The following is a transcript of a couple of emails between me (CB) and Grant Johnson (GJ) regarding the life and demise of my 1989 BMW R100GS which I drove nearly 100.000km around the world (Aug 1999 to Dec 2001). The bike had nearly 140.000km on the clock, when it's spine snapped. I rode some very bad roads, but I'd say 110.000km of the bike's life were on OK pavement/ tar road.
Your FAQ s could include:
Crashes: I hit a sheep at 70km/h in Kenya and drove off the road in Ecuador....
Life of first Trannie: 80.000km, Driveshaft: 63.000km, Alternator: 50.000km, Coil: 40.000km
My reason for taking the time to publish all this is, if I had read this post before my trip, I would not have purchased a 1989 BMW R100GS (that is 2 valve, air cooled flat twin with paralever driveshaft...) for MY journey. I had many great times on the trip, but I find it difficult to forget the stress, bull*** and money involved in keeping the bike running.
Other things that you might like to remember: The thing is very big and heavy (you pay by volume/kilo big bucks to ship it anywhere), it guzzles petrol (fuel will be, by far, your biggest expense on a long trip (unless you spend all your time in Iran or Venezuela)) and outside North America/ Europe and Australasia (I think?), you will not, I repeat NOT, find spares locally.
THE ABOVE IS ALL MY OPINION; BELOW IT IS TO BE ACCREDITED TO ME (CB) OR GJ.
Do the trip, don't procrastinate.........
THE ITEMS THAT BROKE ON MY BIKE:
CB 4 shocks... (1 or 2 sure, but 4?)
GJ 4 stock shocks - you were told... and ALL manufacturers stock shocks are shit. REMEMBER THAT for your next bike. I'm still on my first, sold the original brand new for good money to defray the cost of a good one - and I'll bet I've spent a LOT less than you have on shocks.
CB 1 oil cooler hose... (can happen)
CB 1 ignition coil... (why?)
GJ unusual, but coils do fail on occasion.
CB 1 starter motor... (why?)
GJ unfortunately not unusual with the later models - a cheap starter motor that BMW has been much castigated for. The cognoscenti replace it with the older Bosch starter - negative is it's much heavier and hard to come by.
CB 1 gearbox... (why? - i was reliable informed it was caused by bmw design fault...)
GJ yup - bad design flaw, basically they thought a press fit with some glue was adequate - on a multi-cylinder bike probably would have been, but not on a twin with serious grunt.
CB 1 drive shaft... (can happen)
GJ design flaw, again why it's never been retro-fixed - the 11xxGS are fine.
CB 1 voltage regulator... (can happen - broke when the alternator went bang)
GJ yup, not it's fault.
CB 1 alternator... (why?)
GJ shouldn't but they do. they're poor over the long haul.
CB 1 indicator relay... (who cares?)
GJ right answer, these things happen
CB 1 battery... (can happen)
GJ no surprise at all - bike batteries aren't nearly as cushioned as car batteries, and poor electrics will shorten the life of a battery significantly. I used up one per continent, but we load it harder because of two electric vests.
CB 1 brake disk nearly sheering off front wheel hub... (why?)
GJ piss poor maintenance. Did you ever do a full nuts and bolts check, much less every 5,000km? Like you should do as a MINIMUM!
CB 1 chassis that broke in its allegedly strongest place... (WHY???)
GJ ONLY reasons I can think is that huge mother box on the back, OR an accident or two bent the frame - and increased the stress on that spot. If a frame isn't perfectly aligned, and it doesn't take much of a whack to bend ANY frame - you'd be surprised - and remember I used to run a bike shop and have see/straightened a few. It could have been a stronger design in the first place, but given no one has EVER heard of it before, there is probably some other reason(s) than just bad design.
numerous repairs of rear subframe (can happen) - you were told. And ALL other bikes suffer the same problem when overloaded. BMWs are just a little worse than most because of their efforts to keep the weight down, and for normal loads, which they do specify in the owners manual as I think 35# per side maximum, it's fine. You'd be shocked if you knew how little a Gold Wing is actually rated to carry. Why do you think they all tow a trailer - attached to the mainframe not the subframe? Do it right once and you'll never have a problem. Harvey and Lisa for instance just reported that theirs are still like new after being properly braced. Mine of course is legendary.
CB 2 sets of stearing head bearing (can happen)
GJ piss poor maintenance, should NEVER fail in under 200,000 miles. Mine are still perfect. YES bikes take more maintenance than a car. You want to travel cheap buy a car per continent.
CB 1 timing chain (can happen)
GJ routine maintenance on cars, bikes, and everything else. 50,000 to 100,000 is it for a timing chain of normal spec on a high revving engine. The BMW chain is a little smaller and shorter lived than we would like, but it was designed for a 600 putting out 30 hp.
CB oh yes, original engine (never had the head off) and clutch after nearly 140tkm....
GJ normal, and it's probably good for another 140,000. They did get some of it right! You did better than average on the clutch, some people don't get near that. (Bad riders).
MORE GJ As a side note, Greg Frazier has just finished turning a KLR650 into a "world-tourer" and it took a substantial amount of work, and is still unproven over the long haul, unlike his old G/S which went 300,000 MILES before being sold to someone who had plans for a long tour on it
IN THE NEXT MAIL....
CB ref 1 brake disk nearly sheering off front wheel hub: the bolts did not loosen. it was where the disk is riveted to the bit that is bolted to the hub. the holes in which the rivets went in enlarged themselves. oversize rivets in capetown did the trick here.
GJ verrrry interesting... you win!
CB and yes i regularly toured the bike with spanners and sockets.
GJ good onya...
CB ref chassis: with the throttle screw on, i could take my hands off the bars and the bike went in a straight line... probably was not twisted before?
GJ curious one - all BMW's I've ever ridden WON'T go in a straight line hands off! It's because of the shaft - the rear wheel is actually offset up to a 1/4". Who knows, bikes can be tricky - and inconsistent.
CB the main horizontal tube sheered off the stearing head first, then the flat side strengtheners, then the narrow tubes that comes up from the engine mounts. all happenened in/around the stearing head area. all pretty much clean breaks, no twisting or buckling first.
GJ metal fatigue from the sound - highly stressed over a long time weakening the metal until just a small bump snapped it.
CB the new owner is having it welded straight back together. normal welding, not argon. i wish him luck.
GJ he'll need it. The entire area up to an inch or two from the break is probably weak.
CB the break area, being painted black, dirty, inaccessable/difficult to view because of the large gas tank and strap for tankbag, as well as cables/wires here and there, made spotting the break v. difficult. all the jap bikes i have looked at, have a huge (visible) lump of metal where the chassis attaches to the stearing head. please realise, having ridden the bike quite a while, having more than my share of paranoia, i still did not know anything was going to happen. the stearing head bearings felt (only a very very very little bit) funny. i wish, as we all do, to have my full innings on this planet and if i had suspected anything, i would have done something about it before it happened!!!!!
MORE CB so why does HPN modify beemers in the stearing head area. i'm not sure that i'm the first to pull this stunt. companies do not tend to offer a service unless at least one person has inquired about it first.
GJ it's a common thing to stiffen the steering head area on tube frame bikes, not to prevent it from breaking off but to stiffen it to improve the handling. Flex in this area will cause all kinds of handling evils. Actually I thought when I saw the tiny little bits of metal that HPN puts on that they must have concluded that it was actually pretty good, but a little tying together of the tubes would be worthwhile. Maybe I was wrong, dunno. I used to race a couple of bikes that we made significant mods to the steering head area - including cutting the whole thing off and re-angling it to change the fork rake.
CB those strengtheners for the r1100gs trannie and telelever mounts that touratech do, didn't just happen because herbert schwarz thought that the 1100 would look good with yellow bits of metal on it.
GJ nope, they break. trannie - footpeg causes the transmission case to break - oops. (Th 1150 is much different) A crash can twist the forks and destroy the a-frame.
CB my gearbox blowup has kept bob clement (a friend of greg frazier) of bob's motorworks in montana busy (and earning cash) for the past 2 winters doing upgrades to airhead transmissions.... he deserves the cash because he's a great guy and wrench, but i'm the one who gave him the 'idea'(as well as paying him 400 bucks in labour as well as 1000 bucks in being rescued and for a new/modified trannie...), because some ****** (expletive removed by CB) in muenchen thought he'd save 5 bucks.
GJ interesting he didn't know before - it's nothing new the circlip vs glue bit. He should have known.
minor tweaks by Grant...
[This message has been edited by Grant Johnson (edited 11 January 2002).]