Wheels24 reader Damien Dicks only started riding bikes in 2017 and owns a 2015 BMW S1000RR. He takes us along on a vivid trip riding a BMW R nine T Scrambler for the first time, a very different bike. It's quite a lengthy read, but one you'll enjoy...
I am a sports bike rider. My personal bike is a 2015 BMW S 1000 RR. This was my first foray into the biking world, and since 2017, the only bike I've ridden for the most part.
I realise now that I've been spoiled by this bike; it damn-near rides itself. It has incredible handling, exceptional brakes, great ergonomics, is loaded with tech, and is well endowed with power. I fear that because of it, I've measured everything else I've ridden rather harshly.
So, I started as the newest BMW Motorrad Cape Town sales team member on 1 August. It's been quite an overwhelming time trying to get on top of all the twenty-odd variants offered, from G 310 R to R 1250 GS to K 1600 GTL and so on. Each one with its own line of configurations and optional extras. The only way, however, to get to grips with your product is to try your product.
And so I did…
I've had many great, short little adventures this past week, and I'll tell you about them another time. But today, I would like to tell you about one specific little guy.
On paper, this beastie, a 2022 BMW R nine T scrambler, could not be more different from my S 1000 RR. In fact, on paper, it's very different to lots of the offerings out there. With a 1100cc boxer twin delivering 81kW (109hp) and 116Nm, it doesn't seem all that impressive. It weighs more than 220kg, and with those knobbly tyres, it looks like a chore to ride. In fact, when pushing this thing off the showroom floor to prepare for my ride home, I kind of cursed the person responsible for saddling me with this oddball of a bike. It wasn't easy to hold my laughter as it felt like I was pushing it over greenmarket square. Even while off, it vibrated like crazy.
Starting up is quite an occasion. An ever-so-slight hesitation can be sensed as she turns over the twins with a bit of effort. She jumps to life and settles into what I can only describe as sitting on top of a very happy dog wagging its tail. You can almost feel a weird sideways vibration as the boxer engine produces its characteristic opposing tug of war between the two pistons.
Those tyres, though…
"Ah man, don't worry, just don't be too aggressive, and it will corner great," says one of the guys. "Yeah, just be mindful of a wet road. Other than that, it will be just fine," says another.
"Here goes nothing," say I inside my helmet, fingers and toes crossed.
The familiar things I'm used to on my own bike are not there; the sweet inline-four with performance exhaust? Nope. Protection from the wind? Nope. Fuel range to empty indicator? No way. Quickshifter up and down? GTFOH! We're off to a bad start, she and I.
I struggle through traffic as I become accustomed to the clutch lever and having to row my way through the gears manually. A guy behind me honks his horn as I waddle my way through traffic at a slow speed, nearly falling over, unbalanced by the boxer's low centre of gravity and opposing forces.
Walter Sisulu Avenue looms ahead as I stop for the final time before hitting Nelson Mandela Boulevard, where my next possible traffic light stop is around 10kms away. A pedestrian crosses briskly with a huge grin and the universal thumbs up hand signal for "nice bike".
A child in the stopped car next to me taps his mom on the shoulder and points to the bike. His parents were beaming, and I could see his dad ready to tell him about the time when he used to ride motorbikes; back when the price of petrol was reasonable, and he was still a twinkle in his daddy's eye.
The car to my right rolls down the passenger side window. "Hey 'narce' bike, bru. You know, I once…" I speed off as the green light saves me from an awkward traffic light conversation. "People actually like this thing", I thought. Guess I'm going to give it a chance.
The road sweeps right as I hit second, then third in quick succession. Thankfully not too much traffic at 17:00 due to the residual effects of Covid. I'm hunched over the bars a little bit. Arms outstretched and hand shifts on point. The twins beatboxing beneath me.
Fortunately, she has a few of the comforts I am already used to; heated grips, confidence-inspiring dynamic traction control, and excellent brakes, the likes of which I have to test slightly as I hit the N1 turnoff and have to merge with traffic. There is a definite sense of familiarity. The ergo layout is very familiar. The left-hand side contains the cruise and traction control, indicator and lighting functions, while the right has the mode selector, kill switch/starter button combo, and heated grip control.
The Scrambler has a nice 140mm of rear shock travel, so the seating position is relatively high and offers a nice plush feeling as you ride atop the beautifully finished red leather seat. The bike is quite narrow toward the middle so squeezing the tank to maintain complete control came at the expense of a little extra adductor muscle effort.
One thing I missed was the wind protection offered by fully faired bikes. The wind blast wasn't unbearable at traffic speeds, but it's something to note when I ride again during a windy day or at higher speeds. However, this gives me a more visceral experience: The drums beneath me, the wind on my chest and the knobbly tyres, which I almost seem to have forgotten about, offer a unique experience.
I arrive home in one piece and am pleasantly surprised that I don't hate the bike. Hand shifting felt natural with a nice positive clutch lever feel. The ride-by-wire throttle has a nice meaty resistance to simulate the resistance of a cable. The few brief corners I took didn't scare me at all, and the tyres were a lot less of a concern. She felt nimble and had loads of low-down torque to manage the traffic. Why did I have such a low opinion of this bike before? It wasn't that bad.
The following day is Women's Day. So that means a public holiday and a short work day. I decide not to take along my regular backpack and dress light because I don't think I'll be needing everything I own to accompany me to work today. As I step out of the house, I'm greeted by a damp road and misty air. I can barely see twenty meters. The wife says ride with your hazards on, but I've always found this practice to be a little redundant. I do a quick check anyway to see how they would appear to any accompanying motorists at 07:00 in the dark and misty conditions.
I check the head and brake lights too. They're nice and bright, and the headlight looks impressive with its LED daytime running light and very consistent beam. I do a complete pre-ride inspection for giggles and remember that the bike has just over 100kms, so this is probably unnecessary. But, safety first and all that.
Idle through the twin Akrapovic tailpipes is nice and solid, although not too loud through the morning air. My neighbours probably appreciate this, compared to the relatively loud exhaust of my RR. They can sleep in without "that damn biker" waking up the 'hood. Off I go after going back inside for some extra cold weather protection.
Heated grips on, my hands are starting to get nice and toasty. The road conditions are terrible as my visor keeps fogging up, and I have to peer through a tiny clear bit with one eye. It's not too bad, though. I'm on two wheels and have some company fuel in the tank. Life is good.
I leave my suburb and hit the N1. Traffic is moving nicely, and I can get through the entire box of gears. Chilling in sixth at around 100km/h, I need to speed up quickly as a metro police car decides to switch lanes without any indication and seemingly no idea I'm in the lane next to him. Usually, I'd click up once or twice on my (GP shift-oriented) RR quickshifter if I had enough time, but this time, I didn't, and I had to accelerate by simply twisting my right hand.
Even in 6th at a relatively low rpm, the boxer's torque immediately liberates me from imminent danger as I quickly indicate, check blind spots, change lanes, and speed away from Johnny Law. A few choice words inside the helmet later, and I have to reign in the power and slow down to the 80km/h speed limit. I don't need a fine two weeks into the new job.
Visibility improves as I get closer to town, and I can admire the great architecture of the new buildings that sprang up in the Culemborg area almost overnight. The blue lights of the KPMG building and the unique pattern of the Rockefeller Hotel offer a stunning skyline as FW De Klerk and Nelson Mandela Boulevards merge. I no longer need to periodically wipe my visor with my glove, and the road is nice and dry. I flick over from RAIN mode into ROAD.
The bike smiles…
Approaching Walter Sisulu Avenue intersection again, my hands are burning, necessitating a drop to level 1 grip heating. The fresh air and fishy goodness from the nearby harbour fill my helmet - a signal my nose hasn't frozen off. It's so strong that I begin to wonder if I didn't accidentally get a fish stuck in the quirky air intake under my right leg. The gaping hole on the side always reminds me of the aftermarket snorkel from an old Toyota MR2. Visibility is great now as the sun is about to crest over the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the far distance behind me.
There's a bit of traffic as begrudged plebs make their way to their places of work on this public holiday. I'm approaching the dealership now, unsure of the time, wondering if I have a few moments for a brief detour. I can't flip through the menu on my dash cluster to check the time, nor do I want to check on my wristwatch. Traffic in this part of town can be pretty daunting as people are nearly always distracted. So I keep my eyes firmly on the road.
As I ride by, I look for signs of life and see none except for one of the Tribe Coffee kitchen staff, chilling on the steps, no doubt having a real humorous WhatsApp conversation or enjoying an amusing meme. His smile was highlighted by his phone's backlight, the dead giveaway. I give him a beep-beep from the rather light-hearted hooter. The residual smile left on his face after having to tear his gaze away from his phone lets me know he's okay there all on his own. I give him a wave, and I continue.
The bike starts to giggle now.
As the road changes name from Buitengracht, Kloof Nek beckons as I perfectly time the light. I've not been on my bike during the day in a long time and was quite surprised to see minimal traffic. Easing the throttle and short shifting from second to third, I sit and eat the uphill with nearly zero fatigue. The knobbly tyres, although noisy, don't protest even once as I carve my way up through the turns.
I'm leaning the bike at angles that would make my straight line racing set-up RR blush with envy. I feel like I'm on knobbly rails. Naturally, I'm cautious because the tyres and the engine are so low in the chassis. My fears of scraping the engine casings are COMPLETELY unfounded, though. I am so far from reaching the limits that, in hindsight, those thoughts at the time are pretty laughable. However, the main reason for my trepidation is that it's ultimately not my bike.
Not my circus, not my monkey
Before I know it, I'm at the top of the hill and approaching the entrance to the road leading to my short planned destination; Signal Hill.
No traffic, so I lean right into Signal Hill road while still in second gear. Up the road I go, not aggressively, but with enough momentum for me to feel like street Rossi. A plethora of neon colours fills my vision as I encounter spandex-clad hikers, ready to take on the challenges of Lion's Head. Cars upon cars line the side of the road as I glance to my right to steal a view or two of the mist-covered geography below and the yellow hue of the sun about to make an appearance anytime now.
A guy looking for a parking spot for his Toyota Corolla slows my progress. I float down through the gears as I come to a crawl behind him. Then he allows me to pass by with a wave of his hand. From a near-dead stop, I build up some speed through the gears, nothing crazy, but enough to hear the offbeat croak of the twins below and give me a lovely satisfied grin as I change up flawlessly with no over-revving of the throttle. But what's even more surprising is that as I'm going through the turns at a relatively moderate speed, I'm also blipping the throttle on downshifts and rev-matching at god level.
I started practising rev-matching for giggles a few months ago because I thought it sounded cool when my RR buddies did it. Being a relatively new school rider, I never learned this skill, having learned to ride on my RR, which has an auto-blipper that allows me to shift down a gear without using the clutch. But because I've been practising it recently for the sound, I could now replicate it with a mastery that included a gear change while on the brakes before a turn which I can tell you is most, most satisfying.
So picture this: I'm no longer upset that there is no quick shifter and auto-blipper because I'm enjoying the hell out of these manual shifts. I'm leaning into turns on knobbly tyres and using my rear brake, man. WHAT? Who is this guy? And as I'm approaching the top of Signal Hill, I can hear David Isaacs' Joe's Barber character Boeta Gamat screaming in my ear, "Who did teets you to ride like det?". [A favourite saying from one of the lead characters in the stage play, Joe's Barber - Ed.]
I giggle my face off as I reach the parking lot, make a turnaround and snap some pics along the guard rail facing the stunning Atlantic ocean views of one of the most picturesque cities in the world. Good Lord, what a time to be alive.
I have the occasional obligatory conversation with passers-by. "Great bike," they say—a fantastic marketing tool. But more than that, a genuine smile bringer.
I go further down the road and stop for another photo just as the sun pops out from behind the mountain. Here, I meet a guy called Rusty, also timing the sun.
He and his crew are testing a new camera, the only one of its kind in the province. They'd like to take a few snaps and vids. They take a few pictures and a few minutes of video with me off and on the bike. My getup must look comical to them—a sports bike helmet with a tattered textile jacket, jeans, and All-Stars. (If anyone wants to be a gear sponsor, hit me up, LOL). But hey, it's not about what you wear; it's about personal enjoyment. Rusty says he'll send me some pics, and I give him my details. Off I go back down the mountain.
I arrive at work. I'm still early. Where a week ago I had to get used to waking early again and saw it as a bit of a nuisance (I'm not a morning person), I now appreciate that the early bird gets more hours out of the day.
I'm waxing lyrical about this bike to my colleagues at work all day. They simply nod knowingly. I use the expression "preaching to the choir" quite often, but never has it been so beautifully demonstrated to me as today. It seems to be BMW Motorrad's best-kept secret that only those who can appreciate its quirks and engineering delights can genuinely enjoy. We have a secret handshake and everything.
There's another R nine T in the dealership. It's slightly different to the Scrambler I've been riding. For one, it has road tyres, so it should have more confidence-inspiring road manners, the front forks are a little different (46mm upside down as opposed to 43mm telescopic), and the rear shock is a little lower at 120mm vs 140mm. I was encouraged to swap with another guy. I also want to ride that bike to see the differences. But I opted not to because, well, there's still a DIRT mode on this thing, and daddy is itching for some gravel.
The R nine T is not a bike I expected to like. But after experiencing it for just a day, I can list a hundred things I love about it. I can unequivocally and honestly say that I really love this "little" bike. It's not perfect, and it falls short in many areas, least of all in the areas of wind blast management and outright speed. However, if you're looking for a visceral, fun, engaging ride, especially if you don't make long trips, then I can almost guarantee that you can live with it as an "only bike". It can turn every opportunity to ride into an occasion and sips fuel (5.1-litres/100km claimed) despite the power and torque on tap from a relatively large 1100cc engine.
In isolation and with similarly powered or styled bikes, it will stand out in a crowd. Riding with your mates while they're on their super bikes… fuggedaboudit. Frustrating (I did that later in the day too).
But, you will be connected to the road in a way you would not think was possible. And although its looks (with its single-sided swingarm and shaft drive, massive twin cylinders sticking out the sides, and retro-inspired design) are subjective, and it may not even be the fastest or even most nimble thing around, I can guarantee you that its performance will leave you saying "wow, what a great surprise this turned out to be."
So do yourself a favour. Climb out of your bubble and give this one a try.
Wheels24 reader Damien Dicks is an avid petrolhead and biker, and works at BMW Motorrad Cape Town.