It’s a reasonable bet that anyone reading this will be familiar with both of these machines, and consequently be aware that the Nine T is a sexed up R1200 R concept, sporting a conventional front end and removable rear sub-frame. It also represents an extremely shrewd piece of marketing (the entire first production run sold out early doors) – enticing buyers who might otherwise be tempted by the vast array of ‘customised’ air and oilhead boxers which have appeared like a questionable rash all over planet bike. BMW, as ever, have a point: I seriously doubt whether any of the specials out there would match either R or T in terms of handling and power delivery, and on the looks front we all know that one builder’s special is another man’s nightmare…
There is a further aesthetic angle: the 1200R can also be purchased in Classic format (see above), whose looks some prefer to either the standard R or the T. Buying showroom fresh has a another advantage, since the bikes represent the final incarnation of the air / oil cooled boxer twin; the water cooled version – with all attendant implications – having already superceded it on other models. It’s the end of a dynastic line, and as such 2014 bikes powered by the older motor may well retain their value beyond usual expectations: BMWs are in any case slow to depreciate.
Anyone who has spent more time riding naked bikes than they really should have will confirm that too much power is completely irrelevant sans fairing, courtesy of chaotic aerodynamics. Believe: the power offered by the twin cam oilhead 1200 is well sufficient for the job in hand, with or without extra glam.
This machine was a totally unexpected blast and a timely reminder not to buy into popular misconceptions: for this is the boxer most often damned with faint praise. I took the bike having dismounted from a new 800GS and was immediately reminded what a massive compromise adventure bikes represent. Sure they can cut it on tarmac, but compared to a good roadster they just aren’t dialed into the asphalt in the same way. No question: the R is different class on the black top, giving far better road feedback than either the 800 or the much hyped 2014 1200 GS – as long as a half decent surface was beneath us. It’s worth spelling out: if you are thinking of lavishing hard earned funds on a big GS which is a) highly unlikely to venture off road and b) unlikely to be doing more than 10k miles a year, you really should do yourself a massive favour and try the R. You could save money and have a lot more fun on the road, and like all BMWs the machine can easily accommodate luggage hard and soft. And just to sweeten things, until September 2014 Motorrad are offering £1400 worth of accessories on both the standard R and the classic.
Telelever and duolever (as found on the front of K series BMWs) make perfect sense: of course separating the forces applied to the front wheel is a no brainer. The problem is that riders traditionally struggle to adapt to the sensation of minimal weight disbursement under braking, and complain about a lack of feel when cornering. But once you’ve acclimatised it all comes together just fine: braking in particular becomes far more stable, and the 1200R’s stopping power was simply outstanding, with quality ABS contributing to the efficacy of the four pot caliper and 320mm discs. However, there is also a price to pay for the R’s front end. The late Kevin Ash pointed out that telelever adds to unsprung mass vs conventional forks, and on the 1200R this seems to adversely affect the plushness of the damping, even in comfort suspension mode (road and sport being the alternatives – both require a pretty decent surface for optimal performance). This sensation is alleviated on the 1200GS by reason of longer travel suspension, but the R suffers somewhat in this regard, a point noted by Ash in his otherwise positive review of the bike. My own suspicion is that a front shock upgrade would solve the problem, and a quick search of user forums confirmed that some had indeed gone down this route. It’s a shame, because the bike is way more fun than a 200 kgs + four stroke oil cooled twin has any right to be – highly manoeuvrable at low speeds and a willing accomplice in faster bends. Confidence on gravel strewn B roads was enhanced by ASC, BMW’S standard version of TC – absent for no good reason on the Nine T (since the latter already has plenty of electronics on board including ABS ). On UK roads TC is a no brainer, with the proviso that it can be disabled at will, as is the case here.
The R1200 R is a beautifully balanced machine with excellent handling and a characterful motor offering just the right amount of power, the sole reservation being that lack of quality front end damping, although this could be remedied. A naked boxer twin needs to be heard as well as seen, and I’d recommend the addition of a permissive end can. Akrapovic and Lazer provide suitable-ish weaponry: neither compromise fuelling, but neither bring extra power to the party. Full systems (which save weight while boosting power and noise) are available from Remus and others.
In Part Two we check out the Nine T by way of comparison – in terms of performance and value. It’s going to have go some to improve on the 1200R.