With the R NineT (the name is a nod towards BMW's 90th anniversary), BMW has been very clever. Avoiding the obvious retro path it's instead built a fantastic looking machine claimed to encapsulate the spirit and philosophy of pure motorcycling.
Rather than simply building an old shonker, BMW has given itself scope to add quality equipment to make a bike that handles and performs like a modern naked, but looks infinitely cooler for retro fans. A combination that most certainly floats PH2's boat both in terms of style and performance. It is, quite simply, bloody brilliant.
Anyone who went to the Motorcycle Show in Brum will know pictures simply can't do the BMW justice. Even under the show's fluorescent lights the NineT looked fabulous. Add Spanish sun and the key in your hand and it is little short of drop dead gorgeous.
When you walk around the bike (mine had the accessories seat and bullet pillion cover) you can't help but admire the little details. The BMW logo in the centre of the light, the ease at which the tail unit and pillion peg hangers simply unbolt, the quality of the fasteners and, best of all, the completely pointless but wonderfully cool old style BMW frame badge. That's the great thing about the NineT, despite the fact it is stripped down to its very bare bones, BMW hasn't skimped on any components or features that will add to its heritage or appeal.
When you speak to the NineT's project leader, Roland Stocker, you can see why. Pony tailed and wearing a lumberjack shirt (the shirt is part of the BMW clothing range, the pony tail isn't), Roland spends most of his time fiddling with old-school bikes. The NineT is the bike Roland wanted to build and he is heavily into the whole scene. As such the NineT is authentic, built by a proper enthusiast. And one who was prepared to stick up for himself.
With the NineT Roland had a very clear impression of what the bike needed to be and that's why it is lacking virtually all electronic gadgetry. No traction control, fuel modes, power modes or even water-cooling. ABS was allowed, but only on the insistence that it wasn't linked front and back so that the rider could impress their mates with a burnout or two. But when a modern part improved the feel or spirit of the bike, such as the handling, then that wasn't an issue, which is why the NineT has radial brakes and inverted forks from the S1000RR (minus any form of adjustment). But as with any bike the true feel comes from the motor and in the case of the NineT its the old air/oil-cooled GS engine, complete with the off-road bike's lower gearing on the shaft drive for a bit of poke. And the NineT certainly has some guts...
Old school flyer
Hit the starter on the pleasingly minimal switchgear and the boxer engine burbles into life with real throatiness. There is the familiar side to side sway that the older engine came with (reduced in the water-cooled motor) and even a very pleasing clunk as first gear is engaged. The older boxer always had a clunky gearbox, something that suits the NineT down to the ground. It's character- rather than shudder-inducing like an old Brit single's gearbox.
Get the hammer down and the NineT handles really nicely. On some twisty coastal roads with just a metal barrier separating us from a lot of air and jagged rocks below, the NineT was fabulous. The boxer engine is stacked full of low down drive (it will happily wheelie in second with a bit of clutch as encouragement), which is what you would expect, but it was the chassis that impressed me the most. The forks give excellent feedback and the harder you push the NineT the better it gets. Scrub some speed, chuck it into a corner and then nail the throttle on the exit, this was an old-school ride at its very best but on a bike that performed like a modern machine. After about 10 minutes on the NineT I was grinning from ear to ear. BMW has made an absolute winner and sales are already reflecting this fact.
BMW has already sold out of nearly every NineT it can make and dealers are screaming for more stock. Not that it will do them much good, even factory workers in Berlin will have to wait until 2015 until they can buy one! And dealers PH2 spoke to back up both the demand and short supply. Will this dent its popularity? I think not.
The NineT is an exclusive machine that won't go out fashion as it is already retro styled. If the fashion passes, the NineT will remain a very cool looking bike with the potential for some seriously off the wall personalisation. As BMW has given this bike modern handing and a fairly modern engine, the NineT isn't just a garage ornament, it is a bike to be ridden. And if Roland is anything to go by, ridden hard!
BMW R NINET
Engine: 1,170cc, air/oil-cooled boxer twin
Torque: 88lb ft@ 6,000rpm
Top speed: 140mph (est)
Weight: 222kg (wet)
MPG: 53mpg (est)
Some onboard footage here.