We ride: BMW's customisable RnineT

2014-11-17 09:59

JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - BMW Motorrad has undergone a few reputation changes in its life – from being the makers of unexciting but reliable bikes through competent but slow bikes to sophisticated and desirable bikes.

Now, with the R nineT, the Blue Propeller Company has added another feather to its cap – a simple and basic but highly customisable, bike.

The R nineT was so named to celebrate the 90th anniversary of BMW’s venerable boxer engine rather than to follow the Boys from Bavaria’s erstwhile naming convention of an “R” followed by an abbreviation of the engine’s displacement (as in R80G/S and R100RS).


The R nineT is in fact powered by the air-cooled version of the 1200cc boxer engine used in the previous-generation R 1200 series  and not a 900cc as the name might have you believe.

The engine is clothed (if that term can be used to describe a naked bike) in a distinctly retro-looking body, right down to a two-tone fuel tank reminiscent of the “toaster” tanks of the 5 Series BMWs of the late 1960's and early 1970's. BMW has also eschewed its more exotic recent front suspensions in favour of an entirely conventional (but still modern) upside-down fork.


Likewise, the instrumentation has been kept just this side of austere: an analogue rev counter and speedo flanking an LCD panel that displays only a clock, odometer, trip meters and a fuel gauge.

The entire design, from the aforementioned to the round headlight to simple tail-light cluster, evokes a time when bikes were simpler and less specialised – little more than an engine, two wheels and a perch for the rider. What this means is that there is very little by the way of weight to come between the rider and the power and torque of the boxer motor.

It also means there is very little in the way of electronic wizardry to mar the pure riding pleasure of a light, powerful and flickable bike. No traction control, no variable engine mapping – BMW’s sole concession to rider aids on the R nineT comes in the form of anti-lock brakes.


The bike’s raison d’etre seems to be as a canvas for some custom creation – it's been developed from the ground up to be as easy as possible to customise – but it happily stands on its own two wheels as an enjoyable bike to ride. It's much lighter than the 1200 GS and RT and, despite being a 'naked' bike, is still rideable well above 160km/h.

Along with the engine’s prodigious torque and the light weight comes a competent suspension that makes it a howl in the twisties – in its factory state, the R nineT is a much more usable machine than the customisability hype that surrounds it would lead you to believe.

BMW says the ease of customisation is down in no small part to its special frame. The tubular steel space frame  bears the boxer engine while its basic construction consists of a front frame section with integral steering head and a rear section with a swing arm mounting. The removable sub-frame allows the bike to be easily set up for solo riding and the addition of an aluminium tail cover (special accessory) turns it it into a credible replica of an early café racer.

For me, the R nineT supplies the foundation for which the big boxer engine has been begging. Small, light, nimble: a welcome step back to the purity that seems to have been lost by many bike. It doesn’t try to replace the multi-purpose nature of the GS or the touring flair of the RT; instead, it takes the no-nonsense simplicity of the R 1200 R and clothes it in classic beauty.

BMW R nineT

Type: Air/oil-cooled flat twin ('Boxer') 4-stroke
Displacement: 1200cc
Maximum power: 81 kW @ 7 500rpm
Maximum torque: 119 Nm @ 6 000rpm
Fuel supply: Electronic fuel injection
Fuel type: Unleaded  95-98 octane RON
Fuel consumption: 5.6 litres/100 km (actual)

Type: Constant mesh six-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
Final drive: Shaft
Overall length x width x height (mm): 2220 X 890 X 1265
Kerb weight: 222kg

Passengers: 2
Fuel tank: 18 litres

Front:  Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 320mm, four-piston radial calipers
Rear: Single disc brake, diameter 265mm, double-piston floating caliper

Front: Upside-Down telescopic fork with 46mm diameter
Rear: Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever

Wheel, front: 3.50 x 17"
Wheel, rear: 5.50 x 17"
Tyre, front: 120/70 ZR 17
Tyre, rear: 180/55 ZR 17

PRICE: R152 400


  • Roy Remy - 2014-11-17 10:36

    So pretty!

  • Bernard Visagie - 2014-11-17 14:14

    Fuel economy seems alright if you look at the huge cylinder capacity, I ride a Street Triple 675cc and achieve 5.2 l/100km with more spirited riding and dip to below 5 when riding more relaxed.

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