Cape Town – BMW’s R Nine T Scrambler, released in South Africa this week, harks back to an era when an off-road bike was simply a road-going machine with slightly raised suspension, ‘trials universal’ block-treaded tyres and a high-mounted exhaust. They were mostly used for off-road competitions called scrambles, until Yamaha adopted Lucien Tilkiens’ monoshock rear suspension system in 1973 and scramblers became obsolete virtually overnight. But bikers, perverse as we are, love to wallow in nostalgia, and the name has been recycled to describe an essentially road-going machine styled to look like a 1960’s off-roader.
Which brings us to this one, which is basically an R Nine T with slightly raised suspension, ‘trials universal’ block-treaded tyres and a high-mounted exhaust. Nevertheless, BMW has managed to imbue the second in its series of Heritage machines with a pleasantly attitudinous character all its own, firstly by fitting a 19 inch front rim in place of the T’s 17 incher, adding a pair of Akrapovic tailpipes that pop and crackle on the overrun, and raising the handlebars and shifting the footpegs to move the rider from a classic sports tuck to a head-up, elbows out street-fighting stance.
The previous-generation, air/oil-cooled 1170 boxer engine is unchanged from the T, as is the rest of the drive train, but somehow its 81kW 7550 revs and 116Nm at 6000rpm seem to be a little more in your face, mid-range response appreciably more immediate.
Maybe it has an ECU mapping with a slightly shorter fuse on the fly-by-wire throttle, maybe it’s just an illusion caused by the more upright ergonomics but, in combination with the bigger front wheel and quicker steering resulting from a head angle 3.5 degrees steeper than on the T, the Scrambler has a distinct inner-city edginess to its agility that will sit well with its target market.
BMW’s heritage bikes have been cited as “an analogue island in a digital sea” and to that end the Scrambler has no gizmotronics other than ABS and traction control - both switchable but pleasantly unobtrusive even when engaged - and no rev counter, which is less of an omission than you might think, given the boxer’s meaty torque curve and mild reluctance to rev beyond its power peak.
Cross-spoked wire wheels
In other markets the Scrambler comes with cast rims, but for South Africa BMW Motorrad SA has specified cross-spoked wire wheels, based on customer feedback; all R Nine T Scramblers are shod with deeply-treaded Metzeler Karoo 3 dual-purpose tyres, complete with a warning sticker on the front brake master cylinder to remind you that they’re not guaranteed safe at more than 160km/h.
These can be a little unsteady when they’re cold; for the first few kilometres of our launch ride the bike felt as if it was trying to fall off its tyres, but as they warmed up their stability improved and so did our confidence levels, and we began to push the bikes a little harder.
By our lunch stop at Steenberg, we’d ridden over both Chapman’s Peak and Red Hill, the Cape Peninsula’s most iconic twisties, and everybody was enjoying the old-school responsiveness and feedback from the chassis.
The Scrambler turns in like a terrier after a rat and likes to be driven through mid-corner, so you get all your braking and gear-changes done early, turn it in and start feeding the power. Your mates on their pocket rockets will outbrake you, but they may be a little rattled to find you right behind them, already on the gas and accelerating hard, when they line it up for the next straight and pull the trigger.
Instantly accessible grunt
The bike I was riding had what sounded like a nasty ‘diff hum’ and I had already resolved to swop to another machine after lunch, to see whether it was generic, when we rode off tar on to the paving at Steenberg and the sound suddenly changed - I gave myself a metaphoric slap upside the head and said out loud “It’s not the final drive, you idiot - it’s the tyres!”
In my defence, this was the first time I had ridden a bike with Karoos and yes, I rode a different bike after lunch and yes, it also hummed and whined but, knowing what it was, I found it easy to ignore.
We spent the afternoon playing on the Jack Clarence Drive between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els - one of the finest biking roads in South Africa, if not the world - enjoying the Scrambler’s instantly accessible grunt and slick six-speed transmission, to the point where lack of wind protection, rather than the tyres, became the limiting factor on the road’s few straights.
Then we jinked and jived through the afternoon gridlock back into the CBD in perhaps a more complete test of the Scrambler’s all-round competence than BMW had intended, but one in which it acquitted itself with distinction.
Engineering work of art
You’ll note that the launch ride was all tar; BMW has many superb beetle-crushers in its model line-up but this is not one of them. The Scrambler will cope with gravel roads as well as any naked street-bike – and better than most thanks to those blocky tyres – but that’s what it is: a street-bike.
And a rather expensive one; the bike you see here will sell for an eye-watering R193 900. That’s because the first 31 Scramblers to land here were specced with LED indicators, heated grips and a gorgeous aluminium fuel-tank, brush-finished and lacquered, with an unfinished weld down the middle that is an engineering work of art.
The next batch will have standard painted steel tanks, no extras and should retail for a little less than the R Nine T roadster, which is currently priced at R176 900. But they’re unlikely to stay that way; the rear sub-frame strut and foot-peg bracket can be simply unbolted to make the bike a single seater. After that the only limit to how far you shorten and customise the bike, using parts from BMW’s comprehensive aftermarket catalogue, is that the rider still needs somewhere to sit.
The Scrambler is everything the original R Nine T is, but with an added edge to both feel and styling. More than any other BMW flat twin I’ve ridden, it’s a Boxer with attitude.
BMW R NineT Scrambler
Engine: 1170cc Air/oil-cooled horizontally opposed twin.
Bore x stroke: 101 x 73mm.
Compression ratio: 12.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 81kW at 7550rpm.
Torque: 116Nm at 6000rpm.
Induction: BMS-MP digital electronic fuel-injection with two 50mm Bing throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated single-plate dry clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with shaft final drive.
Front Suspension: 43mm non-adjustable conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Cast aluminium single-sided swing-arm with monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm discs with Brembo four-piston callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 265mm disc with BMW dual-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 19 tube type.
Rear tyre: 170/60 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 820mm.
Kerb weight: 220kg.
Fuel tank: 17 litres.
Top speed (Claimed): More than 200km/h.
Fuel consumption (claimed): 5.3 litres per 100km.
Price: R193 900.