In 2016 BMW released their Scrambler variant of the classically styled R nineT. RUST was so keen to see, touch and – of course – ride the Scrambler, we were up to London and sat waiting in the street to be on a test model on the first day of its UK release. Did it live up to expectations? What do you think?
BMW’s R nineT roadster has certainly met with an enthusiastic response. The model has been produced as a response to the growing hipster bobber-come-café racer movement (pure & crafted, blah blah blah) – and given that’s a trend based on self-build using ostensibly 1970s roadsters (old CBs, R65/80s etc) you’d have to think that recreating such a stripped-down look with a brand new bike might be thought of as artificial, essentially a pastiche of the real thing (you know, fake), and so shunned. But not so, the R nineT has overcome all such resistance by simply being such a very good motorcycle (as our Warren M. found, see RUST 12).
WE’RE CLAIMING IT!
So we’ve appreciated the R nineT roadster while acknowledging it’s a mite peripheral as to our specific area of interest. The arrival of the Scrambler variant, however, has fallen very much in our court and so we wanted to be onto this, no questions. The Scrambler takes the base R nineT concept and tweaks it in a fair few directions to make a taller, gravel road ready machine – our kind of bike.
Most obvious are the changes to the front end. The USD forks are ditched in favour of conventional non-adjustable 43mm ‘tellies’ (complete with old-style gaitors) and those forks hold what is effectively a GS wheel, in our test bike (a Scrambler X) the optional 19” cross-spoked type. The geometry is kicked out a fair deal, too, from 25.5º/102mm to a very relaxed 28.5º/110mm (rake & trail). Ever so slightly disappointingly, the fork travel is also reduced (not increased) from 120mm to 116mm. However the Paralever set-up at the rear has increased travel, up from 120 to 140mm. A slight sense of imbalance there… The Scrambler has a longer wheelbase as a result, up from 1476 to 1527mm (that’s like two-inches longer).
There are other subtle changes, too, like the single clock (and so no rev counter), which aesthetically we prefer. The high-rise twin mufflers which, while looking nothing like the original, BMW do say take inspiration from the 1951 R68 (ISDT) model. Then there are items like the serrated off-road style footpegs and the authentic crude steel rear brake lever as found on the GS range (retrograde material but highly practical – being bendable and so unlikely to snap in a fall). The overall effect is achingly handsome. It’ll melt the heart of the sternest skeptic.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING
The Scrambler is such a visual feast that to ride it, to sully it with road grime, let alone dirt, seems simply sacrilege. This bike will create devoted owners, they’ll want to ride it, but they’ll spend hours cleaning it afterwards, bringing a sparkle back to every spoke, checking every square millimeter of the engine paint for chips. You make sure you’re wearing clean jeans before you sit on the Scrambler. God, it’s beautiful.
Ridden back-to-back with its R nineT roadster sibling, it’s so obviously its own bike. You immediately feel the extra length and the steering geometry makes for a more planted, slower-steering feel and set of responses. It’s not super-tanker slow by any means, but the roadster is far snappier. But this is what we need, the roadster would be hell on a gravel road, too nervous, whereas this Scrambler feels dialed-in for such work.
The motor is as exquisite as the styling. I rode with this engine in an R1200GS Rallye in the 2012 GS Trophy (in South America) and fell in love with it then, the old oil and air-cooled 1170cc four-valve twin is so incredibly optimized, so torquey, so smooth and at 110bhp you need no more. The new Waterboxer may be punchier, quite a bit more powerful and of course super-trick, but for character this older motor aces it, it literally speaks to your heart (jeez, I’ve come over pretty romantic and all…).
As a point of interest, the R nineT roadster we had along on the ride was made to Euro 3 spec, while the Scrambler is Euro 4, and while they felt ever so slightly different, there wasn’t an easily-definable difference. The motor hasn’t been strangled, it’s just as it was, only now there’s this odd canister hanging down behind the motor, the carbon canister, that we understand catches the fuel vapours from the tank (heck, emissions regs are getting super-tight, eh?).
CAN IT SATISFY?
Can it satisfy? Hell yeah! We’ve not stopped thinking about it, talking about it, since we tested the bike 72 hours ago. Co-tester July is on the point of buying one (see his second opinion). It really is ridiculously handsome; personally I’m no café racer or bobber or scrambler fan, but this bike looks so damn on the money. I like the simple clock, I like fact the switch blocks have probably no more than two or three functions each – it is as stripped down as a modern bike can be.
I have reservations – I wish the forks could have offered 140mm of travel, like the shock – it might offer some extra ground clearance at that, too. A fuel tank of 20-litres might have been better than 17-litres, but I can ride slower to go further if that’s what it takes. And it needs the tall seat option at the least to be properly comfortable, that stitched tan seat might look great but it’s no touring perch. The ergos will need adapting to offer a proper standing position (for burning gravel roads), which possibly means bar risers, maybe even footrest lowering – it depends on your height. And for off-road I think we need to discuss options on the front mudguard, even the rear – which will be tricky because properly protective guards will hurt the aesthetic. Maybe I’m just being ‘old’ on that, but to see this bike shot-blasted by stones would break my heart.
Maybe, personally, I just wouldn’t take it off-road (which is kind of missing the point of this model) simply to save its appearance. I’d still be happy though, for summer hacking around the streets and lanes, it’s one sublime ride – and yes (again, personally) I’d have this over the roadster variant. In the Scrambler BMW have made a truly beautiful bike – and that in itself is enough. But it’s dynamically a great bike, too. How you interact with it looks wide open to interpretation, be it as a street scrambler for chilled-out weekend fun or maybe for something more…
BMW R nineT
Type air-cooled, DOHC 8-valve boxer-twin four-stroke
Bore x stroke 101 x 73mm
Compression ratio 12.0:1
Ignition Electronic, 12v
Carburation fuel injection
Primary/final drive gear / shaft drive
Clutch dry clutch
Frame tubular steel bridge
Front suspension 43mm telescopic fork, 116mm travel
Rear suspension BMW Paralever, 140mm travel
Front brake Twin 320mm discs, four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake 265mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS
Wheels wire spoked, alloy rim
Front tyre 120/70-19
Rear tyre 170/60-17
Dry weight 220kg
Seat height 820mm
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Claimed power 81kW (110hp) at 7750rpm
Claimed torque 116Nm (85lbft) at 6000rpm