BMW's retro roadster: NineT shades of ecstasy

24 May 2015 - 02:00 By Paul Ash
It may have retro leanings, but the BMW R nineT was built for the modern day.
It may have retro leanings, but the BMW R nineT was built for the modern day.
Image: Paul Ash

First BMW's R nineT seduces you with its looks, then this motorbike hooks you forever with the way it rides. By Paul Ash

The second I saw her, I knew they had got it right. We were stuck in traffic, my girl and I, when we heard this beautiful, unmistakeable rumble. A glossy black-and-silver BMW eased alongside, its pilot leaning on the hump of its fuel tank. Round headlight. A glimpse of spoked wheels. A dull gold gleam from the inverted front fork. The heavy murmur of a Boxer twin engine. A ghost of bikes past.

"Look!" I gasped.

"Beautiful," she said.

"That's the one," I said.

It's tough to be a designer of motorcycles. How do you break out from the cramp of having two wheels and a motor and some handlebars to bolt onto a frame? Sometimes, though, the strange alchemy of engineering and heart crackle and from it comes a machine that rises above these ersatz times.

The BMW R nineT is one of those. I saw it and meant to have it, even if it must be burglary.

Happily, there was no need for such extremes - the fine people at Bavarian Motorcycles in Centurion have a demo bike which I was able to spirit away for a few days. When I felt the glorious sideways kick of a Boxer engine bursting into life, I was hooked.


There has been a good deal of philosophising from BMW about the R nineT. The bike holds the DNA of BMW, they said - a machine with a lot of ancestors. At first glance in the twilight, it looks like a refined R90S, the '70s 900cc superbike that epitomised all that was great about BMW's motorcycles.

But look closer and it's not a R90 at all. See the air- and oil-cooled 1170cc Boxer engine, the brushed aluminium kneepads on the tank, the flat café racer seat with its white stitching. Look at the aluminium triple clamps, that rorty double-barrel Akrapovic exhaust, the gorgeous gold anodised front fork...

It has retro leanings, sure, but this is a bike for our day. Only it's naked - no fairings or windscreens or any of the other crap that manufacturers hide their machines under, and anyway, who needs a windscreen? What are you, soft?

I could clog your head with the specs, or how the R nineT was designed to be customised by its owner; or I could just show you what it did for me, because the best way to get the measure of a bike is to hit the open road before dawn on an autumn Sunday.

The open road - a tough call in Johannesburg where streets are perpetually clogged with traffic, and what used to be countryside is now mile upon mile of Tuscanovia.

Hence the early start. I wheeled the bike out of the garage, thumbed the starter, and long before sunrise we were whipping through Kya Sands (amazing how the pre-dawn glow can add beauty to anything) and down the Broederstroom road.

The R nineT and I were fast friends by the time we hustled past the home of the chicken pie and across the Crocodile River, the sweet bark of the Akropovics scattering the night's terrors in a most satisfying manner. I revelled in the icy chill of the dips - riding a bike teaches unforgettable lessons in meteorology - and with our headlight blazing like a lightsabre, we beat the sun into Broederstroom.


We turned west onto an empty road. I let the R nineT run and delighted in its many charms. A slick gearbox, shaft drive - the benchmark of motorbike civilisation - its ABS brakes, the simple analogue speedo and rev counter, and a throttle crisper than a new R200 note. Oh, that throttle - roll it on in top gear and just fly away...

Balloons were climbing into the sky at Scheerpoort (sorry for the noise, folks), and pickers were trudging to their work in the fields. Sometimes I would pull off just to listen to the silence and the ticking of the cooling engine.

And so we ambled back over the mountain and through the sweeping bends to Kromdraai where the first of the day's cyclists and breakfast-runners were beginning to appear in packs.

Despite the chill, I felt that exultation that comes as you settle into the groove of a long bike trip. I can count on the fingers of one road-trip-chilled hand the bikes that have done that for me. Like I said, sold at first sight. Now, about that one hundred and fifty grand.


Engine: Air/oil-cooled 1170cc four-stroke flat twin

Power: 81kW at 7 500rpm

Torque: 119Nm at 7 500rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual, shaft drive

Top speed: Over 200km/h

Weight: 220kg with full fuel

Fuel consumption: 4.5l/100km at 80km/h, 5.8l/100km at 120km/h

Price: R159 000

The R nineT was kindly loaned by Bavarian Motorcycles, Centurion.


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