Text: Deyna ‘ACDC’ Chia
Photos: Derryn Wong
As a certain Mr Gump said, life can really be a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Unless it’s a tin of Danish butter cookies, in which case you know you’re going to get sewing supplies instead of baked confections.
But seriously, it’s interesting to note how tastes change as we do too. Most locals start their motoring life looking for a car – as our CNY story shows, nothing says ‘I’ve made it! More than you!’ than a car.
Then we realise OMMV (Our Mileage May Vary) and that the best, unrivalled motoring entertainment per dollar value is to be found on motorcycles. Except (or in spite of) having to deal with the weather.
In my brief but blessed love affair with two-wheelers, I’ve always chosen my rides because of their ability: First full powered naked superbike, first long stroke Titanium-valve litre inline four, first true 190hp litre inline four* and so on. It’s always a choice of mind over heart and I never bought anything because it looked visually appealing. Well, till the BMW R nineT.
*Aprilia Tuono 1000, Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K5, BMW S 1000 RR
Looks That Skill
It’s pronounced ‘are nine tea’, not ‘are ninnet’ by the way – it’s a homage to BMW’s first ‘superbike’, the R 90 S from 1973.
When I saw the sketch of the R nineT, I secretly hoped it was hype. It appeared way back in 2008 as the Lo Rider concept at EICMA. But at the back of my mind there formed a thought: car companies like to kid around, but motorcycle makers are generally quite reliable when it comes to concepts-to-reality. Plus the Germans usually don’t kid.
So when finally I cast my eyes on the R nineT, and it turned out to be almost as nice in full-production reality, it didn’t take much for me to sign the dotted line.
Since my main ‘fun’ bike is an S 1000 RR (and putting serious track miles on it too – Ed.) I was also looking out for a competent all-rounder, one that could commute, tour and track. A Harley Sportster gave way to an R 1200 R (2012 model) which made way for the R nineT. But the key difference was that the nineT became the first ever bike I bought simply because it looked great in its not-quite-retro, not-quite-techno-cruiser way.
It’s still the only bike I’ve owned that affords me nods of approval when I’m at the traffic lights. It’s the only bike I’ve owned that comes fitted as standard with Akrapovic exhaust pipes, with an exhaust note that’s both nicely tuned and audible.
Sure, the bike looks good and we think most people will agree. But that’s surely not enough in the two-wheeled world. What’s most surprising, perhaps even astonishing, is that the R nineT rides even better than it looks.
It starts from the top: The cockpit is basic and simple, no clutter of techno gadgetry on the tank, two simple analogue gauges abreast of a simple digital display showing the important bits: gear, trip and odometer and fuel consumption.
A key point of comparison for the R nine T would be the previous (soon to be replaced with a radically new model arriving this year) R 1200 R, it being the brand’s laid back, semi-retro roadster before this.
The nineT’s wheel base is shorter by 20mm, thanks a shorter swing arm and the bike’s also lighter than the R 1200 R by 10kg. Come off that bike, or an R 1200 GS, and you’ll find the R nineT almost Street Triple-like in the agility department.
Disclaimer: This particular unit’s front fork comes from an S1000RR spare I owned, but the standard unit actually feels quite similar, thought slightly softer, aside from having non-adjustable dampers.
Unlike the R 1200 R, you sit on and not in and a little prone forward. The seat, though thin looking, is surprisingly plush and comfortable, even for a full day on the saddle, while the knee angle is even more relaxed, and I found the ergonomics good even for high-speed cruising, with wind-blast felt only above 150km/h on my 185cm frame.
The R nineT comes standard with ABS and is fitted with the Brembo brake master cylinder and radial calipers, as seen on the latest R1200GS. These give good feel and bite, even when lapping at the track. Due to the “modular” design to allow easy customization, the harness on the R nineT excludes usual BMW features like stability and traction control.
These features I found to be unmissed, given that I could apply the throttle liberally at the track, without the rear wheel spinning up, as compared to the R1200R. For those wondering what this meant in outright lap times, I was two seconds faster on my first outing at the track with the R nineT, compared with the R 1200 R.
The fuel tank is rather deceptively sculptured to look smaller than the R 1200 R, but also has an 18-liter capacity. With the highly-evolved, final iteration air-cooled twin-cam boxer engine lifted from the previous R 1200 GS, combined riding yields about 5.0L/100km. Top-ups come just past 280km on the trip, which is comforting if you’re thinking of taking the bike up north.
Old Timey Style Gunslinger
110hp and 116Nm might not seem adequate in today’s crowd, but the nineT straddles the line between the retro-and-relaxed segment (Triumph Thunderbird, Moto Guzzi V7) and modern techno cruisers like the Ducati Diavel or Yamaha V-Max.
And it’s not slow either. The R nineT really impresses off the line with its short-wheel base, lower final drive ratio (2.9:1 on the R nineT vs. 2.75:1 on the R1200R, taken from a Police-spec R1200RT) and slicker shifting gearbox, much to the bewilderment of on-lookers.
Make no mistake, the power-plant is no push-over that bikes in this genre are usually associated with. This is no 60hp parallel twin or 85hp v-twin from yesteryear’s parts bin, or some crude brute-of-an-engine shoe-horned into a chassis with no purpose other than to brag that “yours is bigger”. If called upon, the R nineT will still do over 200km/h.
What’s the icing on the cake is how good the bike looks, even close up.
The build quality, attention to detail, purposeful spattering of forged aluminum bits, deep gloss metallic paint (black only), the single-sided swingarm all add up to considerable effect.
Coincidentally, the R nineT’s debut also marks BMW Motorrad’s 90th anniversary and it’s quite fitting the bike itself is the crystallisation of the brand’s characteristics: The air-cooled boxer engine, love or loathe torque reaction when revved at standstill, all cast into a solid riding, back-to-basics machine.
Sure, a lot of energy has been invested in getting Japanese custom bike builders to showcase their prowess with the R nineT. Yes, Wunderlich, Rizoma, AC Schnitzer, and Roland Sands also have bits to help you personalize your R nineT, but when the original is already so pretty, timeless and full of character, it seems to us a bit of a stretch. Of course, let’s not mention Singapore’s ridiculous laws on motorcycle mods.
The R nineT really hits a sweet spot for bike ownership. It looks great, rides very well and is imbued with the right balance of spirit and ease of use. All of which just makes you want to ride it everywhere. That’s good, since isn’t whole point about bikes riding them?
BMW R nineT
Engine type 1,170cc, 8V, boxer twin, air-cooled
Bore X Stroke 101 x 73mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual
Max power 110bhp at 7,000rpm
Max torque 119Nm at 6,000rpm
Front Suspension 46mm USD forks, non-adjustable
Rear Suspension BMW Paralever, Adjustable rebound, pre-load
Front Brakes Dual 320mm floating disc, Brembo four-piston, ABS
Rear Brakes Single 260mm disc, 2-piston
0 to 100km/h Not quoted
Top speed >200km/h
Dry Weight 200kg
Seat Height 785mm
Price $38,000 (OTR)