Rnine T in action: Costa rides BMW’s factory cafe racer

If you’ve been riding a long time, chances are you’ve likely bonded with a bike or two over the years. Bikes I have bonded with include the BMW R80G/S, the Harley-Davidson Sportster (with rigid engine mounting), and the air-cooled Ducati Super Sport, amongst others.

Hopping aboard any of these bikes immediately takes me back to my early riding days, when motorcycles exerted a mechanical simplicity free of frills or gadgets. I used to be a mechanic, after all, and a big part of what attracted me to motorcycles was their nakedness – an exposed engine connected by lots of steel and aluminium.

The BMW R nineT is the latest machine to make it onto my list of favourites. When it was first announced late last year to commemorate 90 years of BMW motorcycle production it didn’t strike me as particularly special. I initially wrote it off as just another factory retro: Charming and probably quite efficient, but just another machine aiming to woo the hipster crowd, without pedigree or substance.

One look at the bike in the metal and my opinion began to swing; one ride and I began contemplating growing a beard, rolling up my jean bottoms into cuffs and finding enough cash for the deposit.

There isn't a lot of high-tech trickery aboard the R nineT - just ABS (standard on all Beemers) and EFI.
There isn’t a lot of high-tech trickery aboard the R nineT – just ABS (standard on all Beemers) and EFI.

WHAT’S NEW

Right now, the R nineT is the only air-cooled boxer in BMW's lineup.
Right now, the R nineT is the only air-cooled boxer in BMW’s lineup.

There isn’t much high-tech trickery beneath what little of its skin there is. The engine is cradled in a frame made of tubular steel, and up front is a telescopic fork, a rarity among modern BMW boxers, even if it is of the inverted variety.

Styling is refreshingly understated and aside from the gold-tone fork uppers, the bike is mostly black with a few silver highlights. The only chrome you’ll find is on the header pipes, which lead to a stylish, bifurcated muffler made of titanium. The fuel tank is made from aluminum, wheels are spokes, and the high-performance HP2 Enduro notwithstanding, when was the last time you saw tubed tires on a BMW boxer?

The simplicity extends to the gauges, which feature no bells or whistles, no colour displays; just analogue dials and a central LCD display. Some BMW purists will lament the absence of heated grips (they are optional), but I remember a time when lined gloves were a biker’s only defence against cold morning rides.

There are no ride modes, no traction control, minimal suspension adjustability (none up front, and only rebound damping and preload in the rear) and the only modern technology you’ll find is the fuel injection system and ABS, one a necessity to meet emissions standards, the other standard on all BMW motorcycles.

Accessories Costa ordered included a solo seat setup.
Accessories Costa ordered included a solo seat setup.

ACCESSORIZABLE

Costa's customization might not get him a reality TV show, but it did the job.
Costa’s customization might not get him a reality TV show, but it did the job.

BMW has gone to lengths to make the R nineT readily customizable, and this includes modifying the wiring harness to help ease replacement of items like the head and taillight, and the turn signals.

There are also threaded nubs on the drive housing to accommodate a taillight/licence bracket assembly for adventurous bike builders who decide to remove the entire subframe assembly, though they’ll either have to scour the aftermarket for one or make their own. I considered doing this until I saw pictures of a stripped R nineT and decided it looked rather incomplete.

However, I did want to try some modifications of my own (I was serious about that cash deposit, after all), so I scoured the BMW accessory catalogue and ordered up whatever I thought I’d need to personalize the bike. The parts all came from BMW, but the aftermarket is beginning to catch on to this bike, and soon there will be countless doodads to spend your money on.

My final order form included a brushed aluminum passenger seat cowl and pad ($562/$110), mini LED turn signals ($61/ea) and rubber fuel tank pads ($61). I avoided all the carbon-fibre bits and pieces that are also available because, well, that stuff just doesn’t belong on a retro street bike.

Replacing the turn signals and other bolt-on parts was a quick, easy process.
Replacing the turn signals and other bolt-on parts was a quick, easy process.

Replacing the four turn signals (the connectors are easily accessible), installing the rubber fuel tank rubber pads (templates are included in the kit to positively locate them), and installing the passenger seat cowl (which adds a convenient storage compartment behind its removable pad) took no more than an hour to complete.

Also available is an accessory muffler and a separate connector pipe that relocates the muffler up high, but I prefer the look of the low mounted twin muffler, so those items were not added to my list. However, the replacement muffler mount that allows removal of the passenger footpeg subframe — which cleans up the rear end considerably — was something I quite fancied but alas it was on back order.

Since I installed the seat cowl and had no intention of taking on a passenger, I devised my own solution — as any proper hipster would do — by fabricating my own from steel tubing, sourced from a discarded folding chair (a 120-volt MIG welder comes in handy).

Now the R nineT was my R nineT – at least figuratively. We were ready for our first ride.

The Beemer's seating position matches its classic looks.
The Beemer’s seating position matches its classic looks.

THE RIDE

Handling on the R nineT is good, although the stiff suspension means a bad road will beat up the rider.
Handling on the R nineT is good, although the stiff suspension means a bad road will beat up the rider.

Swinging a leg over the R nineT is reminiscent of some vintage bikes I’ve ridden; you’re perched atop the machine, and you lean forward slightly to grasp the wide, slightly upswept handlebar. Seat height is 785 mm, and the seat is tapered to almost a point at the front so it’s easy to plant both your soles on the ground. Claimed wet weight is just 222 kg (489 lb), so it feels light, too.

And if its styling isn’t enough to seduce you, fire up the air-cooled, 1,170 cc boxer twin, and a deep, rich and surprisingly robust exhaust drone reaffirms the evocative visual cues the bike exudes, and it also confirmed my decision to leave the stock muffler on – it sounds fantastic.

Roll on the throttle and you’ll become completely enthralled. The 110-hp engine has massive bottom-end torque and a prairie-wide powerband and spins up quickly with a very alluring BLAT coming out the twin exhaust outlets, picking up revs more enthusiastically than I recall on other boxers in BMW’s line up.

It accelerates smoothly, yet forcefully regardless of what gear you select. Just roll on a handful of throttle in second gear and hang on as the front wheel parts company with the pavement with ease.

Costa found the clutch was light and the gearbox was smooth.
Costa found the clutch was light and the gearbox was smooth.

Clutch pull is light and the shift lever also has a very light, positive feel, a far cry from the BMW crunchboxes of yesteryear. Overall gearing is slightly shorter than on the R1200R, which contributes to the R nineT’s brisk acceleration, but also causes it to use more fuel. I measured 6L/100 km, which is good for 300 km from its 18-litre fuel tank.

The bike feels light on its feet, a feeling enhanced by the USD, non-Telelever front end. However, the suspension is firm, which contributes to the nineT’s ultra-nimble handling, but it also transmits larger bumps right into your backside.

The wide handlebar provides ample leverage, and the bike changes direction on the mere thought. The nineT is nonetheless stable at speed, yet it’s also sport-bike flickable on winding roads, transitioning effortlessly through esses and tightening up a turning line with ease.

A USD front end helps you handle turns with ease.
A USD front end helps you handle turns with ease.

CONCLUSION

If you do buy a nineT, you’ll have to sharpen your social skills, because people will approach you with questions, comments and complements.

Buy an R nineT, and people are going to want to talk to you about your bike.
Buy an R nineT, and people are going to want to talk to you about your bike.

“Sir, what year is your bike?” asked a cigarette-smoking grocery store employee on break as I pulled into a parking spot.

“It’s a 2014.” I replied.

“See?” he told a co-worker, “I told you it was a new bike!”

Regardless of what the initial impressions the R nineT leaves on bystanders, many take notice. Park it and watch people gather like seagulls around a discarded bag of fries.

Alas, all good things must come to pass and I was sad to part with the BMW R nineT, especially since I had formed a bond with it. It remained on my mind several days after its return, so much so that I began to look at my budget to see if I could scrounge enough cash to make a deposit.

With the R nineT gone back to BMW, Costa is now trying to figure out how to save up enough money to buy one.
With the R nineT gone back to BMW, Costa is now trying to figure out how to save up enough money to buy one.

Unfortunately, its $16,200 price tag is currently out of my reach, but it’s apparently not out of the reach of many others, as the bike is sold out for 2014 and orders have already been taken for 2015 models.

I haven’t given up my quest for cash, and I already have my first accessory for the machine; The muffler mount I made had to come off before the bike’s return. It now hangs by my desk as a motivator, though not much motivation will be needed to convince me the R nineT should be in my garage.


GALLERY

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Specifications

Taken from the Canada Moto Guide Buyer's Guide.
Manufacturer site
Brand
Kawasaki
Model
Categories
Cruiser - Standard
New/Returning
Returning for 2016
Msrp
$ 7,999
Enginesize
649 cc
Engine Type
Inline twin, DOHC with 4 valves/cyl, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke
Transmission
6-speed, chain
Clutch
Wet multi-plate
Fueling
Fuel Injection
Max Power
Max Torque
Seat Height, std
705 mm (27.8 in.)
Seat Height, options
Wheelbase
1575 mm (62 in.)
Fuel Capacity
14 L (3.7 USG)
Dry Weight
Curb Weight
226 kg (498 lbs.)
Brakes, front
Single 300 mm disc with 2-piston caliper
Brakes, rear
Single 250 mm disc with 2-piston caliper
Antilock Brakes (ABS)
ABS Standard
Suspension, front
41 mm Standard forks, non-adjustable with 130 mm of travel
Suspension, rear
Single shock, preload adjustable with 80 mm of travel
Tires, front
120/70-R18
Tires, rear
160/60-R17
Paint/Colours
CE - Metallic Matte Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Phantom Silver, SE - Metallic Imperial Blue/Metallic Spark Black (-$400), Metallic Matte Carbon Gray (-$600), Candy Matte Orange (-$600), (2015 Colours all -$600) Candy Lime Green/Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Crystal White, Metallic Royal Purple, Flat Ebony

Related Models

3 thoughts on “Rnine T in action: Costa rides BMW’s factory cafe racer”

  1. Beautiful bike, great review Costa and I like your exhaust bracket mod. My son Dunc just took delivery of a 2015 nineT (on my encouragement), which is waiting in the garage for a break in the rain …. we’re fortunate to live on Vancouver Island and ride year round, although the nineT is too pretty to ride in the wet.

    – Robb

  2. Costa, buy that bike! It’s the first bike I’ve seen you on that you don’t look awkward on! And it’s a R90S fairing away from being beautiful (though BMW had to bugger it up with the gold shocks).

    I rode one at the BMW MOA event this year at Mosport. Was nice enough, but the engine was still blah to me. In an age where there is so many exciting nakeds out there (BMW’s own 1000 comes to mind), and despite loving the looks, I couldn’t see myself jumping in. The 2015 R1200R might get me back on one though – though not sure the liquid heads have done enough.

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