Cologne bike show: Meet the cafe racers

BMW R nineT range has two new models: the Racer (pictured) and the Pure.
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BMW R nineT range has two new models: the Racer (pictured) and the Pure.

 

If the present trend amongst bike customisers towards cafe racers is slowing, no-one's told the motorcycle manufacturers, who have unleashed a blitz of sporty-looking neo-retro models at the recent Intermot show in Cologne, Germany.

Leading the charge towards bikes that not only look good when parked up outside a cafe, but are highly enjoyable to ride to it, were BMW, Honda, and Triumph, which added a 900cc version to complement the 1200cc Thruxton models.

The unveiling of these bikes lent a custom bike show ambience to the show, and contrasted with the debut of several high-tech sportsbikes from Ducati, Honda, and Suzuki.

Changes for Honda CB1100RS include upswept exhausts, new graphics and stronger suspension.
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Changes for Honda CB1100RS include upswept exhausts, new graphics and stronger suspension.

BMW Motorrad knows that while its venerable 1170cc air-cooled boxer twin engine can meet the new Euro 4 emission rules that will be enforced next year, it may fail to meet the far more challenging Euro 5 standards due in 2020.

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Triumph Street Cup is a dressed-up Street Twin, but key changes also make it a sportier ride.
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Triumph Street Cup is a dressed-up Street Twin, but key changes also make it a sportier ride.

So it is 'making hay' while it can by expanding the R nineT range of models that use the handsomely-sculptured breeze-cooled 1170 for their motivation instead of the partially liquid-cooled version dished out to more contemporary boxer models. The air-cooler's forward-exiting exhausts and lack of radiators, hoses, and water pumps create more opportunities for clean engine design, and neo-retro models by definition always put the engine on display. This visual sanitation is considered more desirable than the liquid-cooler's extra 15 horsepower, cleaner emission control, and superior fuel efficiency for R nineT applications.

The R nineT range therefore grew by a further two models – the Racer and the Pure – at Cologne, which will join the original R nineT roadster and the R nineT Scrambler in showrooms next year.

Like the Scrambler, the Racer and the Pure take a more no-frills approach than the original R nineT roadster, swapping the latter's modern-looking inverted front forks for a trad 'right way up' forkset that look like it could have been lifted from the original R90. Brakes also get downgraded from the radially-mounted Monobloc calipers of roadster to side-mounted four-piston calipers no longer machined from billet. Wheels are now cast alloys instead of wire-spoked alloy rims.

The Pure takes this approach to an extreme, and has been "reduced to its essentials" according to the BMW-speak at the show. So much so, that it may even cost less than $20k when it arrives in New Zealand.

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Countering the tendency of the R nineT Pure to blend into the background is the more extroverted Racer, completed by BMW's traditional white/red/blue motorsport livery. With its seat hump, rear-set foot pegs, clip-on handlebars, and frame-mounted half-fairing, the Racer is the R nineT model that most resembles the Roland Sands-penned 2103 Concept 90 machine that first kicked off BMW's journey towards retro-land.

Both the Pure and the Racer get 17in front wheels instead of the Scrambler's 19in hoop, and the handling differences between them will be defined by the Racer's shorter wheelbase and more aggressive riding position. It is the hero model that the R nineT range has been crying out for, and it will likely land in NZ wearing a similar pricetag to that of the $25,290 R nineT roadster given the downgrading of the wheels/forks/brakes componentry.

Honda has obviously taken notice of way that its CB1100 neo-retro standard model has formed the platform for many cafe racer-themed customisations, and decided to save consumers the trouble by building its own factory version – the new CB1100RS. In come more upswept exhausts, racier-looking graphics, beefed-up suspension, and cast 17in alloy wheels instead of the 18in wire-spoked alloy rims of the standard model.

Both the big Cee-Bees – the RS and the EX standard – get a new 16.5-litre aluminium fuel tank and aluminium side panels, a slipper clutch, and LED lights for 2017, complementing the added sixth gear and revised instrument display that the standard received in other markets during 2014.

Crucial differences in suspension, wheelbase, and geometry should ensure that the RS delivers the sportier riding dynamic promised by its beefier design. Up front are a set of 43mm Showa forks, with tubes 2mm thicker than the standard model's and a trick new damping valve technology that makes the wheel travel control more linear than conventional forks. The rear wheel of the RS is controlled by a firmer-sprung set of remote-reservoir shocks. A 5mm decrease in wheelbase and a more steeply raked front end (26 degrees vs 27 for the standard) and a reduction in trail (99mm instead of 114mm) should allow the RS to handle more responsively than the EX.

But will the RS ignite more interest in the worthy-yet-often-ignored CB1100? With Euro 4 compliance the 1140cc air-cooled four develops a modest 66kW (89bhp) and 91Nm of riding force , and 252kg is still a lot of bike to chuck around despite the chassis changes to the RS.

If lighter weight is considered desirable, then the new Street Cup version of the Triumph 900 Street Twin should fit the bill.

Consider it a three-quarter scale replica of the strong-selling 1200cc Thruxton, which has been a sell-out success on the New Zealand market during 2016. Although the Street Cup looks like the slightly-dressed-up Street Twin that it is, there are several key changes that help it deliver the sportier handling promised by the styling.

First, the model-specific rear shocks are longer, and this extra length tips more of the weight of the bike onto the front tyre, increasing front end grip and improving steering.

Second, the rider is positioned slightly higher and further back, while lower, more forward handlebars pull the upper torso forward, allowing a sportier riding position that should aid control. Mechanical changes other than the longer rear shocks include shorter, more upswept exhausts, and the single front disc brake is upgraded with a sliding axial Nissin twin-piston caliper and floating mounts for the rotor.

The changes that convert the 41kW/80Nm five-speed Street Twin in to the Street Cup might be relatively minor ones, but they should ensure that the NZ price will be only incrementally higher than the $15,990 charged for the former when the SC arrives in our Triumph showrooms next year.

 - Stuff

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