Gary Cotterell on BMW’s new R nineT.
Gary Cotterell on BMW’s new R nineT.
Image: Supplied

Chimes of freedom, a song written by Bob Dylan in the mid-’60s. Through his words, Dylan — the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature — expressed his solidarity with the disenfranchised and displaced. Words even more relevant today, as the shift in power and abuse thereof becomes more acute, and our assumed freedoms feel at risk of being undermined.

I haven’t quite put my finger on a defining zeitgeist, but I sense a real shift. Humans have behaved appallingly throughout history, but given how far we’ve come — apparently — by the end of 2016, I felt we’d reached an all-time low.

News flashes from Aleppo and the uncertainty of how the world will be in the hands of characters such as US President Donald Trump are but some of the signs, and a clear indication of how things are unravelling. We take our hard-won freedoms totally for granted, but we are going to have to fight very hard to keep them. “The times they are a-changin’.”

As Janet Daley of The Telegraph put it in a round-table discussion on BBC at the end of 2016, summing up global affairs post-Brexit and the US elections: “The majority of the population feels left out of the conversation, and this is a much bigger problem than just immediate electoral consequences: this is a post-industrial problem. People who have been left behind by the globalisation of the economy, particularly the globalisation of labour… has left indigenous populations, working class populations feeling completely unrepresented.”

The financial crisis didn’t help matters. With this public rejection of globalisation we see a shift from left to centre-right, then right, as the world becomes more conservative, fanatical, and fearful. Let’s only hope we’re rescued by a new-wave countercultural revolution similar to that of the ’60s to mid-’70s. This might be helped along by the legalisation of marijuana. I’m no smoker, but if it helps everyone to calm the f**k down, I say light up and take a smoke break.

The best biker gear:

What, you might ask, does this have to do with motorcycles? It’s clichéd, but in light of all this upheaval I couldn’t help but think of Easy Rider on a recent BMW Motorrad launch. So, what is the price of freedom? R197,990. I joke, but this is the ticket for the 2017 BMW R nineT Scrambler, a bike that is certainly going to “get your motor runnin’”. For that you get a 1 170cc air-cooled flat twin Boxer, 4-stroke engine, and plenty of street cred.

I feel happier on two feet or four wheels, but have to admit that the “freedom” I felt on these two wheels was terribly addictive. Even for a novice rider such as myself, the R nineT is a very responsive machine, and comes packed with German efficiency and reliability. The price also includes an aluminium fuel tank with visible weave weld, heated grips, off-road tyres, cross spoke wheels, automatic stability control, and standard ABS to secure your safety.

South Africa has some of the most scenic “driver’s” roads in the world. There’s an embarrassment of choice for those who like the open road, including Chapman’s Peak Drive, the Franschhoek Pass, Magoebaskloof, Naude’s Nek, Swartberg Pass, R62, Long Tom, and Sani Pass.

One of the most spectacular for cruising is the R44 stretch between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els, and on this agile beast, I felt perfectly poised to confidently clock up some mileage. The R nineT is quite nimble through the corners, and in no time I found it easy to flick through traffic en route through Somerset West, despite not having been in the saddle for more than two years — maybe the ASC helped a bit. With 110hp, there’s also no challenge to keep up with the best. It’s a fantastic cruiser, but its more upright, comfortable riding position means that you’re slightly compromised at high speed, especially when nudged by fierce coastal winds in the Cape.

Although it’s called a scrambler, it’s not intended to be a dirt bike. However, I’ve been informed by more capable riders who’ve been led astray that the R nineT can hold its own when the adventure takes you off-road.

Looks wise, it references vintage café racers and reflects BMW’s early R bike heritage dating back to the ’50s, with all the right touches. With this bike, BMW hope to attract a “younger” audience, who have an appreciation for design and provenance, but who want something modern and reliable. The company says the Scrambler is designed to be customisable, but a detachable rear subframe, seat changes and off-road accessories — headlamp grilles, engine bash-plates — do not carry the same cachet as the bikes that are created in the true custom shops by our wilder, free-spirited peers.

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