2023-11-27 Ridden: 2017 BMW R nineT - autoevolution

Ridden: 2017 BMW R nineT

2013 was an important year in the motorcycle world. BMW Motorrad celebrated 90 years of existence, and, to mark this special milestone, the company introduced the all-new R nineT, a bike that started the brand’s retro revolution.
2017 BMW R nineT 57 photos
Photo: Florin Profir
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Although not a motorcycle for the masses, due to its price and kit, the R nineT stacks up a fairly important role in this particular section and gave the industry a boost in making neo-retro bikes get more attention.

When BMW Motorrad introduced the R nineT it was intended to not only remind of its glorious past and how cool riding a boxer is but also wanted to offer the riding community a blank canvas to play with.

It came with few color options, it was built using a modular frame, and most parts were made so that they can be replaced with custom ones, allowing owners to build the neo-retro bike that matches their style.

The model was an instant success, growing in popularity and determining other manufacturers to get into the neo-retro-easy-to-customize-bike niche, with Ducati and its Scrambler being the most obvious example.

Fast forward four years and here we are with a whole range or R nineTs; the back to basics Pure, the cafe-style Racer, the rally-inspired Urban G/S, the Scrambler, and, of course, the original R nineT we are reviewing here.

2017 BMW R nineT
Photo: Florin Profir
Although it was an already spectacular machine from the beginning, new Euro4 regulations meant a mandatory update for the R nineT. And the first thing that usually comes to mind after such a change is the fact that the bike will get heavier, receive an ugly fat exhaust, lose a few horsepower, and sound like a vacuum cleaner. But fear not, because it’s not the case with the 2017 R nineT. In fact, it got better.

Visual changes are minimal with the biggest one being a pair of new wired-spoke wheels, which look a bit more modern, and more black painted mechanical elements such as the frame and driveshaft-swingarm combo which was previously finished in a dark gray shade.

Also gone is the bulky multi-information screen in between the dashboard clocks, the new setup now featuring only the two dials. All the extra information like different trip meters, engine temperature, date, time, and such can still be viewed on small rectangular LCDs incorporated in the two round meters.

This is a much better design as it keeps the dash unencumbered while giving it an even more old school look. The only inconvenient I found here was the fact that you don’t get a fuel meter and when you do eventually get on reserve, there’s only a yellow exclamation point sign lighting up, and a range displayed on one of the LCDs. Mind you, that range might seem scary low at first if you’ve been on a spirited ride, but it will start to raise once you tone down the pace.

Our tester was the fully loaded model which also came with heated grips, Automatic Stability Control (ASC), a sweet polished aluminum tank with visible central weld, and clear LED signal lights. Even more, eye-candy was added through the Machined Parts option which swapped things like the cylinder head covers, belt cover, headlight cover, bar ends, and swing-arm pivot mounts with stylish machined parts created by RSD for this model.

2017 BMW R nineT
Photo: Florin Profir
The bike looks amazing, and you could easily spend a day simply studying its balanced proportions and fine details. I couldn’t find an ugly part or rough spot on the bike that would make it look cheap or ugly. Well, except for those new mandatory orange side reflectors on the fork, which I bet can be removed in an instant.

Speaking about the fork, I should mention that it’s borrowed from the S 1000RR and is now fully adjustable, making the roadster feel even sharper and enjoyable. Attached to its lower end are radial Brembo calipers on each side biting on 320mm discs kept in check by standard ABS.

Moving on to the heart of this bike, the engine, I want to say that BMW Motorrad’s engineers done a wonderful job in maintaining its old-school feel while making it compliant with the new emissions regulations. This was mostly achieved through a bigger catalytic convertor, the addition of an active charcoal filter (the cylinder at the back, under the seat), and a new engine map.

Still, all these changes haven't had that much of an impact on the feel of the bike. I mean, the weight is roughly the same, the engine is rated at the same 110 horsepower and still sounds amazing thanks to the standard Akrapovic tuned exhaust.

And most of all, it still fells like riding a retro bike; from the moment you hit the starter button and the whole thing shakes to life underneath you, to the rich rumble it makes in low rpms and the soft vibrations you get from it rolling off the throttle before a corner, everything helps giving you the sensation of a well-kept oldtimer.

If riding an S 1000RR feels like being strapped on top of a jet fighter, riding the 2017 R nineT can best be described as flying a WWI German fighter plane at low altitude, something like the Fokker E... Without its synchronized machine gun, of course.

Riding it in a busy city might seem tricky at first due to the wide bars and the engine sticking out on both sides, but once you get accustomed to its size, you’ll soon get back into your filtering habits. You still have to be careful though, as you might hit a car wheel if it’s turned to the side with one of your cylinder heads.

Day to day practicality isn’t the R nineT’s strong point so if you want to use it as a commuter, you definitely need a backpack, or a leg pouch to carry your belongings as the only storage space is found under the passenger seat and can only hold a wallet at most. Not to mention the fact that you have to use a key to unscrew the seat to access the space.

Otherwise, it’s nice to see that the German engineers have thought well and put four latching points for your luggage at the rear. You have one on each pillion footpeg and two under the seat which are perfect if you need to strap something to the back.

I had no problem securing my Kriega US-20 Drypack to the rear end and that’s about enough storage space for a quick weekend trip where you don’t need anything else than some clothes, a tire repair kit, a waterproof suit and other bits and bobs.

2017 BMW R nineT
Photo: Florin Profir
Taking the R nineT out on the open highway is the same as with any other naked bike; the faster you go, the more miserable it feels due to no wind protection. Also, if you want to save fuel, I can’t recommend going faster than 110 km/h (68 mph). Over that, the fuel consumption jumps to at least 7-8 l/100 km (33-29 mpg), and you’ll burn through that 18-liter (4.7 gal) fuel tank in no time.

Where this bike shines is on twisty back roads doing 80-90 km/h (50-56 mph) in 5th gear. The engine purrs like a happy kitten, the fuel consumption drops down to about 4.5 l/100 km (52 mpg), and the slightly forward riding position gives you confidence to attack corners.

The bike is easy to tip into the bends, and you get tons of feedback from the front wheel thanks to more weight distributed towards the north of the machine and the fully adjustable fork. Speaking of suspension, it works great in soaking up bumps and other irregularities despite its more racing oriented nature.

Time flies quite fast riding the new R nineT, and you’ll soon find yourself in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains, with about half an hour left until complete darkness. And you sit there, next to this mechanical wonder, hearing nothing but the cold breeze and the hot exhaust clicking as it cools down, thinking: “Why haven’t I bought a boxer BMW earlier in my life?”
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