Vintage styling captures the eye of this beholder
Story by Costa Mouzouris
Photos by Didier Constant
With the 2017 BMW R nineT Racer strapped firmly into the bed of my pickup, I headed home to unload it and begin two weeks of test riding this classically styled machine. Out of all of BMW’s R nineT Heritage models (there are five, if you’ve lost count), it’s the Racer that I find the most stunning visually. And as I drove along on that sunny afternoon with the Racer on display behind me, I noticed I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the bike’s convincing retro styling. Drivers of passing cars slowed beside me to have a look; pedestrians gawked and pointed at intersections; a pair on a bike stopped next to me at a traffic light and gave me an approving thumbs-up.
The red-and-blue-on-white paint scheme catches your eye, but it’s the sleek, bullet-shaped half fairing capped by a large, round headlight that gives the bike a shapely profile that really piques interest. The low handlebar and bulbous seat cowl harken back to the café racers of the past, while various cast-aluminum brackets and the five-spoke cast wheels give the bike a contemporary touch.
The powertrain is identical to the other R nineT models; propulsion comes via a torquey, 1,170 cc, 110 hp, air-cooled boxer with a broad spread of torque that peaks at 85.5 ft-lb at just 6,000 rpm. Push the starter button and the engine bursts to life with a throaty rumble coming out the two-into-one exhaust, though the sound doesn’t quite match the seductively alluring and surprisingly robust twin-pipe drone of the original R nineT roadster. It’s also a very fuel-efficient engine, averaging 6.5 L/100 km over two weeks of mostly city riding, or good for about 260 km before running its 17-litre fuel tank dry.
The counterbalanced opposed twin produces an agreeable throbbing vibration when launching from a stop that smooths out as revs pick up, though you still feel the power pulses through the seat and at the hand grips any time you twist the throttle to accelerate. Peak horsepower is about half that of BMW’s S1000RR, but the bike lunges forward with surprising authority when you gas it hard, and it does so in higher gears without having to downshift – it does, after all, produce two ft-lb more peak torque than its supersport cousin. Even though its broad spread of torque doesn’t prompt frequent use of the shifter, when you do row through its six speeds, shifter action is featherlight and precise, a far cry from the clunky gearboxes of the R90 Beemers of the 1970s, from which the R nineT name plate originates.
A rigid chassis combines with supersport-spec 17-inch wheels and tires (120/70 front and 180/55 rear) and firm suspension to provide a very sporting ride. Suspension components include a conventional 43 mm telescopic fork and single shock adjustable for rebound damping and preload. Despite its rather basic suspension, the Racer nonetheless has a pleasant ride, which offers softer compliance than the R nineT roadster, though the fork does feel harsh over sharp bumps. At 1,491 mm, the wheelbase is a bit longer than on a typical sport bike, and steering geometry (26.4-degree rake; 104 mm trail) is more relaxed than on a supersport bike, giving the Racer a very stable, planted ride. Steering is neutral, so once leaned over, you need not push constantly on the inside handlebar; but steering effort is heavy and it takes a bit of muscle to change direction.
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t yet discussed the riding position. To achieve such sophisticated styling, especially when in motion with the rider splayed over the gas tank as if attempting a land speed record at Bonneville, BMW has essentially transformed the rider into a fashion accessory. Swing a leg over the seat and you’ll find that the reach to the ground is a very manageable 805 mm. The bulk of the 220 kg wet weight sits low to the ground and requires little effort to…