There’s an old architectural axiom that says, “form follows function”.
Which, like most truisms, is occasionally baloney.
Anytime designers stretch their imaginations past the normal boundaries, those linked qualities can be pulled to polar opposites of the spectrum.
Which leads to choices.
Fashion or comfort?
Gucci or Levis?
Ginger or Maryanne?
A couple of years ago, BMW had a supply of leftover air/oil-cooled 1,170 cc engines, units that had been replaced by a new generation of same-size air/liquid-cooled motors.
Designers and engineers found a use for those old school engines, as building blocks for a new R nine T concept, a neo-retro tribute to BMW motorcycles of the past.
The R nine T was also designed to be easily modified for personalization and, after a successful launch; BMW couldn’t resist the urge to do a little customizing itself.
They have parlayed the design into the five flavours now available for 2017 – the original R nine T open roadster, a simplified R nine T Pure with leather and metal trim reminiscent of 70’s style, the R nine T Scrambler with upswept pipes and off-road tires, the R nine T Urban G/S blending retro G/S style with eye-catching colours, and, tested here, the R nine T Racer that relives a past era of cafe racing and legendary superbikes.
And this is where form starts to get separated from function.
Let’s admit first, however, that the form is fabulous.
It’s hard not to be smitten with the R nine T Racer’s curvaceous cut, the big single headlight wrapped by a round, bulbous nose, taking its inspiration from ‘70s motorsports.
The glossy white bodywork is broken only by BMW sport stripes flowing from the half-shell fairing across the tank and ending at the rear cowl. There’s a minimum of black plastic, just exposed ironmongery, framework, blued pipes, exhaust and engine.
And then we get the low-slung handlebars, positioned far to the front on the upper fork bridge, while the high-set pegs are pulled up and back to the rear, completing the elongated profile and riding position.
You knew that function would take a hit here eventually.
“Are you sure you don’t have an Urban G/S or Scrambler kicking around?” I asked, only half-joking as I looked down on the bike.
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The R nine T Racer doesn’t quite require the plank position but it’s as close as I would ever want to get on a motorcycle.
All you can do is mount up, slide your parts intimately up to the tank, use your core strength and/or beer gut to keep some weight off your stretched-out wrists and forearms, pull your pins up and back onto the pegs, lean on the wind and ride.
The engine coughs to life with a nasty snarl, the boxer torque tugging the bike sideways as you blip the revs.
Slip the clutch, release the hounds and the engine rasps aloud with retro elan, the exhaust note ringing as raw and old-fashioned as a WWI fighter’s drone.
Acceleration is immediate.
Handling is nimble. And the view down to the curved windshield and fascia is almost worth it.
Also Read: BMW envisions its motorcycle of the future
It was a long ride home on the highway and, I have to admit, my side trips were limited during the testing period because, over the long haul, this bike wears you out.
I might consider taking a R nine T cross-country at the point of a gun, but the bullet would probably be less painful. But then, that’s not the intent or higher calling for a bike like this. You wouldn’t take it on a long haul any more than you’d run a marathon in high heels.
So, here’s your probable riding recipe for the R nine T Racer.
1-Polish and admire bike.
2-Check ensemble and ride to meet friends (not too far) at your local hipster cafe.
3-Drink coffee, schmooze, admire bike.
4-Mount up with buds, find some twisty bits, dream that you’re racing the Isle of Mann’s TT, feel the breeze for an hour or so (not too long).
5-Stop at cafe, admire bike.
A few last notes about the R nine T Racer.
For all its throw-back flavour, this modern machine comes with today’s tech including ASC and ABS, although some of the components have been dumbed down to keep the price affordable – a steel tank for the white paint job instead of the original’s aluminum finish, and cast wheels instead of the spoke versions that would probably really complement this retro ride.
The twin speedo/tach gauges are a nice touch but there’s no fuel gauge, so you have to keep track or wait for the reserve light. My average worked out to 5.1L/100km (comb) for a potential range of over 300 km from the 17-litre tank (3.5 litre reserve).
Following the R nine T personalization plan, the Racer’s accessory list includes two aluminum tank styles, an aluminum rear cover, HP Carbon front fender & engine cover, an Akrapovic two-position sport silencer, custom rider & passenger seats, tank bags, rear bags, heated grips and more.
Yep, there’s plenty of options to make the BMW R nine T Racer your personal tribute to a racing past.
2017 BMW R nine T Racer
ENGINE: 1,170 cc air/oil-cooled flat twin boxer engine
FUEL DELIVERY: Electronic intake pipe injection
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed with shaft drive final
SUSPENSION: 43 mm telescopic forks (125 mm travel); Rear cast aluminum swing arm with Paralever and central spring strut (120 mm travel)
BRAKES: Front 320 mm disc with four-piston calipers; Rear 265 mm disc, double-piston floating caliper
TIRES: Front 120/70/ZR 17; Rear 180/55/ZR 17
SEAT HEIGHT: 805 mm (31.6”)
WHEELBASE: 1,491 mm (58.7”)
CURB WEIGHT: 220 kg (485 lb)
FUEL CAPACITY: 17 litres