I like different. Different is good. But sometimes we try to be different and, well… it just goes a bit wrong. Case in point: BMW’s Concept 9cento.
BMW unveiled the concept at this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – a competition for classic and vintage cars. Yeah, I’m not entirely sure I get the connection, either. But that seems to be the theme of this bike: several ostensibly good ideas crammed together into something that doesn’t quite make sense.
For its part, BMW says the 9cento (pronounced “novecento,” which is Italian for 900) “combines emotion and performance with an adventurous spirit, agility and riding fun to create the ideal sports touring bike.”
With a front end that emulates the S 1000 XR this presumably 853cc parallel twin (BMW doesn’t actually mention the engine in its 1,200-word press release, but I’m assuming that this is built around the same mill that drives the F 750 GS and F 850 GS) has a mismatched look that reminds me of the Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time.” It looks like the Suzuki Bandits you’ll see in South Wales where a person has crashed, broken a fender or bit of fairing, then replaced it with body work from a Bandit of a different color. The top bit of the fairing is black, but then there’s that grey panel, and the blue (and wholly ineffective) front fender. It just doesn’t work for me.
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The biggest disconnect, though, seems to be the look of the bike versus BMW’s apparent brief for it.
“We’ve created a bike that combines the appropriate power with reliable sports touring properties,” said BMW Motorrad Head of Design Edgar Heinrich. “It brings together the best of the sports, adventure and touring segments to produce an exciting concept… Functional properties such as touring capability, storage space and wind/weather protection are relevant to most motorcyclists but they’re rarely included in the design of a concept vehicle. In this year’s concept bike we’re demonstrating that all these rational aspects can be coupled with a dynamic design to create something really exciting and highly emotional.”
I feel some of that quote must have been lost in translation. Designers have been taking wind and weather protection into account for decades, same goes for touring capability and storage space. Hilariously, these are all aspects which are lacking when it comes to the 9cento. The small windscreen does not appear to be adjustable, the seat – which appears to be made of the polyethylene foam used in swimming pool toys – isn’t large enough to hold a human passenger or a 50-liter Ortlieb bag, and the panniers are comically small. I mean, really, look at those panniers.
Seemingly just large enough to hold a 750ml bottle of water in each side, the panniers are actually a single unit that clamp onto the underside of the seat via “a powerful electromagnet.” Which has to be the worst idea for a luggage system I’ve heard in a long time. Storage that will destroy your phone and credit cards, and which – if I understand how electromagnets work – requires a constant supply of electricity. Because, you know, no one has ever had a motorcycle battery conk out on them.
Man, the more I look at this bike, the more I dislike it. Maybe it’s better in person. For example, that grey side panel looks sort of plasticky but it is in fact aluminum, which also shows up on the central tank cover.
BMW says the bike’s suspension is designed to be “ideal for touring,” with long travel forks and shock to help overcome the pothole-riddled roads that are increasingly commonplace in the Western world. As you can probably guess just by looking at it, the 9cento brags a great deal of weight reduction – though BMW doesn’t actually say how much.
BMW has gone to the trouble to equip the bike with a TFT screen and the wonder wheel used for navigating the menus of its bigger bikes. The presence of the latter makes me wonder if BMW isn’t targeting this concept for production. I mean, the wonder wheel suggests the presence of a large and complex menu of rider aids and info. Why go to the trouble to load all that stuff onto a concept bike? The tech there isn’t new – it’s present on a number of existing BMW models – so it’s not showcasing possibilities.
Another sign this isn’t too far from becoming a reality is that there’s precedent. BMW displayed the Concept 101 at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este back in 2015; that concept became the K 1600 B that was released last year.
“The BMW Motorrad Concept 9cento has the potential to expand today’s notion of a modern sports touring bike by adding smart functionality,” states a BMW media release. “Practical properties are interpreted in an emotional design, though without neglecting agility and riding fun.”
I don’t know. I’m not convinced. What’s your take?