I got drunk with Roland Sands once. Not just a little bit tipsy, I mean properly fucked. We got chatting at a BMW festival in Austria and hit it off. One minute we were talking about the time he replaced an injured John McGuinness in the British 250cc championship, the next we were necking belt fed bottles of wine and chucking beer at pot bellied Jarmans wearing mullets and sandals. Roland was there to unveil his café racer concept bike and I was there to kick the tyres on it. The Concept 90 was and still is one of the sweetest factory custom bikes I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m sure someone could put me straight, but in my opinion it was the first performance-biased concept custom bike a manufacturer has ever made. I liked it so much that I had to make a point of playing it cool and not gushing about it to Mr. Sands when we met. Obviously four hours after we shook hands, I was forcing cigarettes and booze into his mouth while jamming my opinion of his lovely bike into his ear like we were speed dating. Precisely fifty percent of us played it cool…
If you’re used to reading my thoughts on the current tidal wave of old school bikes with new school warranties, you’ll know that I prefer them to have a bit of go, as well as a bit of show. Performance and style are what café racers are all about, no? Unfortunately for us it would seem that some manufacturers didn’t get that email and forgot to make their modern metal go as fast as they looked. XJR13 Café Racer anyone? There are others but there’s little point reminding you about the bad bikes when we can talk about the good ones. This BMW RnineT Racer is definitely one of the good ones, and not least because it’s a very faithful proddy pastiche of the original Sands bike.
The Racer is built to reduce the guesswork when it comes to making a bike look and sound right. Men with actual experience and genuine talent when it comes to designing and building bikes have worked their asses off here to deliver a turn key Café Racer that is ready to piddle on the new Triumph Thruxton’s chips.
The RnineT Racer certainly looks the part, especially wearing this silky BMW Motorsport inspired paintjob. For now it only comes in these colours and to be honest, I think that’s a good thing, as it looks absolutely banging. The spoked wheels come as standard, as do the LED indicators, heated grips and the exhaust you can see in the pictures. What you might not be able to see are the mounting lugs for the pillion pegs and a useable perch under the aluminium seat hump. There is no doubt a fairly practical everyday bike in there, but that’s not what this bike is trying to be. Pegs are tucked further back than you expect and if you shut your eyes once you’ve grabbed hold of the bars and parked yer bum, you’d swear you were sat on a late eighties sports bike. It doesn’t feel unwieldy but the long and low stretch to those bars is one of the more extreme riding positions of any of the modern retro bikes doing the rounds. Some would call it authentic, others would call it a deal breaker. I quite liked the fact that it felt as extreme as it did. If you don’t fancy going all in on the Café racer style, BMW will gladly point sir at other bikes on the showroom floor, as it is, I’d say this one is for the fully committed retro racer fans.
The motor is a marvel. I’m going to call it stubbornly beautiful. I’m sure BMW could make a far more efficient inline four for the GS, and the R series, but why should they? The boxer motor still shimmies to one side when you blip the throttle, it still bubbles through a lovely sounding stock pipe and it still has a degree of charm that pistons in a row could only dream of. I completely approve. I’m giving it the nod because it also makes solid numbers, 1170cc and air-cooled, it churns 110bhp at 7750rpm and 87lb-ft of torque at 6000rpm. In current café racer terms, this bike is on the front row of the grid. I’d want to ride it back to back with the XSR900 to see which was my absolute favourite, but I’d be happy to have the keys for either in my pocket.
I think we can all agree that in terms of how the Racer looks, BMW has hit a six. More important for me (and hopefully you) is how it feels to ride. That long armed and short-legged riding position doesn’t suit slow speed riding. You’ll find you’re paddling an extra foot when you’re wobbling out of car parks until you get your eye in on the clutch and revs. Plus, the position the bars puts you in means you’re not really able to use shoulder muscles like normal so walking speed work looks a little clunky and ungainly. But, much like an ME 109, the RnineT Racer wasn’t designed for paddling round car parks and once you wind the thing up to cruising speed, everything starts to make more sense. I love that long and low screen, so much so that I couldn’t really care less where it channels the wind and rain around my body. It’s not uncomfortable when you’re riding at speed, though. Visibility is also pretty good thanks to the fact that there is absolutely zero chance of the screen obscuring your view of the road ahead. The rake on the screen is fairly savage, horizontal almost.
When I tucked down behind it, I instantly decided that I’d have to add crosshairs to mine, to help pick off straggling Thruxton Rs in the dogfights I’d expect to get into. I’d also expect to win them, not sure it would be on the brakes, but I think the Racer would have the legs on the Triumph over fast open ground.
Throttle response is great, fuelling is sweet and well-timed gearshifts are a treat. It’ll take some time to understand what needs modulating when in terms of smoothing everything out. If you ride without any mechanical consideration, the rewards will consist of clunking shifts, lurching acceleration and you wont enjoy the ride. Get it right and you’re in for a real treat. Lacing the RnineT Racer at speed along a pretty coast road in Spain was fantastic fun, enhanced by the open face helmet, strong boots, jeans and jacket approach I’d adopted. The ride would have been perfect, had the clouds not decided to empty their pockets on us. Within minutes of bagging the last of these pretty shots, we were subjected to what can only be described as Spanish waterboarding. The worst rain in the region for two decades hit us hard and I was dressed like I was nipping into Shoreditch for a skinny flat white and a smack in the teeth. Sixty miles later we reached home, all of us laughing and smiling still. Partly down to the ridiculousness of traveling to the driest region in Europe only for it to lash it down, but also down to the nature of the bikes we were riding. As I squeezed the last drops of rain out of my poncy gloves, I asked myself if I’d be happy to own an RnineT racer. I replied (silently, for I am not a mad man) with a maybe. If I hadn’t also ridden the RnineT Pure on the same day, I’d go for the Racer in a heartbeat. Problem is, the Racer is the one you’d have a picture of on your garage wall but it was actually the Pure that delivered more of the riding experience I went looking for. To be fair to BMW, you could buy the cheaper Pure and spec’ the thing up to almost the same level as the Racer, but you’ll need to crack out the welder and run a bracket across the gap behind the radiator. It’ll be to mount the sweet fairing that flanks the fuel tank perfectly while having the most beautifully pointless screen I’ve ever had the pleasure of not fitting behind.
You can come back and read about the Pure in a day or so when we’ve uploaded the report. For now, enjoy these pretty pictures, get yourself a proper test ride booked on a Racer and go and enjoy one of the most authentic modern retro riding experiences you’ll have this side of a priceless Roland Sands concept bike. You wont regret it, I promise you.
Click here to find your nearest dealer and to see the specs and current deals on RnineT Racer. It starts at a legitimate £10,775.