When it comes to motorcycles, never underestimate the power of style to overcome any concerns about practicality or rideability. As one industry executive confided to me: “Let’s be honest, big bikes are toys. They should be fun to ride to make up for all their shortcomings.” At P1,275,000 for a BMW R nineT Urban GS in the gorgeous 40 Years Edition trim, it had better be a lot of fun.
We previously reviewed the regular R nineT and found that—considering its deliberate old-school tech like the air-cooled flat-twin and big, single-plate clutch—the bike more than made up for its idiosyncrasies. In its Urban GS version, the motorcycle gets a healthy dollop of off-road sex appeal while being dressed for a black-tie event.
The factory scrambler mods include spoked tubeless wheels sized 19 inches up front (compared to the standard 18-inchers), Continental TKC80 dual-sport rubber, telescopic fork with gaiters, and a raised over/under exhaust by Akrapovič. The Urban GS trim includes yellow-gold paintwork, handguards, heated grips, a tiny windscreen, and an Option 719 seat as part of the 40 Years Edition package.
For 2021, the 1,170cc engine has been tuned to meet Euro 5 emission standards. Output is down 1hp to 109hp at 7,750rpm, but max torque is still 116Nm at 6,000rpm. Power and torque delivery is said to have been improved in the 4,000-6,000rpm range, and the difference is subtle but effective. There’s no tachometer on the Urban GS, so you have to resort to shifting by sound and feel. Even in sixth gear at 120km/h, the bike pulls like a freight train, seemingly muscling aside the significant wind resistance. Top speed is a little over 200km/h, but sans any sort of fairing except for that little windscreen, you’ll mostly be in the 120-140km/h range while tucking down against the tank.
On paved roads, the ride is soft without being mushy thanks to the suspension setup and all that rubber. Park your butt on a GS after coming from the regular R nineT and the latter suddenly feels stiff and racy. For all-day riding, the Urban GS is quite comfortable, and the well-padded seat is supportive. But the dual-sport rubber lacks the sure-footed feel on pavement that the classic R nineT has. The blocky tread squirms when you lean into a turn, and it takes some getting used to. On smooth, polished cement like in a parking lot, just a little too much throttle gets the back end to step out of line as there’s actually a smaller contact patch than regular road tires. On choppy roads and gravel tracks, the dual-sports come into their own as they scrabble for all the available grip.
Despite the off-roady look, it’s important to remember that the bike still has only limited off-road abilities. A trip to Cleanfuel’s soon-to-open motocross park in Silang—with its dips and mounds and hill climb (on a particularly muddy day)—quickly revealed the GS’s (and my own) limitations. Suspension travel is less than 5 inches on the fork and a little bit more at the back. Ground clearance isn’t specified in the brochure, but it’s not much more than on the classic variant.
On especially muddy surfaces, the limiting factor isn’t so much the tires or the suspension as it is the 490lb weight. Getting it to move around on a tight course is an exhausting (and risky) full-body workout. After making it to the top of one mound, I realized that the downslope ended in a big pool of goo that would have washed out the front end. Not wishing to drop and damage such an expensive bike, I decided discretion was better than heroism, and turned the bike around. On the hill climb, the terrain was so soft that the rear tire just dug into the mud until the traction control system (even in Dirt mode) decided to cut power. Abort.
After I’d done a few laps on the drier sections and parked the bike, a couple of rounds on the complete course on a far lighter and more appropriate dual-sport machine gave me no such problems. Keep it real with this bike and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. This would also be a good time to remember the “Urban” in its name.
So, if you’re not going to subject the Urban GS to a hardcore trail, where could you take it? Highways, provincial roads, farm-to-market roads, and gravel tracks will be your playground. The engine has loads of grunt without having to be revved so high, and the Brembos are ever reliable and linear.
Naturally, fit-and-finish is stellar. The bike looks absolutely smashing whether it just came from a wash or is just a little muddied up. Its authentic retro feel goes a long way toward justifying its premium pricing, and it’s quite comfortable for a rather basic roadster. I do wish it had a tachometer, a fuel gauge, and perhaps 50 less pounds. But for what it’s about, it rates 11 out of 10 on the “style” and “feel-good” meter.