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  #1  
Old 12 Jan 2002
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'Road test' : 1989 BMW R100GS

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.........
Drive safely,

Chris Bright

++++++++++++++++

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)

GJ yup.

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).]
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  #2  
Old 12 Jan 2002
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Just as a reply to the above:

Road Test 1986 R80G/S, 130,000 km

Two-up around the world.

See: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/johnson/OurBike.shtml for modifications and early history.

Note that the 86 is a monolever, and the 89 is a paralever.

Repairs:

one rear wheel - hub cracked, and rim cracking. Hub cracks at 3 bolt holes finally attributed to the hub cones "setting" in too deep due to the taper - these cones should be replaced every 4-5 times you remove the wheel. The rim cracked at the spoke nipples - according to Akront - the rim manufacturer - 'no problema' but the cracks were all the way through the rim, not just surface cracks as they insisted, so I replaced the whole works. Wiring the spokes together at he intersection has since cured/prevented the problem. Current wheel has 80,000 km on it and it's still perfect, no cracks. I'm also making a point of not tightening the spokes as much, though the wiring seems to have strengthened the wheel so much that it has only needed spoke tightening once in 80,000km.

Transmission - rebuild at 30,000km - my fault, moisture got in the gearbox while in storage/washing, and then shipped and stored in Australia for a year. When I changed the oil it came out rusty - so I pulled it and replaced all the bearings.

Two oil coolers - I installed a BMW oil cooler in a non-standard location (the R80G/S wasn't designed to take an oil cooler) and so had to use aftermarket oil lines. Steel-braided lines were too stiff, and transmitted excess vibration to the coolers, cracking them in 3-5,000km. Replacing with soft rubber lines has completely cured it - 100,000km later still fine.

Two starter relays - the little one under the tank, standard Bosch relay. No one else has ever had a problem that I know of, but we've gone through two. Easily fixed, available anywhere, substituting one of the others will also work. Annoying.

A bunch of tires, three rear flats, one front.

Fairing cracked from the corrugations in Africa, necessitating adding metal supports to stop the flexing.

Alarm got water in it, spent the next half-hour driving it with it screaming it's lungs out in traffic somewhere or other in Africa...

Several batteries, roughly one per continent and a bit, or one year, whichever came first. One installed in Windhoek Namibia went all the way to South America and north to Alaska and back down to Vancouver before it failed. We do load it hard, 100/80 watt headlight, running lights on the front, two extra tail lights/brake lights, and two electric vests. This is on a very small battery, half the size of the later models.

ummm, that's about it until recently, when the first significant on-road failure happened at 130,000km - the gearbox blew, leaving me with first and fourth, in Brussels rush-hour traffic - and I had to be on a plane at Heathrow at 9am next morning. So I rode it - made it fine, 110kph, some 4-500km. It blew after two days of 90+mph riding, and using an odd brand oil, either or neither of which may have had anything to do with it. In Europe it's considered normal/common to rebuild airhead gearboxes every 60,000 miles, perhaps because of the much higher sustained speeds than in North America.

In all, I think we have done extremely well, and wouldn't hesitate to head off again - on the same bike, and in fact plan to do so eventually...

------------------
Grant Johnson

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at: www.HorizonsUnlimited.com
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  #3  
Old 12 Jan 2002
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Great posting - it's good to hear/read criticism of the almighty 'BMW' - especially from two guys who have done a mile or two. At the end of the day no bike will be 100% reliable and it's impossible to engineer the perfect machine within reasonable budget constraints. There are other reasons why people choose the bikes they ride - that have nothing to do with sensible reasons like fuel consumption and weight.

For me Beemers are the bikes I feel most comfortable with, and I'll continue to ride them until I find another bike that suits me better. When you feel relaxed riding a bike, and everything flows naturally and is instinctive - then that's fine. Some people like bikes that need tinkering with all the time, other people prefer light bikes or lots of technology. I like Beemers - I know they ain't perfect, but they're close enough for me.

I was thinking of a few different bikes before before settling on the R100 GS. I tried a few out, but the reason I bought the bike was because it was SO VERY CHEAP and VERY LOW MILEAGE. Rebuilding it has been great fun and I've learnt a lot about the bike by getting it running again and replacing a few of the components. This approach suited me and I can't wait to ride the bike I've rebuilt across Africa.

If you're interested check out my website.

It's really useful to hear which components people have had problems with and the mileages. I guess there's no 'right' answer to this topic as it's all down to personal taste.

------------------
Fuzzy Duck
(I'm quackers about bikes)

[This message has been edited by Fuzzy Duck (edited 11 January 2002).]
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  #4  
Old 12 Jan 2002
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And just as a further note, to any who wish to disparage any bike in particular - read the posts in the other tech forums - ALL bikes are flawed, the flaws are different, sometimes the same - was just reading a post that said 50,000miles is when KLR's start to fall apart, another that said Ymaha TT600/etc must have the rear subframe braced, and don't ride them too fast _or slow_ in fifth gear or the gearbox will blow... etc...

Pick the bike that is most suited to your purpose - solo/two-up, more dirt orient/more street oriented, cheaper/nicer/flashier whatever appeal to you - and go. They will ALL do the job, with varying degrees of competence and maintenance. What works great for you might be terrible for someone else. People have ridden around the world on everything from Honda step-thrus to Vespa scooters, Honda Fireblade/CBR900R to Gold Wings, Velocettes, Hendersons, sidecar rigs etc.

One point that just occurred to me on Chris's bike - he bought it used - who knows what it's history and true mileage were?

------------------
Grant Johnson

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at: www.HorizonsUnlimited.com
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  #5  
Old 12 Jan 2002
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hi
i bought the bike in germany from a friend. i am pretty sure the mileage is genuine.

with ref. to the riding history, i can't speak for previous owners before my friend, but i know one was a church minister and we all know we can trust them, don't we.

cheers
chris
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  #6  
Old 17 Feb 2002
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hi all
somebody sent me the following mail regarding the above topic which i started. thought others might be interested to read what he had to say,
later
cb
================
Hi Chris,

Thanks for the info. I went to the web side and read with horror all the troubles you have been having. I too had a xmission problem two years ago on a trip to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. BMW, in all their wisdom, had a small v-notch at the top of the bearing cutout immediately behind the
output shafte flange. Although there is a seal there to keep the oil in, the seal does not plug this small notch. BMW filled the notch with a small amount of silicone seal. On my bike the plug worked itself loose, allowing the xmission oil to trickle down the driveshaft housing and out the vent
tube of the final drive. I fixed the problem using RTV sealant (silicone) around a small cord that had two large knots at each end. In essence, I have a tiny dogbone spanning the notch, hoping the knots will not allow the RTV to come loose into either side.

I read with considerable interest that you had to replace your steering head bearing twice, and somehow I feel whoever did the work of replacing them might have been somewhat responsible for your frame fatigue problems. Some mechanics have been known to use the blue wrench (torch) to remove the
raceways. Too much heat could have altered the temper in the metal braces on the steering tube. Worn bearings, if left unnoticed for some time, could also have caused some extra fatigue to that area.

Anway, looks like I should find myself some other mount to take on any more long trips. Your friend seems to think they have fixed all the problems in the 1150G/S, but that bike is way too top heavy, even before you load anything one it. I've read with a lot of interest about all of the modifications done to Ted Simon's (Jupiter's Travels) BMW, and other than wrecking the bike a couple of times, he has had not mechanical failures to
speak of.

Good luck to you on the rest of your trip

JH
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  #7  
Old 24 Apr 2002
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hi everyone
i have read with great interest last few posts my gs commonley known as the dakar has been rtw once not with me on it though but I have been across europe down to morroco Its still going strong
The few mods I have down to it are replace the red wire for the diode board to the starter motor a changing system that now works oddsey battery great, shaft with grease nipples to been done in the near future and a panner rack from overland solotions
fussy duck I am starting to plan a trans african nov 2003?
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  #8  
Old 27 May 2002
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Hi Nobby

Get in touch with me if you like (your profile doesn't have an email address). You should be able to email me by clicking on the profile button thingy above this message...

------------------
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