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The BMW R nineT is premium old-school cool

For those who like the feel of a proper classic bike

The R nineT is a blast to ride on rolling hills and quiet back roads. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

BMW Motorrad first introduced its R nineT back in 2014, but I’ll wager that the bike really hit the collective consciousness a few years later in Mission Impossible: Fallout, where Tom Cruise darts around city streets evading a squad of henchmen. Hollywood references aside, even as the German motorcycle maker is known for pushing the technological boundaries of real-life bikes, the R nineT is a retro roadster through and through. A large-capacity, air- and oil-cooled flat-twin engine, retro naked styling, and just the barest of electronic nannies with ABS and optional traction control. The starting price of P1,255,000 might make you fall off your chair, but modern retro bikes are rarely ever cheap. For what it’s worth, the bike really does look like a million bucks.

The flat-twin engine never fails to start coffee-stop conversations. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The star of the show is the 1,170cc flat-twin boxer engine with gunmetal cylinder heads poking out the sides of the chassis, and headers smoothly flowing out toward the dual exhaust pipes. Looking down from the cockpit at the engine, you get this authentic, vintage feel, like you’re piloting an old fighter plane. Start the motor and this sensation is further reinforced with the low, authoritative drone at low revs, turning into a guttural bark as you blip the accelerator.

The thin grips can get your hands feeling tingly after a while. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Alas, one retro feature we could do without is the old-fashioned single-plate clutch. Sans the benefit of a slipper clutch, riding the bike in Manila’s stop-and-go traffic quickly gets tiring. Coupled with engine temp anxiety as the digital gauge starts rising past 143°C, this is not a bike you want to get stuck on EDSA with. With a 31.7-inch seat height, though, it’s fairly easy to flat-foot if you’re at least 5’7”.  The engine layout also gives the bike a low center of gravity, making it easy to move around despite weighing 221kg fully fueled.

The twin gauge pods look nice, but they wobble at speed. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The bike’s 110hp is fun to play with on the highway as it pulls you along energetically from as low as 2,000rpm without a hint of strain or fuel hiccups. It’s marred only by prominent engine vibrations at the 5,500rpm mark, making the handgrips and the foot pegs all tingly and blurring the side mirrors. The bike is rated at slightly over 200km/h, but the sweet spot is in the 130-140km/h range. Anything faster and the windblast pushes strongly against your chest, forcing you to hunker down in an awkward aero tuck.

The highly sculpted tank holds 17L of go juice. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

In the twisties, the R nineT has catlike agility with a willingness to turn and lean. It uses the same 46mm USD fork as the S1000 RR superbike, adjustable for rebound and compression. The rear shock is adjustable for preload and rebound damping, too. Suspension travel at both ends is 4.7 inches. Coupled with sticky 120/70 front and 180/55 rear Metzeler rubber on 17-inch spoked alloy wheels, the R nineT may look like a vintage bike, but it has modern-day sporting credentials.

The rear cowl is removable, and you can put in place a pillion pad. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Give it the beans and it’ll hustle as fast as you can handle it.  Without any fancy riding modes, you’re left to your own throttle control to get the best out of the machine. There’s no quickshifter, and without slipper-clutch technology to smoothen out your gear changes, you’re compelled to rev-match to smoothen the transfer of power. The motor gets wound up quickly and is smoothest in the 4,000-5,000rpm range where there’s enough power to blur the scenery without setting off vibrations.

There’s tactile and aural pleasure to be had with constantly blipping the throttle, feeling the transmission snick into gear, and letting the bike steer where you look and lean. So much so that, after a while, the instrument pods become rather superfluous. That’s just as well, because the speedometer and the tachometer are mounted on thin composite stems that wobble over every bump and give the impression they’re about to fall off.

The R nineT is distinguishable by its gold USD fork and spoked wheels. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

In everything else, the R nineT is top-notch. From the quality of the paint—a beautiful matte colorway on this demo unit—to the padding of the seat, the clean welds, and the symmetry of lines, everything works to create a beautiful bike that any owner would be proud to have. It’s one of those motorcycles that you roll out for Sunday breakfast rides or just stare at in the garage while enjoying a beer. With a design that’s ripe for customization, the rear subframe is easily removable for a bobber conversion. On this stock setup, the rear cowling can be removed and swapped out for a pillion pad. Starboard-side stays allow you to strap on a saddle bag.

It's not the smoothest bike out there, but it has character. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The R nineT also has two other variants in the P995,000 Pure and the P1,085,000 Scrambler. The former is equipped with a regular 43mm telescopic fork, cast alloy wheels, two-in-one exhaust, and a single instrument pod. The latter adds gaiters to the same fork spec, raised handlebars, a 19-inch front wheel, semi-knobby tires, and a raised exhaust. All of them look great, and while they’re not cheap by any means, their heritage DNA ensures they’ll retain value for a long time.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.