2017 retro bike of the year: BMW R nineT Urban G/S
Launched in June it arrived fashionably late, but the new BMW R nineT UrbanG/S has come straight into our number one top slot– immediately establishingitself as our favourite retro of 2017.
Like the Triumph Thruxton and the Ducati Scrambler family, the R nineT range has established itself as one of the retro world’s big-hitters, offering traditional looks and air-cooled simplicity, meshed with 21st Century handing, braking, electronic refinement, grip and safety.
Launched back in 2014 the original R nineT was an instant showroom success and over the years BMW have stretched that winning formula to produce various different versions. For 2017 there’s the pared-down Pure, off-road Scrambler, the Racer (AKA The Torture Bike - probably the most uncomfortable bike on sale) and now this: the Urban G/S.
The cynical may roll their eyes as BMW roll out yet another R nineT variant, but the Urban G/S is very special. It’s inspired by one of the most iconic off-roaders of the 80s: the M-Sport liveried1984, Dakar-winning R80G/S.
With its wide bars, roomy riding position and big Mickey Mouse-eared mirrors the funky Beemer mixes easy comfort with practicality. The gearbox, clutch and throttle are all light and a delight to operate, the steering is crisp, Brembos have serious bite and the barely-legal rasp from the perky 110bhp, 1170cc boxer motor is addictive. Build quality is exceptional and the paintwork is tank-strokingly lustrous. You can either spec it with dual-purpose rubber, or hardcore off road Continental TCK80 knobblies.
Talking of mud-plugging, the BMW isn’t just a Dakar-liveried pipe dream, it has proper off-road credentials, especially with the Contis fitted. Turn off the traction control, let the back hangout and the wide-barred Urban G/S is more fun slip-sliding away than it has any right to be. The easy power delivery, flawless throttle response and exquisite feel from the chassis gives you the confidence away from the tarmac, so much so that when we pitched the BMW against the XT500-inspired Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled in a disused quarry near Peterborough HQ in the summer, it won all the plaudits.
The Urban G/S is an off-road inspired retro feel-good bike. It offers thrills at sane speeds on the road and the chance to have fun on the dirt. It’s loaded with attitude, is easy to manage and has quality coursing through its veins. It faced serious competition from the Desert Sled and Café Racer and BMW’s own R nineT Pure this year, but it only takes a few miles for the Urban G/S to steal your heart.
Our initial review
With the current trend for retro off-road models, it was only going to be a matter of time until BMW revived the iconic G/S name. But does the new 2017 BMW R nineT Urban G/S do the iconic 1980s R80 G/S model justice? If you want a spirited air-cooled retro that looks fantastic, sounds even better and handles like a modern motorcycle, you can’t go too far wrong with the new Urban G/S.
It may be heavily based around the R nineT Scrambler, but the Urban does have a few significant differences. Aside from the visual ones such as the new high mudguard, retro paint scheme and red seat, the Urban gets a single exhaust silencer where the Scrambler has a twin stacked system.
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Looking suspiciously similar to the one on the R nineT Pure, it angrily barks its intent with more resonance than the Scrambler’s pipes and when you get on the open road and give it some throttle the sound gets even more thrilling. It’s a wonderful note and conspires with the air-cooled boxer’s thumping drive and character vibrations to really enhance the whole experience. And riding the Urban G/S is an experience – a good one at that.
Despite their heritage looks, the R nineT models never fail to impress when it comes to handling and the Urban G/S retains this trait. With the same chassis and wheels as the Scrambler, it comes as no surprise it handles identically and allows more angle and corner speed than you would rightly expect from such a bike.
And all backed up with brakes that are also thoroughly modern in their performance levels and have ABS as standard. However, as much fun as the Urban is, it certainly isn’t the world-dominating all-round performer the original G/S was.
In reality the Urban’s small nose cowl does very little to deflect any windblast and the seat is a touch on the firm side when compared to that on modern GS models. This is a machine designed for short hops and looking good rather than long distance hauls and in that way it does slightly let the G/S name down.
However as a great looking modern take on the iconic G/S, it’s a finely styled bike that is bags of fun to ride and way better looking than the muted Scrambler it is based on. That said, I wish BMW had given it proper enduro pegs and brush guards as standard to enhance its already rugged looks.