Road Test Review
It seems there are two general approaches to new motorcycle design: modern/futuristic and retro/old school. The head-turning R nineT, which BMW launched in 2014 to demonstrate it’s got some artisanal hipster rock ’n’ roll in its DNA in addition to a Teutonic need for functionality, represents the latter. At more than $15,000, the R nineT is still just a bit on the expensive side though, and to our pleasant surprise BMW has been releasing less-expensive variants of the original that keep getting cooler and cooler: the Scrambler, Pure, Racer and, most recently, the Urban G/S.
A fleeting glance at the Urban G/S might make you wonder if you’re experiencing a blast from the past. With its Light White high fender, headlight cover and gas tank with BMW Motorsport blue accents, tall, flat red seat and optional spoked rims, the Urban G/S bears a strong resemblance to its ancestor, the 1980 R80G/S—a nod to Boomers and Gen Xers hungry for a taste of nostalgia. OK, fine, I’m one of the latter. I’ll admit the retro-cool Urban G/S plucks my child-of-the-’80s heartstrings.
The Scrambler and Urban G/S share the same 3-piece chassis and suspension, which has longer travel than the road-only R nineTs (4.9 inches front, 5.5 inches rear compared to 4.7 inches front and back on the Roadster, Pure and Racer). Both come standard with cast wheels—19-inch front, 17-inch rear—that can be swapped for optional spoked rims ($500) and Metzeler Karoo knobby tires (a free, dealer-installed option). Like the other lower-priced variants, the Urban G/S also has a steel gas tank, single speedometer and non-adjustable conventional fork (with gaiters).
Unlike the Scrambler’s dual high pipes, the Urban G/S has a single 2-into-1 exhaust with a throaty note that sounds OK at lower speeds around town, but is actually so loud at highway speed it can become annoying without earplugs. The Urban G/S also perches the rider even higher than the Scrambler, with a 33.5-inch seat that’s more than half an inch taller, and 2.5 inches taller than the original R nineT Roadster. Taller riders might appreciate the roominess, as well as the flat but surprisingly well-padded seat.
Despite the resemblance to its R80G/S ancestor, the Urban G/S isn’t really intended for world-traveling off-road adventures, but it handles dirt roads and paved twisties with equal aplomb, and looks great doing it. The 19-inch front wheel slows left/right transitions somewhat, but the wide handlebar and low center of gravity make the Urban G/S a willing dance partner on a curvy road. Unlike the Karoo-shod Scrambler I rode at the launch in New Jersey, our Urban G/S bike was equipped with 90/10 Metzeler Tourance Next tires, and they provided adequate grip as I chased other journalists up the legendary Palomar Mountain Road at a recent Arai helmet launch. Like the Scrambler, the suspension gets a bit out of sorts on bumpy pavement at higher speeds, but staying relaxed on the handlebar and steady on the throttle lets the bike settle itself out.
Powering the Urban G/S, and all the R nineT models, is the proven air/oil-cooled 1,170cc “Boxer” flat twin, which on the Jett Tuning dyno pumped out 99.5 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 72.7 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm when we tested the original back in 2016. It barks to life with a side-to-side shake and revs happily, preferring not to stay in too low a gear. Throttle response is smooth and manageable, although the shaft drive will give you a wake up snap if you pop the hydraulically actuated dry clutch lever too quickly.
The Urban G/S’s weakest point is its lack of luggage, but snap on a magnetic tank bag and a small-ish tail bag, and you could go lightweight touring, like Senior Editor Drevenstedt did recently on the R nineT Pure. With judicious throttle use, the Urban G/S will return fuel economy in the low 40s, making the 4.5-gallon tank good for almost 200 miles.
Most Urban G/S buyers, however, aren’t likely buying the bike as a long-distance tourer. This is a machine meant to tug at your heart, evoke strong emotions and simply be fun to ride, and BMW has hit a home run with all three.