The 1200R and Nine T share more than key components: in the USA the initial price differential between these two machines was around $800 US – less than £500. In the UK you might need to double that figure, but for many the Nine T still seemed to offer comparative value: the entire UK allocation sold out rapidly. But which feels like the more capable machine? And which is more fun to ride?
We recently checked out the R 1200R and were frankly impressed. The scarcity of local Nine Ts saw us heading over to Vines in Guildford, home of BMW’s press fleet, presided over by long term boxerhead and general go to guy in Motorrad matters, Duncan Bell. If ever a production bike looked like it could do with some sun on its back, it had to be the wide barred, low slung T. It was thus inevitable that come the appointed hour the heavens were weeping copiously. Fortunately, divine mood changed – and by the end of the day dry roads and blue skies were evidenced. This was significant, because comparative tests demand as many parameters as possible to be matched, and our 1200R outing had been a dry one.
The 1200R and the T have much DNA in common, but as any geneticist will tell you, a little variation goes a long way: the two bikes feel very, very different.
R NINE T
The T has a shorter wheelbase than the 1200R, a lower ride and lower overall height, featuring wider and slightly swept back bars, and by comparison (according to BMW tech data) shaves off just one kilo of weight at the curb. Power and torque are identical, although engine braking was much more noticeable on the T, possibly a function of its lower, GS style gearing. Like the 1200R, the Nine T’s boxer engine is load bearing, although the frame design differs to accommodate the conventional front end and removal rear sub frame (full spec here). Front end geometry (head angle and castor) suggests that the T should be a tad sharper to turn in, but in practice this is hard to quantify comparatively given the very different front design spec (telelever vs conventional USDs on the Nine T). Putting suspension and brakes to one side for the moment, what does this all mean on the road?
Maneouvering through traffic is not the T’s forte, bar width notwithstanding. The bike is far less nimble than the 1200R in the tight stuff, and the low rider-ish stance feels less imposing filtering through congestion. You just can’t fling it around in the same way: the Nine T may look the part as an urban poser, but is less capable in that environment and therefore less fun once you hit the city streets – the T feels like it steers that bit slower than the 1200R. On the other side of the coin show the former some fast sweeping bends, and suddenly it all comes together – there is a lot of stability and decent clearance once the bike is leant over at speed. This characteristic is one shared with another low, air cooled roadster – think Ducati Monster in an early incarnation. Much has been written about the importance of front end geometry and wheelbase relative to handling characteristics, but all else being equal a lower ride seems to up the stability quotient in longer, faster bends – and equally, may restrain things in the nadgery sections. The Nine T can cope in a crowd but – like Monsters of yore – is fundamentally a bike for the open road. The twin stacked Akras that came with the machine I rode were a definite step up sound wise over the very restrained standard system familiar to boxer owners, opening up nicely with the revs. There is still a fair amount of restriction, and customisation will beckon for those who like to be properly heard.
On the braking front, the Nine T’s radial calipers suggest superior capability and there is no doubt that the bike stops efficiently. But the 1200R’s anchoring capability was superb, despite sporting slightly less exotic hardware. It was more stable under hard braking, doubtless courtesy of that telelever front end. If you can get your head around the lack of dive on teles and duos there is simply no questioning their superior ability in bringing things to a halt in a controlled manner, especially on uneven surfaces. (A Bg colleague tested a Bimota Tessi duolever on track, and given twenty minutes to adjust, he was outbraking everything in sight without compromising the entry: the key word being adjust.) I found the S1000 forks on the Nine T to be a bit lacking in compression damping under hard braking, and of course there is no way of adjusting them – bar changing the fork oil. Which raises some interesting questions about the design philosophy behind the bike.
The press pack that accompanied the Nine T’s launch emphasised the concept of ‘pure’ to the design brief, making play (for example) of the lack of TC (ASC). But the fact is that the electronics are there, ABS included, and could easily have hosted TC (minus the plethora of computerised control systems found on other recent BMWs). Bg has always been pro road TC for well documented reasons, and it seems a shame to exclude the option for the sake of image, given what is already on board. Equally, if you’re going to bother to fit the forks from the S1000 RR, you might as well leave some manual adjustment available. Let’s face up to it – purity notwithstanding, this is a contemporary machine which references the marque’s history, and it is hard to imagine that the inclusion of adjustability would have been detrimental to the package. The same goes for the TC option. For some, the concept of pure is inextricable from low weight, and as previously stated the Nine T looses just one kilo compared to the 1200R, which has the heavier telelever system in situ. It’s true that some of this lard could be shed during customisation, but to a certain extent that goes for the 1200R as well. The fact that the weight of the two machines is closely matched re-inforces their commonality, which was one of the main reasons for this comparison. The Nine T is more than just a 1200R given a make over to suit current tastes, but not by much. Which may be no bad thing, given the competence of the original.
I like the fact that BMW get it; they understand that handling, soul and aesthetics are as important as outright performance to riders in 2014. Most people would love a Nine T in the garage, but I suspect it would be sitting next to another bike, rather than replacing it. There are other machines in BMW’s range which combine fun with a utilitarian sense of purpose, the 1200R among them. That the Nine T is more limited in scope should not detract from the pleasure owners will get from their bike.
We deliberately set out to discover whether or not the Nine T made sense for the prospective 1200R buyer, given the relatively small price differential and key shared components. This was a less arbitrary idea than it sounds, since we know there are customers considering buying one of the last oilheads who have been in precisely this predicament. So which bike felt more capable, and which was more fun?
The first question is easier to answer, since capability is a less subjective concept than fun. The 1200R coped better in a variety of ride scenarios, for all of the reasons given above and in the 1200R review. It was more nimble, turned in with more aplomb, and held a line in the faster stuff at least as well as the Nine T. Braking performance was outstanding, and if you want versatility, the 1200R easily accepts a vast array of accessories which makes touring simple. Unsurprisingly, it also felt far more assured and dialled in on the road than either GS (Bg having ridden both the 800 and 1200 GS , the latter running the later water cooled version of the boxer lump). All of this raises questions as to why the 1200R is the Cinderella machine in the BMW range, something prospective boxer buyers need to consider (unless they know they will be going off piste). We spoke to the owner and dealer principal at two of the most established Motorrad dealers in the country (Dave Wyndham at CW, and Duncan Bell). They confirmed that the 1200R is BMW’S best kept secret, and both spoke of a special fondness for the bike despite resolutely unspectacular sales.
And both used another F word…. fun. Which – coincidentally – is the Nine T’s raison d’etre. With the sun shining and some decent, fastish roads, unenecumbered by commuting hoards, you can have a lot of fun on the T, especially if your riding style is more suited to the kind of glorious, casual bend swinging which is the bike’s preferred environment. The 1200R, although no sportsbike, turned out to be more attack orientated, largely due to the ease with which the pilot can slice through traffic, while slinging the bike into corners with gusto – which is doubtless why Dave and Duncan both alluded to the R’s unexpected capacity for putting a grin across the chops. I suspect leggy individuals with sporty inclinations will have more fun on the 1200 R, whereas lowriders might find the Nine T a more willing accomplice.
Looks of course are entirely subjective, but put a 1200R Classic next to a Nine T and you are spoiled for choice. The Classic lays to rest the idea that 1200Rs are a bit visually bland per se; the livery and wire wheels look the part (although Bg would always opt for the lightest hoops available). The Nine T is a cute looking bike with greater aesthetic potential, but for me black USDs and an R51 type tank would have been more in keeping with that purist ethos. One thing we can guarantee: a shed built boxer as lowrider / bobber / tracker would have it all to do in terms of performance and handling vs the T, as one would expect. And these days custom boxers can go for silly money. Nevertheless…..Bg’s choice would be to step away from both shed and the Nine T.
The R1200 R Classic is our idea of a winner.