‘If you build it they will come’, and never has that phrase been more true for a motorcycle company than BMW when they released the R nineT a decade ago. For years prior, the company had largely relied on their tremendous GS range, K cruisers and cop bikes to make sales. But in just the space of a few years, they turned a big corner and welcomed in a new crowd, by releasing the S1000RR superbike to rave reviews and followed it up with the R nineT. Marketed by the Bavarian manufacturer as a “blank canvas for customising”, you have to think it was people like New York’s Douglas Sonders they had in mind. A successful businessman, photographer and creative, he’s turned those talents onto the brilliant BMW base and come away with this sculpted moto scalpel for the Big Apple streets.

The R nineT was not just made to be customised, it also offered those with a little more cash in their pocket an alternative to the traditional eBay special donor bike. And at the time of the release of the BMW, if you didn’t want a Harley and a Triumph wasn’t your thing, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of other new motorcycles that made sense to build a high-end custom out of. And Douglas is a high-end kind of guy, everything he does, he does well. “I co-own a med-tech company, and a production company, 8112 Studios.” And to relax? “I work on my 3 bikes at night in my free time for fun.”

The nineT is his daily ride around the swarming streets of New York City, so rideability and practicality had to be high on the list. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t use his full suite of creative talents to bring the bike to life, and those talents extend to a hugely successful career behind the lens, with these photographs also being his handy work. “I bought it mostly stock last January for cheap and started my journey,” Douglas tells us. And strapped to the back of his big tired Lexus GX470 4×4 it could literally go anywhere with him. But then the ideas started to float around his head and pen to paper, the designs began to flow.

The sketches came to life with the help of Douglas’s best friend, Tim Harney, who also happens to be one hell of a good fabricator. The key changes they wanted to make were to the front headlight area and the tail, and their designs give the bike a unique and futuristic appearance. Stock, the nineT has a lot of round and flowing lines and the introduction of the alloy sculpted front headlight surround, with its rectangular shape, instantly adds an excellent contrast. The tail design picks up those same lines, and yet rather than making those straight angles the sole feature, they’re beautifully integrated into the seat hump, while the tail gradually rounds off its edges.

The raw metal look meant the fuel tank needed a change and stripped of its paint and sanded back, it takes on a very different appearance simply by being sans colour. A set of custom badges only enhances that look and the exposed pinches of the seam welds might just fool the untrained eye into thinking it was a hand-fabricated piece. Then to frame out the engine, a belly pan with a very similar appearance has been used, made by a company in Taiwan called JCR9T. The BMW instantly takes on a far more aggressive nature, and the same company is responsible for the ultra smooth and theme-fitting front fender.

And it’s not just the use of raw metal, but the way it’s used that helps to generate the overall appearance, and with the recessed headlight, the taillight needed something similar. Tim got to work once more and crafted an LED rear light that sits deep under the tail and reflects perfectly off the underside cover. Up top and the stunning black leather seat is the work of McCoy’s Upholstery, who has crafted the perfect backrest to tie everything together, while still being effortlessly comfortable for those daily commutes.

The stock bike had come equipped with spoked wheels, but to lower the weight and give the machine a much meaner appearance, Douglas ordered a set of forged alloy rims from JCR9T. The nineT specialists also supplied that beefy set of triple clamps which sharpen up the front end nicely and with their clip-on bars give the bike a hell of a lot more aggression in both form and function. Having found the perfect parts to help improve the handling, the best step you can take to really turn things up a notch is a quality rear shock and nothing does that better than a fully adjustable Ohlins unit.

Turning his attention to the engine, Douglas gets the power he needs thanks to a PierCity intake, which looks super trick next to those custom valve covers. A JCR9T Titanium exhaust only adds to the package and sounds sweet spitting out of a GP muffler, with BTMoto ECU Flash ensuring smooth running and plenty of extra ponies.

To finish off such a quality build, there was no point going cheap on the accessories and Rizoma turn signals, Puig Mirrors and a Motogadget Pro dash ensure all of the best bits from the industry’s finest. There are plenty of people in the Big Apple, but few can lay claim to making the daily commute look this good and be so much damn fun, and if Douglas wasn’t so busy with his other ventures, this nineT is proof positive he’d go along way in motorcycle design.

[ Photography by owner Douglas Sonders ]