BMW says: “The sportiest interpretation of the RnineT.” Motorcyclist Says: “Depends on how you interpret the word sporty.”

Spenser Robert on the 2017 BMW RnineT Racer
The nineT Racer looking its raciest at 10 mph.Photo: Jon Beck

Three thumbs up, half a dozen longing stares, and a stoplight-worth of flirting with a cute girl in an Audi A3—that's the sort of attention you get riding BMW's RnineT Racer down the Pacific Coast Highway on a casual weekday afternoon. For a lot of people, I think the review could end right there. No amount of disappointing specs or caveats about a potentially uncomfortable riding position could dissuade you from wanting this bike in your garage and in front of your coffee shop. So, if that's you, read no further. I have nothing more to offer and I'm sure you'll be very happy with your new purchase. But, if you do happen to have some deep, buried curiosity about how the Racer actually stacks up as a functional machine, then I encourage you to read on. I won't judge you for it.

2017 BMW Racer in the marina
Oh hey, Racer. I didn’t see you there. Come here often?Photo: Jon Beck

THE FEATURES
The Racer is the latest addition to BMW's ever-growing lineup of Heritage motorcycles that started with the RnineT back in 2013. While all these nineT variations have different designs, components, and price tags, they do share an identical 1,170cc boxer engine—one that makes a claimed 110 hp and 86 lb.-ft. of torque. It may not be BMW's latest and greatest wasserboxer (like the one you would find on a 2017 R1200GS), but it's a damn fine power plant and one of the primary reasons that these bikes have so much character.

But the similarities largely stop with those twin cylinders. The whole reason that the Racer exists is to expand BMW’s market share—to sell motorcycles to people that didn’t already buy an original nineT. And, as you might assume, the quickest way to a consumer’s heart is through their wallet. The Racer is listed at $13,295, which is actually $2,100 below the flagship R nineT’s price of $15,395. That’s impressive both in how much less the Racer costs and how credit-card-burningly-expensive the flagship model is. Especially for a bike with minimal electronics and an engine that’s been around for close to a decade.

2017 Racer with sunbathing girl
Not a bad look for a “cheap” version of the nineT. Sunbathing girl not included with purchase.Photo: Jon Beck

Of course, BMW didn’t just make the Racer less expensive because they wanted to be a good guy. The design and paint scheme may look premium, but the hard parts on the bike tell a different story. Starting with what keeps you rolling, both the wheels and the suspension are considered lower spec than the OG nineT. That means the 17-inch hoops are now cast, instead of spoked, and the inverted fork has been swapped for a cheaper right-side up one. Add onto this a steel tank instead of an aluminum one, a single seat with no passenger accommodations, a simplified 2-in-1 exhaust, and, well, you can begin to do the math.

BMW RnineT Racer studio shot
A passenger seat can be added, but it involves adding an accessory subframe from BMW and buying a new seat. More money and far less style.Photo: BMW

Then there’s the riding position. Not a cost-saving measure as much as a style-improving one, the Racer is equipped with lower clip-on handlebars up front and a higher footpeg/seat combination out back. When you actually sit on the bike and find yourself stretched out across the tank in a track-mode tuck, the name “Racer” begins to make a little more sense. It’s a far cry from the relaxed (see: comfortable), upright ergos found on the rest of the nineT models, but none of those come standard with the fantasy of making every ride feel like a rip around Isle of Man in the 1970s.

BMW Racer fairing
Nothing says viva la nostalgia like a round headlight and bubble fairing. Wind protection is alright, but you really have to tuck in to take advantage.Photo: Jon Beck

THE RIDE
While we're sorely lacking in the sort of quaint British roads that I imagine a nineT Racer would prefer, a day spent ripping around Southern California proved to be more than adequate for feeling out the limitations of the bike. Limitation numéro uno, you ask? Comfort. A luxury that is swiftly executed in the name of looking incredibly cool and mysterious as you cruise from what I assume is one gallery opening to another. Whether it's the pressure on your wrists, an ache in your back, or a kink in your neck, it's difficult to escape a long stint on the Racer without some minor ailment. For a bike that's destined to be a Sunday cruiser, or for people that swear their GSX-R is as comfortable as a touring bike, this probably isn't a deal breaker. But, considering that handling and performance were clearly not the priority when it came to building this bike, it seems like they could've dialed back the aggressive seating position just a touch and we all would've been less hunchbacked for it.

RnineT Racer seating position
It can be hard to tell in photos but that reach to the bars is a far one. I’m just a hair over 6 feet tall and still feel that the position is too aggressive.Photo: Jon Beck

Beyond that minor detail, the Racer is a perfectly enjoyable motorcycle to fling around town. Those "low-spec" components never feel like they're really holding the bike back and I think the tradeoff between performance and price is pretty fair. Sudden bumps are a little harsh in the front end and low-speed handling is a challenge (due to the riding position, as much as anything else) but overall the bike performs as you'd expect with off-the-shelf suspension tuning.

2017 RnineT Racer gauges
The Racer comes with the full instrument cluster of the nineT lineup, unlike the Pure and Scrambler. Speedo, tach, gear indicator, all accounted for.Photo: BMW

What the bike has in spades is character and the majority of credit goes to that boxer engine. From the second it rattles to life, to the moment it lurches forward with the pop of a gear change, this engine just radiates personality and constantly keeps you in touch with the feeling between the throttle and road. Not to mention that if you momentarily lose that feeling between throttle and road, the Racer comes standard with ABS and traction control. There aren’t any fancy ride modes, or adjustable levels of TC, but both safety features can be turned on or off to your hooligan heart’s desire and represent a nice splash of technology in an otherwise Spartan machine.

RnineT Racer close up
The iconic Beemer boxer. Not pictured are the snarling intake sounds and soothing pop and crackle exhaust notes of that opposed-twin.Photo: Jon Beck

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
The RnineT family grows with its sights set on the café racer community
TECH
PRICE $13,295
ENGINE 1,170cc, air/oil-cooled opposed-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 110.0 hp @ 7750 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 86.0 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm fork; 4.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single 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
RAKE/TRAIL 26.4°/4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 58.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 485 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com
VERDICT
It prioritizes good looks over good performance, but has enough character to be an enjoyable weekend rider regardless.
Spenser Robert's gear
Spenser's gear:
Helmet: Shoei RF-SR (Basalt Grey)
Jacket: Alpinestars Oscar Charlie Leather Jacket
Pants: Motto Wear Gallante Jeans
Shoes: BMW Motorcycles RIDE Sneakers
Photo: Jon Beck