The Right Stuff
Bikes have changed massively over the 20-odd years since I started testing them. But one thing has stayed the same – if a designer gets the basics of a bike right, then the rest follows on. So the original Honda FireBlade, the first Ducati Monster, Suzuki GSX-R1000K1, original Yamaha Fazer 600 – they all felt ‘right’ from the off.
BMW’s managed this trick a few times too. Its R1200 GS is far more ‘right’ than its on-paper specs would ever suggest. The bonkers S1000RR was a brilliant litre sportsbike for the road straight away. And now, its RnineT range has done the same thing. A basic, simple, roadster with vanilla performance and chassis setup, that’s a whole heap of fun to just ride.
So with that basic foundation, the Munich massive has expanded the range out, into an entry-level version (the Pure), a retro café racer (Racer), a scrambler styled version (er, the Scrambler…) as well as the standard RnineT. And now there’s another one, the Urban G/S. Which we’re riding in that most urban of environments, around the Ace Café, just off the North Circular near Wembley. Nice.
Now, I’ll confess the Urban GS is a little bit confusing at first. It looks just like the original R80 G/S Dakar bike, with a 19” front rim, small headlamp cowl, fork gaitors, white paint and red seat. But why Urban? Who knows? Let’s just ride the thing shall we?
Yes, we shall. And it’s all good from the off. I rode the Racer RnineT at the launch a few months ago, and while I love the styling, I couldn’t get on with the riding position. This is a much better solution for me: almost as sweet a styling job, but with far more ergonomic accommodation. It’s a hot day, so I’m just in jacket, jeans and trainers, and I couldn’t be more at ease as we pull away from the Ace.
The motor is the tried-and-true 1,170cc oil-cooled Boxer, making 110-ish bhp here, and it’s as sorted as it is familiar. Plenty of grunt for relaxed tootling, and a decent turn of speed should you get in a race with a cheeky Focus RS near Neasden (not guilty, officer). The exhaust has a pleasing rort from it, the fuelling is slick, and the flexible power means you’re never in the wrong gear. Cutting through the gridlock of a Friday afternoon in Wembley, the Urban does well: the mirrors are a little bit wide and high, meaning you clash with Transit and Sprinter lugholes, but the overall profile is surprisingly narrow for a 1200 Boxer. There’s plenty of steering lock too, which helps enormously when threading the A406 needle.
We get to Wembley Stadium and stop for some pics. I take a look round the Urban to see what we have. This one is a ‘X’ version, which means wire-spoked wheels, hot grips, chrome pipe and LED indicators. There’s loads of scope for more customising though: BMW’s intent is for owners to expand on the theme as they please. I’m pretty happy with what’s here, though I am missing some of the more useful BMW addons, like a full trip computer setup. The standard one-dial cockpit is retro styled and minimalist, which is in tune with the bike of course, but I do like a bit more in terms of rider info on show.
Simplicity can be a boon of course. And in these days of riding modes, traction, electronic suspension and the like, it’s good to get back to basics sometimes. I zoom about the industrial estates near Wembley, chasing the snapper Mark Manning on his (own, personal, bought with money) R1200GS, and the Urban G/S is a hoot. You feel the 19” wheel at first, the steering effort different from a ‘normal’ RnineT, but you soon adapt. The riding position is upright, commanding, and a world away from the cramped, neck-crushing misery of the Racer. I grab some pics whizzing past Wembley Stadium, then say bye to Mark and buzz off for a ride round NW10.
I won’t lie – it’s not a great spot for a leisure ride. But the traffic, roundabouts, junctions and road layout is a challenge, and any bike needs to be on top of its game to get you through it all safely. The B-M has ABS of course, a basic setup, but still decent. I’m missing the quickshifters which have kept my left foot at ease on all the litre bikes I tested last month, but the rest of the Urban G/S is just the job. The Metzeler tyres are sufficiently on the road side of the off/road equation, and there’s plenty of feel on the (admittedly hot and dry) asphalt.
I’m back at the Ace Café now, for a super-posh lunch (veggie burger with cheese since you ask). The Urban G/S is parked up with the rest of the Heritage range, and I have to say it does look really smart, even next to the queen of the lineup, the Racer. So – a basic bike, with all the fundamentals done right, that looks ace, and is designed to be easily customised. Any downsides? Well, it is the wrong side of £10k of course – but it’s always worth remembering the improved residual values of BMW bikes compared with the competition. I also have to say, you’ll also have many more smiles on your face when opening the garage door than you would have on something like a Suzuki GSX-S750. £3k worth of smiles? You’ll have to be the judge of that…
RnineT Urban G/S Specs
Price: £10,550 (base model) £11,185 (X version, as tested)
Engine: 8v flat-twin, DOHC, oil-cooled, 1,170cc
Bore x stroke: 101x73mm
Compression ratio: 12:1
Max power (claimed) 110bhp@7,750rpm
Max Torque (claimed) 86ft lb@6,000rpm
Transmission: six speed, shaft
Frame: steel tube subframe type, stressed engine member
Front suspension: 43mm forks
Rear suspension: preload/rebound adjustable monoshock, single-sided swingarm
Brakes: Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs (front), 265mm single disc, dual-piston caliper (rear)
Wheels/tyres: cast or wire-spoked/Metzeler Tourance Next, 120/70 19 front, 170/60 17 rear
Kerb weight: 221kg
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
*BMW wants the RnineT range to be used as the base for your own customised bike. So there are shedloads of options: traction control (£310), aluminium tank £920-£1,020), heated grips, spoked wheels, alarm, chrome manifolds, pillion seat and subframe, and lots more…
Get on the BMW Motorrad configurator page for all the details: www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk