It's no secret that I love dirtbikes. I use my steed for the weekend dirtfest up in the mountains of Cavite or Rizal, as well as everyday, to and from work. Like some of you may be wondering, my daughter once asked me, how dirt bikes got started back in the day. To help me answer this PhP 1-million question, I called on our friends from BMW Motorrad Philippines. They were glad to hand over the keys of their new BMW R NineT Scrambler so that I could demonstrate the roots of the dirt bike class to a child.
The RnineT Scrambler feels like an 80's-era GS, rides like an 80's-era GS, and even smells like an 80's-era GS, but with more modern riding aides.
A century-old sport
Scramblers are basically road bikes fitted with dirt tires. Early in the last century, motorcycle enthusiasts in the UK sought to create an alternative sport to motorcycle trials that were popular at the time. Rather than simply balancing over obstacles, some motorcycle groups organized underground races over rough terrain called scrambles (i.e. to scramble from the police). Because the motorcycles were designed mainly for the road, succeeding in this sport and terrain required serious modification. The stock road bikes were stripped down, fitted with more rugged suspension, and rolled on dirt tires. From there, the motocross bike, as we know it, evolved into a dedicated dirt bike.
It wasn't just limited to Great Britain. One of my friends, who now rides a BMW R 1200GS even recalls that, back in the day, they used to play in the dirt along the then two-lane Commonwealth Avenua that was still under construction. True to the British sport it was inspired by, they called it 'scrambling'.
Those twin Akrapovic exhausts fitted as stock.
More recently, Scramblers have come back into fashion thanks to the revival of retro motorcycle styles, like the Cafe Racer movement. Much of the Scrambler's current success is owed to its close association to surfing culture.
BMW's R NineT Scrambler is basically a standard R NineT fitted with Karoo 3 50/50 dual sport tires on 19- (front) and 17-inch (rear) alloy wheels, minus the [more expensive] upside-down fork. Twin Akrapovic exhausts also compliment the stripped-down scrambler persona of this bike.
I really fell in love with this classic speedo combined with modern gizmos.
My personal favorite touch is the round analog speedometer that also houses a digital display for all of the other information from the scrambler's onboard computer.
The RnineT Scrambler's rake was adjusted to 28.5° for better offroad stability.
Reliving the past
To better demonstrate how the sport of scrambling looked like back in the day, my daughter and I went to the nearby Vermosa Motocross Track to scramble.
This is only possible when the ASC is switched off.
The first time I tried the bike on Vermosa to play, I thought that the engine was broken for like 2-seconds until I realized that, like the GS, I have to turn off the ASC or else the onboard computer will have a hard time delivering power to the rear wheel on loose surfaces. It still thinks it's on asphalt and is designed to prevent wheel spin. So in the dirt, it was trying to figure out what happened to the rear wheel's traction. Once turned off, I was like a child, having the time of his life at Disneyland. I would not recommend turning off the ASC when riding on the asphalt though, especially when it is raining, as it might be the thin line between going home in one piece or ending up in the hospital.
The ABS, too, worked pretty well, considering how I tried to push it to its limits on loose soil.
With some off-road riding in mind, today's Scrambler is better suited to off-road riding. The suspension feel is just right. Its front fork's 125mm and rear mono shock absorber's 140mm travel feels at home absorbing the bumps over at Vermosa (Note: no jumping over doubles and table-tops here), but at times, it bottoms when ridden aggressively. It is heavy, of course, with its boxer twin engine taken from the last air-cooled GS models (with minor refinements). As such, this scrambler, along with many big displacement scramblers cannot be taken into the more tight trails where picking up a 220-kg bike every 2 minutes is not a good idea. BMW also equipped some nice rider-aides such as mentioned above, the Automatic Stability Control (ASC) and ABS.
Clutch feel is just about right, not too hard and not too soft on the pull.
Out on the road
One may ask, “How's the top speed?” Well, I took the bike to San Fernando, Pampanga for the BMW Breakfast Ride and, just like any 1200cc BMW motorcycle, it can go well beyond the 200-kph zone (But, I didn't do that). Because of the Karoo 3's installed, the bike wobbles after reaching speeds well beyond 100-kph. But hey, these scramblers are supposed to be offroad bikes after all, aren't they? Some folks also warned me about possible overheating when stucked in afternoon traffic. From my experience riding this bike, it took the traffic standstill head on and never missed a beat.
Priced at PhP 1.085 million, one can already buy an entry level pick up, or a top of the line sub-compact sedan. But this is a B-M-W! You're not only buying the bike, but also the lifestyle and the brand's rich heritage. It is not comfortable to ride, but you will get 1,000 pogi points for just riding it. If you want a comfortable bike, go find a scooter. For me, with its proven and reliable boxer engine, add to that the BMW badge, it is the top of the food chain, among all other big displacement scramblers available today.
As for my daughter, she now knows the good and humble roots of dirtbikes and enduro riding in general.