Putting the R in Racer

Words: Mat Pics: Kerry

Hopping on the BMW R nineT Racer on the side of SH25, the first thing that went through my mind was something we’d not really get away with printing. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a great first impression.

Unlike the rest of the R nineT family, the Racer – as its name suggests – is a far more uncompromising machine. This means that if you want a comfortable bike to slide onto and head to your favourite lunch stop by your preferred meandering road, you are better off with the R nineT Pure over the hard-core Racer.

Harking back to the glory years of bubble-screened racers, the R nineT Racer uses the same 1170cc boxer twin and modular frame as the original R nineT which debuted in 2014. That means 108hp and 116Nm on tap before heading through a six-speed gearbox and obligatory BMW shaft drive to the rear wheel.

However, unlike the rest of the Café Racer class which opt more for style over substance, the wizards at BMW Motorrad have produced not only a stunner of a looker, but backed it up with the character which befits the Racer nameplate.

Swinging a leg over the solo seat, all I could think was that the Racer felt really long and stretched out. The beautiful pearl white tank stretches out ahead of you to the clip-on handlebars, while the footpegs are true rearsets, which see you adopting a position more akin to the S 1000 RR than the rest of the R nineT family – or in fact, the rest of the entire BMW line-up come to think of it.

With the pegs and oil-cooled heads not allowing much in the way of leg movement at a halt, if you want to shuffle your way along before pulling away, you’re in for a painful time if you have exposed shins. To top that off, the seat is quite firm, the clip-on ‘bars very low and the beautiful bubble screen a la the true racers of the 50s to the 70s, doesn’t offer much in the way of elemental protection. With a good 45 minutes of twisting tarmac ahead of me to get back to Paeroa, I wasn’t particularly excited for the ride ahead, thinking I’d be aching from the racy ergonomics before I rounded the first corner. Thankfully, I’m glad I’ve never been so wrong.

I like to think I know the Kopu-Hikuai section of State Highway 25 like the back of my hand, I did learn to drive and ride on it after all, with constant commutes between Auckland and Whangamata growing up. With a beautiful day with excellent conditions un-blighted by campervans to ruin the fun, each and every corner was purest joy on the Racer. The tight and twisty strip of seal saw all those attributes that make it hard to love in the centre of town completely disappear. In turn, the Racer transformed into the best corner carver this side of the Bavarian mountains.

While the regular R nineT is no slouch, there’s something special with the heart of the Racer, and it tears away from 6,000rpm all the way to the redline. Maybe it is because you find your head down nice and close to the externally mounted air intake to the right of the fuel tank, but I can definitely attest to there being a hard-to-describe X-factor that sets the Racer apart from its siblings. In fact, I found myself going a lot faster than I normally would, as I carved each and every corner as if it was Hampton Downs – something I normally shy well away from on the open road.

That’s probably in part thanks to the dynamics gained from a boxer engine, which really allows for a beautifully balanced bike. Combined with your weight placed evenly over the centre of the 1491mm wheelbase, it’s a true experience to ride the Racer with vigour.

I really can see the advantages of a bike like the R nineT Racer now, and while it isn’t the most comfortable bike out there, it more than makes up for this in just how much fun the thing is to ride, and then of course, it looks the business too.

While the R nineT was always designed to be a modular basis for customisation, which in turn led to BMW creating multiple offshoots for different segments from the base, the Racer has something the other bikes don’t. While the Racer shares its frame and engine with the rest of the range, it is – by a long way – its own machine.

The subframe is unique to the Racer, shortened to allow only for a solo seat and the obligatory café racer rear cowling, which does keep you nicely in place on hard acceleration runs.

The wheels are stylish, 17-inch spoked items, but the tyres are tubeless unlike those of the era the bike does so well to mimic. Up front, the handlebars are genuine clip-ons mounted to the 43mm forks, which – unlike the original R nineT – are not adjustable. The piece de resistance is of course, that sleek front cowling. The result is a bike that looks like it’s just ridden off a mid-Century racetrack.

Heck, even the two-into-one exhaust which the Racer shares with the Pure, seems to sing its own tune as you barrel along your favourite twisting road. Maybe it’s because the Racer has you riding so much more aggressively than you would necessarily ride the Pure, but on song, this bike sounds utterly gorgeous.

There are some other areas that I think BMW could have improved the Racer, and although they’re not majors, I think they are still valid.

Being based on the same setup as the Pure, the Racer misses out on the monobloc Brembo calipers for its 320mm discs that the hero R nineT has had since Day dot, going instead with the more conventional 4-piston Brembos (which do a great job regardless). The other let-down is the forks, which are the same 43mm conventional items as the Pure/Scrambler/Urban GS. Why BMW didn’t give the Racer more cred by giving it the same forks and brake setup as the R nineT is beyond me. Regardless, the setup is more than up for the task, it’s just a bit of a chink in the cool factor armour of the Racer.

Sure, the R nineT Racer isn’t the most comfortable bike in the ever-growing motorcycle family from BMW, but its name says everything you need to know about this bike; it’s an uncompromised racer with a head down, bum up riding position.

It’s the kind of ride that dreams are made of as you carve with ease from corner to corner in such a way, it could almost be a tightly choreographed ballet. I would suggest you slide from side to side of the seat to warm it up a bit to help you find the bike’s groove and your comfort zone.

It’s not comfortable on the long or slow ride, but get it into the twisties and all of a sudden, the R nineT Racer is the most magical bike you can possibly be riding.

BMW R nineT Racer

Engine type                 DOHC Air/oil-cooled boxer

Displacement              1170cc

Bore x stroke               101 x 73mm

Compression ratio      12:1

Maximum power        109bhp @ 7750rpm

Maximum torque        119N.m @ 6000rpm

Carburation                 Digital fuel-injection

Fuel capacity               17 litres

Transmission              6-speed

L x W x H                     2105 x 900 x 1240mm

Wheelbase                  1491mm

Seat height                 805mm

Wet weight                 220kg

Front suspension        43mm telescopic, 125mm travel

Rear suspension         One damper, 120mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload and rebound damping

Front tyre                    120/70 x 17in Roadtec Z8

Rear tyre                     180/55 x 17in Roadtec Z8

Front brake                 Twin 320mm discs, Brembo four-piston calipers

Rear brake                  Single 265mm disc, twin-piston caliper