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BMW R1100R

Akira's bike

In a way, it's tough to get over the way the BMW R1100R looks. It manages to seem both organic and crystalline at the same time. It looks industrial in some parts, neo-deco in others, and insectlike in yet other places. It looks like something Akira might ride. I have the suspicion that by the time you get used to looking at it, it will be a classic, the way each and every BMW bike eventually becomes a classic. BMWs are supposed to last forever. Buying one is kind of like getting married. This one, she looks unusual, but has a truly sweet personality.

But motojournalists get to date a lot of bikes which they don't have to go ahead and marry. I always had to stop and take a look the BMW for a second before I rode it, the way I like to look at a pretty girl before I kiss her. (Kissing girls is better, in a way, but don't let me get off the subject.) Climb onto the weird looking and yet supremely comfortable saddle, and snick the key firmly into the on position. BMW buttons and switchgear have always been a subtle joy for millions of owners, and this one is no different. Two clicks back on the choke, which is actually just a switch that triggers a fast idle subroutine in the little microprocessor brain of the "Motronic" electronic fuel injection. Thumb the button.

It started instantly for me every day, no matter how cold it got (which honestly isn't that cold - that's why I moved to SoCal). Within a few seconds it was always ready to go. The Bimmer, like it's new brethren, runs almost silent. Just a low grunty growl when you twist the grip. Two pistons box away at each other, and it vibrates. But once you get going, everything smooths out and the engine becomes almost impossible to detect.

The R1100R inherited that industrial looking, and yet quiet engine from the R1100GS. It sacrifices 10 of the 90 horses at the top end of the Autobahn missile R1100RS for more midrange torque. It doesn't quite attain the turbine hum at redline of it's sister, the RS1100, but loyal readers will recall that the editorial quick summer vacation/road test of the R1100RS involved four days of triple digit cruising. Triple digit touring is fun, but not so much fun without a fairing. And you get speeding tickets. On the R all that Autobahn busting power has been redistributed into portions of the power band where it is more useful for the real world tasks of circumventing slow moving Volvos during the week and unwinding long, twisty canyons on the weekends. This torque peaks at 71 lb-ft at 5250 rpm, and delivers 80 percent of that solid twisting power between 3000 rpm to it's 7500 rpm redline. This friends, makes the engine ever so tractable in almost any gear. It squirts through traffic nicely, and makes brisk canyon riding seem oh so easy. My only beef with the engine is that when you hit redline, the ignition retards enough that you bog a little.

The third iteration of BMW' new boxer is designated, the R, for Roadster. This means that it is lower and is lighter at just 518 lbs. Ride height has been lowered to the point where I, with a 31 inch inseam, can balance the bike at a stoplight easily, even with the seat in it's highest position. It has an adjustable seat, and in the lowest position, this humble editor could flatfoot both feet at stoplights. This is nice, but what is nicer is that this has made the bike significantly less prone to jacking the front end up and down on and off the gas. And bikes are for riding, not flatfooting at lights. The highest seat position yields more legroom, and that's how I kept it.

The two piece seat provides a true saddle for the rider, and everyone who tried it thought it was comfortable. The very solid cast handlebars sprout forcefully from the top triple clamp like mountain goat horns. They are firmly bolted onto the top triple clamp, unlike the rubber mounted bars of the R100RS and are not adjustable. They are very comfortable and there really is no need to move them, but it won't be long before there's an aftermarket bracket which allows the use of any aftermarket bars. (Uncle Luftmeister, where are you?)

The passenger pad is upholstered all the way over the rear edge of the back, and passengers found it unquestionably comfortable. It is well padded, but is contoured in such away that makes it easy to clamp on for the corners. The surface texture of both seats is at just the right point between slippery and grippy. Although I myself never got back there for a ride, but I can say that it is one of the few bikes that I think I could enjoy from the back seat. The key thing about the back seat is that it houses a very nice tool kit and niceties like a flat repair kit and a meaningful owners manual.

The instrument panel is the neo-deco part of the bike. It looks strange at first, but next to it's Pinocchio brother, the R1100GS, it looks rather low key. The cowl housing the speedometer, idiot lights, switches and the headlight is plastic, although it kinda looks like aluminum or something at first. On each side you get a little round rubber mounted dial. The one on the right is a tach, and the one on the left is a clock, of all things. When I first saw it, I wished the tach was in the big middle gage, but I quickly realized that with all the torque, it hardly matters what the tach says. The rubber mounting system works and the side pods are always easy to read, once you get going, although just before and after noon, the three angled glass surfaces just make it three times as likely that you'll be momentarily blinded by reflected sun. A single instrument pod would easily have worked as well, but I like the idea of allowing more of the designers' original ideas to make it past the bean counters.

But the bean counters apparently did some bean examination and the R1100R is less expensive that the previous boxers. Retail is exactly ten bucks short of ten grand, although our test unit was equipped with the optional ABS, which makes it list for $11,490. A similarly equipped R1100RS retails for almost fifteen grand. Sure, it's a lot of money, but in case you haven't been paying attention to the fine print, a lot of new bikes are expensive these days.

Only two of those bikes offer the Telelever rear end and Paralever front end. The Telelever is an arrangement with a rigidly housed shaft located by a parallelogram mounting system which basically eliminates the handling effects of shaft drive. The Paralever is this setup which uses a little geometry to basically eliminates brake dive and allows the suspension to absorb bumps with aplomb, even under the loads of braking and cornering. At first it's tough to get used to the idea that the front end doesn't dive when you're on the brakes, and doesn't load the front tire as you trail a little brake in the entrance of a turn. It took me about half an hour to get used to this, because the setup works so well over all kinds of pavement that I basically forgot about it. We are told that the front end geometry remains unchanged, but it now sports a steering damper. Maybe it's just a side benefit of lowering the bike, but the front end seems to work better than ever. It tracks solid, but light pressure on the bars turns the bike almost effortlessly. It's a joy to point in any direction. (The editorial test bike slush fund as usual was running low and we were unable to take the bike out on a racetrack. We regret this bitterly, but trust us, it would have been fun. We're aimin' back)

The R1100R is a swell bike around town, but on the backroads of my weekends, it came into it's own. I marveled at the way it pitched easily with linear response along the width of it's fat Battlax radials. Right down to the edge of that tread. And don't worry, it leans a long way before it hits it's centerstand, which happens before the heads or bags touch pavement. The only place that the lowered suspension is a problem is on the bumpy freeways, where the suspension simply doesn't have the luxury of long travel. Even with the suspension at it's softest settings, it's a bit bumpy on bad highway.

On my first ride at the press intro, I lapsed out of the bike evaluation mode after fifteen minutes of twisting along on Little Tujunga. Once I had lost Kent Kunitsugu, (Motorcyclists newest writer, Tobi Cohen's boyfriend, and well known notoriously fast guy), I just sort of whipped along at my own pace, practicing the smooth throttle control and late apexes that make one a better rider. It says a lot for a bike when you can basically forget about it and concentrate on your riding.

The R1100R an easy bike to ride, in the way that an NT650 Hawk GT is. And like the Hawk, it hangs you right out in the wind, with clean airflow around your helmet and upper torso. Anyone can ride a Hawk and have fun on it, and I believe the same can be said of the R1100R. The suspension plants those tires nicely, the engine has a lot of torque, and it's easy to pitch around. The Hawk as we all remember did this by keeping it's weight low in general, but the R1100R does this by having all of it's weight down low. The suspension and driveline comprise the bulk of it's mass, and in fact are the frame. The huge looking gas tank is mostly full of airbox, and the bike's gravity is down low. The overall effect is that the R1100R is not just easy, but fun to turn, like a Hawk.

On a BMW, the crank runs in line with the wheelbase, and an interesting effect happens. The angular momentum of all the spinning parts creates a gyroscopic effect which runs right near the centerline of the bike's mass. This gyroscope creates a highly polar stability at a right angle to the twin gyroscopes of the spinning wheels. Rev it at a stoplight and it torques over a little, just like a Guzzi. But once you get going, it feels supremely stable. Lean it into a turn, and the gyro effect of the driveline still makes it feel stable, because leaning into a turn does not fight the gyro of the driveline. On an inline engined bike, the spinning components of the engine generate a gyroscopic effect that serves the same effect, to a lesser degree, as the flywheel effect of the tires. On most bikes, leaning into a turn involves fighting the gyroscopic effect of not only the tires, but the engine.

The input shaft of a boxer transmissions spins two to three times as fast as one in a traditional unit engine. This is inherent to the design. It means that the inertial mass carried by the input gears is four to nines times as high as on a typical engine, and it makes gear changes very solid and deliberate affairs. Shifting might seem clunky at first to a rider who has been seduced by many a Japanese sportbike, but in the BMW world, the subtle updates to the transmission have made it a silky seductress. I for one figured out right away that once you get the timing right, the R1100R slapshifts with the best of them. My only real complaint with the gearbox is that when the engine's cold the shifter mucks with a bit of uncertainty into first. But the clutch action is creamy, Honda Prelude smooth.

Of course, no bike is perfect, and the R1100R I got had a few quirks. It was brand spanking new, made all kinds of new bike smells. It didn't get very good mileage, because the engine wasn't broken in yet. I didn't beat on it particularly hard, although there were a lot of times the front tire lifted in first and second. I'm told that once it has been broken in, it will get thirty five or so miles per gallon in the city, and mid to high forties on the highway. The tank looks huge, but it only holds about four gallons. As with many fuel injected vehicles (get used to them) there is no reserve switch, and the fuel light generally went off for me after about a hundred miles. Filling up was kind of a pain, because you can't stick much of the nozzle in the shallow tank opening. I thought the bike was burning oil at first, but it turns out that the oil level should be checked after the bike has had fifteen minutes on it's centerstand so that oil can drain out if the insectlike oil coolers into the pan. A lot of the bike isn't owner serviceable, such as the throttle bodies, although the truth is that the new boxers don't really require a whole lot of servicing in general. The optional bags have a glossy black plastic finish which scratches extremely easily. About half of the BMW bikes sold are sold with the bags, and many owners paint them in a more scratch resistant finish which matches the bike.

When you buy a BMW, you can finance the bags, along with any accessories and riding gear that BMW offers. The bags make the bike a little wide for lanesplitting, but they are really handy. The one on the right is bigger, because it doesn't have to accommodate the huge exhaust system, and it will hold an extra large full face helmet. There's the old ABS, an an optional instrumentation package. The blank switch on the dash is for the heated grips, and BMW riding gear is top notch. I need some of that gear, especially the BMW heated vest, and I need one of these bikes. I'd fit it with some of that cool aftermarket bodywork available in Germany, and ride it every day. But of course it won't happen, since I'm just a poor journalist. Nope, the BMW and I, we've already broken up, and I'm riding around on my ratty old bike, waiting for the next date with a new bike. - Paul Peczon
Some of the images on this page were, uh, borrowed from BMW's site. back to the main page
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since October 1, 1997
mildly updated Dec 09.

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Created by Paul Peczon