If there’s any proof that the new wave custom scene has reached critical mass, it’s the fact that leading motorcycle marques have started dipping their fingers in the pie. Case in point: BMW Motorrad and the R nineT.
BMW’s dream team of Ola Stenegärd and Edgar Heinrich were clearly enamoured with custom motorcycles when they conceived the R nineT. Before the bike was even launched, the world was teased with the über-desirable, Roland Sands-built Concept 90 (which was based on a pre-production unit).
And when the R nineT eventually broke cover, it did so in BMW’s Soul Fuel video—starring the likes of Blitz Motorcycles, Urban Motor and El Solitario. These custom builders were each given one to modify however they wanted, and we’ve seen a bevy of custom examples pop up since.
Donford Motorrad Cape Town were gracious enough to let me put some decent miles into the R nineT recently. Walking around it the first time, I was struck by just how attractive it is in stock form.
Its bodywork is refreshingly basic: the tank’s made out of aluminium, the headlight and front mudguard are discreet and there are no shrouds or side panels hiding the engine and airbox. Look closely, and you’ll notice that the black paint on the tank has a slight pearl finish to it, and the knee indents are finished with a brushed metal texture. Visually, it’s a bike I could easily live with without changing much.
The engine layout is simple too, with BMW opting to use their traditional air-and-oil-cooled flat twin rather than their newer, more complex water-cooled unit. Gone is the Telelever front suspension found on most of BMW’s boxer models, replaced with simpler upside-down forks.
For riders that want to change things up, the subframe and seat setup is configurable. You can run it stock, remove the rear seat and passenger pegs, or fit the aftermarket bum box (pictured here). I rode the bike in all three guises, and enjoyed the anchored feel of the café-style bum box the most. Other items like the front mudguard and turn signals are easy to swap out or remove.
As modern motorcycles go, there’s a lot to love about the nineT. The 1 170cc boxer puts out a claimed 110hp and 119Nm. That’s sent straight to the back wheel by BMW’s single-sided Paralever shaft drive. It’s a great combination that provides torque on tap when needed, and it sounds beefy through the stock exhaust: a dual-muffler setup from Akrapovič.
All that’s handled by an ultra-slick gearbox, and a hydraulic clutch that made for effortless shifts without a hint of a false neutral. And its brought to a stop by an effective ABS braking system that includes dual Brembo discs and four-piston radial calipers up front. They were powerful enough to keep me out of trouble, and only need a light touch to slow the bike down—as I quickly discovered on the first day of riding.
The nineT’s throttle action is incredibly smooth, and it was as happy being feathered as it was being held wide open. So the bike never lurched in tight city riding, pulled like a freight train out of corners and held its own out on the open road. When given enough room, it surprised me with how nimble it could be—and how quickly the front would start feeling light!
It handled exceptionally well too, despite its 222kg heft. With most of the weight carried down low, I had no trouble throwing it around on some of the Cape’s finest mountain passes.
Its ergonomics certainly help here. Slightly rear-set pegs and upright bars create a neutral and comfortable riding position that’s pitched ever-so-slighty forward for maximum control. I also love the 17” spoked wheels (wrapped in Metzeler Roadtec rubber)—which not only look great, but also make the bike feel incredibly planted.
Despite how thin the nineT’s seat is, it was surprisingly comfortable—even during a 300km ride. I did notice a fair amount of vibration through the handlebars and foot pegs after a while though. That’s probably my only gripe, other than the fact that I’d prefer the suspension a little stiffer (to be fair, I am a big guy).
The cockpit’s equipped with neat and easy-to-use switchgear —with the combined kill-switch and start button being my favourite little feature. The classicly-designed, analogue speedo and rev counter are gorgeous, but I found the digital display between them a little cluttered at times. There’s a lot of info on there—most of which I’ll never need—but it’s hardly an issue.
What I love most about the R nineT though, is how BMW have managed to pack the soul of the classic R-series into a modern, refined package. Equal parts nostalgia and technology, it’s an absolute blast to ride and a bike I’d love to own.
Head over to Bike EXIF for my five favourite BMW R nineT customs.