Not only is nostalgia a warm, fuzzy place, now it also brakes, handles, and spools up with authority. Meet the geek-free retro R Nine T.
Getting there is half the fun” might be applicable to four wheels. But if you’re aboard BMW’s new retro/classic R nineT, getting there is now officially three quarters of the fun—maybe seven eighths.
Retro motorcycles are cool. For those of us who’ve been around the block a few times, they’re a return to the motorcycles of our youth, but without the leaky engines, wonky carburetion and somewhat suspect reliability. Most “modern” retro bikes capture the looks of old-time motorcycling, they’re infinitely more reliable and completely leak-free, but for the most part, they have about as much soul as a John Tesh concert.
With BMW’s success in the four-wheeled world, it’s easy to forget it was initially a motorcycle company that built a few cars. They’ve been building motorcycles for a few years now—90 to be exact. Which is why the $16,200 BMW R nine T is a play on words harkening back to their first Superbike (the mid ‘70s R90) as well as cleverly working in what anniversary they’re celebrating.
Over the past few years, ‘70s and ‘80s Boxers have been popular with small, boutique custom shops turning out minimalist, café-styled motorcycles and the BMW R nine T brings some of that hand-built custom vibe to a showroom model.
The nine carries a strong traditional-retro theme without being “campy.” The 18-litre aluminum fuel tank has brushed unpainted contrasting areas (traditional rubber kneepads are a factory option), the paint seems miles deep and the fit and finish are outstanding. The intake ducts, handlebar clamps and fork yokes are brushed aluminum and contrast nicely with the massive gold anodized fork tubes—the BMW roundel nestled in the headlight lens is a nice touch.
The complete design is something even the Italians should take note of. Nothing is overdone, nothing is there that doesn’t serve a purpose and on the whole, the impression is tasteful elegance.
Fortunately, the tech geeks weren’t allowed anywhere near this motorcycle so there’s no traction control or adjustable power modes, no ride-by-wire, Electronic Suspension Adjustment and definitely no infotainment bushwah. Try and do without the MP3 player, GPS or Bluetooth for a while. Your stockbroker’s call can wait. Just get out and ride.
An 1170cc, air and oil-cooled Boxer twin with double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder supply power. A central balancer shaft quells unwelcome shakes and BMW claims a respectable 110 hp and 88 ft/lb. torque. They must’ve taken some flywheel out of the old girl as it’s a very free-revving unit, eager to rock and roll once the throttle is turned.
The frame is an all-new tubular steel unit but instead of the traditional Telelever front suspension, the BMW nine T has the 46mm male-slider forks lifted off the S1000RR, although without any of the superbike’s adjustability. The proven cast aluminum, single-side swingarm with Paralever linkage and a single shock, adjustable for preload and rebound damping, bring up the rear.
The wheels are retro-looking wire spoke, 17-inch units, with a hefty 180/55 section bun out back and a 120/70 up front. It rides well on pockmarked roads courtesy of the fairly generous suspension travel—120mm up front and 135mm at the rear.
Huge twin 320mm front discs squeezed by four-pot monoblock radial-mount calipers are strong enough to stop a runaway Freightliner careening down the east face of the Rockies. Under normal use, two fingers are all you need to bring the bike to a safe, controlled stop and, in one of the few concessions to 2014, ABS is standard.
A unique feature of the nine T is the new exhaust system made for BMW by Akrapovic, with twin upswept silencers on the left side of the bike, instead of the traditional right side.
And the sound! Mon Dieu, what a sound. Midway through the first really good blast through the gears, I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing. Seriously, I think that the R nineT’s exhaust note is perhaps the sweetest-sounding stock pipes since the early ‘70s Norton peashooters.
The 785mm seat height makes it easy for even those short of inseam to reach the ground with both feet and, despite looking somewhat flat and unappealing, the seat is actually fairly comfortable. The bars are high and wide, so the riding position isn’t as sporty as the 1200R and even I, at six-three, didn’t feel overly compromised by the bars to seat to pegs relationship.
No video game dash layout here, just the basic analogue tach and speedo, although apparently one computer geek got past security as there’s a digital gear indicator, digital odometer, twin tripmeters and fuel consumption monitors (average and current). Said geek also managed to wangle LED tail and brake lights into the package as well as covertly planting a computer chip into the ignition key which cannot be copied, making hotwiring impossible. Okay, maybe a few concessions to the modern era aren’t all bad.
When a bike looks this good, there’s an always an undercurrent of doubt as to whether it will perform, but fear not. The BMW R nine T runs, turns and stops just as good as it looks. Maybe better.
Blip the throttle and it’s still old school as, unlike the newer Boxers, the bike rocks to the right with a nice bark from the dual stacked exhausts. Pull the surprisingly light clutch lever, snick into first gear and the nine effortlessly pulls away.
The 110 horses should meet anyone’s daily requirements, plus the torque curve is flat, the throttle response seamless and there’s mid-range by the metric ton. It’s an absolute hoot squirting through traffic or strafing your favourite twisties, and freeway cruising is effortless, although with the upright riding position and zero wind protection, the rider is subjected to the full force of the airstream, making him feel somewhat like a human spinnaker.
by Steve Bond Canadian Biker July 2014