BMW R NineT Pure
BMW R NineT Pure

BMW R NineT Pure

I’m cruising along at nearly 90 miles an hour (140 km/h), easily keeping up with my traveling companion, Vadim Feldzer, on his BMW R 1200GS. The big twin cylinders on the BMW that I’m riding—a 2018 R nineT Pure—are hardly working, emitting a smooth, barely perceptible grumble as the pavement rushes by.

I notice Vadim lengthening his lead so I twist the throttle and the grumble deepens to a throaty pulse of power as the R nineT leaps forward. A huge reserve of energy is on tap, and at 140 km/h, the 1,170-cc, 110-hp engine is just ticking over and eagerly awaiting my command for more speed.

The occasion of this ride through the early summer countryside north of Paris is a happy confluence of business travel plans involving a test flight in a Falcon 8X business jet with Vadim’s employer, Dassault Aviation, and some extra time tacked onto the trip for fun activities.

BMW R NineT Pure Photo: Matt Thurber
BMW R NineT Pure Photo: Matt Thurber

Thanks to Vadim’s connections with the local BMW Motorrad rep and his loan of a demo R nineT, I am humming along on the sweetest bike I’ve ever ridden. After pulling out my iPhone at our first stop to see how much one of these beauties would cost ($15,495 base price), I decide it might be time for a motorcycle upgrade.

Our destination is Aéroport Albert-Picardie, a sleepy airstrip that is famous for the occasional visit by an Airbus Beluga, the modified airliner that transports too-big-to-truck Airbus components made in the nearby factories to one of the airframer’s final-assembly facilities in Europe. We are going not to see a Beluga but to visit with the Amicale des Avions Anciens d’Albert, a volunteer organization entirely dedicated to maintaining two rare World War II Dassault Flamant twin-engine bomber/observation airplanes. That our trip includes a flight in one of them is icing on what is turning out to be a wonderful cake.

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When motorcycles are involved, however, it’s all about the journey—especially when the bikes are as excellent as the ones we’re riding.

The R nineT offers an ideal combination of power and stripped-down elegant utility. A boxer engine classic BMW—two opposed air-cooled cylinders riding mid-frame—this motorcycle presents itself as a clean and uncluttered machine, but the beauty of the design is that it is highly customizable, not only mechanically but also, surprisingly, electronically.

Matt Thurber on the BMW R NineT Pure
Matt Thurber on the BMW R NineT Pure

Weighing just 489 pounds fully fueled (4.8 gallons), the R nineT offers a comfortable 31.7-inch seat height, although a custom 31.3-inch seat is available. The rear pillion structure of the four-part frame is removable for when one rider is onboard. The aluminum fuel tank helps cut weight. Antilock braking is standard as are spoked wheels and the onboard computer and multifunction display. Automatic stability control is an option and assists the rider in dealing with unwanted rear-wheel spin.

For the buyer who wants to personalize the bike, BMW provides options galore, from colors (Vintage added to the base Black Storm Metallic or Blue Storm Metallic/Aluminum) to Billet Packs with “BMW Spezial” machined external parts offering visual confirmation of the precision engineering inside the machinery.

Compared with the motorcycle that I’m used to riding, my now ancient-feeling 1981 Honda CB750K, the R nineT is a spritely, smooth-handling dream.

My time with it begins early on a Saturday morning, as we try not to create too much noise exiting Vadim’s garage underneath his home near the Bois de Boulogne in Paris’s 16th arrondissement. Traffic isn’t bad at this hour, and it doesn’t take us long to wend our way through the city streets and almost halfway around the encircling Périphérique, then onto the A1 freeway heading north. So far, Paris drivers are being kind to me, and it isn’t hard to keep up with Vadim.

Once on the A1 and past the speed restrictions around Charles de Gaulle Airport, Vadim pours on the power and soon the gorgeous green landscape of the massive Trois Forêts (three forests) region flashes by.

It doesn’t take me long to get used to the R nineT’s solid feel and large reserves of power. Cruising along, I never have to hesitate before flying past a slow car or truck. I like having ABS and don’t feel that having that critical safety feature makes me more reckless. Perhaps more confident, but that’s probably a feeling shared by many BMW riders.

BMW R NineT Pure
BMW R NineT Pure Photo: Matt Thurber

After about an hour on the freeway, it’s time to exit onto the A29 and slow to a less frenetic pace. Soon, we turn onto an even smaller road and motor past picturesque little towns with unfamiliar names, looping down gentle rolling grades and around well-designed curves. The R nineT holds the road like a champion; I feel as if I could lean almost perpendicularly, and snatching a boatload of power and pulling out of the curves seems oh so natural.

We cut across the River Somme, then past finely furrowed farms onto the quiet grounds of Aéroport Albert-Picardie, where we enjoy the promised ride in Flamant F-AZKT. Vadim and I are spellbound as Airbus A380 pilot Claude Mercier flies the ancient twin-engine bomber over the Somme at 500 feet, swooping around the many World War II memorials that dot this verdant landscape.

All too soon, it’s time to fire up the BMWs and return to Paris. Vadim chooses a different route back so we can carve some turns on perfectly smooth country roads before zipping onto the A1. As we dip into the turns and climb and descend the swales that mirror the precisely plowed farmland, the soft music of the motorcycles’ engines rises and falls, a distinct counterpoint to the regular roar that will soon accompany the upcoming freeway.

We pick up the A1 and resume our afternoon high-speed cruise south toward Paris. After breaking up the tedious freeway bit with a gas stop, and while we are fueling up, Vadim, with an adventurous smile, asks whether I would enjoy riding through the heart of Paris instead of circling around on the Périphérique. Tooling through traffic-jammed streets, between cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians without ruining my borrowed R nineT? Count me in!

It isn’t long before we emerge from the Trois Forêts and zoom by CDG Airport. The A1 traffic remains light, but then we drive under the Périphérique and begin the slow slog through the City of Lights.

On the R nineT, the ride on Paris’s crowded streets is far less nerve-racking than I expected. I would never want to do this on my bulkier Honda, but I can motor the slim BMW between tight spaces, slipping next to a slow-moving bus in one moment, then just in time taking advantage of a narrow alleyway between columns of cars and catching a fading green light to blast through an intersection.

The BMW’s smooth-shifting six-speed transmission moves quickly to the desired gear, throttle at the ready to pump a hefty dose of power to the rear wheels just when I need it. On the other end of the spectrum, powerful anti-skid brakes keep me out of trouble and help me stop when and where I want with no worry about skidding the rear wheel.

All sorts of pavement types cross our paths, and the R nineT’s fine suspension takes each on with nary a complaint, from smooth macadam to bubble-shaped cobblestones.

Of course, I have no idea where I am, but when we start riding parallel to the Seine River, I have an inkling that Vadim soon confirms, when he asks whether I would like to stop for a clichéd pose in front of the Eiffel Tower. “Mais oui,” I assure him in my best high-school French. “Je suis Américain!” Of course I want to do that!

Vadim leads me through a few tight U-turns and up a sidewalk that apparently is the go-to spot for wedding photography. We park the BMWs on a bridge with a perfect view of the tower and take photos, in between the wedding parties and selfie-shooting tourists.

When we pull into Vadim’s garage and put the bikes to bed, I can’t help but feel enormously satisfied, for a safe and adventurous ride outside my normal motorcycling range, for enjoying the French summer countryside in a way few are able to experience, and for the opportunity of a day of riding on a magnificently engineered motorcycle.    

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