The BMW R100RS - Is this the greatest motorcycle ever made?Posted by daryl
As I write this, I can hear one-piece leathered, sports bike riders choking on their burgers and chips: “What’s he on? Is he havin’ a larf? He’s a nutter!”
Well, let me make my case but, before I do, I wanted to get a few things straight. I have never worn a pair of slippers and I don’t smoke a pipe. Over the last 25 years, I’ve owned just about every make and style of bike around. I’m no Valentino Rossi, but I used to lap the full Donington circuit on a 600 in comfortably under two minutes. I’ve done every level of the Cricklewood Cornering School. I have ridden coast to coast in the States, all over Europe, around Australia, followed the route of the Baja1000, crested dunes in the Sahara and have, on more than one occasion, ridden to Italy and back for a long weekend just to watch a Moto GP round. That is to say, I reckon I’m a proper biker.
It is true, however, that I won’t see forty again, or sadly, even fifty is looking a little unlikely, and I cannot deny that these days I find myself drawn more to bikes that offer a less uncompromising riding position!
My last bike was a 1200cc, 160bhpbeast, and even though in the 18 months I owned it, I probably never exceeded a ton on more than a handful of occasions, when I heard about BMW’s new HP2 Sport, I rushed along to my local dealer and putdown a deposit.The perfect bike, I thought. Stacks of power. Race bred handling. Plenty of street cred, and you wouldn’t see one every day.
And then, one evening, I was playing about on the internet and found myself on BMW’s website watching a film about the bike I had on order. Suddenly, it struck me. Why on earth did I want a bike that was equipped with a plug-in to enable me to download my lap times? Heck, I can barely use Sky Plus! It was nonsense. Sheer vanity. Male jewellery; the main purpose of which would have been bragging rights. The following day, I cancelled my order.
Some weeks later, I was flicking through the classifieds in one of the classic bike titles in Smiths, as you do. Does anyone actually buy those mags? I’m pretty sure the classifieds are the most frequented section of these publications, and you can get from Ariel to Zundapp in less than five minutes, provided the staff leave you alone.
Anyway, it was on one of these visits that I came across a mint looking, two owner R100RS with just three thousand miles on the clock. I jotted down the phone number on the back of my hand and walked out. At a little over £3k, it didn’t seem a lot of money and it reminded me somewhat romantically of those old films from the seventies in which the soviet spy rides around the English countryside on an anonymous old BMW of some description, whilst plotting the downfall of the western world.
Of course, as is always the case when there’s a bike you really want to look at, it’s situated at the other end of the country. And so it was that I set off early one morning to deepest, darkest Wales. When I got there, the bike looked nice and shiny, whilst the old boy selling it had a winning smile and a credible story. I put it in the van and drove home, only to discover later that day from my local BMW specialist that it had once been down the road and required a bit of straightening, but that’s another story!
Once sorted, it quickly became apparent that this bike was everything I ever needed. It’ll cruise all day at ninety without a murmur, and take you on to 120mph if the circumstances demand it. And in some comfort. If any motorcycle manufacturer has ever created a better ‘sports’ fairing, I’ve never been behind it.
It’s perfectly happy two-up and there are top quality panniers if you’ve got to lug a load of gear around. Of course, things like the brakes aren’t a patch on those you’ll find on a modern bike but, there again, you tend to ride a bike like this in a manner that doesn’t tend to get you into quite as much trouble as a 180mph superbike. But don’t get the wrong impression This is a bike that’s plenty quick enough if you’re trying to make headway. It’ll get to sixty is under five seconds and no car this side of fifty grand will present an obstacle on anything but a clear dual carriageway. And even though modern bikers, brought up on a diet of fat, racing inspired rear tyres, laugh at the BMW’s skinny rubber, the bike corners and handles pretty well.
But, importantly, all of the available power, which admittedly isn’t very much, is usable nearly all of the time. The acceleration is never so frightening that you find yourself over-braking in order to bring the road back into focus. And, leaving a roundabout, you can twist the throttle as far as it’ll go without the nagging thought that you could break traction.
Some months ago, I did a police pursuit training weekend which involved three days of hard riding and fast overtaking on the back roads of Dorset. The other rider on the course was mounted on a stunning MV Brutale, but the old beemer acquitted itself surprisingly well, sweeping past long lines of cars, lorries and caravans with alacrity. The MV, thirty years the BMW’s junior, was faster and more sophisticated in every way, but not once did it get away for long.
The reality is that, even today, this bike is as much as most of us are ever going to need on the congested roads we ride on. Okay, it wouldn’t be up to much on a track but, if that’s your thing, buy a track bike and knock yourself out. Personally, I reckon that if two riders were to set off to go cross country from, say, Guildford in Surrey to Exeter in Devon, one riding a 190mph rocketship and the other riding this ancient BMW, they would probably arrive within 20 minutes of one another. The RS rider, though, would almost certainly be in better shape at the other end; more relaxed, less frazzled and more ready for business.
For me, though, what makes this so amazing is that we’re talking about a bike that is, as I have said, some 30 years old. Mine may be in better nick than some BMWs of this era, but name an English, Italian or Japanese bike from the seventies that you could seriously contemplate using on an everyday basis.
After all, in 1978, Triumph was still producing the original Bonneville, whilst Laverda was churning out the Jota, bikes that, these days, you certainly wouldn’t want to stray far from home on. Honda had just released the CBX1000; a great bike but certainly not robust enough to handle daily commuting.
Quite simply, this is one amazing piece of German motorcycle engineering. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. This is a bike I would gladly ride to the South of France tomorrow, knowing it would get me there without missing a beat. Yet it still draws admiring glances when parked up, albeit, I admit, more so from passers-by of a certain age!
But the appeal of riding a 30 year old BMW is more than skin deep. Take depreciation, for example. Look after the bike and there won’t be any. It might even go up in value. And insurance? Well, it’s insulting. I couldn’t pay £150 a year if I tried. And, don’t go thinking that to pay this you need some fancy Thatcham alarm system. My bike has none and yet I’m pretty sure there’s virtually no chance that anybody is ever going to steal it. I’ve left it at Heathrow for a fortnight and outside Paddington station for a week. The kids want to steal scooters. The professionals want sports bikes. But why on earth would anybody want to nick an old BMW? It’s just always going to be there when you get back.
Which leaves but one area of concern. How reliable can a 30 year old bike really be? Can you actually rely on it if you’re going to use it every day? Surely it’s going to let you down at some point? Well, I admit, there was a little issue last winter. I went out to the bike one cold morning. I pressed the button and the ever hesitant starter motor failed to ignite the engine. I was confused. I went all around the bike. The key was in the correct position. No obvious electrical problem. Lights, horn. No escape of fluids. Plenty of fuel. A conundrum. I scratched my head. In pure desperation, I was left with no other option. I was forced to press the starter button a second time!
Will I ever own another modern bike? Well perhaps. Who knows? I do rather fancy that retro looking CB1100R lookalike if Honda ever gets round to making it. And that new weird-looking BMW ‘pick and mix’ bike looks interesting. But, in truth, on today’s roads in the real world, this amazing old timer still does everything you could ever ask of a bike. It’ll still get you from A to B swiftly and safely and even if you’re looking for a bike on which to commute, there are not that many machines that will withstand the abuse as well as a trusty old BMW.
And that’s why I think the RS is one of the greatest machines ever made! Of course, there are those out there who say the R90S is an even better bike. Maybe that’s what I’ll have to try next.