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BMW R nineT Urban G/S Test

Nostalgia has never been so much fun

By Marty Thompson – Images by BMW, Colin Rosewarne and Trevor Hedge


Enough has probably already been said about where this bike fits into the equation. Yes, it’s part of the modular line of factory retro bikes from BMW and yes, it sits right in there among competitors from Triumph, Ducati and even some of the Japanese bikes such as the Yamaha XSR900.

The Urban G/S is the latest machine to arrive in the BMW Heritage line
The Urban G/S is the latest machine to arrive in the BMW Heritage line

Where it differs, in my opinion, is that this BMW has some real heritage to draw from. While potentially BMW may have wished to capture some of the bearded metro hipster brigade with this bike, it’s more likely to capture riders of similar ilk to myself, being the circa mid to late ’60s babies.

My early riding days saw me chasing the likes of the BMW R80 G/S along the local racer roads and this new interpretation of the R nineT harks back to those days, evoking memories of the early GS bikes, and the early Paris Dakar incarnations of the Boxer. BMW have done a terrific job of including the key visual and in some respects, mechanical aspects of those early G/S Paris Dakar models.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

Visually the bike has the flat red seat, a round headlight with the ’70s motocross style headlight number plate, blue tank striping which brings memories of those bikes flooding back, and the high guard and knobby tyres, all of which lay thick icing on the nostalgia cake and slot the final piece of the retro jigsaw puzzle into place.

Add to that the air/oil cooled boxer engine, which even gives off the hint of burnt oil reminiscent of the original, but without the leaks and antiquated technology of the old bike. It really is the full monty, pucka retro experience, but with all the benefits of a modern superbly engineered bike which starts and runs like a modern bike should.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

But of all the iterations of the BMW R nineT, the Urban G/S is the one which pushes almost all my buttons visually. As Triumph did with the Thruxton, BMW have nailed the look of this bike. The uninitiated could easily mistake it for an original at first glance.

Obviously a true rider will pick it a mile off as a new bike, but for those who aren’t learned in the ways of motorcycles, perhaps with just a passing interest or with memories of those bikes from their teenage years, and not much in between then and now… Well they might be initially fooled into thinking it is an original from the late ’70s or early ’80s.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

I am a bit of a resister of the modern technology being heaped upon today’s bikes. Having my motorcycle induction riding bikes with big motors, rubbish brakes, elastic frames and suspension that only just qualified as suspension, the whole world of electronic everything simply leaves me feeling sanitised.

To me, all the electronics dilute what is the essence of riding a bike. Motorcycles are dangerous and to my mind that’s how they should stay. Sure… I appreciate not having to rebuild them halfway through a day’s ride, that part of technology I am happy to embrace.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

But traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronically adjustable suspension, digital displays and even dare I say it, electronic fuel injection, all leave me feeling like the essence of riding has been eroded with each new gadget added. So the R nineT range sure as hell jingles my biking bell.

It’s as basic as can be these days, with fuel injection, ABS and a small digital display underneath the larger analogue speedo being the only standard inclusions which detract from that essence of simplicity I crave. Of course, modern tech can be optioned onto the Urban G/S as the rider may see fit, ASC (Automatic Stability Control) is an ex works option fitted to this bike.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

This means you can choose your R nineT to have the looks and mechanicals of yesteryear, or just the looks of yesteryear and have your technology. It’s your call. Personally, I’d take it as simple as it can be, with maybe the addition of heated grips, which are standard, as a concession to my aging and much beaten up body.

The other concessions which I am happy to embrace is brakes which actually cause the forks to compress when applied, a frame which doesn’t tie itself in knots when asked to combine lean angle with throttle opening, and suspension which actually suspends.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

Plus of course, most importantly, a motor which is probably double the power and half the fuel consumption of the original R80 G/S. The Urban G/S does all of that. No, it’s probably not the bike to buy if adventure riding is your thing. The Urban G/S is more a soft roader at best, and should your thoughts turn to crossing the Simpson or doing the Oodnadatta Track, then a proper GS is probably what you might wish to consider. Nonetheless, Trev did go get it muddy…

2017 BMW R nineT Urban GS in the mud - Image by Colin Rosewarne
2017 BMW R nineT Urban GS in the mud – Image by Colin Rosewarne

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