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R nineT: Pure Emotion

Photos by Bill Wiegand and Kevin Wing

Representing 90 years of BMW Motorrad history and coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the legendary R 90 S, the 2014 BMW R nineT is the latest bike to roll off the Bavarian assembly line. According to Edgar Heinrich, Chief of BMW Motorrad Design, the R90S “hails from an era in which bikers were regarded as outlaws. There was something rebellious about it. It was fast, loud and wild. Pure emotion, and it has retained its fascination to this day.”

Nate Kern shows the R9T isn’t your grandfather’s Beemer!

Though the perception of motorcycle riders has changed, the new R nineT was built to remind all who climb aboard, twist their right wrist, and listen to the pulse-quickening bellow emanating from the twin horns why motorcycles make their pulse quicken.

It’s as simple as a motorcycle can be, yet the bike moves a rider both physically and emotionally. It is what motorcycles were before they were encased in plastic. It’s a flashback to your first love. The one that got you hooked. The one that made you believe. What was old is now new, and what is new conjures up memories of what was.

As have several of BMW’s other recent releases including the S 1000 RR and its naked S 1000 R sibling, the R nineT represents a departure from the long-distance touring comfort zone BMW has inhabited for so long. This is a motorcycle built solely to bring a rider and machine together for the pure and simple joy of riding. Based on indications that the supply is not expected to catch demand until 2016, BMW has far exceeded their expectations. BMW proves again that they are, indeed, the Kings of Cool.

Though the “official” release of the bike was little more than a month ago, rumors, speculation and images of prototypes had been floating around for nearly two years when BMW Motorrad announced plans of releasing a special bike to mark the 90th anniversary of the marque. It was worth the wait.

The R nine T combines classic, roadster styling with current technology, beginning just as the legendary R 32 did 90 years earlier with its iconic BMW boxer engine. The modern nineT power plant employs the current 1,170cc air/oil-cooled boxer engine which produces 110 hp at 7,500 rpm and 88 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm. Power is delivered via a six-speed transmission geared for quickness and smooth shifting to the rear wheel through shaft drive.

During the recent press launch of the nineT, journalists were teamed in groups of six riders. Riding around the Los Angeles area had all hoping for red lights at each intersection to allow them to release long-lost adolescent attitude and to offer another opportunity to aggressively run through the smooth nineT gearbox while creating a symphony of boxer music in the key of Akropovic.

While paying tribute to its heritage, the nineT front end sports the same gold, upside-down forks used on the S 1000 RR and offers a classy, high-tech look that contrasts beautifully with the black of the motor, frame, tank and wheels. On the back, the nineT sports a Paralever single-sided swing arm with an adjustable central shock. Allowing for customization, the swingarm has been designed to allow installation of a six-inch-wide rear tire in place of the stock 5.5 inch rubber. Braking is provided by dual, four-piston Brembo’s offering exceptional stopping power on the front end and a single rear disk. ABS is standard.

To accentuate the hand-built look of the bike, forged aluminum parts including the yokes and handlebar clamp bracket feature embossed BMW Motorrad lettering and have been glass bead-blasted to produce a natural anodized finish. Other parts receiving this special attention include the front fender brackets, tapered steering damper, seat mount and adjustment knob for the shock absorber. Even the model plate riveted to the steering head is reminiscent of classic BMW motorcycle designs and further evidence of the meticulous attention to detail given the nineT.

A classic round, metal headlight throws a locomotive-like beam and is supported by another forged aluminum, single point mount. Behind the headlight rests the simple instrument cluster featuring round speedometer and tachometer gauges and including an onboard computer displaying gear, time of day, fuel range and more.

The 4.8-gallon fuel tank, made of aluminum and finished in Black Storm Metallic paint, is highlighted on each side by hand-brushed and clear-coated aluminum. The air intake cover has received similar treatment as well as nineT embossing. To further illustrate the designer’s thorough attention to detail, the seat uses hand-stitched seams in white contrasting thread. Finally, wire-spoke wheels of black anodized alloy, cast black aluminum hubs, stainless steel spokes and tubed tires complete the package.

Aside from the roadster’s classic good looks, the designed-in ability to allow riders to personalize their nineT’s look is what truly make this model unique. From the factory, the standard nineT configuration includes rider and pillion seats with a removable, bolt-on frame section allowing for two-up riding. Remove the rear seat and add an optional tail hump, and the nineT becomes a single-seat café racer which can quickly be converted back for two-up riding by pulling off the tail hump and reinstalling the rear seat.

To give your nineT a bobbed look, quickly remove the rear seat, unbolt and remove the rear frame section holding the passenger pegs, and ride. Take this look even further by removing the turn signals, and moving the license and taillight to the paralever. One bike, four distinct looks.

Additional options available include a single titanium Akropovic muffler mounted in the standard low position or high by adding a long connecting pipe with carbon fiber heat shields.

Riding the R nineT rekindles memories of the simple, unfaired motorcycles of the 1970s: the undisturbed wind in your face, the exposed motor growling at each twist of your wrist, a motorcycle in its simplest form. There is no plastic buffering you from the elements or the bugs in your face, nothing blocking your view forward, and with only handlebars and gauges in sight, it’s the closest sensation of flying you can get without buying a ticket.

At first look, the bike seems small. Throw a leg over and your suspicions are confirmed with its 30.5″ seat height. At six feet, I’ll admit to initially feeling a bit cramped when seated, but, perhaps because my primary ride is a R1200GS, the initial reaction wasn’t just. Once I got comfortable, the R nineT offered a relaxed seating position with a comfortable reach to the handlebars and controls.

After a briefing at BMW Designworks and lunch, it was finally time to mount up and ride. Journalists at the launch were about to be treated to 250 or so miles of varying terrain between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we couldn’t get started soon enough. Heading north on a route that took us quickly away from civilization, we began the ride through calm agricultural roads before abruptly transitioning to exhilaratingly tight, challenging and winding canyons. The bike handled wonderfully and took on the twisties beautifully. After a quick adjustment to the rear shock, the handling got even better. On the couple of occasions where I fell behind the riders ahead of me, the quick gearing of the transmission and powerful boxer motor made closing the gap easy. I purposely left my earplugs in my pocket so I could enjoy the sound of the stock pipes, a sound enjoyed even more when riding close enough to the other nineTs to hear the harmony multiple bikes created.

Conversations during the scheduled breaks along the ride focused on the awesome bike BMW has created and what fun it was to ride. Gas stops turned into hour-long affairs where riders of other bikes would flock around the new Beemer, ogling the coolness of the nineT.

Too soon the press event ended. It had been a long time since riding had provided me with the pure emotional charge the R nineT did. Asked by another rider to describe the bike in two words, “soul fuel” were what quickly came to mind. Though borrowed from an inspirational promotional video for the bike, they’re spot on.