BMW’s classic-looking sportbike is neither a modern speedmachine nor a relaxed retro, but something altogether more unique
Photos: Leow Ju-Len, Jonathan Lim, Derryn Wong
That is to say, adventure and retro bikes are big now. But BMW’s R Nine T Race is something very different. It’s a unique animal, combining two apparently contradictory trends into one.
As a retro sportsbike with a half-fairing, it’s almost one of a kind.
The R Nine T Race’s closest modern competition might be the Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer – similar to the V7 Stone we’ve tested -transverse twin engine, retro racer styling, though the Guzzi lacks a fairing and has less than half the horsepower of the BMW.
Not all of competitors have proper clip-on handlebars either, none of them have the sporty seating position the R Nine T Race requires of its rider, nor its just-escaped-from-Concours Elegance appearance. Those last two points are, as we’ll see, quite closely-linked.
The Race is meant to evoke sports bikes of the 1970s, and in BMW terms that means the R90/S, its first superbike, an icon which also spawned the entire ‘R Nine T’ name and lineup of Heritage bikes.
The company already re-imagined the R 90/S with the 2013 Concept R Ninety (which the Race looks almost exactly like) before even putting the R Nine T into production starting from 2014.
In other words, if you’re wondering why the heck BMW made a weird boxer sportsbike, it’s because this is the bike the R Nine T. In any case, it’s not even the first modern boxer sportsbike BMW has made – that title is taken by the crazy BMW HP2 of 2008.
Thus, it’s no coincidence the Race looks very much like the concept, complete with ‘monoposto’ compact tail unit (no pillion seat, that’s an option), elegant bullet fairing, chopped fender and megaphone exhaust.
What isn’t conceptual is the superb attention to detail. The rearsets are anodised aluminum, the footpegs textured and non-slip, the fork bracing spanning the chopped front fender is likewise anodised. The chromed exhaust headers, spoked wheels are also attention-drawing touches.
It’s also in less obvious places too, the fairing brace has holes punched in it, a reference to the old-school method of weight reduction. The one-piece top yoke might make switching the handlebars difficult, but it’s also gorgeously executed.
I would have preferred an even more upswept exhaust, less chrome, and the eye-sizzling 1970s orange fireball paintwork – if you’re going to go, do it all the way, right? But there’s nothing stopping an owner from doing that themselves, or adding some of the Concept’s parts to the Race.
At the same time, you could argue that a more comfy, modernised R90/S would be a more sensible choice, but it would look boxy, weird and well, like it’s really from the 1970s, as opposed to a modern fantasy of one.
But in any case it passed a reliable method of judging design success with flying colours: No other machine I’ve parked outside of a cafe has drawn as many stops-to-look or smartphone salutes.
Mounting the Race immediately puts you in, well, a racy state of mind. Besides the long-reach body position, the bike’s exhaust note is harsher and has more ‘braap’ than the rest of the Nine T range. The high-mount megaphone exhaust lives up to its name, barking distinctively on the left side of the bike at speed.
While the engine capacity, power and weight remain the same as other R Nine T models, the sporty position makes for a interesting new spin on things. BMW quotes a 0.4-second shorter 0-100km/h time than the R Nine T Pure, ostensibly from aerodynamics alone.
The geometry is roughly similar to the rest of the Nine T models, so it doesn’t flick into turns but eases into them. Sportier rubber would help those who want modern sportbike immediacy (the OE tyres are Metzeler Sportec M8), but it’s apparent that the bike has the same predictable, stable nature that most BMW boxers have.
The superb fuelling means roll on in any gear, but especially the first three, is silky smooth, and that means confidence in all situations, from slow urban crawl to a fast B-road work. A rider of the R Nine T Race will build up speed slower than on a modern sportsbike, but he or she will keep lots of momentum thanks to the linear, predictable nature of the machine.
In fact, the bike’s quite practical in many aspects. The wide-set mirrors work well, the twin-binnacle clocks clear to read and provide trip, consumption and other relevant info, while the ride quality is decent and not bone-jarring.
There’s also no getting around the fact that a sportsbike can be uncomfortable, compared to sit-up tourers or adventure bikes, and even Ducati’s ‘comfortable sportsbike’, the Ducati Supersport S, can’t escape this entirely.
Obviously it’s not a bike for a rider who wonders about fuel economy, how far they’ll get per stint, how comfortable a passenger will be, or whether you could fit panniers to it. It’s for a rider who will enjoy mainlining the old-school riding experience, revving the throaty boxer, ducking below the screen pretending to be Barry Sheene or on the Isle Of Man.
In any case, it’s easier forget your pains when you dismount and bask in the warm glow generated by normal people goosenecking the machine.
As mentioned, the R Nine T Race has no direct competitor currently on sale, but there’s a competitor from history that implies it might have a bright future: A decade ago, Ducati launched the Sport1000S, which taps from the same bullet-fairing, sport-position, 70s theme vein the R Nine T Race does, except the blood drawn is filled with red, not red-white-blue platelets and Borgo Panigale DNA, instead of Munich-Berlin.
Back then, it seemed almost nobody wanted one, and they were far from a sales success. Now, they’re coveted collectors items and have even appreciated in value.
Like the Sport1000S, the R Nine T is a bike out of a bygone time, and doesn’t even quite fit entirely with this one. But, we suspect, it’s also one of those rare machines worth owning, and riding, no matter what the era.
BMW R nine T Race
Engine type 1,170cc, 8V, boxer twin
Bore X Stroke 101 x 73mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual
Max power 110bhp at 7,750rpm
Max torque 116Nm at 6,000rpm
0 to 100km/h 3.5 seconds
Top speed >200km/h
Wet Weight 220kg
Seat Height 820mm
Price $38,000 (machine only)