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Can BMW’s Retro Roadster Win Over a Hollywood Legend?

The R NineT may be built with customizers in mind, but there’s little that needs changing from stock.

Guy Webster is a wizard. Through his photos and the stories he tells, the man can stop time. You wouldn’t know it to see him, though; he looks completely normal. He stands around five feet, seven inches, has gray hair and beard like my own, and he wears t-shirts, not capes. The tee he’s wearing today is brown, a touch ratty, and has “Enjoy Life” silkscreened across it. But as soon as you meet him, something happens: his eyes are kind, so you surrender your guard, and then he begins to speak. Webster’s voice is soothing, barely audible over the Gershwin playing in the background. He welcomes me into his studio, adjacent to some of California’s best riding roads, in Ojai. I’m eager to explore the terrain with my riding partner, but for now, Mr. Webster has my undivided attention.

Sitting across from me on a couch, smiling, Guy is telling me the story behind his first motorcycle (the first of many — at one point he owned well over 350 of them, all rare Italians). While I’m curious to hear his thoughts on the BMW R nineT Roadster ($15,095), I keep quiet and listen — the stories don’t disappoint. In between photo shoots in his early years, he used to play tennis with Dean Martin at his house in Beverly Hills. Over the course of some months, Guy explains, he also began dating one of Dino’s daughters. He won’t let on which daughter; instead, his head tilts back a touch, his smile widens and the Gershwin fills the void. “And then Dean calls me up one day and says he’s got something for me.” It wasn’t a meeting with Dino’s knuckles; it was the keys to the crooner’s Triumph Bonneville.

In the parking lot, Guy takes a good long look at the R nineT. It’s easily the Belle of the BMW Motorrad’s ball. Although built with customizers in mind, there’s little that needs changing from stock. Glass-blasted, forged, and rolled aluminum detailing is everywhere. It’s an elegant, subtle beast. I tell Guy that the air/oil-cooled boxer engine has tons of punch and character to spare, that the top shelf suspension and brakes coax confidence into every corner and that its bark is pretty impressive, right off the showroom floor.

Guy Webster’s (Italian) motorcycle collection (Photo: Matt Neundorf)

Much has been made of the R nineT’s price, especially in light of the recently released and upcoming variants. Many in the motorcycle community would argue that next year’s stripped-down “Pure” model is the better buy. I disagree. BMW nailed the R nineT with this, their first version. It delivers everything a truly capable roadster should, with exquisite attention to detail and zero compromise in the saddle. As a rider, this is the one to have. As a collector, this is the one to make room for.

There are neither British bikes in Guy’s collection today — Dino’s Bonnie is long gone — nor anything German. Instead, Mr. Webster has a long-standing Italian love affair. His stable, once large enough to swing a leg over a different bike every day for a year, has been whittled down to around 20. The goal, he tells me, is to get down to six. Looking around at those that remain, I can’t imagine how that could happen: to my right sits one of eight 1957 Mondial 250cc Super Sports, a 1955 Ceccato, a 1957 MV Augusta CSS complete with an Earles Fork and, in the middle, one of my modern-era dream bikes: a 2001 Ducati MHE 900. I tell Guy I can help him pare things down. I offer him the keys to the R NineT, straight trade. He chuckles, turns and says that reminds him of a story from when he attended Berkeley with Jim Morrison. Fine by me. Those roads can wait.

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