In this industry we get to ride a lot of motorcycles, which makes me a very, very lucky man. One week I may be riding an adventure bike down muddy trails, and by the next I’ll be on one of the latest super-sports to grace the pavement. While all these bikes, and all this riding never does get old, there are some bikes and some rides that are far more special than the rest. One of those bikes is without a single doubt, the 2017 BMW R nineT Racer, and one of those rides is, well, every single one you take it for.
The Racer is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful bikes ever to roll off a factory line. To me, it’s the best looking bike BMW Motorrad currently makes. Despite that, I find the bike incredibly hard to look at. I mean this in the sense that you either end up spending half an hour staring at it, or you spend twice that taking it for a ride.
The Racer’s charm extends far past its aesthetics and carries through to its power delivery, exhaust note, and dynamics. There are a lot of bikes on the market that either constantly egg you on, or truly come alive only at their limit. Despite its nameplate, the Racer is not one of those bikes, as it’s simply one of the most satisfying bikes to ride no matter how close to its limits you are. I found equally obscene amounts of enjoyment wringing it out from one set of traffic lights to the next downtown Toronto, as I did on the twists of Forks of the Credit Road.
Scratch that, I may have enjoyed the downtown urban ride just marginally more, if only for those few brief seconds where I’d catch my reflection in a shop window, laid out across the tank of the Racer, sh*t-eating grin clearly visible, even through my full face helmet. For those moments, I was as cool James Dean, but with better taste in motorcycles, and a helmet.
While the front forks may not be the same pretty, gold, inverted forks you’ll find on the original R nineT (reviewed here), S1000R and S1000RR, the traditionally oriented forks provide firm and predictable feedback in corners and over road imperfections. The suspension is taught, with very little bounce to it, but it lends quite well to the nature of the bike, and doesn’t make the ride any more uncomfortable than the riding position already does.
If the body and paintwork of the Racer is a Pink Floyd album cover, the exhaust note is pure Rolling Stones. A raspy, climbing staccato belting into the high notes as the engine climbs to its 8,500RPM redline. It is to my ears what cocaine was to a 1970s Keith Richards. Addicting, invigorating, and goddamn does it ever help you come up with some original dance moves. While this is wondrous for your ears, it doesn’t exactly help the fuel mileage on account of the fact that you never want to leave second-gear.
I know, I know, fuel mileage is something that should only be considered on adventure and touring bikes, where it can make the difference between reaching your destination or sitting in the middle of a desert waiting for someone to find you and take you to a gas station. My theory is that the riding position of the Racer is actually half-intended to serve as a fuel gauge. As your back, wrists, and arms wear down, your fuel capacity follows almost in exact proportion.
When you need a break, take one at the nearest gas station; grab a lousy coffee, fuel up, and ride another 180km. While the Racer will keep you posted on your instant and average fuel economy, it won’t tell you how much you have left until you hit the reserve and the gas light switches on. It seems like a silly omission on BMW’s part, sacrificed apparently in the name of keeping true to the café racers of yesteryear, but it’s honestly not necessary.
While I’m inclined to believe the “heritage” argument when it comes to the lack of a fuel gauge, it becomes a bit harder to buy into when you start looking at how the bike is/can be equipped. It comes with ABS standard, which is great, but certainly hadn’t made its way to any motorcycles of the 1970s. You can also have the Racer with traction control and heated grips; again, not exactly available in the 70s.
BMW’s heritage platform has been a resounding hit with the market, winning the hearts of both customers and customizers alike. But while the Racer has been built, like the rest of the platform, to be customized, I’m honestly not sure there’s much that I’d change. Of course the fender can go, and perhaps the levers could be replaced with less banana-like ones, but those are things that nearly every bike needs done.
At its core, it doesn’t need to change, in the same way that it doesn’t need to be comfortable, practical, or have the same inverted forks or monoblock Brembos that glisten the standard R nineT. The R nineT Racer only needs a full tank of gas, a half-open stretch of road, and for you to pop a couple of Robaxacets before you spend a day on it. Well, it also needs a key, which BMW will gladly put in your hand for $14,250.
All in all, the 2017 BMW R nineT Racer is a bike with heart and soul, and it takes no issues with stirring either of yours. This is a bike that makes you wish the days were longer, the gas tank was fuller, and for one more bend in the road ahead. If you get one don’t tell me, because I’m going to want to borrow it.