BMW can be an intriguing combination of marketing, history, and engineering. That all comes together in the BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of GS Edition—yes, it’s quite a mouthful. BMW started with the retro-styled R nineT and its air-/oil-cooled boxer motor, and built a homage to the brand’s own legacy.
BMW appropriated the original G/S moniker for this 40 Years of GS Edition, and added Urban to let you know that this motorcycle is not truly a Gelände/Straße. It’s a tribute to the G/S, rather than part of the current GS lineup. That’s not to say you can’t ride the Urban G/S off-pavement—I did. However, it is a street motorcycle at heart. The buyer of the Urban G/S is someone who likes the image of an off-road-capable motorcycle, but has little interest in anything more than casual off-roading.
The way BMW outfits the 40 Years of GS Edition of the Urban G/S—which is heavily based on the R nineT Scrambler—it’s easy to understand why the owner would want to stick to the street. There are many fine-looking Option 719 parts, a beautiful paint job, wire-spoked gold-rimmed wheels, and a GS-embroidered seat. The only things you wouldn’t mind taking a beating are the bright yellow plastic hand protectors that look disconcertingly cheap.
Our test bike included the Select Package, which adds Ride Modes Pro, traction control, electronically controlled engine compression braking, cruise control, heated grips, and a cornering-aware headlight. Add a grand to the $15,995 standard MSRP to get those goodies. Instead of Continental Twinduro TKC 80 tires that come standard on the 40 Years Edition, our test bike was shod with streetier Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires. The Bridgestones don’t look as cool as the Contis, but make far more sense on a self-proclaimed Urban motorcycle.
Hopping on the BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of GS Edition initially feels a bit odd. The seat is curiously pillowy, and the tapered aluminum handlebar is wide and low. My first thought was, “This will be a fairly short test.”
However, riding it on the most urban of Los Angeles streets for the day proved me wrong. When ergonomics are outside of the norm, you have to just relax and let the feeling come to you—and it did. In less than an hour, I felt entirely at home on the Urban G/S. If you don’t ride it for a while, the feeling will return when you get back on, but it dissipates much more quickly on subsequent rides.
Underneath all the adornment is still the R nineT, which does double duty as an urban brawler and gentleman’s canyon carver. With 86 ft-lbs of torque on-hand at 6000 rpm, the Urban G/S has the muscle needed to mask the 492-pound curb weight of the motorcycle. Additionally, the low center of gravity provided by the boxer motor configuration does its part in making the Urban G/S maneuverable.
Working through traffic is a breeze, and lane splitting is easy, unless the lane widths are unusually narrow. It’s not the cylinders that impede your progress—it’s the handlebar’s width. Still, most of the time, that’s not an issue. Getting around cars is just a matter of twisting the throttle and letting the big twin pull you to where you want to be.
With a fully upright seating position, you have a full view of the proceedings around you. That makes it easy to stay out of trouble and get through traffic efficiently.
Upright with wide bars and a torque-biased engine may not sound like fun on the freeway. However, the motor spins up authoritatively to 7250 rpm and puts 109 horsepower at your disposal. With the torque peak just 1250 rpm below the horsepower summit, acceleration is delivered on-demand, though never abruptly. Sixth gear is virtually an overdrive, so the motor remains smooth at extra-legal speeds.
Fueling is smooth, except for a persistent hitch when shutting the throttle completely off. The Akrapovič mufflers have an idiosyncratically cool look, and a pleasant EPA-legal sound output.
The Urban in the name is no joke. While it has an off-road countenance, it is a stylish city motorcycle that you can take anywhere and turn heads. Fellow motorcyclists will understand the retro looks, while the uninitiated will instinctively admire and appreciate its raw appeal. Plus, that 19-inch front wheel comes in handy when tackling the poorly maintained streets of many large American cities.
With in-town roads such as Chevy Chase Drive in Glendale and Mulholland Drive on the southern border of the San Fernando Valley, it’s tempting to never take your BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of GS Edition beyond the city limits. However, there’s plenty of fun to be had on rural roads and enticing destinations such as the canyons in and around Malibu.
Leaving claustrophobic Urban confines and immersing the G/S in rural surroundings, it’s time to enjoy the Sport mode. This flavor of the R nineT is ready to rock. With torque everywhere, you can make excellent time in the canyons of your choice. The power delivery is smooth in the Sport mode, so you can be as aggressive as you like. The Urban G/S is no lightweight at nearly 500 pounds with the generous 4.5-gallon fuel tank filled, so it prefers thoughtful input.
Setting up for corners is easy, and turn-in is confident, even with a 19-inch front wheel and ADV-slanted street tire. Although the twin Brembo 4-piston calipers up front are not radially mounted, they work on 320mm discs. The engagement of the pads is nice and soft—something that is also appreciated in the city—with plenty of power coming as you increase pressure on the lever. There’s plenty of engine compression braking, so I rarely found a need to access the BMW-branded rear caliper and its 264mm disc.
Exiting the corner consists of standing up the chassis—not difficult—and getting on the gas. The suspension that settled in nicely for the corner retains its composure as you accelerate. Nothing happens fast or unexpectedly. Both casual and calculating riders can make the Urban G/S work well in the twisties.
There are three power modes on the BMW Urban G/S when equipped with Ride Modes Pro, and they’re straightforward to explain. The Sport mode has superior throttle response without compromising smoothness. If you’re on the pavement and it’s not wet, you will be in this mode. The Dirt mode slows down the throttle response noticeably, and makes traction control and ABS less intrusive, though unmistakably still there. The Rain mode also has the slower throttle response, but it ramps up TC and ABS.
A mode button on the right handlebar selects the mode, with the results displayed on a small LCD panel on the analog-style round speedometer. There are no provisions to fine-tune the modes—what you select is what you get.
The BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of GS Edition works fantastically for urban off-roading. You might see some high-quality unpaved road, and the Urban G/S can handle that. I had been scouting some interesting semi-legal unpaved and poorly paved roads in Los Angeles, and the Urban G/S was perfect for checking them out.
In one instance, a law enforcement officer saw me in one of the gray areas, but a wave was all that was needed to keep him moving along. I doubt that would have been the case if I were on a full-on dual-sport bike. As long as you can deal with the weight and size of the motorcycle, it’s delightful for exploring around town. With no undercarriage protection, not much ground clearance, not much suspension travel, and awkward standing ergonomics, you will want to steer clear of any serious off-roading challenges.
BMW has done some great work with the R nineT platform. The only version that I didn’t like was the wildly uncomfortable, but stylish, and now discontinued Racer. The BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of G/S Edition takes the styling of the Scramble one step farther in the direction of the dirt. It’s not a dirt bike, but when everyone is admiring it at your local coffee shop, we won’t spill the beans.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: Arai Defiant-X
- Communications: Sena 50S
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Dakota
- Back protection: Alpinestars KR-Celli
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Cafe Racer
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Boots: Tourmaster Trailblazer
2021 BMW R nineT Urban G/S Specs
- Type: Horizontally opposed twin
- Displacement: 1170cc
- Bore x stroke: 101 x 73mm
- Compression ratio: 12.0:1
- Maximum power: 109 horsepower @ 7750 rpm
- Maximum torque: 86 ft-lbs @ 6000 rpm
- Top speed: Over 124 mph
- Fueling: EFI w/ 50mm throttle bodies
- Valvetrain: DOHC; 4vpc
- Cooling: Air/oil
- Exhaust: Closed-loop three-way catalytic converter
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: Hydraulically actuated single-plate dry clutch
- Final drive: Cardan shaft
- Frame: Lattice-tube w/ stressed-member engine
- Front suspension: Non-adjustable 43mm fork; 4.9 inches of travel
- Rear suspension: Spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable shock; 5.5 inches of travel
- Wheels: Wire-spoke w/ aluminum rims
- Front wheel: 19 x 3.0
- Rear wheel: 17 x 4.5
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41
- Front tire: 120/70 x 19
- Rear tire: 170/60 x 17
- Front brakes: Floating 320mm discs w/ Brembo 4-piston caliper
- Rear brake: Fixed 264mm disc w/ floating 2-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 60.1 inches
- Rake: 28.5 degrees
- Trail: 4.4 inches
- Seat height: 33.5 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 44 mpg
- Curb weight: 492 pounds
- Color: 40 Years of GS Edition
BMW R nineT Urban G/S 40 Years of GS Edition Price: $15,995 MSRP ($16,995, as tested)