If you’ve never been there, New Jersey might not seem like an ideal riding destination. What’s so great about a turnpike, tons of traffic and the Jersey Shore, right? In reality, there is some fine riding to be had in the Garden State, from the dual-sport playground of the Pine Barrens to the two-lane blacktop carving through the heavily wooded northern part of the state.
BMW’s North American headquarters is located in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and for the recent launch of the new R nineT Scrambler, the company invited us to experience the local roads with two days of riding that took us from the forests of New Jersey to winding river roads in Pennsylvania, to the Hudson River Valley and into the heart of Manhattan. It turned out to be a great way to showcase the new Scrambler’s versatility and performance.
The Scrambler is the first of 10 different R nineT variations scheduled for release by BMW (two more, the Racer and the Pure, were recently announced, but we have yet to experience them in the flesh). The family resemblance is clear, but the Scrambler’s high-mount, twin-stacked Akrapovic exhaust, 19-inch front wheel, fork gaiters and brown one-piece seat hint at its dirt-worthy potential. Thanks to cost saving measures such as a steel gas tank, traditional fork, cast wheels and a more basic instrument display, the Scrambler comes in almost $2,100 less than the original Roadster.
Other differences include a taller seat (32.3 inches vs. 30.9), more upright handlebars, a longer wheelbase (60.0 inches vs. 58.2), “enduro” footpegs, a shorter final drive ratio for more low-end grunt, ABS (included) and ASC (optional: $400) that can be disabled for off-road use, and a simpler 3-piece frame (the Roadster’s frame allows for removal of the rear subframe that carries the passenger seat).
We started our ride at the lovely Crystal Springs Resort, in Hamburg, New Jersey, among the rolling forested hills of Sussex County. The winding country roads were an ideal introduction to the Scrambler’s on-road handling characteristics. My bike was equipped to look the part of a scrambler, with the optional tubeless wire-spoked wheels ($500) and Metzeler Karoo 3 50/50 knobby tires, which are a free-of-charge, dealer-installed option. We were given somewhat stern warnings from the Motorrad volk that the knobbies could produce a “different” feel than street tires, but from the moment I leaned into the roundabout at the hotel’s sprawling entryway, my first impression was one of nimbleness and maneuverability.
By the time we reached our first stop at the Firehouse Bagel Company in Branchville, I was completely comfortable with the Scrambler’s flickable nature. The Karoo 3s had proven themselves capable on the pavement, but the next leg of our route would take us into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area along the Pennsylvania border, where we would get our first taste of dirt.
It had rained fairly steadily during the week prior to our arrival, and the dark forest glistened with moisture. A warm start to autumn meant most of the trees were still green, but a few showed touches of color, hints at the explosion of golds, reds and purples that would soon flood the hills.
We were heading for Buttermilk Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in New Jersey. The narrow dirt road leading past it was hard-packed and pocked with holes and the occasional water crossing (a fancy term for a big mud puddle). As I piloted the Scrambler down the road, standing on the pegs with my knees bent in a crouched position (the handlebars are far too low to allow for comfortable standing), I was reminded that while it may look like just a standard R nineT with knobbies and high exhaust, the Scrambler carries 36 years of BMW GS off-road DNA. Its traditional front fork offers 4.9 inches of travel, with 5.5 inches available from the single-sided rear Paralever, compared to the 4.7 inches both front and rear on the Roadster. With my smaller frame aboard, it soaked up rocks and holes smoothly, although once the pace picked up off-road it became clear where much of the $2,100 cost savings over the Roadster came from. The front suspension struggles to keep up with high-speed bumps, and several times I felt the included steering damper working to prevent the grips from snapping out of my hands.
At a moderate pace, however, the Scrambler is surprisingly easy to handle off-road. The iconic boxer engine design places much of its weight down low, and the Karoo 3 tires offered confidence-inspiring grip.
We emerged back onto pavement and headed for Dingman’s Ferry Bridge. This part of the country is rich with history, both pre- and post-European settlement. Dingman’s Ferry Bridge traces its roots back to the 1730s, when Andrew Dingman, a Dutch pioneer from New York, began operating a ferry across the Delaware River, linking Sussex County, New Jersey, with Pike County, Pennsylvania. The first bridge was built in 1836, with today’s version having been built in 1900. The toll to cross on a motorcycle is $1, somewhat more than the original price of 10 cents for a horse and rider.
We climbed up and out of the Delaware Water Gap, cutting across this little corner of Pennsylvania, to once again cross the Delaware River into Barryville, New York. A short ride south and east of here on New York State Route 97 are the famous curves of Hawk’s Nest, site of numerous car commercials and one of our photo pass locations.
My stomach was telling me it was well past lunchtime as we wound up a tiny paved road that opened into a collection of cabins. The 500-acre Cedar Lakes Estate was once a summer camp for inner-city youth that operated from the 1920s-1970s. After that, it was a sports camp that served as a training site for elite athletes. It is now owned by two sisters, the daughters of the couple who had operated the sports camp in the ‘90s. They seated all 40 hungry moto-journalists at a single long table set right in the middle of their heirloom garden, and proceeded to carry out platter after platter of amazing home-cooked food that rivaled anything I’ve had at fine restaurants all over the world, all of it sourced locally and most of the vegetables coming right out of the garden in which we sat.
The pace was understandably slower after lunch, and I was happy to cruise along the country roads enjoying the growl of the Akropovic exhaust and the pleasant thrum of the air-and-oil-cooled boxer twin beneath me. We rolled past farms and through small towns on our way back to the hotel, where we discussed the next day’s ride into New York City.
The day dawned cool and foggy, and for the first hour it was slow going as we all contended with low visibility and misty face shields. The sun broke through just in time for us to cross back into New York and head east toward Harriman State Park. Kanawauke Road curves through the forest with almost flawless pavement and very little traffic, allowing us to truly put the Scrambler’s on-road performance to the test for the first time. The same wide handlebar and low center of gravity that make the Scrambler so confidence-inspiring off-road also make it a hoot to flick through corners. Ever-deepening lean angles induced ever-widening grins as we crossed into Bear Mountain State Park and headed up the hill toward the Perkins Memorial Observatory. This 40-foot tower, built between 1932 and 1934, offers 360-degree views of the Hudson River valley and the Manhattan skyline, our destination 40 miles away.
The transition from secluded forest to urban civilization was abrupt; there would be no more country cruising on this ride. From here, the Scrambler would show us its city manners. We made our way down the Palisades Interstate Parkway to Interstate 287, and crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson. The iconic but aging bridge is scheduled to be replaced by the New NY Bridge, currently under construction parallel to the Tappan Zee.
Traffic grew thicker as we headed south on U.S. Route 9 and New York State Route 9A past Yonkers and the Bronx, and then finally onto Manhattan. Here, Route 9A is called the Henry Hudson Parkway, and it dances along the very edge of Manhattan island along the Hudson River. Maintaining perfect attention to traffic is imperative, but for once the plethora of red lights comes in handy, affording us a few seconds to gape at our surroundings before taking off again.
Fortunately, the Scrambler’s light 485-pound (claimed) curb weight and rock-eating suspension make easy work of city riding. The lever for its hydraulically actuated dry clutch has an easy pull, and the 85.6 lb-ft of torque produced by the boxer twin coupled with a low first gear mean you don’t have to stress about stalling. Perhaps best of all, the tall seat and upright riding position afford a commanding view of the traffic around you.
The George Washington Bridge, USS Intrepid, World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial flowed past. We circled around Battery Place and zigzagged through Lower Manhattan, dodging buses full of tourists, garbage trucks, taxis, bicycles and pedestrians—and apparently also the crazy local residents who find it necessary to drive their own cars around. I was thankful to be riding a Scrambler, since I didn’t have to worry too much about potholes, sharp-edged steel plates and other hazards that would have added one layer too many to my attention span. This was my first time riding a motorcycle in Manhattan, and I was surprised to find that I was enjoying myself!
We made our way slowly over the Brooklyn Bridge, and the home stretch to our hotel, the 2-week-old William Vale Hotel. As I sipped my Manhattan (what else?) on the rooftop bar, with its sweeping view of the New York City skyline, I reflected on the history of the Hudson Valley area, and thought about how soon I could make my way back here to ride again.
Jenny’s riding gear: