, typical BMW refinements abound; the fueling is superb, the mirrors are functional, and the brakes are powerful. However, because of a long lever pull and soft, delayed engagement, these brakes make it somewhat difficult to be smooth. Maybe we’re just missing the Telelever front end’s lack of brake dive.

The basic geometry of the RnineT feels spot on, but the repurposed fork (read: new internals) isn’t calibrated perfectly. Slightly soft springs compress quickly when on the brakes yet aren’t sportbike compliant over high-frequency bumps. Sadly, the fork is non-adjustable. On smooth pavement it feels like the nineT could lean indefinitely, but the mass of the bike is apparent when you push and prod a little. The pegs never dragged, but this is a roadster, not a racer. It’s clear that BMW was not striving for a taut ride.

To that point, while you’re unlikely to create a dominant roadracer, the RnineT has been designed to be easily customizable. In addition to the usual catalog of aftermarket accessories (tank bag, exhaust, comfort seat, etc.) the nineT has a two-part removable rear subframe and separate wiring harnesses for the engine and the chassis. That the bike is ready to accept custom subframes, license-plate brackets, and aftermarket lights is not a new idea. That it’s BMW suggesting it—indeed, making it a big part of the nineT’s pitch—is surprising. BMW’s own head of vehicle design, Ola Stenegard, said it clearly: “We really want RnineT owners to modify their bikes, but we don’t want them to learn welding or tube cutting to do it.”

When did you think you’d ever hear that? Or learn that a new BMW wasn’t built to totally dominate a fully pinpointed set of performance measures? The RnineT has less direction or, rather, has more targets at which to aim, whether it’s gentrified baby boomers longing for their old R75/5 chop-job or twentysomething ruffians who want a bike to match their chain wallet and skinny jeans. The resulting nineT is as unprocessed and coarse as anything Bavaria has produced in recent memory, but perhaps the most satisfying part of riding the RnineT is the immersion in its quirks.

Make no mistake, this motorcycle isn’t as sophisticated as BMW’s flagship models. And yes, for roughly the same $14,900 that buys an RnineT you could have an S1000R, with more than 150 hp, cruise control, and adaptive suspension. But it’s because the nineT percolates the joys of motorcycling so much less completely that a lot of us feel more connected to it than any other BMW. We’re not alone. Already the RnineT is BMW’s fourth-best-selling bike in the US.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION  
A design exercise to celebrate BMW’s 90th birthday and perhaps the last hurrah for the air-/oil-cooled, dry-clutch engine.
RIVALS  
Ducati Monster 1200, Honda CB1100F, Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE, Triumph Thruxton
TECH  
PRICE $14,900
ENGINE 1170cc, air-/oil-cooled opposed-twin
BORE X STROKE 101.0 x 73.0mm
COMPRESSION 12.0:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC 8V
FUELING EFI
CLUTCH Dry, single plate
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE BMW two-piston caliper, 
265mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5º/4.0 in.
WHEELBASE 58.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.8 gal.
MEASURED WEIGHT 488/459 lb. tank full/empty
FUEL ECONOMY 42/30/38 (high/low/average)
RANGE 182 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.63 sec. @ 118.7 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON, 60-80 MPH 3.1 sec.
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com
VERDICT  
8/10 Stars - For a BMW, it’s a very raw motorcycling experience. And it works.

Dyno

Does 65 pound-feet of torque just above idle sound good? This previous-generation air-/oil-cooled motor rattles and shakes more than BMW’s new mill but still provides plenty of stomp. If you flirt with the rev-limiter there’s nearly 100 hp available.
The asymmetrical intake snorkel and bare engine accentuate the nineT’s attitude, as does the classic dash.
A screen shows trip info and gear position, but for a BMW the cockpit is positively spartan.
Does 65 pound-feet of torque just above idle sound good? This previous-generation air-/oil-cooled motor rattles and shakes more than BMW’s new mill but still provides plenty of stomp. If you flirt with the rev-limiter there’s nearly 100 hp available.