Friday, 2 September 2016

BMW R80GS

Seven years of BM ownership had given me the idea that they were strong, sturdy bikes. Simple in maintenance and construction with a good international dealership network. The R80GS seemed to be a practical, all-round bike for an overland trip to Australia.

£1750 got me an immaculate 1983 model with all the extras. It didn’t need many modifications. Just a fuel filter, 10W fork oil (which turned out to be too thick), a 35 litre Paris— Dakar tank (expensive even secondhand), and a front rack giving good crash protection to the instruments and useful for street plans and the odd 4 pack when not occupied by the tent.

With a large tank bag, panniers (the left one proving virtually useless because of its smaller size), three tyres and a mountain of necessities, I set off with the bike handling like a rocking horse. The riding position was good, even at motorway speeds, giving lots of control and feedback, but the seat was very uncomfortable ensuring lots of stops. The mirrors blur at 85+mph but vibration was never a cause for concern anywhere in the rev range.

The first problem was the kickstart mysteriously moving to dig into my leg — it was removed as the electric start never gave a problem. I soon realised that the brakes were not up to the excessive mass when, in France, I shunted a left turning 2CV, but no great damage to either vehicle.

Even after many miles I still find the light switch difficult to operate rapidly, highlighted by the tunnels in Yugoslavia suddenly leaping out at you — they aren’t lit. These also highlighted the brightness of the main beam idiot light, especially with a scratched visor - tape cures it.

Gearchanges were quick and silent, the power plentiful at low revs, making life easy over long distances. Maintenance turned out to be equally easy going - oil changed every 2000 miles (although it means carrying a funnel to gain access), tappets checked every 5000 miles (but rarely need adjusting, probably due to my disinclination to thrash it in places remote from BMW dealers like India) and the occasional gearbox oil change (the exhaust restricts access to the plug - mole grips, tube spanner and scraped knuckles always ensure its removal). The mechanical parts of the bike have never given me any trouble and it's still oil tight.

The pannier frames needed several welds, they were simply not up to the kind of weight I put into them. I never locked the panniers on to ensure their rapid removal if the bike fell over, although both stands were of good design — the sidestand equipped with a large flat plate to spread the load and the centrestand usable with a little effort, and allowing the bike to be ridden off easily.

I soon found that the bike had the ability to run on petrol with an octane rating as low as 80, with only a little pinking under load. Fully laden around town it gave 40mpg and 46mpg on runs at 60-75mph. The 35 litre tank meant I could ride across some countries where petrol was expensive. Petrol quality in Egypt was very poor, also in India and Pakistan - but at 7p a litre you can forgive a lot. In such places, where the heat could hit 100 degrees, the pots became so hot that most of the time my feet were either on the crash bars or the pillion footrests.

The large amount of ground clearance meant that not only could I ride off road to a suitable camping space or just away from prying eyes, but I could get in and out of hotel foyers when safe parking wasn’t available. This came to a temporary halt just outside Madras, with 32000 miles on the clock, when oil gushed out of the rear shock. A Spax rear shock was obtained (nothing’s impossible). It gave equal performance at half the price and a little more ground clearance, so I could bounce into even grander hotels.

By 35000 miles I was in love with the machine. It seemed to me like a Land Rover on two wheels. It took everything that Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia had to offer in 20,000 miles of hard travel. It became my private enjoyment to listen to the murmur of the engine at tickover, after the longest, hottest, hardest day, running just the same as the day I bought it.

The wire wheels meant the bike could be ploughed through the deepest of potholes without self destructing, whereas the cast wheels of the R65, that my companion was riding, couldn't absorb the ruts and several kinks were soon added to his wheels. Changing tyres or repairing punctures wasn’t a problem for me - I do them by hand using levers from a Jawa toolkit.

Wear of consumables was not unreasonable. Front pads 20,000 miles, rears apparently last a lifetime - 70,000 miles? Metzeler Enduros have always been fitted - 11,000 rear, 16000 miles front. The clutch is still original and has only been adjusted twice - amazing as most of the miles have been two- up or heavily laden.

The exhaust is showing signs of rust but I suspect that it is the original system. The electrics did give a little trouble when a short circuit in the ignition switch stopped the battery charging.

The bike is still in good condition, showing no signs of its travels. I’ve not told the bike or the bank manager, but with 43000 miles on the clock I’ve every confidence it will manage Tierra del Fuego to Alaska next year. No problem.

Glynn Roberts

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