BMW R nineT Urban G/S: Paris over Dakar
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I’m not going to lie, out of the entire R NineT range, I was looking forward to the Urban G/S the most.
Though the Racer, Pure and Scrambler each have their appeal, there’s just something extra cool to my eye about the Dakar-inspired Urban G/S.
For starters, there’s no missing the thing, with its gleaming white paint and bright red seat combination, which harks back to the Dakar dominator, the original R80G/S ridden to victory by Hubert Auriol in the Paris-Dakar in 1981.
On looks alone, the Urban G/S appears capable, but that Urban in the name gives away the true home turf of this R nineT.
You’ll more likely find the Urban G/S rolling through the streets of Paris, plying its trade there rather than the deserts of Africa or South America — a dune dusting off-roader this is not. That’s because, as has been the formula for the wider R nineT family beyond the highly spec’d original, the Urban G/S shares its suspension, frame, and engine with the Pure, Scrambler, and Racer.
As such, you get 43mm forks up front paired with a monoshock connected to the paralever shaft drive out back, along with the same fuel tank, clocks and switchgear.
The engine is a stressed member, while the frame is a three-piece affair, allowing options to chop and change the rider setup.
It’s a clever way for the Bavarian Motor Works to save money while showing off how little you need to do to make the R nineT a different bike.
After all, the premise of the R nineT is as a blank canvas, and BMW Motorrad NZ jumped on the band wagon by adding a few tasty parts to make our test G/S cooler.
First, the wheels have been swapped from the factory alloys to the much stronger — and far more appropriate for something bearing the G/S badge — optional spoked wheels in the same 19-inch front and 17-inch rear sizing, albeit keeping the same road focused rubber instead of going for the full knobbly treatment.
Added to this, are the tidier LED indicators which do a stand-out job of not standing out.
Swing a leg over that eyeball-grabbing red seat however, and the Urban G/S has its own distinct feeling within the range.
BMW Motorrad has worked some witchcraft with the R nineT family of bikes to give each their own distinct personality. It’s magical and refreshingly simple to boot.
The the footpeg rubber is removable — like all good dual-purpose machines — but the pegs do reinforce the bike’s more road-biased attitude due to their narrow build.
That said, it didn’t stop me from leaving the sealed roads and finding gravel to act out my Paris-Dakar fantasies.
Immediately after hitting the loose surface, I was reminded how much I love the poise of a flat twin engine.
With a low centre of gravity mixed in with a respectable ground clearance, standing up on the pegs and pretending to emulate the Dakar heroes of old is a reasonably straight forward affair.
Okay, the ergonomics aren’t really designed for sustained standing like those of the R 1200 GS, with the low handlebar the chief offender here, but the combo works with the non-adjustable 43mm forks to do a fair job of handling gravel if you’re riding sensibly.
Despite options to customise the bike being part of its DNA, something I’d probably leave well alone is the blissfully basic instrumentation.
There was something hard to describe about the single clock tucked in behind the Urban G/S’ fly screen. Sure, you don’t get all the useful info such as range, fuel gauge and the like, but on a bike doing its best to evoke the 80s, I think this is well on point. I didn’t feel the bike needed the optional extra instrumentation.
What’s definitely not like the bikes of the 1980s however, is the road manners of the Urban G/S.
Where the bike was composed and predictable on gravel, on the roads where it will likely spend by far the majority of its time the bike was near-on perfect for our conditions.
The Urban G/S was a fine ride no matter where I rode it, with a great balance between usable power handling and fun factor. It is already one of the more enjoyable bikes I’ve ridden this year.
Add to that the cool Dakar-inspired look and I think BMW has a winner here for riders who love the history of the marque, but don’t want to go all out into the world of Gelande Strasse (GS) riding.
Driven apologises for running the incorrect pictures with this review in Saturday’s print edition of Driven.
BMW R Ninet Urban G/S
Price: $23,990 + on roads
Engine: 1170cc air/oil-cooled flat twin
Pros: Stylish, handles great on road, always a talking point
Cons: Not as capable off road as it looks