Ever since a Japanese fellow motorcycle scribbler told me some years ago about the kits you can apparently buy there to… redesign, I suppose, bikes like the SR500, I have loved the idea. It is simple, if not cheap. Kits include parts like fuel tanks, side covers, guards, headlights and seats which turn your donor machine into a ‘Norton’ or an ‘AJS’ or a ‘Vincent’ or whatever. Being an inveterate customizer, I would have loved to be able to do something like that.

Not much later, I was fortunate enough to be on a Buell launch at Elkhart Lake. Eric not only turned out to be a terrific rock guitarist, but also easily approachable. At a time when Buell Blast sales were not exactly setting the world on fire, I told him about my dream of a chameleon bike that could be turned into whatever style the owner wanted. All it would take was a simple change of body parts. I told him that I had hoped the Blast might be something like that, and might perhaps still become such a bike.

The base version of the Lo Rider.

He smiled ruefully and indicated that it would not, and did not seem to want to discuss the bike further. I now know why, of course: he hated the idea of the Blast from the beginning – and justifiably so. It was a concept created by the Motor Company, and thus conservative to a fault. Not really Eric Buell’s kind of thing.

And the base version from the other side. Now… what does it remind me of?

While I was promoting my dream to exactly the wrong person (Eric had little influence in Milwaukee) another and to my mind highly unlikely manufacturer was thinking about almost exactly the same thing. The bike being considered was called the Lo Rider, and while its variants were not intended to resemble classic marques, the body parts were designed to be easily interchangeable to give almost endless combinations. The Lo Rider concept was released to the press at EICMA in Milan in 2008.

Nice touches abounded on the bike, just like the, er…

The manufacturer was… BMW.

The Lo Rider was one of David Robb’s (I assume) most intriguing ideas. This would be a motorcycle like none other that had ever been designed, although there were some similarities to the concept of ‘bespoke’ motor vehicles that was around for a while in the ‘30s.

So let’s take a look at the Lo Rider.

BMW Motorrad’s announcement started out like most new product releases.

Purist, powerful, unfaired and reduced to the absolute essentials – these few words provide an incomplete description of the BMW Lo Rider, the new concept study by BMW Motorrad. At first sight, the focus would seem to be on the creation of a roadster with a muscular appearance, openly displayed technology and powerful flat twin engine for pure emotion and maximum motorcycling fun. But behind all this is in fact a completely new custom concept.

The bike’s low weight, the powerful and high-torque flat twin engine and high-quality chassis technology give it a high level of sporty riding dynamics, while the lowered chassis and the relaxed yet active seating position with the broad handlebars are more of a loan from cruisers and naked bikes.

Hmm, I’m going to have to go away and think about this bike some more…

That sounded a lot like another motorcycle, albeit one that was still five years away – and which we will meet a little later. But it was what followed that was quite amazing.

The concept is such that, for the first time, the customer can be involved in the design of the BMW Lo Rider to an extent which goes beyond what has previously been possible to date. Numerous options including different exhaust systems, seats, headlamp units and paint finish variations allow for a level of customisation which is far greater than the familiar individualisation by means of special equipment features and accessories. This means that the entire character of the vehicle can be adapted to the customer’s individual taste: the customer can take full pleasure in assembling a machine just as he wants it – from a cool cruiser to an aggressive muscle bike.

The amazing element here is of course the wide – even vast – range of possible combinations. Do-it-yourself motorcycle design, at a scale that went far past BMW’s own policy back in the ‘50s that allowed you to order your motorcycle in any colour, as long as it was available for BMW cars at the time. In other words, we’ve got the tins of paint and we’ll use them for a bike if you want us to. Likewise, it goes well beyond Harley-Davidson’s factory customization options.

Presto, change-o! Any of these bikes could be yours; you could even swap parts with your friends!

What a great idea! No longer would you have to put up with other people showing up at BMW rallies with a bike that looked the same as yours!

But then, and this is just supposition on my part, one of the bean counters got a look at the plans, promptly went white and stuttered “nein, nein, nein!” When he had calmed down, he pointed out that inventory for such a concept would fill a warehouse and cost a great many Euros; potentially many more Euros than the concept would ever earn.

“Hmm,” said one of the production people. “There is another way… hoert zu: why don’t we do the same thing ourselves, with fewer variants, put the different bikes together ourselves too, and then release them as separate models troepfchenweise? And incidentally make a lot of money without needing a new warehouse.”

It took five years to turn his concept into reality, but ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce… the R nineT.

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