First Ride: 2021 BMW R nineT Urban G/S

Cruise control, 40th anniversary paint and engine tweaks for BMW’s slick Urban G/S retro adventure bike

2021 BMW R nine T
BMW R nineT

I wasn’t sure about BMW’s R nineT range when I first heard about it. Using the last generation air/oil-cooled Boxer engine to power a range of slightly retro roadsters, with various different styling packages could have been a big exercise in ‘meh’. An old air-cooled motor? Tarted up to look like a 1970s Boxer? And a gigantic catalogue of mad hipster bolt-ons to go with it? Where do I not sign?

Of course, I was a bit wide of the mark, and the Bavarian bike builders actually made a very good job of the original 2014 R nineT. That was down to two things: some slick design work from Roland Sands in the US, and a very solid engine/chassis foundation. That ‘old’ 1,170 twin was the oil/air cooled motor used in the first R1200 GS and GS Adventure – bikes which topped the adventure bike class as recently as 2012. And it’s a great motor, making around 110bhp in pleasingly torquey form.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

The original R nineT added some premium chassis kit, top-quality bodywork and generally made an excellent fun road bike. BMW used the basic R nineT for a range of machines over the next few years – the entry level Pure with cheaper running gear, the scrambler styled, er, Scrambler, a half-faired café-racer version called the Racer, and the retro adventure Urban G/S.

I’ve sampled them all, and the Urban G/S is my favourite. It harks back to the original G/S desert racers, with a much skinnier, pared-back look, no massive fairings or engine bars, just a small nosecone, big engine and slightly longer suspension.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

And for 2021, the Urban G/S gets the same updates as the rest of the R nineT range – an updated Euro5 emissions-compliant engine, with ride-by-wire throttle that permits cruise control for the first time and 109bhp peak power output, down 1bhp on the 110bhp produced before.

There’s a new updated cornering ABS setup as standard, while additional riding modes and engine brake control settings are now on the options list.

Not massive changes then – but there is one other mod available, which is the super-lush, limited numbers 40th Anniversary Edition. Black with yellow highlights on the paint, handguards and seat, it takes me right back to the 1980s, when I started riding and the first G/S boxers were starting to appear…

Normal overseas press launches are verboten at the moment of course, so we’re down at BMW HQ for a quick run-out on some of the new 2021 bikes. The Anniversary Urban G/S is parked up with the key in the ignition – and I jump straight on for a quick run out around Hampshire.

It’s all very familiar – the upright riding position, wide bars, minimal dashboard and standard BMW switchgear – this time with a cruise control switch. Through Farnborough town traffic, it makes great progress, thanks to low-down instant drive from the big twin motor.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

The Euro5 changes haven’t had any real impact on fuelling or rideability it seems – which you can’t say about every Euro5 bike. Round the series of roundabouts by Farnborough Airport the Urban G/S is a treat, hooning in and out like one of the WW1 biplanes that were developed here in the early days of flight. And when we get out of town onto some fast sweeping A-roads, it’s surprisingly quick up top.

Brakes are strong for a dirt-styled bike, and the suspension is cheerfully plush rather than razor-precise. The 40th bike comes with dirt-biased rubber too, which is probably the only thing I’d change.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

Unless you ask for it, there’s not *too* much in the way of technology on the Urban, so if you’re allergic to modernity, this might be just the thing for you. A simple single clock with a wee LCD inlay tells you all you probably need to know, and while the cruise control, extra riding modes, BMW luggage options and the like are all nice to have, the strength of the Urban G/S is that simplicity.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S
BMW R nineT Urban G/S

It’s a big engine, in a sorted chassis, with slightly raised suspension, wire spoked wheels, pseudo-dirt tyres and sweet, sweet styling. What, as they say, is not to like?

Still not sure? Get a test ride on one when your local dealer opens up again, and I reckon you’ll be sold, just like I was with the original.


Price (March 2021): £13,965 (40th Anniversary model) from £11,950 (base model)

Engine: 8v flat-twin, DOHC, oil-cooled, 1,170cc

Bore x stroke: 101x73mm

Compression ratio: 12:1

Max power (claimed) 109bhp@7,250rpm

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: wire-spoked/Metzeler Karoo 3, 120/70 19 front, 170/60 17 rear

Rake/trail: 28.5°/110.6mm

Wheelbase: 1,527mm

Kerb weight: 221kg

Fuel capacity: 17 litres

Colours: white/red/blue black/yellow 40th Anniversary GS Edition

Edition 40th Anniversary GS model features:

  • Special “40 Years GS” paint finish
    • Black/yellow design inspired by the historic R 100 GS
  • “40 Years GS” Edition seat in black and yellow
    • Hand protectors in yellow
    • Comfort Package
    • Turning light
    • Cross-spoke wheels II
    • Off-road tyres
    • Scrambler silencer
    • Chrome-plated manifold
    • Option 719 milled cylinder head covers Shadow
    • Option 719 seat holder Shadow

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