BMW Motorrad's latest concept bike, shown at Concorso d'Elegenza Villa d'Este on the banks of Lake Como in Italy last weekend, takes the company's mid-range parallel twin engine to a new level of style and more importantly, function.
Extreme light weight and unprecedented levels of mass centralization combine with electromagnetically-attached panniers for a bike which crosses several class boundaries and, though not confirmed, is very likely to become a production model.
BMW has been steadfastly producing superbly balanced motorcycles with usable power for 95 years, only reluctantly joining the horsepower wars after its insistence on usability had earned it a staid reputation.
A decade after releasing the 200 horsepower S1000RR and laying that reputation to rest, the Concept 9cento (pronounced "nove cento") may well signify a new direction for the marque, which has been surging past its rivals with record global sales for the last seven consecutive years. BMW may still be a boutique manufacturer compared to the mass production giants from Japan and more recently India, but it now leads the chasing pack of low volume, high value specialist marques.
"A modern all-rounder for the mid-range segment"
"It doesn't always have to be about 'bolder, bigger, brighter' nowadays: this concept bike focuses on achieving a sense of balance," says Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design BMW Motorrad.
"We've created a bike that combines the appropriate power with reliable sports touring properties and above all lots of riding fun, so it's an attractive overall package. It brings together the best of the sports, adventure and touring segments to produce an exciting concept – in a class which has not seen this kind of model from BMW before.
"The BMW Motorrad Concept 9cento is our interpretation of a modern all-rounder for the new mid-range segment. Functional properties such as touring capability, storage space and wind/weather protection are relevant to most motorcyclists but they're rarely included in the design of a concept vehicle. In this year's concept bike we're demonstrating that all these rational aspects can be coupled with a dynamic design to create something really exciting and highly emotional."
Though details and specific numbers related to the 9cento were as sparse as with previous BMW Motorrad concept bikes, there are a few fairly obvious take-outs that can be discerned from the 9cento presentation we saw on the banks of Lake Como.
The first is that it is highly likely we'll see this bike on showroom floors. Concept bikes presented at the BMW-sponsored Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este often turn into production models, with precedents such as the R NineT and K1600B.
Secondly, the 9cento name signifies it is a 900. Whether that's a 900cc class motorcycle which has the same 853cc capacity vertical twin engine of the F850GS, or a full 900cc, we don't know.
Prior art is not a reliable guide as recent F Series models have strayed from traditional nomenclature. The F 750 GS and F850GS both share the same liquid-cooled, parallel-twin 853cc engine, with 57 kW (77 hp) and 70 kW (95 hp) maximum power respectively.
The strength of the vertical twin BMW motor is that it produces very strong mid-range and usable power in either guise, so it will be interesting to see if the mooted 9cento production bike actually gets stretched to 900cc or simply gets a further power boost and a new name. Regardless, 100 plus horses seems likely.
What is most obvious from the 9cento is the unprecedented levels of mass centralization, as is made clear in the image below of the bike without the bodywork, taken during its development.
Light weight is only one of the elements required for surgical precision in the swervery. Borrowing from a road test we published 14 years ago on a Buell XB12S (one of the first bikes to employ radical mass centralization): "One of the main reasons big touring bikes wallow and yaw on undulating and bumpy roads at speed is the amount of weight they carry at a distance from the centre of gravity – panniers, a heavy fairing, a top box and heavy mufflers all contribute to the shimmy and yaw to warn the rider that any more power or speed or unwanted road forces might cause the motorcycle to samba out of control."
Like the Buell, the 9cento is at the opposite end of the scale, with every fitting on the motorcycle designed to be as close to the centre of gravity as possible. This reduces the moment of inertia in pitch, roll and yaw, and with a sweet motor with loads of mid-range punch, it seems obvious that the 9cento will be a precision instrument on the road.
Apparently, BMW has also reinforced the frame triangle of the Concept 9cento with CFRP fleece, enabling the lightweight frame's overall weight to be minimized.
The integrated panniers break new ground in styling. We've seen panniers designed to blend with the lines of a motorcycle before, but never to this degree. Though the capacity of the cases is not large, the innovative system essentially offers two versions of the same bike. With the cases removed, the 9cento rear end almost disappears, though there is still the capacity to carry a pillion.
Adding the cases offers a far more roomy pillion seat and enough carrying capacity for wet weather gear and a change of jocks and socks, though the jury is out on whether you can carry enough for the needs of two people in such diminutive panniers. Sharing a toothbrush may be necessary. A comparison with the current F800S with traditional panniers (above) highlights BMW's wish to ensure that mass centralization is a key theme with the 9cento, right the way down to ensuring that even loaded for bear, it isn't going to allow any stray moments of inertia to get in the way of precise handling.
Emphasizing the dual nature of the bike, BMW Motorrad showed two jackets designed specifically for the bike: one for sports riding and one for looking stylish around town. Each reflects the concept bike's properties with the sports version featuring a combination of leather and kevlar with integrated 3D-printed shoulder protectors, while the round-town jacket gets a light grey leather treatment.
We can't wait
BMW pioneered long travel suspension on road bikes and the 9cento is no exception, with high quality suspension designed to ensure ride comfort and, BMW assures us, a "sense of light-footedness." With a fairing for wind and weather protection, traditional BMW ergonomics and Brembo radial-mount brake callipers up front, the 9cento looks likely to cover long distances at extreme speeds.
Usable power, exquisite balance, agility and lightness are rare bedfellows in a sports tourer, and this bike fills a niche that seems certain to add to BMW Motorrad's sales.
All they need to do now is build it.
Source: BMW Motorrad
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