Motorcycles

Road test: BMW R NineT

BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalog, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalog, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalog, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalog, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalogue, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalogue, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalogue, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW's R nineT is the best looking bike in the BMW catalogue, and a fine thing to ride as well (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's dash (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT's dash (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's boxer engine cylinder head (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT's boxer engine cylinder head (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT attracts its fair share of attention (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT attracts its fair share of attention (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's tank (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT's tank (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW R nineT – rear view (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BMW R nineT – rear view (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's paralever shaft drive (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT's paralever shaft drive (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
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The BMW R nineT (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT – "a retro roadster with old-school meets new-school beauty" (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT – "a retro roadster with old-school meets new-school beauty" (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)

BMW's R nineT is a refreshing bit of reminiscence from a brand in transition. It resonates with BMW designs of decades past, with a retro-cool roadster design and a big fat 1200cc boxer engine, even as the company establishes itself as a force in the razor sharp end of the superbike and super-naked field. It's the kind of bike people want to pose for photos with; it oozes class and quality from every pore – and it's on 12-month waiting lists in many countries as a result. It rides well, but it makes some sacrifices at the altar of beauty.

BMW's R nineT was designed around a couple of key philosophies – firstly, reductionism: a simple bike reduced to its essence. Secondly, it was conceived as a kind of "blank canvas" for owners to customize to the same kind of level you'd generally see with a Harley.

On the first axis, it's a success. Engine, drivetrain, minimalist seat, single headlight, simple dash, and none of the myriad electronic switches you now expect on a BMW switchblock. There's ABS brakes, but no traction control, electronic suspension, switchable engine maps or even heated handgrips.

The BMW R nineT's dash (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's dash (Photo: Loz Blain)

On the second, well, the whole back half of the bike can be switched around between a few different options straight out of the catalog. The pillion pegs can be removed with just a few bolts, there's a cowl option to give a cafe racer look, and it doesn't take much longer to pull the whole back seat off altogether for a snub-nosed streetfighter look. The bike's frame itself isn't the most attractive thing in the whole world – rather an important bit if you're going to go full custom – but as we showed recently, these four Japanese custom builders were able to get a range of different looks out of it.

The big Boxer engine dominates the riding experience. It's enormous – I could hardly get it through my front gate – and its note is warm, rich and booming, even through the standard exhaust. It leaps away from lights and makes a lot of torque in the low end and midrange before tapering off a little at the top end to a peak of 110 hp (82 kW). Better still, that big Boxer flywheel gives it a torque reaction like an old V8. Rev it up at a standstill and it'll throw the bike sideways. It feels alive.

The gearbox, on the other hand, feels a bit dead. It doesn't give you much feedback through the boot, and you often find yourself relying on the gear position indicator on the dash to figure out if you've finished a shift ... even from neutral to first. Mind you, you get used to it fairly quickly, and the NineT doesn't give you false neutrals or miss changes – it's purely a feedback thing.

BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BMW R nineT (Photo: Noel McKeegan)

Brakes and suspension are run-of-the-mill roadster fare. The brakes give adequate feel and bite without being exciting, and the suspension stays under control until the pace comes up on a bumpy road and it starts to get overwhelmed. The forks are non-adjustable versions of the S1000RR's racebike forks, and the shock allows basic preload and rebound adjustment – the preload with a fantastic hand adjusting screw, and the rebound with the use of a hex key.

And here's where we start hitting a few head-scratching design choices. The tool kit with the hex key in it lives under the seat. You need a torx driver to get the seat off. Who the heck keeps a torx driver handy? My rebound damping went unadjusted. If you wanted to ride the nineT hard, you'd throw a few dollars at getting the suspension revalved, but I suspect most owners will find the stock gear very satisfactory.

BMW R nineT – rear view (Photo: Loz Blain)
BMW R nineT – rear view (Photo: Loz Blain)

The seat is there for its looks and isn't super comfortable on longer stints. I'm a big guy, and I even felt it creaking a bit, as if it might not hold me up forever. This is one area I'd point my customizing urges at. Another is the spoked wheels, which look great but require tubed tires, meaning that if you get a puncture on some lonely mountain road, you can't fix it. Tubeless conversion kits are available aftermarket, but I've got no idea how well they work and if you need talent to install them.

The BMW R nineT's tank (Photo: Loz Blain)
The BMW R nineT's tank (Photo: Loz Blain)

It's not a distance tourer, or a backroads thrasher, or even a cruiser. It's a retro roadster with old-school meets new-school beauty, solid handling and rockstar presence you can't put a price on. It's a lovely bike and its sales success is well deserved. And for some reason it makes me really want to throw a leg over the Concept Roadster, a future-sporty streetfighter concept based on the same platform.

For my money, I'd like to see an R nineT done up with chunky scrambler tires, I think it'd look sensational.

9 comments
SEPP
Loz Blain is the greatest! Looking forward to more from him. His road test of the BMW R nine T is the best I've read in a long time. Been around motorcycles all my life and very few testers come close to his style and prose. Has Loz ever tested a Harley-Davidson Super Low 1200T? I just bought one and would love to hear his comments.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
@SEPP: heartily concur, great review! Love the humor in the vid! Your Da's got a real future in acting! ☺
Greg Elmassian
Huh? You cannot fix a tube in a tire, but you can fix a tubeless one? It's harder to fix a tubeless tire, if you cannot plug it you have a problem, if you cannot get it all the way on the rim, no way you are doing that with a tire pump... I'd say the downside of the spoked wheels is that they won't run as true as a cast one. Also, you could have carried a torx with you on the probably one time you wanted to adjust the forks, I doubt anyone would be doing this every ride. Also, how many thieves carry torx? Not many, so maybe your hex wrench won't be stolen. I'm surprised on the nit-pick items and not more "meat" like performance figures, how far you can lean it over before you scrape the valve covers, etc. Oh, I have owned 2 BMW motorcycles, not just ridden one. Less fluff and more meat please. Greg
chidrbmt
Second that motion. Loz is the best writer at Gizmag (equal to the best bike mags too). Why didn't BMW use the same type of spoke rims as the GS to allow tubeless tires? The original simple,light weight,easy to work on,reliable 80's Airheads were some of the best bikes ever made. Now they're way expensive,over weight, and so complicated they need dealer computers to work on the computers. 600 lb. "duel purpose" ya right. Keep them "K.I.S.S.
johanschaller
Brilliant review Loz. And the video's a pearler - keep it up!
mokkybear54
Nice review - love the backlit feature photo. Looks like a fun bike, but not for my garage due to some of its peculiarities you point out (compromises for style). Don't be afraid of Torx fasteners, Loz - they're technically better than Hex, and it isn't too hard to carry all the sizes you need for most jobs. I do that for my F800ST in a mini-Maglite plastic case under the seat; your friendly farmer's daughters will have a 3/8" t-bar or ratchet handle if that doesn't fit too, and you can keep one Torx key in your pocket to remove the seat. Not sure about the tubeless conversion (yes, I agree, tubeless is easier to repair on the roadside). Does the rim have safety lips? The GS-style rims would have sufficed, in my opinion. chidrbmt - The GS1200 is a lot more powerful and capable than the original GS800, so expect it to be bigger and heavier. If you want something smaller/lighter, try the F800GS - it would blitz the 80s airheads in every way. Performance, ease of maintenance and fuel efficiency mean bikes are pretty much all computer controlled these days, and it isn't such a mystery if you have the right equipment. A South African company makes a diagnostic tool (GS911) that can Bluetooth to your phone by the roadside for real time values or fault finding, or plug into you PC/laptop in the workshop. I have one and have done all the maintenance on my ST since warranty - now over 80,000 brilliantly fun and reliable km in all sorts of conditions (there's a little bit of GS in every BMW :-) ). Nostalgia for the old bikes is fine, but modern ones are actually a lot more capable, reliable and better value for money.
Lyndon Leverington
Another awesome review Loz! That's a gorgeous looking bike. Can you please tell me the name of the road you were riding on at around 6 minutes in the video? I assume it's out of Melbourne.. (It's Glenmore Road, Rowsley Valley - Ed) BTW I bought the Sena 20S based on your review and bloody love it! Cheers!
Nick Herbert
A customizable 1200cc Boxer Beemer...? Reminds me of my old R1200C and awakens the urge to throw a leg over again...Which I'll resist, for now.
DanielHaffner
Nice review! When you buy one, bmw gives you a key that looks exactly like the ignition key...except it a torx key for the seat.
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