BMW R ninet Racer S
Sorted chassis + characterful motor = quality retro
With five bikes now bearing the name, the R ninet has gone from being a single, niche model into a family of machines. This one – the Racer – is the sporty version but uses the same lower-spec 43mm forks and axialmount Brembo as the naked Pure and the soft-road Urban G/S and Scrambler.
Despite the compromises of a crossmodel platform, the R ninet feels totally sorted. The chassis has nimble, communicative steering and peerless stability. Long and low, the Racer gives confidence to push to the limit of its modest ground clearance. BMW didn’t have to give the bike such an accomplished chassis to appeal to its target market, but we’re glad they did.
For many, the looks of the Racer will be enough. It’s a good example of sympathetic parts-bin engineering. The tank (now steel rather than ally) and tail piece have already been seen on the original R ninet, as have the headlight and clocks. The only new cosmetic parts are the fairing with its well-formed mounts and mirrors which mount inside the subframe, plus new bars and rearsets. But thanks to the quality of its design and execution, and the BMW Motorsport paintjob, it all hangs together, especially when it’s complemented by the spoked wheels of this S model.
Sitting on the BMW’S solo seat, those bars are a long way away. At 94cm, the Racer has the longest saddle-to-bar distance of any bike here and although the bars are higher than the Yamaha’s, they force you into a counter-intuitive position which takes its toll on your wrists, forearms and neck. The stretched-out nature of the bike also exposes the difficulty of twisting the R ninet’s long-action throttle to the stop.
But when you can, you’re rewarded with an interesting motor that’s at odds with the myth that any bike complying with Euro 4 regulations is neutered – that 1170cc Boxer twin is full of good vibrations. Start it up, lift the bike off the tooshort sidestand and the longitudinal crank means the bike rocks as you blip the throttle.
The thumping of its unique configuration (both pistons go in and out at the same time) means plenty of vibes – but they’re never intrusive and just add to the character, as does the step in power between 6000 and 8000rpm. But the gearbox isn’t as sweet as the Yamaha’s and isn’t helped by the extra inertia of the shaft drive and the long throttle, which handicaps clutch-less gearchanges.
The Racer is a credible motorcycle which, like the Abarth, is compromised by its riding position. But if you do lots of flowing A and B-road riding, with the odd bit of posing at pub meets it could be just what you’re after. Just have an extended test ride before you sign on the line.
‘The chassis is communicative and stability is peerless’
R ninet’s basic forks still provide ample feedback It’s the most soulful machine of any of the four we tested