BMW says: "Pure riding pleasure in the most classic way."
Motorcyclist says: "Worse than its brother, but still satisfying."

If you thought motorcycling didn't have room for another Scrambler, cry your tears in silence, please, because the rest of the motorcycling world is obviously loving it. The RnineT, which arrived in 2013 as a 90-year celebration of the company, has sold so well that BMW would have honestly been foolish not to build another one. And so arrives the RnineT Scrambler, forged in the style of thrift stores and artisan coffee, with a new-and-improved price of $13,000. Personally, I think the standard RnineT is a magical balance of motorcycling—visceral, raw, and simple, but with poise and refinement. It's brilliant. So I was excited for this bike.

2017 BMW Scrambler wheelie
A rise in the road and 100 or so horsepower on tap means air time for the Scrambler’s big 19-inch front wheel.©Motorcyclist

Some of the tweaks to “scramble” the nineT are obvious; the high pipe, larger front wheel, one-piece seat, and fork gaiters are trademark scrambler items. Maybe less evident is the fact that the fork is right-side up, the brake calipers are non-radially mounted, and the fuel tank is made of steel instead of aluminum. The base Scrambler’s wheels are cast, too, and there’s only one gauge displaying info, rather than two. Despite “cost-effective” parts, BMW claims the Scrambler weighs 485 pounds. That’s 4.5 pounds lighter than the standard nineT, according to BMW.

2017 BMW RnineT Scrambler dash and gauge
BMW’s version of a simple dash. This single gauge is presumably cheaper to manufacture, like the subframe being one piece instead of the standard nineT’s two-piece unit.©Motorcyclist

Setting off on my test ride, which started in rural northern New Jersey and ended in the heart of New York City, the first thing I noticed is that the mysteriously enchanted handling of the nineT has disappeared in the Scrambler. It could be 19-inch front wheel (instead of 17) or, I suppose, the optional Metzeler Karoo 3 adventure rubber might’ve numbed the feel, but a glance at the spec sheet explained it all. The Scrambler’s wheelbase is a full two inches longer than the roadster’s, with three degrees more rake trail has increased by nearly half an inch. That’s a big deal.

2017 BMW Scrambler side view
BMW seems fairly desperate to distance itself from the reputation of building dad bikes. Ironically, the Scrambler looks a lot like the bikes our dads rode. Retro backfire!©Motorcyclist

Maybe BMW made those changes to make the Scrambler’s handling feel more relaxed? Whatever the case, it’s definitely different and in my opinion it’s worse. It is also the single biggest difference between the standard nineT and this Scrambler version. The rest of the bike feels very familiar. The 1,170cc oil-cooled boxer twists the chassis when you rev it and snorts away from stop signs, same as the nineT. The handlebar is slightly taller but the riding position feels totally comparable. The single-piece seat felt a little harder around the edges—maybe slightly less comfortable overall, but again, in the same vein. Rubber inserts in the serrated footpegs pop out both for looks and for grip, but don’t brush off your adventure gear yet.

RnineT Scrambler water splash
Bath time for the Beemer. Does the scrambler moniker mean the RnineT is adept off road? Not quite, but we sure had fun finding out!©Motorcyclist

A few trots down some dusty dirt lanes taught me right away that this Scrambler is not built for bumps. It’s hard to call it a phony—I mean, the original scramblers grew from chopped street bikes into heavy and unwieldy off roaders, right? Why not the nineT too? Sharp potholes and washouts jarred my wrists and announced clearly that the bike was out of its element. Bop along a typical gravel road, though? Hell yes! The wide bar put me in a commanding riding position, and the Scrambler delivers the joy of light adventure for the same reason the original scramblers did. There might even be some extra achievement built in to riding down dirt roads on a bike that wasn’t meant for it that resonates with people. If that’s your case, fair enough.

On a twisty, rural strip of pavement the Scrambler holds its own. Again, the steering is heavy and offers less feel compared to the nineT, but within the scope of motorcycling this bike is not difficult to ride or unpredictable. I dragged the toes of my boots to my heart’s content—on dual-purpose tires—and never felt a hint of instability. The front brake calipers are a slightly lower spec, but they still have braided steel lines and pinch beefy, 320mm discs. The brakes are good. Better without Karoo 3 rubber, too, I’m sure.

BMW RnineT Scrambler beauty shot
The bike we tested had a gaggle of factory options: Heated grips ($250), traction control ($400), and spoke wheels ($500). The dual-sport tires are a free option, as is a tall seat.©Motorcyclist

I used the brakes plenty, too. As a tourist rider in New York I was about as uncomfortable as the Scrambler on a dirt road. Lots of turning around, and lots of stopping to check the map. Where I struggled a bit in the city, the Scrambler shined the brightest. I swear it wasn’t just the independent, fair-trade shops for clothes and coffee that made the Scrambler a treat in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Gobs of oil-cooled torque and a commanding feel meant shooting through traffic was a cinch. Plus, where I might miss a fairing on the freeway or a fuel gauge on a trip to the country, a no-frills scrambler feels right at home in short, city bursts and striking a pose on the curb. I could make a meal of the heavy steering and crummy fork again, but I feel like you get the point.

2017 RnineT Scrambler spoke wheels
Part of the savings in weight and in price comes from the Scrambler’s cast wheels. Of course, the bike we rode was rolling on tubeless spoked hoops, a $500 option.©Motorcyclist

While we’re talking cons, I say minus points for the Scrambler’s instrumentation. The single gauge is clean and simple, which I can appreciate, but it also leaves out stuff I like—namely a tachometer, gear-position indicator, and air temp. Yes, all things that are easy to live without, I admit, but then again this is a $13,000 bike. Am I asking too much? It’s right about now you’ll start doing the quick math for how much cheaper the Scrambler is than a standard nineT, so I won’t make you look it up: $2,095, Two grand, plus a Benjamin minus a latte, is what you stand to save. That’s not nothing.

BMW Scrambler Brembo brakes
They’re not radially mounted, but the Scrambler’s four-pot Brembos are plenty strong. Dual-sport Karoo 3 tires are a free option, and they offer enough on-road grip that the standard ABS should only need to be called upon during emergencies.©Motorcyclist

On the topic of price, I’d like to finish by talking about a couple of statistics that BMW casually dropped into its presentation of the new Scrambler. One was that 9 percent of RnineT sales have been to first-time motorcycle buyers. Yes, nearly 10 percent of nineTs sold have been to people that have never owned a motorcycle. Are you surprised? I was surprised. But what snapped that stat into focus was the fact that RnineT buyers have historically had the second-highest household income of any BMW model (the K1600GTL is highest) at $150-$175k. In other words, money isn’t an issue. These are buyers who probably would buy a Triumph Bonneville, but figure, “hey, I’ve got the money, why not the fancy one?”

None of this should take away from the fact that the RnineT is a cool bike—exciting and fun to ride. Maybe BMW is reaching for a younger demographic, or maybe it just understands that fewer gizmos and more perceived brawn is what the people want. Just like every other term we’ve come to know literally, the word “scrambler” is now a brand. Forget what it means and think of it as a notion that people aspire to. This Scrambler is not about being capable in the dirt, it’s about being dressed for adventure. A stockbroker with a five o’clock shadow and tousled hair isn’t any closer to building a log cabin, but the ladies might just like it. That’s what BMW is counting on, anyway.

2017 BMW Scrambler handling
The Scrambler’s wheelbase is a full two inches longer than the roadster’s, with three degrees more rake, trail has increased by nearly half an inch.©Motorcyclist
TECH SPEC
PRICE $13,000
ENGINE 1170cc, 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; 5.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE BMW two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 28.5°/4.4 in.
WHEELBASE 60.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 485 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com
VERDICT
No, it’s not a dirtbike. But it is lighter, cheaper, and a lot more rugged looking than an RnineT.