Sometimes, things just fall into place. The 2014 BMW R nineT is such a motorcycle — a confluence of factors combined to create something special that no one person could have possibly predicted.
Well, maybe one person — Ola Stenegard, BMW Motorrad Head of Vehicle Design.
Begun as an off-grid basement special by the Swedish bike-culture immersed Stenegard, outside of the watchful eye of the more hidebound BMW brass, the nineT concept made itself public at the 2013 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este event in Northern Italy (and covered by Basem Wasef in UMC’s March/April 2014 issue).
The Concept 90, built in association with noted Californian custom builder Roland Sands, wowed the cognoscenti, and clamoring began for a production version of the bike honoring BMW’s 90th Anniversary.
To be sure, the final result is a visual treat and something quite different from BMW. As Stenegard told us, this is the first BMW motorcycle to originate from the design clan, rather than from the engineering group.
Although one can’t deny that the ungainly BMW R 1200 C that debuted in 1997 was BMW’s earliest custom cruiser, we feel confident calling the nineT the first successful bike of the sometimes challenging genre for the iconic German marque. Suffice to say, this is a significant motorcycle for BMW.
As a rider, there is much to like about the R nineT. However, you have to approach the bike from the proper perspective. With its stripped down appearance — black and aluminum, rather than flashily chromed — the nineT does have a purposeful stance that many may interpret as naked sport bike more than cruiser.
Ergonomically, the nineT supports those who see sport bike. The bars, although unique to the nineT, have a similar bend, width, and appearance to those on the S 1000 R naked superbike. The pegs are somewhat aft, though not particularly high, and the front end is serious – inverted forks, plus double 320mm discs with radially mounted Brembo calipers.
Contrary to those styling cues, the Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact tires have a tube inside, apropos of authentic wire wheels. The thin, flat seat is more about appearance than performance (or comfort), and underneath the hand-finished aluminum tank there’s an air-/oil-cooled boxer twin that is not the latest and greatest from Berlin. The nineT is a paradox, and riding it reveals all.
Without question, the nineT is a fantastic city bike. It is a natural in urban areas, and it may find itself becoming the quintessential hipster motorcycle for trust fund kids with $14,900 to burn—but, please, don’t hold that against it. Available in only black — with the bobbing customization that is currently in vogue already accomplished at the factory — the nineT is a striking motorcycle that draws attention wherever its taken, without being the least bit ostentatious about it. It impresses effortlessly.
The dual stainless steel mufflers — both nicely positioned on the left side — are within EPA standards, of course, yet it puts out a nicely toned sound with a familiar and appealing resonance.
BMW offers a single titanium Akrapovic muffler for those who prefer a bit more aggressive sound, though still legal, along with a couple of interesting mounting options if you are interested in swapping out the midpipe section. The stock system is nice, though much of the nineT’s persona is derived from its acquiescence to customization.
Around town, the boxer has some bite to go with its bark; expectedly, it is a torquey mill. Under 5500 rpm, the nineT is a docile ride — exactly what you want in nasty traffic. You can maneuver its nearly 500 pounds (wet, claimed) around and between cars with ease, and the motor won’t get the best of you. The handling is neutral and predictable with cars buzzing around you, so you can ride with great confidence.
There’s no traction control — almost all electronic wizardry was banished — so the motor does its best to retain grip the old-fashioned way, and it is successful. There is a flat spot in the torque curve right after 5000 rpm, where the nineT seems to be pausing to ask you if you really do want to pick up the pace. Should you decide to, the 1170cc motor will hit the torque peak of 88 ft/lbs shortly thereafter when the fashionably small rev counter hits 6000 rpm.
Despite its radially mounted Brembos, the nineT’s front brakes have as soft an initial bite as you’ll find. In fact, there is little braking through the first half of the lever’s travel. Eventually, when the pads start to take hold, they do it strongly, making it the most progressive braking system we have tested. We don’t want to lose the soft initial feel or the strong grasp later on, but we would like a bit more linearity in between.
The rear brake pedal is positioned too far inboard for casual use; it should be repositioned for easier access. When you do use the rear brake, it has good feel, so it is unfortunate that it is so inaccessible. ABS is standard, though you will have to be on some slippery surfaces to get it to engage.
Out in the mountains, the nineT reminds you that it is more city cruiser than sport bike. Like a well-designed cruiser, you can ride at a good pace, but it will never let you forget that you are on a fairly heavy bike with limited horsepower.
Stability and corner speed is what the nineT is about. Plan ahead and think about where you want to enter and exit a turn — a 58-inch wheelbase, 25.5 degrees of rake, and 489 pounds of bike (with the 4.8-gallon tank full) mean that you’re committed. The wide, flat bars do allow you to wrestle the nineT, and wrestle you will. Braking is tricky, again, due to the excessively progressive engagement of the front Brembos and overly inboard brake pedal.
The nineT has fairly soft suspension, part of what makes it a joy around town. It doesn’t wallow in corners and, at the same time, it will not invite aggressive riding. The inverted forks have no adjustment available, with the Paralever rear shock being adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. Again, the suspension system is tuned for riding at a casual pace.
Ergonomics are sporting, though that nice-looking two-piece seat offers no support for movement on the bike. Just keep your knees against that fabulous aluminum tank and take on the winding roads old-school. The Metzeler sport-touring tires will take care of you as long as you respect the nineT’s limits.
This isn’t to say that you can’t run a decent pace in the twisties — it is fun to ride and you can touch the peg feelers down. Still, you have to approach the nineT from a realistic viewpoint of its capabilities. If you want a truly sporting naked BMW, get the S 1000 R and save yourself a cool $1750 — you will go much faster.
At its heart, the nineT is a bona fide customization-ready bike. The rear sub-frame comes off in minutes, allowing you to add a factory café-style single seat, or do something completely unique. The headlight has a standard under-shell mounting point that gives you all sorts of options up front.
Roland Sands Design already has aftermarket valve covers that are a huge step-up in styling, and there will be plenty of choices for people who want to turn the nineT into a bike that is distinctively their own.
With the 2014 R nineT, BMW has finally cracked two elusive markets — younger riders and the customizing crowd. It is a motorcycle boasting exceptional craftsmanship, and high-quality materials are used throughout the machine.
Take advantage of the wide customizing options, and you can turn it into a muscular boulevard pounder or a much sportier canyon blitzer. This is a motorcycle that is transformational for BMW, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings in the wake of this immediately successful gamble.