Missing out on the first scrambler era, BMW is making up for lost time by entering into the current trend
Story by Costa Mouzouris
Photos by Kevin Wing and Jon Beck
BMW has a storied history. In fact, the company celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, tracing its beginnings as a maker of aircraft engines back to 1916. Its first motorcycle, the R32, was built in 1923, but despite producing motorcycles since that time, the company had skipped the original era of the scramblers – off-road bikes that first started appearing in the early 1960s. Back then, you could find high-piped, semi-knobbied scramblers like Honda CLs, Yamaha Big Bears, the Suzuki X6, and countless BSAs, cast-iron Harleys and pre-rebirth Triumph scramblers, among others. But you wouldn’t find a scrambler from BMW, at least not one produced at the factory.
But the recent resurgence of the scrambler genre has proven popular, so it’s no surprise that this time around, BMW has such a bike in its lineup, the R nineT Scrambler, which we were invited to ride at its international launch in the countryside of New Jersey and in the hills of neighbouring Pennsylvania, as well as a quick romp in the traffic of New York City.
To get an idea of just how popular this new scrambler trend is, you just have to look at how many OEM versions are currently available. In addition to the R nineT Scrambler, there’s the Triumph Street Scrambler, the Ducati Scrambler, the Yamaha SCR950 and the Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello, with probably more on the way. The R nineT Scrambler was the second model to be released in BMW’s “Heritage” collection, the first being the original R nineT introduced two years ago. More Heritage bikes have since been released, including the R nineT Racer, the Pure and the Urban G/S. The good news if you’re a potential Heritage bike buyer is that the Scrambler undercuts the R nineT by $2,600, at $14,250. Aside from being equipped with a conventional fork instead of the R nineT’s inverted unit, other cost-cutting measures include a steel fuel tank instead of one made of aluminum (the latter is a $1,175 option), cast wheels (tubeless spoke wheels are $520 more), and a simpler instrument cluster that displays just a speedometer. Curiously, the Scrambler has available traction control ($420), which isn’t an option on the R nineT roadster. If you want heated grips, you’ll have to dish out an extra $275.
True to the Style
All of the Heritage bikes use BMW’s previous-generation 110 hp, 1,170 cc, air-cooled boxer twin. Although the Scrambler looks very similar to the original R nineT roadster, aside from the engine and headlight, the two bikes have little else in common. The Scrambler has a different frame with less aggressive steering geometry, and it also has longer suspension travel front and rear (125/140 mm vs. 120/120). Its front wheel measures 19 inches, compared with the roadster’s sportier 17 inches.
Just like that of its roadster brother, the Scrambler’s styling is understated and classic. Its exposed engine and mechanical nakedness hark back to the time when these kinds of bikes were authentic. There’s very little plastic on the bike, and subtle styling touches like fork gaiters and perforated muffler shields accentuate its retro design. A keen eye will notice that the muffler tips look strikingly similar to the outlets of SuperTrapp mufflers, a common exhaust system choice among dirt track motorcycles, which at one time weren’t too far detached from scramblers.
BMW’s minimalist approach with the R nineT Scrambler is deliberate; the bike is designed to be readily customizable by its owner, with an easily removable sub-frame, and a wiring harness that separates lighting from engine functions to facilitate the addition of accessories, like swapping out lights and such. BMW has a small array of accessories for the Scrambler, but it’s the aftermarket that will likely provide a plethora of bolt-ons for those wintertime projects.
Just like the R nineT, the Scrambler has a rich, growling exhaust note that is surprisingly robust for a stock machine. Clutch effort is light, and a very…