You have to hand it to BMW. The Bavarian mob have been damned good at identifying market niches and then splitting them again, to give us motorcycles we were far from sure we needed.

That’s a long-winded way to introduce the latest in the BMW Heritage range, the R nineT Racer. Okay. That’s all a bit ambiguous. Let me try to explain…

You don’t have to be a pop culture expert to know that café bikes are the flavour of the month. There are more than enough scruffy-bearded skinny people looking to get laid aboard a huffing and puffing snotbox with the wrong tyres and even sillier seating positions posing and putting outside coffee shops across this wide brown land. More than enough for mine. No shortage. You with me?

Next to all that, there is a serious bunch of real enthusiasts, building very sweet and innovative retro rides and riding the wheels off them. They know how to spin a spanner, do real miles and can hold their heads high in the bike community. Yes, you got it. two very distinct groups. They look a little similar, but you very quickly work out who is who in the café zoo.

It’s to that second group that BMW aims its Heritage range, which first hit the road in 2013 with the release of the R nineT, and now takes in the R nineT, R nineT Pure, R nineT Scrambler, R nineT Urban G/S and this here R nineT Racer.

Committed to the cause? You betcha. It’s clear that BMW reckons this retro thing is here to stay. And, they are rarely wrong when it comes to market positioning. In fact, make that ‘Never’.

All of the bikes share an identical 1170cc boxer engine making a claimed 81kW and 116Nm.

The Racer sports that tidy retro fairing, a pair of gauges, trip computer, switchable ABS and traction control, and LED indicators.

It comes with clip-ons, but my test example had a neat set of Helibars, which the good folk at BMW fitted for me while I recovered from my crash of 2017. I appreciated the effort, because it is a quite a stretch over that long, sweeping tank for my 178cm. The bike calls for commitment in that area. It’s no luxo-cruiser. It’s the real café deal.

Performance here is all about torque. The engine is a delight, with buzz-free torque on offer from the bottom. It’s a real kick to point-to-point squirt the Racer in urban going. And it’s a neck-snapper to look at. Everywhere I parked the bike up, it gathered at least one eager onlooker. Yes, You’ll be noticed.

The exhaust delivers a deep burble and there’s enough satisfying grunty throat that I’d be leaving that alone. Quiet enough to eliminate the sort of done that Boxer engines can be guilty of, yet ballsy at the same time. I’d be leaving all that alone if I was buying one. You get a non-adjustable 43mm conventional fork and BMW’s Paralever at the stern. It’s adjustable for preload.

Now, be prepared for the ride to be ‘firm’ at best. The thing is set-up pretty stiffly and you’ll know all about bumps and rough roads. Simple as that.

The seating position has your legs and heels in a fairly tight tuck, and I found myself using my knees to absorb the worst of road imperfections as they transferred through the bike. Not bone-crunching, but not supple either.

Brakes are a strong point, from the house of Brembo. You get the ubiquitous pair of rotors gripped by classy four-pot calipers. They do the job with neat accuracy and I had no complaints on that front. The maths involved here work and the Racer pulls up with real surety and stability.

I belted the bike along western Victoria’s famed blacktop, the Great Ocean Road and that’s where it came alive. Along with providing a backdrop that made the bike visually at home, smooth, flowing roads like the GOR offer real sports application for a bike like this.

Quick bursts of power, hard braking, dump it quickly on to a good lean and use that torque to squirt towards the next cornering experience. It’s an involving and committed ride that makes the Racer make sense, –when it’s ergos are forgotten and its cool comes to the fore.

The character is really enhanced by the Boxer donk. It has distinct feel and a unique way of delivering the bike of its own personality. And, I hazard that the sort of buyer who will look hard at the Racer will really want that.

Yes, there are compromises and commitments here, but there is real stand-alone individuality, and I have to say, that really appealed to me.

There’s a nice suite of modern conveniences at hand too. You get standard ABS and traction control. I also like that both of these damned new-fangled doo-dad safety features can be turned on or off if you really want the Ace Café austerity and genuine 50s deal.

Finish is delightful. Every fastener, every wire routing, all the surfaces. I really couldn’t find fault there and it’s what BMW does best. High-end quality and forethought in presentation. The paint is deep and lustrous, the scheme harking to the Krauser look of BMW’s rich past. Absolutely perfect here as far as I am concerned.

I’m a bit of a café tragic, and this thing sets my nerve endings alight in the aesthetic. Gorgeous. That is all.

I reckon the Racer is a good thing, that will ask a lot of its owner. It demands you be involved and commit to it.

It presents a set of ergos that will either endear you to it or not. That’s the price of entry here – the makes no claims to mainstream appeal. That’s not the brief here.

The bike positions BMW in a niche that is booming and doesn’t look like going way anytime soon and does it with a unique personality and style.

Is it a branding exercise? The answer to that is probably ‘yes’. At the same time, it’s a competent handler that makesmpromises of café cool that it faithfully keeps. And, that, right there should be applauded in itself.

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Martin
Martin
4 years ago

Sounds like a nice jigger. BMW lost the plot with that awful cruiser but have had a history of nice simple real world motorcycles such as the R90S ( the original one) and the R1000CS. However, I’d hazard a guess that it may be that first group where this new version finds favour….