BMW R nineT
Born in 2014, the BMW R nine T was the latest product of an increasingly popular retro motorcycle trend that forced major manufacturers to re-consider contemporary design and no longer cast trendy city-dwellers aside as nothing more than a niche.
- Latest news: BMW R nine T range updated for 2021
Drawing inspiration from 90 years of experience, innovation and heritage, the bike is more than just a styling exercise; with a modern chassis, suspension and braking components complementing a characterful 110bhp air-cooled boxer twin.
With an impeccable attention to detail, solid dealer network and modern performance, the BMW was an instant hit and has since spawned a number of variants; ranging from scramblers to café racers. It’s also seen off countless waves of competition from most major Japanese and European manufacturers, stamping its authority on the retro market time and time again.
As with most bikes in this field, the R nineT will be perfectly at home posing outside your local Starbucks on a sunny Sunday morning. However, when faced with a challenging B-road, is more than capable of carving up turn after turn, complete with a GS-inspired, rumbling boxer-twin soundtrack reverberating off your ear drums.
R nine T: the origin of the species
Launched in 2014, the original R nine T was a no-nonsense, upright roadster capable of tackling sweeping bends and carrying an impressive turn of speed from its air-cooled 110bhp 1170cc boxer-twin engine.
With a wide spread of power and thick dollops of torque and top-end pull, the bike will crack 135mph with the most extreme of Moto3-inspired tuck. What’s more, the deep, rumbling voice matches its looks; burbling through town and popping and banging delightfully on the overrun.
Unlike most modern machines, the bike featured no riding modes or traction control and instead relied on the skill of the pilot to keep it in a straight line. That said, you did get ABS and preload adjustment on the rear shock.
Available in black only, the forks are borrowed from the BMW S1000RR superbike and, although they aren’t adjustable, are sprung perfectly for road riding. Those wanting a higher spec are forced to turn to the optional extras catalogue, with even heated grips being a dealer-fit accessory.
Since that time, BMW have added a series of colour options, with the most expensive being 'Option 719' finished in a series of reds and blues and setting you back an additional £1000. BMW also offer the option of traction control, with the idea that you can customise your machine with an array of upgrades to truly make it your own.
- Engine: 1170cc Four-stroke, air-cooled DOHC, 8v boxer twin
- Max power: 110bhp
- Torque: 88ft-lb
- Weight: 222kg
- Seat height: 785mm
- Top speed: 135mph
- MPG: 44
Think of the Scrambler as a great looking lightweight version of the GS that is pleasingly lacking in the fussy electronics that the latest water-cooled model is so adorned with.
Still delivering a comfortable riding stance and decent tank range, while it’s ultimately less practical and a bit more demanding, the Scrambler has a special character and unique appeal all of its own.
R nine T Racer
MCN was fortunate enough to run a Racer as part of the 2017 long-term test fleet at the hands of former Senior Editor Matt Wildee.
Using much of the same equipment as the rest of the R nineT family, the machine offers plenty of characterful poke from its boxer twin motor alongside a set of sleek café racer plastics that instantly take you back to the 1970s.
The original Racer cost £1500 less than the standard R nine T, however doesn’t benefit from any of the quality S1000RR-derived fully-adjustable suspension and brakes. It’s also quite uncomfortable at low speed, thanks to a long reach to the handlebars, which puts a lot of weight on your forearms.
This variation of the R nineT gains its name from its budget spec and equipment and sits as a cheaper alternative to the standard original machine, with a smaller price tag.
At its launch, the Pure was just £9990 and was claimed to be the 'perfect canvas' for custom bike builders and those wanting to add a personal touch to their retro roadster.
Compared to the then £12,220 big-money R nineT, the Pure had 43mm non-adjustable right way-up forks, rather than the USD items. Gone also are the radial calipers and in its place lies a set of axial-mounted Brembos.
What’s more, there’s a steel, rather than aluminium, fuel tank and a single instrument binnacle with no rev counter. Despite less luxury, you still get the same chassis as the Racer, Scrambler and Urban G/S as well as the same Boxer engine, meaning it remains an engaging, credible motorcycle.
Little more than a re-styled R nineT Scrambler, the Urban G/S oozes urban spirit and charm. With the same chassis and wheels as the Scrambler, it handles exactly the same as its donor bike, with far more agility than you would expect from this genre.
With a hard seat and relatively pointless fairing, this is a bike for short blasts, rather than longer trips (which are far better suited to the conventional GS range).
That said, the boxer lump is charming and the attention to detail is stunning, with the bike turning heads wherever it goes. At its launch, the base model was a hefty £10,550 - with all the options boxes ticked (including traction control) costing you an additional £635.
Facing its rivals
With the popularity of retro motorcycles growing exponentially year on year, the market place is now saturated with machines from almost all major manufacturers.
Arguably the standard bike’s closest rivals come in the form of Kawasaki’s Z900RS, Triumph’s Speed Twin 1200 and Honda’s CB1100 EX, which all offer a similar level of performance, charm and cool-factor.
Launched in 2017, the Kawasaki Z900RS offers a respectable 109bhp and decent handling, alongside 70s-inspired styling. Like the BMW, there is a fastidious attention to detail, transforming the standard Z900 naked into a 1972 Z1 for the modern era.
Alongside the styling, Kawasaki modified the Z900’s upper frame so they could fit the tank and seat horizontally, like the original bike. There are also higher-spec monobloc calipers, which trump the donor bike’s conventional brakes. You also get a three-way switchable traction control system and retro-styled Dunlop GPR-300 tyres.
Triumph Speed Twin 1200
The Triumph Speed Twin 1200 first appeared in January 2019, taking the café racer Thruxton 1200 and transforming it into an upright roadster capable of demolishing fast sweepers in mountains of comfort.
Producing a slightly more modest 96bhp from its 1200cc 8v parallel twin engine, the £10,500 Trumpet is slightly more expensive than the R nineT Pure and aforementioned Kawasaki, however you get plenty of kit for your money including traction control and over 80 optional extras dedicated solely to this model.
Honda CB1100 EX
Like the Kawasaki, the Honda uses an inline-four engine, however produces just 88.5bhp from it’s 1140cc capacity. This is compared to the Z900RS’ 109bhp from its much smaller 948cc lump, which is still less than the R nineT.
Lacking traction control, the CB gets preload adjustment on the front and rear, alongside ABS and a refined but raw feel from its silky smooth motor. Although perfectly pleasant to ride, it lacks the performance and engagement of its competition. A price tag of £11,499 also makes it seem overpriced by comparison.