Boxers, Rock ‘n Roll, Robots & Glorious Goodwood
By GARETH CHARLTON - 11 Oct 22
Three days riding many motorcycles in glorious countryside en route to Goodwood Revival punctuated with factory tours and slap-up meals in good company? When the invitation to join BMW’s press “Heritage Tour” landed in my inbox it was one of the easier hell-yesses to give. The main aim of the trip? To pass hours in the saddle of the gamut of BMW’s heritage range; the R18 in its Classic, Bagger and Transcontinental guises and all four iterations of their hugely successful R nineT.
After an introductory dinner at Bike Shed Shoreditch (a sterling start) our 26-strong group of journalists and BMW key-players took off early next morning for the Marshall Amplifier factory in Bletchley. Why? BMW teamed up with the iconic British brand as their speaker partner for the R18 Transcontinental and Bagger, my ride for the day.
Even within the gleaming line up of assembled metal my Bagger stood out. With a deep, metallic violet and silver paint-job daubed across that mighty screen and pannier set it simply demanded attention. But not even the outrageous colour scheme could detract from the centrepiece of this bike. That almighty engine.
An eighteen-hundred and two cc, torque laden celebration of the boxer configuration. A whale’s heart captured in a motorcycle. Traditionally, I should now mention the exhaust note, but this was my first time on a motorcycle with a stereo and it was not a novelty I was prepared to turn off. Ever. With Planet Rock turned up to 10 in pursuit of the campest Rock songs I could find, the purple beast and I wound our way out of North London. Huge thanks to the DJ that saw fit to string together Pat Benatar, Starship and Journey on the Holloway Rd.
Cards on the table, this isn’t usually my cup of coffee. Cruisers, baggers, Harleys and their ilk have never been the machines I google at night. But perhaps I missed their point… The motorway hop was despatched in laid back, low rpm comfort and with the sun high in the sky and London dwindling behind us, the R18 and I were swinging through bends, gobbling up straights, having a damn fine time of it. It is such a different vision of motorcycling to anything I have previously known or pursued, but I think I can finally appreciate the appeal.
At circa 400kg’s it is without question a substantial proposition. But it carries the bulk of those digits low and does that trick the best monster-machines manage of seemingly shedding pounds on the move. Granted, gravel car parks are a butt-clenching scenario but the more miles I spent on the bike the more it felt at peace with itself. And I will never tire of that lurch to the left as you blip the throttle at standstill.
The first destination of the tour was the Marshall factory, both a Rock ‘n Roll mecca and a pleasingly idiosyncratic, British establishment boasting a crew of craftsmen and master solderers. The place tells a great story and makes the best gear in the amplification game – it would have to, to be heard over that R18 motor. A painfully-slow traffic filled dawdle to our overnight provided me the chance to admire the other machines on the tour fleet and I earmarked a beautiful Option 719 R nineT Urban GS for the next day’s action.
With too little sleep, heavy heads and full bellies we took the short hop to the next stop, the BMW Mini Factory. Not an obvious destination for a riding group but having begun my four-wheeled life in one of the proper ones I was happy to visit the site where the original manufacture also took place. And it blew my puny mind. I had no idea humans could conceive such things. An army of giant orange robots as far as the eye could see, wielding and welding Minis in a spark-fuelled ballet of automated, automotive creation. With barely a human in sight. Skynet is real.
Mind still reeling, I climbed aboard the refreshingly simple Urban GS and headed for some of the best roads of the entire route. As clearly the most up my straße machine of the entire range, this was a bike I was eager to pass some miles on. Many more qualified than I have written reams in review of the universally admired Nine T range - so expect no technical dissection here, rather my honest gut feelings from two days in the saddle.
As with the R18, the motor dominates the experience. Character is the word most often hung from it and I won’t reach for an alternative - but I will add another. Grunt. I was taken aback by the power of this thing. The quoted figure of 109 horses while respectable, does not do justice to the real-world hustle this unit offers. Of course, it slides through towns and low speed traffic in a gentlemanly fashion, but loosen the neck-tie and this thing just lunges for the other side of the horizon, sharpish. They may have leaned into a scrambler visual with this particular model but I was far more inclined to slide my toes backward on the pegs, devour straights and romp through bends than search for the nearest byway.
The R nineT range currently sits at 4 models. The un-monikered original with a 17-inch front and upside-down forks, the Pure, also with a 17’ out-front but sandwiched between conventional forks and finally the Urban GS and Scrambler models which share a 19’ front wheel and differ via a few styling gambits. The beautiful but wrist-testing Racer has been discontinued, much to the disappointment of carpal-tunnel specialists. All models of course benefit from that spectacular oil/air cooled 1200 engine, formerly housed in the GS and provide largely similar riding experiences. Pick yours by your preferred riding vibe as much as anything. For me the Urban GS was the sweet spot. And I’ll stick with the cast wheels.
After two days of plentiful miles, I had to add an additional 300 mile-round trip back to London for an evening of family duties ahead of the final day gathering at Goodwood. It was the last thing my ride-weary body needed but the nineT had my (aching) back. Heated grips made my poor glove choice an irrelevance and the faultless cruise-control munched through the motorway miles. The clearest mirrors I have ever experienced, while a decidedly dull detail, only added to the abounding feeling of quality exuding from the whole package.
And so, with the last of the summer bugs smeared across my visor I rolled into the 2022 Goodwood Revival. It has been too many years since I attended this one of a kind event and it did not disappoint. What an experience. The noise, theatricality, relentless eye-candy, anticipation and excitement among the attendees create a vibe like no other. The bike-pits were a hive of activity ahead of the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy race and the machinery on display, simply outrageous. A 1928 rigid BMW R57 Kompressor with leaf-spring forks later described by the commentator as “The most evil thing at Goodwood” exploded to life a yard from my noggin before registering 132 on the noise man’s decibel stick… My head is still ringing.
With a Le-Mans style running start, pit-lane rider swapsies and a grid-full of current track stars to ride the nuts and bolts off the remarkable machines the race itself was a chaotic joy to behold. The noise was apocalyptic – that a silencer flew loose from one bike, cartwheeling down the start / finish straight and yet made no discernible difference to the noise emitted tells some of the story…
Suitably reminded as to why BMW can proudly refer to this assemblage of bikes as their "Heritage Range" and with a flat-cap full of memories to which a phone exploding with images would never do justice, I made my way back to the nineT for my long ride home. And even after those many, many miles, it still goaded me into the scenic route…