Sunday, 21 May 2017
The machine that had been the unattainable pinnacle of engineering in my youth was to be mine.
The BMW R100RS. There was just one small problem, however, new boxers were still way beyond my meagre means. However, everything I had read extolled the robust reliability and capacity for high mileages of the boxer engine. I embarked on a search of the MCN classifieds. Several months of fruitless phone calls and visits later I found her. A one owner, immaculate example of the original 1978 model in silver blue. The owner lived 50 miles away, a time was set to view the beast in a small village near Derby. Part of the A38 was more like a car park than a road so by the time l arrived it was both dark and foggy.
I felt like a weary traveller in a horror movie, fully expecting the door to creak open by Lunge the butler. Fears were unfounded as the owner, in his sixties, a life long biker, expressed utter amazement that I'd found the address at all and thrust a steaming mug of tea in my hand before showing me the boxer. There stood a pristine R100RS in unblemished condition, 61000 miles recorded. the full service history ran to two box files even including a receipt for topping up the battery acid. The bike was fitted with the original Krauser panniers and supplied with a spare flip-up screen, which would prove invaluable to my 6'2” frame.
The owner had been persuaded to sell by his son, declaring him too old to continue his dangerous lifestyle. The price asked was £1500, which although lower than some similar machines in MCN was a little above my meagre budget. Luck was with me, the owner had received a number of offers from young kids looking for a cheap performance machine, but the R was his pride and joy he signed it over to me for just £1250, as l was the only one he felt would give the old girl a good home.
The ride to Wolverhampton was unremarkable, save for the fact that it was the first time I had ever ridden a boxer and that it was completed in mist and pouring rain at nearly midnight. My desire to have the machine being so total that l had done the deal without even the shortest of test rides.
On arrival home I was struck by the realisation that this was the most perfect machine I had ever ridden. The protection from the fairing, the position of the bars and footrests, coupled with the sure-footed handling meant that I had ridden 50 miles without any thought for the fact that l was on an unfamiliar bike. Other machines may have better components but the BMW is the most together package that I have yet come across, and surely deserves the reputation it built at its launch in the late seventies.
Initially, the bike was used for the daily commute to work, through some of Brum‘s busiest traffic. Despite the width of the motor, the overall slimness of the package made easy meat of those crowded roads. The motor gave out great gobs of torque, the machine could trickle along at tickover even in second gear, and the balance was so good that I didn't need to dab down with my boots even at the most minimal of speeds.
The original horns must‘ve been sourced from British Rail, as they were so loud a quick blast was enough to have cagers jumping out of their skins and pulling out of the way in fear that some lumbering artic was about to take them out. Weather protection was so good that waterproofs were only needed in the most torrential downpour. The rain only hit the rider m a standstill, the air whipped off the fairing usually carrying the water away. in winter the fairing trapped the engine’s heat; not so lovely on a summer's day! The switches were a bit odd at first but easily adapted to.
The engine does try to escape at tickover unless the carbs are balanced. A strange wet sensation on my leg turned out not to be the neighbour's dog but just the carbs ‘Binging’ although it's cured the same way, with a sharp kick to the nether regions. Torque reaction from the engine is noticeable but never intrusive, like the much vaunted rear wheel lock up on down-changes with the shaft drive, it is rarely a problem and disappears after a few days acclimatisation. The gearbox does indeed need a positive action; treat it with typical Teutonic firmness and like the other idiosyncrasies they all blend into the character of the machine.
During the first year, journeys to work were regularly supplemented with trips to the north to visit family and friends. The Beemer was a laid back and smooth cruiser returning about 45mpg, always allowing me to arrive relaxed. By November of the first year 8000 miles had been covered and a new set of tyres became necessary. The slightly oversize 100/19 front and 120/18 rear Roadrunners, as fitted, were replaced with the same as they had been reassuring in both wet and dry conditions, giving a good mixture of grip and mileage.
I have always serviced my own machines, the Beemer being simplicity itself with car type points, screw and locknut tappets. and, of course, shaft drive. Servicing was done every 2000 miles with oil changes every 1000 miles.
All went well until the accident. Whilst filtering between lanes of rush hour traffic a cager decided to change direction without warning. Despite grabbing a fistful of brake the old Beemer’s ATE calipers could not stop the beast in time and we hit the side of the car with a glancing blow. The protruding cylinder head gouged a long groove into the driver's door before ripping out the front wheel arch.
At this point the cylinder head hit the back of the car's front tyre, mounted it, crashing into the bonnet before finally, slowly, sliding to the floor with me still seated. By then the cager was holding his head in his hands in a state of disbelief. The car looked as if it had been hit by an express train, the Beemer had simply gained a new coat of Ford paint on to its cylinder head.
Following a quick check over the next day, both rider and bike continued through the winter, reaching 15000 miles and another set of tyres in April of the second year. At this point a friend and I decided to fulfil a lifelong ambition and experience the Le Mans 24 hour race in late April. The Beemer by now had nearly 80000 on the clock and had increased its oil consumption from 800 miles per pint to nearly 300mpp. The Beemer behaved impeccably until we reached the fast roads between Rouen and Le Mans, when following a large Merc for a number of miles with a speed in excess of 120mph, the old girl decided to slow up dramatically, causing me to hurriedly back off from the chase. Better safe than sorry. The bike was an early model, which didn‘t benefit from an oil cooler or larger oil capacity of the later boxers, suffering from overheating when caned relentlessly. I didn’t stop but held a steady speed of around 40mph until the temperature returned to normal, upon which the running became as good as usual.
The overheating manifested itself again in the summer in similar circumstances, at which point I fitted an oil cooler and new rings (the bores were still well within service limits) which cured the problem. The return journey from Le Mans was completed in one go, the bike never faltering for a moment despite taking 14 hours to reach home, only being switched off when on the ferry.
Upon return home I found that I had been moved to another work depot and that my daily commute would now be 30 instead of 8 miles. Finally, at the end of the summer of the second year, having done in excess of 20,000 miles, I took the decision to replace her with a newer, lower mileage machine. A decision helped along when the dealer offered me £2500 against the cost of a new Yam XJ900, almost double what i had paid for her two years before.
The Yam’s undoubtedly a good bike but it does not have the character of the Beemer, or attract the interest when parked, and l bet it will not pay me £600 a year to ride it.
Howard M Bond