NEW BMW URBAN GS
BMW go back to their roots with an homage to the world’s original adventure bike
With the current trend for air-cooled retro bikes, it was only going to be a matter of time until BMW dipped into their past and revived the iconic G/S name. The 1980s R80 G/S model saved BMW Motorrad from extinction, won the Dakar Rally and gave birth BMW’S most popular family of motorcycles. So does this new G/S do it justice, or is it just a pastiche?
When it comes to styling, you have to say the Urban G/S is spot on. Bedecked in a modern take on the legendary BMW Motorsport colours of the original machine, it does look fantastic. Dig a little deeper and you soon realise that beneath the cool new nose cowl and headlight shroud, dual mudguards, flatter red seat and single pipe lies an untouched Scrambler model, but when it comes to kerb appeal, the Urban G/S has it in spades. And sharing the bare bones of the Scrambler is no bad thing at all as it’s a cracking base for a retro model with bags of spirit and that wonderful air-cooled boxer engine.
Fire the Urban up and it sounds even better than the Scrambler thanks to the same single pipe as the Pure rather than the Scrambler’s twin high-level silencers. At tickover it angrily barks its intent, and when you get on the open road and give it some throttle the sound gets even more ferociously thrilling. And when combined with the air-cooled boxer’s thumping drive and characterful vibrations, it makes every ride an event. It’s certainly nowhere near as refined as the bike the original G/S grew into, the water-cooled R1200GS, but for me the Urban’s lack of refinement it its major selling point.
A little added X appeal
The bike we tested is the X model, which takes the base Urban G/S and adds spoked wheels, a chrome exhaust, heated grips, LED indicators and the option of on-road orientated Metzeler Tourance tyres, or off-road Continental Twinduros – all for an extra £635. While the knobbly Twinduros certainly make the bike visually more rugged, they don’t offer the same grip or road refinement as the Tourances.
Unless you’re considering some light trail riding (or are easily influenced by fashion), I’d tick the on-road box
as the Urban is a bike that can really be enjoyed in the bends.
Despite their heritage looks, the R ninet models never fail to impress when it comes to handling and this latest model is no exception. With the same rolling chassis as the Scrambler, it comes as no surprise it handles identically and that means loads of grins and more lean angle and corner speed than you would rightly expect from its styling. And this is all backed up with brakes that also deliver thoroughly modern performance levels – and have ABS as standard.
It’s no Dakar replica
But, fun as the Urban G/S undoubtedly is, it certainly isn’t the continenteating, all-round touring performer that the original R80G/S was.
In reality the Urban’s small nose cowl does very little to deflect any windblast and the seat is a touch on the firm side when compared to that of modern GS models – but it’s hardly torture.
You can also spec it up with traction control (£310) and heated grips (£240), but not full hard luggage (there are some soft luggage options) making this is very much a bike for shorter hops around the town or country rather than trips to Dakar, which is exactly what I guess its target audience will use it for. Bikes that look this good get used for posing.
Better than the real thing?
But is that really in the spirit of the original world-conquering Gelände/ Straße? Make no mistake, the BMW Urban G/S really is little more than a Scrambler with a few styling tweaks, something that I feel could be an issue for BMW in the future.
With so many versions of R ninet, BMW are in danger of over-exposing their retro family and diluting the brand as a result. Remember how sought after the original R ninet was? With the Roadster, Pure, Scrambler, Racer and now Urban G/S, this might no longer the case. And when you are commanding over £11,000 for an aircooled retro, a motorcycle does need to be special to justify its price tag.
That said, I love the classic look of the Urban G/S and it certainly stands out more than the somewhat muted Scrambler – even if I reckon BMW have missed a trick by not giving it chunky off-road pegs and brush guards as standard. If the look also appeals to you, the Urban G/S won’t disappoint in terms of performance and spirit, but for me the best all-round model in the current R ninet range remains the Pure.
If you are looking at buying an R ninet to ride and enjoy and are prepared to let styling take more of a back seat, try the Pure alongside the Urban G/S before you part with your cash. However, if you are tempted by a Scrambler, also test the Urban G/S. It looks great and delivers dynamically.
‘All previous R ninet models impress with their handling – and the G/S does as well’