YOSEMITE SCRAM. BMW’s R nineT Scrambler Takes On The Sierra Nevadas
Written by Sam Bendall.
The sun is rising, the air is cool and crisp, and the wildlife outside my tent sporadically announces the start of a new day. As my eyes open and begin to adjust, the faint scent of hickory wafts through the air as the covered embers emanate amid a semi-silent dawn. As I emerge from my tent, I see my friend Yoshi in his own shelter rustling about. My other friend Erik is at the picnic table prepping food and getting coffee ready. I turn to look over at the BMW R nineT Scrambler that brought me up here, and realize how cool it looks poised beside Yoshi’s Land Rover. I think to myself, “There’s a lot of manliness going on right here. Every weekend should be this amazing.”
Twenty-four hours earlier, I awoke early to mount all my gear to a lovely 2017 BMW R nineT Scrambler prior to meeting up with Yoshi at his place in Highland Park. As this was only a three-day trip, I opted to pack as lightly as possible with only a tent, sleeping bag, and whatever I could fit into my 50L Velomacchi Duffle Bag. You might be thinking, “Why would you take an R nineT Scrambler on a trip like this?” My response would be a sassy “Shut the fuck up. I drink overpriced, fair-trade, hipster-roasted coffee out of an Aeropress, and I’m on this bike because I want to look cool. Also, I have a scrambler addiction.”
But semi-seriously, I like many of the modern scramblers OEMs are producing and I had yet to test the R nineT Scrambler. Also, I like to punish myself. I did just ride a 2009 Triumph Scrambler 2000 km over six days through Thailand a couple months earlier, and it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time on a motorcycle.
Though short-lived, this quick trip up north would be a much-needed camping getaway with two fun and immensely talented photographer friends, Erik Jutras and Michael “Yoshi” Jasionowski.
DAY 1 – The Longest Road
Yoshi and I met up around 9:45 a.m. at Highland Park Cafe for some much-needed caffeine. We agreed to stick together along the Angeles Crest Highway but that didn’t quite go as planned. Immediately my wrist became liberal with the throttle once the roads began to get twisty. I was off into the horizon. Yoshi’s Land Rover became a speck in my rear view, but as the gentleman that I am, I called him to say I’d meet him at the start of highway 14. I needed to get in my moto fix. I was also curious to know how well the BMW R nineT Scrambler could handle the twisties of “The Crest.”
Loaded with 40 extra pounds of gear, the BMW R nineT Scrambler was capable of mashing through the corners at a considerable clip. The 1172cc boxer engine pulls well on corner exits, power delivery is smooth and crisp. According to BMW, the R nineT Scrambler puts out 110 horsepower, and max torque is achieved around 7,500 rpm; however, most of the power is felt in the lower to mid range. With no tachometer to read engine speed, it would take me a little while to learn the characteristics of each gear, and when to shift to obtain that maximum fun factor. Once found, there is a lot to love about this engine.
The R nineT Scrambler doesn’t dive into the corners with the lightness of a sport bike or the finesse of its predecessor, the original RnineT. Many of my colleagues have attributed this to the slight variation in the front fork rake, as well as the Karoo 3s, and the scrambler-spec suspension. Maybe I’m a simpler and dumber motorcycle journalist, but I had no problem pushing this bike into the corners, holding my line, and scraping the pegs. Could it have been easier? Does it take a little work to get this bike where you want it to go? Is the regular R nineT a more nimble and road-focused machine? The answer is yes to all of those questions. Still, the Scrambler is an incredibly fun bike on the road. In fact, I was surprised in my ability to manhandle this bike given its size and weight. I was even more surprised that the Karoo 3s provided such excellent grip on the tarmac.
We stopped briefly at Jawbone Canyon in Mojave to sip some java and relieve ourselves. We also discovered that the howling and relentless winds of the mighty mojave laid claim to Yoshi’s newly purchased Land Rover’s front-right turn signal.
As we neared Lake Isabella, the winds began to kick up, and I could feel a serious chill in my bones. Once we turned onto CA-155, we were met with a stunning scenic mountainscape being enveloped by clouds and fog. The winds kicked up harder and harder. I pulled off to the side of the road to bundle up. On went my insulated mid-layers and winter gloves. I closed up my jacket vents and cranked the heated handgrips to their highest setting.
The mountains welcomed us with progressively thicker fog, but before it did, we came upon these beautiful trees and winding roads. It felt almost as if we had been magically transported to Vermont during fall. The color and vibrancy of the trees contrasted with the muted grey of the asphalt and fog which presented a photo opportunity we’d be insane to pass up. After snapping a few shots we continued on. About a quarter-mile down the road I got a call from Yoshi. His Land Rover would not start. I guess it’s not a true adventure until someone breaks down. I turned around and pulled up next to the Land Rover to find Yoshi huddled over the engine with a flashlight.
“The battery is dead. It won’t turn over,” he said.
I asked him if he had any jumper cables. Unfortunately we were without. After standing by the side of the road, I was able to flag down a good samaritan who fortunately was able to lend assistance and jumpstart the Land Rover.
Continuing on, 20-foot visibility relegated us to a snail’s pace. As the wind faded, cocooned inside my helmet was the soothing sound of the Bimmer’s seamless, second-gear purr. My mind went straight to Stephen King’s movie The Mist. I expected a monster to jump out at me. Instead, around a bend we were greeted to three cows standing in the middle of the road. They all began to slowly move out of the way, but the baby of the bunch began sprinting down the highway as though he stole something. I slowed down not knowing which direction he would zig or zag but the calf ran with us for almost a minute before darting off into the valley below.
Eventually the fog dissipated and we continued our descent toward Delano. The road was devoid of all traffic, featured beautifully paved tarmac, and a combination of sweeping turns and technical esses that begged to be attacked. This particular section of CA-155 between Glenville and Delano became one of my favorite roads of the trip. I once again began to wring out the scrambler through some corners. So much fun.
Just before we hopped on highway 99, we stopped for gas. Yoshi’s Land Rover also decided to stop working, too. The culprit again a dead battery. Luckily, the local auto parts store was across the street and still open. We slapped in a new battery and prayed it would solve the problem instead of being the tip of the iceberg.
We made a judgment call to stop at the local market and grab a sizable amount of firewood and beer. Really, if there are two things you cannot have too much of at a campsite, it’s firewood and beer.
After nine hours of riding and driving, we arrived at camp. The Sun was beginning to set, so we quickly set up camp, sparked a fire, cracked open some beers, and cued up the tunes. Forty-five minutes later, Erik arrived and we all got settled in for the night. By settled in, I mean we drank beers, laughed excessively, and kept trying whiskey every half-hour to see if we still liked it. Science proved that we, in fact, still enjoyed whiskey.
Day 2 – In the Valley of Heaven
I faintly remember one of the guys saying, “We won’t sleep past 7 a.m. The Sun will rise and it will force us awake.” I looked at my watch and it read 9 a m. Yeah, so much for that theory. Erik is already up and about, I’m slogging along trying to get out of the tent, and Yoshi, too, is in the process of rising from his sleepy grave. Gathered around the picnic table, we consumed perhaps one of the most satisfying campground breakfasts ever, along with coffee so strong I felt like my heart was going to hop out of my chest. Once we were properly fueled, we ventured on toward Yosemite.
Yosemite is easily one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States. It’s also one of my personal favorites. John Muir, an American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States wrote eloquently of the Sierras and the Yosemite region as being a place where, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
As I began to ride through the park on this well engineered, modern, and powerful machine, I could not help feeling the energy and witness the glory of the land I traversed. Gone was the need to test the limits of the machine, but rather enjoy it as a vehicle that brought me to this wonderful place. When navigating through the park, the R nineT Scrambler moved along perfectly. The proven boxer engine was delightfully torquey and powerful enough to move me past RVs and minivans with a flick of the wrist. It even looked glorious parked among the trees and by the side of the road overlooking the Yosemite Valley. I cannot imagine anyone being upset or disappointed after purchasing this motorcycle.
We found ourselves at the top of Glacier Point Road, which had just opened for the season a couple of days before our arrival. Prior to the trip, we all agreed it was mandatory for us to visit this spot of the park because of its iconic view of Half Dome and El Capitan. It surely did not disappoint.
So the R nineT works well in the city and on back roads, but does it Scramble?
While it retains the scrambler name, we all wondered if it possessed the chops to navigate dirt and gravel roads or any kind of technical routes. We found an OHV park on the outskirts of Yosemite, and I began to put this bike through its paces.
The R nineT Scrambler offers all the power to push itself around off-road. The motor has excellent shove, and just propels the bike forward like a laser beam into outer space. The Karoo 3s provide excellent feedback and grip, especially when you choose to get a little sideways. The ability to disable the ASC /traction control and ABS systems puts the bike fully at your command, and makes for a spirited off-road ride. Standing and shifting one’s weight forward over the front forks can be difficult due to the shape of the tank, but it can be done. The hydraulic clutch provides perfect and easy control at slow speeds and throttle control is beautifully smooth and immediate.
Overall, the R nineT is capable and comfortable on fire roads and moderately uneven terrain, but there are times where you have to keep your speed up to keep all that weight from bogging you down in the softer stuff like mud and sand.
The thing that concerned me most about riding the R nineT Scrambler off-road was its lack of ground clearance. I first learned to ride in the dirt on a BMW R 1200 GS, and this bike is far from that level of off-road pedigree. However, knowing how to ride a big adventure bike translates into riding the R nineT Scrambler quite well. Both are heavy and powerful machines that require a different type of finesse when compared to regular dirt bikes.
I found a fun, but small section of rocky trail and gave the Scrambler a chance to prove and challenge itself in something other than a finely groomed dirt path. Though I was careful and took the section slowly, I did manage to bottom out the suspension and sustain a good whack to the header and undercasing. Like its GS sibling, the R nineT Scrambler took the abuse without flinching. It’s not a “dirt bike”, but it is a dirt-capable bike, and by God does that still translates to tons of fun if you choose to venture off the asphalt.
As the Sun began to fall, the light and landscape developed this effervescent glow. Erik, Yoshi, and I were giggling like five-year-old school children.
“Oh man! Look at that path, and look at the light breaking through the trees!”
“Do a burnout, kick up some dirt, and ride through it!”
“Go around that bend and just goose the throttle!”
We were having way more fun than adults should be allowed to have. Sit for a moment and enjoy the photos that these two grown men created. They are pretty awesome.
We were all so eager to see the photos from our daily outing, but before the computers came out, the whiskey began to flow and the fire temperately licked the air. Yoshi, being the designated DJ of the trip, put on a spectacular playlist consisting of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Muddy Waters, and many more. As freely as the whiskey flowed, so did the jokes and conversation. The funny thing about our relationship is that Yoshi, Erik, and I had never hung out together prior to this trip. We all bonded over our love for motorcycles, photography, coffee, avocados, the great outdoors, and camping. It served as a great reminder to never underestimate the power of mutual interests and travel to bring good people together.
Day 3 – Death By Interstate
One day is simply not enough time to experience and enjoy Yosemite. Erik, Yoshi, and I conversed and made a strong case over morning coffee to stay an additional week, bucking any adult responsibilities or commitments we had for the upcoming week. But alas, the need to pay rent, keep jobs, appease and take care of significant others, and attend school usurped our innate desires to be mountain men.
Instead of taking the long way back to Los Angeles, Yoshi and I opted for a straight shot back via highway 99. With 231 miles and about 4 hours and 20 minutes of straight — and I mean straight-up boring — highway in front of me, I expected the R nineT Scrambler to be fairly uncomfortable, but it was not. The bike cruised along quite easily in 6th gear as I averaged about 85 mph. My ass began to get a tad sore around the three-hour mark, but for a scrambler, that is downright comfortable and pretty amazing. I have to give BMW kudos for designing such a lovely and comfortable saddle.
Even at speeds north of 65 mph, I didn’t find wind buffeting to be immensely uncomfortable. Occasionally I would tuck into the wind and hug the tank, but the R nineT Scrambler felt more comfortable than most other bikes I’ve ridden without a windscreen. Though I doubt most people buying the R nineT Scrambler will be taking it on a long-haul trip, you might just do so after reading my take on it. It’s more than capable of taking you on an adventure while allowing you, the rider, to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Understandably, the R nineT Scrambler is not the road-going piece of perfection that is the original R nineT. It does, however, exude a particular level of charm and style that will make you and every passerby fall in love with the machine. It did for me and every fourth person who walked past the bike during our trip. In the city, it made commuting, splitting through traffic, and rocketing past cars a breeze. It took me on an adventure where I could attack canyon corners one moment, tear ass down fire roads the next, and stand at the altar of giants and gaze upon magnificent vistas with two good friends.
As I arrived home, I pulled into my garage, took my helmet off and walked away. Just before closing my garage door, I glanced back at the R nineT Scrambler. It stood poised and dirty like a confident child in overalls, covered in mud, grinning at their parent. I could only smirk and think to myself, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”
– The heated handgrips were a lifesaver
– Great low and midrange power
– Great ergonomics and amazingly comfy seat
– Overall a superb, well-balanced machine
– No tachometer, gear-shift indicator, or fuel gauge
– Suspension is not the best, but certainly not the worst
– Low ground clearance when riding off-road
About the Author
Sam Bendall is Pipeburn’s U.S.-based Editor-at-Large. He is a man of many talents, but what matters most to him is his coffee in the morning and his whiskey at night.