Photographer: Hannah Elliot/Bloomberg
Motorcycles

Why the BMW R NineT Scrambler Is Better Than Its Pricier Predecessor

There are more differences between the two than you might think.

BMW just debuted a new motorcycle so smart you won’t need to wear a helmet. The concept, called the BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100, won’t make it to production for years.

So you’ll have to pacify yourself with something simpler in the meantime. May I recommend the $13,000 2017 BMW R nineT Scrambler? Just skip over the $15,095 R nineT that came out last year and get this one. This Scrambler isn’t as flashy as the Ducati Scrambler or as inexpensive as a Triumph Thruxton. But even more than last year's R nineT, it combines the free feeling of vintage café racing with the excellent German engineering that often sets BMW far above its peers.

The BMW SR NineT.

The original BMW R nineT.

Source: BMW

(For clarity, in the rest of this article I'll call the new R nineT Scrambler the Scrambler, and I'll call the original modern R nineT the R nineT.)

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The R nineT Scrambler, which has an ir/oil-cooled flat twin ("Boxer") 4-stroke engine, two camshafts, and four radially aligned valves per cylinder, with a central balancer shaft.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

First of all, the overarching reason to buy the Scrambler rather than the standard R nineT is that the former is just generally way cooler. Think James Dean breaking hearts as he rolls through town, not your uncle who rides a hog on the weekends. But if you need more specifics, here are eight reasons to get the newer bike.

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The scrambler frame is a tree-section frame with one front and two rear sections, a load-bearing engine-gearbox unit, a cast aluminum single swinging arm, and a central spring strut for better ride control. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

1. The Scrambler is cheaper. The base price of the Scrambler is $13,000, although the one I drove around Brooklyn and Manhattan last week cost closer to $15,000. The base price of the R nineT is $15,095. If you’re wanting to save money on the Scrambler, stick with the standardized steel tank, telescopic forks with gaiters, and the basic speedometer (vs. an optional rev counter and multifunction display). I should note here, too, that the R nineT comes with BMW's upside-down telescopic fork, as opposed to the traditional telescopic forks with 43 mm fixed-tube diameter on the Scrambler. The latter is better on uneven terrain; the former is suited to smooth streets and highways.

2. The Scrambler looks cooler Part 1 (gas tank) The Scrambler’s 4.5-gallon sheet-steel gas tank comes in a monolithic brushed gray that looks like the ones Paul Newman rode in the 1970s. The R nineT has a polished black-and-white, two-tone exterior that looks a little like a spat. A Scrambler fuel tank option with hand-brushed aluminum and a sanded weld costs $950; the one with hand-brushed aluminum and a visible weld costs $850.

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The BMW R nineT Scrambler weighs 485 pounds.(In the rear, you can see the 2017 BMW M3.)

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

3. The Scrambler looks cooler Part 2 (wheels). The Scrambler comes with a two-inch bigger front wheel than the R nineT and includes optional knobby tires. The large 19-inch alloy front wheel on the Scrambler harkens back to the historic bikes of the 1950s, when BMW introduced a BMW R 68 motorcycle at the International Bicycle & Motorcycle Fair IFMA in Frankfurt, Germany. Handsome cross-spoke wheels like the ones I had cost $500 extra. ABS comes standard.

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The R nineT Scrambler comes with special badging that show it to be part of the R nineT family and BMW logos throughout.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

4. The Scrambler looks cooler Part 3 (tail pipes). BMW has made the dual exhaust pipes on the Scrambler sit snug to the frame of the bike and raised them higher than those of the R nineT. The pipes also have two vertical rear silencers, as classic Scramblers did, but retain the relatively deep rumble that boxer engines such as this one are known to make. I like how this looks much better—it keeps everything pulled in tight and close, better looking, and neater for riding. Chrome exhaust covers cost $150 extra.

5. The Scrambler looks cooler Part 4 (seat). The saddle-leather brown seat on the Scrambler is low and flat, fit for two-person trips or providing a good space for a backpack to rest for short trips. Seat grips are optional. This is more of a style differentiation than anything, and you can modify the bike as you see fit, including the seat apparatus, but since we are talking about the factory-issued versions here, I'm sticking with my vote for the Scrambler.  

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The tooling and details on the BMW Scrambler are subtle and effective. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

6. The Scrambler looks cooler Part 5 (instrument cluster & handlebars). Like the prior R nineT, the Scrambler version has a circular headlamp and speedometer with an analog display—all very much in the classic motorcycle way. The optional speedometer version shows important information, such as trip time, engine speed, and distance traveled (I always keep an eye on this to gauge fuel levels). The handlebars are set slightly high, which makes for a more upright riding posture. (Still, this bike is ripe for customization, and if I had my way I’d drop the bars to be really low and set close to the center of the bike.) The alarm system is optional, as are the heated grips on the handlebars.

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The front brakes are Twin-disc, 320 mm diameter with 4-piston calipers; the rear are single disc with a 265 mm diameter and a double-piston floating caliper.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

7. The Scrambler is more comfortable to ride, especially over rough terrain. The seat of the Scrambler is 32.3 inches above the ground, vs. the 30.9 inches of the R nineT, which suits taller people and gave me (I’m 5 feet, 10½ inches) a preferred vantage point as I rode it through Brooklyn’s sleepy afternoon traffic. I’m partial to dirt bikes myself, so with the deep-groove tires and $400 optional automatic stability control to boot, this was a pleasant medium. Still, I should note that there is less seat padding here than on the R nineT, and the rider footrests are positioned lower and further to the rear. You'll want this bike to ride for an afternoon or a weekend, not for a cross-country pilgrimage.

The original R NineT on the road.

The original R nineT on the road.

Source: BMW

8. The Scrambler is lighter and more nimble. At 485 pounds, the Scrambler is lighter than the R nineT by nearly five pounds. It's shorter and narrower than the R nineT by inches. That’s not a lot, but it does affect how it handles. You’ll feel the slight difference—the Scrambler runs a bit freer and faster to 60 mph than the R nineT. It still feels substantial, like a massive iron machine, but riding up the West Side Highway last week was a joy. The lowered suspension on the Scrambler is optional and worth it.

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The classic 1200cc boxer engine and its high-positioned dual silencer give the bike a powerful engine note, one that is distinct from others in the BMW lineup. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

I should mention something very important, which is that the Scrambler comes with the classic air-cooled flat-twin 1,170cc boxer engine that has 110-horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque. This is the same as the one in the R nineT; they each get 110 hp and can easily hit 125 mph, though the R nineT has one or two pound-feet more torque. But on the Scrambler, the engine is the single most distinguishing feature you notice; it sticks out on either side of the steel tubular space frame like strong shoulders that frame the long torso of a power forward. The moment you fire it up, you’ll recognize the Scrambler as a BMW in the best sense of the word—it rings more true as one of the winning machines BMW has been making for more than 90 years.

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The tailpipes on the Scrambler are higher and shorter than the ones on the BMW R nineT. Combined with the relaxed, upright riding position of the bike, they help make it suitable for off-road as well as on-road rides.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

There are plenty of BMW official accessories on tap, more than come with the R nineT, including rear storage bags; knee-pads for the tank; a passenger seat with grab straps, a sports silencer; cylinder-head covers in chrome, silver, or black; and handlebar end pieces made of aluminum. But none overpowers the Scrambler’s relatively simple élan.

Are you getting the picture? BMW just dropped the massive K1600B Bagger (watch out, Harley-Davidson), and you can find excellent café racer-style bikes from Triumph and Ducati. But when you want a classic, cool ride from the best-engineered motorcycle brand in the world, the R nineT is good, but it doesn't get you quite there. Go with the Scrambler. 

 

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The BMW Scrambler has a constant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical cut gears.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
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