In 1994, BMW released to
an utterly confounded public a naked version of its modern
Boxer. Some loved its funky styling, some thought it just plain
ugly, but it made a distinct impression on everyone.
Mechanically solid, enough people liked R1100R's distinct lines
to convince BMW that the only revisions necessary were a new
chromed and concise instrument panel and larger headlight. We
received the slightly revised BMW R1100R about a month before
our Bikini Bikes test, and we thought its bold looks and
minimalist approach would complement the delicate lines of the
For years the BMW marquee has been synonymous with reliability
and predictability. Although BMW is not known for cutting edge styling, don't
ignore the R1100R in the fashion department. Unlike its more conservative
siblings, the R1100R doesn't hide gadgets. Rather, they are exposed proudly. Oil
coolers, the telelever front end and fuel injectors are all on display as part
of its post-industrial design esthetic.
The major difference between the revised R1100R and the 1995
model we tested previously is an improved instrument panel. The new edition
dash, crafted from machined aluminum and chrome, is much easier to read and
makes for a very attractive layout.
On the road it's typical BMW: sure footed and torquey. Although the ergonomics
are spread out and comfy, they are aggressive enough to tear up the back roads.
The wide seat offers great support, and our test passenger loved the rear seat
accommodations, but long distance saddle endurance is hampered somewhat by the
lack of wind protection and its high bars. It's not surprising then that one of
BMW's best selling accessories for the R1100R is the windshield.
On twisty canyon roads, the R1100R rides exactly as designed.
It is brilliant at a 7/10ths pace, but push faster and the ABS is overwhelmed.
Below this, the no-dive telelever front end, excellent brakes, and quick
steering geometry make the naked Roadster a confidence inspiring blast to ride.
In city traffic, these same qualities create a nimble,
powerful commuter bike. In stop-and-go situations the bike pulls slightly to the
right, due mainly to the sideways-rotating mass -- but this is easily corrected.
The major drawback of the R1100R is its width. The wide, protruding flat twin
cylinders can make lane-splitting difficult in a state where it is legal.
The 1998 R1100R lists for $9990; $11,495 with ABS. A MO
staffer commented that the R1100R is not as exotic as the bikini roadsters, and
for a competent standard he preferred a Bandit 1200. But for those wanting
something funky, capable, fun, yet practical, the R1100R is in a league of its
Sitting in a roadside cafe in Santa Monica the
future was clear: At the curb, BMW's new R1100R standard. On the map, a route
north. A day to do it. Gazing at the beemer, I tried to reconcile those great
features -- torquey and smooth twin-cylinder boxer engine, antilock brakes, fuel
injection, adjustable seat -- with its godawful ugly looks. No contest. When BMW
designers put together the new boxer, it ended up looking like a boxer -- pug
nose and cauliflower ears included -- but this bike is no slouch. That smooth
motor packs a powerful punch and it was a great day for a fight with the weather
on a stripped motorcycle.
Setting out from Los Angeles to ride to San Francisco with no rain gear is
usually not a problem in May -- during spring in California's coastal region,
the rain has stopped for the season. The calendar says so. So much for my smug
reliance on traditional weather patterns. Turns out that (so far at least) 1995
is one of those years that winter never ends. But my ride was just beginning.
The clouds rolled out of the Pacific, covering the mountains north of Los
Angeles with a thick white blanket. Broken clouds and rain were to dog my
footsteps for the next 300 miles home, and the next three weeks afterward. On a
naked bike, rain is as welcome as a cold wet crotch.
Over the next hill, the temperature dropped several degrees. And on this trip,
that meant water falling from the sky. I hit the wet stuff near Santa Maria,
about 200 miles out of LA, and things got dismal really quickly. Wet roads, wet
face shield with water dripping in helmet, wet jeans and blinded four-wheeler
drivers. I wished I'd saved some space in the capacious luggage bags for a rain
suit. As I shuddered up 101 in the rain shadow of the mountains on either side
I'd see dirty gray clouds coming down to the ground. But the road, somehow,
would always aim between them. Those old road builders must have known their
craft well, and their weather data was accurate. Certainly more accurate than
the BMW's speedometer.
BMW's speedos are notorious for their optimism. Later I'd take the bike along to
El Sobrante tuner Dale Lineaweaver's shop for a dyno run, just to check the
accuracy of the speedo. Dale spun the bike up on the roller, and mapped
indicated engine rpm against road speed (since the speedometer takes its reading
off the front wheel, its needle remained stubbornly stuck at zero throughout the
process). At an indicated 4,500rpm, the rear wheel is turning at 72mph. On the
road, the needle is a couple of clicks below the eighty mark at this engine
speed -- about 6mph optimistic, which is a very bad defense against a speeding
ticket (Oh, officer, my speedo lies, I have to go too fast...).
Lineaweaver routinely uses an exhaust gas analyzer on every bike he tunes on his
dyno, because the sniffer immediately shows the effects of the smallest jetting
or engine changes. BMW's Motronic fuel injection system rated an big grin from
Dale. The BMW was the cleanest bike he's ever run -- 10 times cleaner than the
run of the mill machines. At idle, the Hydrocarbon (HC) count is less than 100
parts per million, and CO emissions just 0.2 percent. The reason, of course, is
the catalytic converter stuck inside the muffler canister and the clean-running
fuel injection. The injectors are simple cable-operated devices, with just one
throttle-position sensor on the left injector to tell the Motronic brain what
your throttle hand is up to. This single sensor, combined with separate throttle
cables for each injector, can lead to some motor surging when the throttle
cables stretch and the throttle bodies are no longer in synch with each other.
I had a tough time wrenching the bike out of Dale's grasp as he waxed lyrical
about the tuning possibilities of changing the chip in the electronic control
box, and how he'd just love to try those throttle body fuel injectors on his
latest 70 hp Husaberg flat-tracker. Even if the speedometer lies, everything
else is assembled with Teutonic thoroughness. The bike is designed for longevity
and reliability -- check out the one million mile (seven digit) odometer,
installed so if the bike turns over 100,000 miles (which it should, many times
in its life) then the instrumentation will show it. Note that the odometer is
more accurate than the speedometer, being only a couple of percent optimistic.
In San Luis Obispo, half way up the coast and not yet soaked, I stop for gas.
The Beemer's tank is one of the rare ones that will hold a California-spec gas
nozzle without messy and difficult fiddling with the double-hose that surrounds
the delivery tube. You can walk away and leave the filler in the tank, and it
fills up automatically. Magic. At 40 to 50 miles per gallon, depending on the
angle of your right wrist, look for 150- 200 miles between fill-ups, if you can
ignore the orange fuel warning light long enough. It, by contrast, seems rather
pessimistic with regards to how much fuel is left in the tank. There's no
reserve fuel tap, because running out of gas would discombobulate the fuel
injection. A middle-aged fellow walked over during the refueling. After his
first keen questions I asked "and which BMW do you ride?
"Oh, I own an R75," he replied.
"Ah, a 750 twin from the Seventies?" I asked, ignorant of BMW lore.
"No," he said, "mine's a 750cc, 26hp R75 from 1943. Those were the pack mules,
the jeeps of the German Army during WWII, designed especially for sidecar use,
with a host of innovations, including two wheel drive (sidecar and rear wheel),
and then-new telescopic forks."
The conversation soon turned to forks.
It's worth remembering BMW's suspension innovations back then, because in a way,
the front wheel has now turned full circle. Before that war, BMW's competitors
were using girder front forks, which used a rigid girder-like structure to
connect the front wheel to the moving links and a spring behind the headlamp
(like the new Harley-Davidson "springers"). Damping was by hand-adjusted
friction dampers, and suspension was primitive. Influenced by its background in
the airplane industry, BMW introduced the first hydraulically-damped telescopic
front forks in 1938. Obviously, they caught on, because they're still in use
more than 50 years later.
Classic design theory and modern performance
Will BMW's new front suspension design still be around in 2045? I guess we'll
have to wait and see. The wishbone-type front suspension is now in its third
incarnation -- originally released on the R1100RS sport-tourer, it was refined
for the R1100GS dual-sport and refined again for this R1100R model: Look for the
system, or the next version of it, to be added to the four-cylinder K- bike
range for the 1997 model year. It uses a single shock absorber that is spring
mounted almost vertically in front of the engine, yet resembles nothing more
than a set of upside-down forks to the casual observer. The lower legs run all
the way to where the bottom triple clamp would normally live, and sweep a few
inches of chrome-plated fork tubes at headlight level. There's nothing inside
the tubes but air and a little lubricating oil, and their sole purpose is to
keep the front wheel connected to the handlebars. Flexible mounts at the end of
the tubes (where they mount to the top triple clamp) prevent the slight yawing
motion of the tubes as the fork compresses from being transmitted to the rider.
Compared to telescopic forks, the suspension lacks, ahem, elegance, but it works
surprisingly well and allows the bike to be much shorter than it would be with
telescopic forks allowing the same suspension travel.
But don't get the impression this bike is a sport bike. That mantle belongs
(perhaps) to its stable mate the R1100RS. The suspension is calibrated more for
comfort than canyons, and the wide handlebars amplify every twitch of the
rider's wrists at speed, so in fast corners both ends start to waggle in the
breeze. Bridgestone Battlax tires are fitted, their famous stickiness a little
wasted on this standard, and already way past their best with 4,000 miles under
the saddle of this test bike.
Near Santa Margarita the train tracks parallel the highway. As the sun dipped
into the pacific, sending a rare shaft between the clouds, it lit the silver
sides of the two locomotives pulling a nine car train. The observation car's
huge windows were black against the sun but I waved anyway as we both raced the
sunbeams (the beemer won the speed contest, pulling away from Amtrak easily:
around 5,500rpm the twin starts to pull hard, better than a train in this case).
The clouds never cleared on that long ride, but luckily I never did get soaked
out in the open on the naked bike. Maybe there'd be some good weather for a
Sunday afternoon at Alice's Restaurant. Miles of winding forested roads beckoned
-- but that morning the sun only appeared for a few minutes at a time between
gathering thunder clouds. From the freeway, the hills around Alices were
invisible, covered by a mantle of grey rain clouds. By the summit, the idea of a
ride had evaporated. A thick, drenching torrent of rain was falling as a
mournful group of riders gazed out over our coffee cups.
For me, the ride home from Alice's offers 15 miles of semi-familiar corners
before the freeway section begins. In the rain, I was dreading that 15 miles.
Sure enough, the water began to find its way through the seams of my gloves and
dripped into my boots. But the rain had also washed the slippery leaves away
from the apexes of the turns, the road was DOT approved (Devoid Of Traffic), and
nobody else was around to see what an ugly bike I was riding. Traction from the
Battlax tires was just fine, and those 15 miles turned into a memorable ride. As
I splashed through the puddles, riding as smoothly as I could with the
almost-certain knowledge that California's finest were holed up in the nearest
donut shop, staring out over their coffee cups and not around the next corner
sighting a radar gun. Sometimes, the prettiest way is not the best way, and a
ride through stormy weather on an ugly bike can be the most fun of all.
1. Andy Saunders, Senior Editor ***1/2
A naked bike should be a good all-around bike, capable of cruising from cafe to
cafe across town, or blitzing up to Seattle tomorrow for that interview when
Bill Gates returns your e-mail (finally). Aside from its weight (definitely on
the heavy side), the R bike fits the bill nicely. The looks grow on you after a
while, too, although I'm not sure about the plastic wings clumsily tacked on
under the tank with sheet metal screws. Unfortunately, the price is on the heavy
side too, so just for now, I think I'll pass on the pleasure of actually owning
2. Brent Plummer, Editor ****
The jokes about this BMW's styling got so mean around here that I'm almost
afraid to say this: I think the R1100R looks really cool. Now before you haul
off and pelt me with flames, hear me out: I have no ties to the classic BMWs of
yesteryear and was never impressed with their "classic good looks" and certainly
not with their terminal slowness. As a kid, I spent my time blasting around on a
Kawasaki H1, blowing foul smoke at any BMW owner crazy enough to try and stay
near. So all I saw was frustrated faces inhaling blue fumes. Anyway, after
riding the R1100R -- with it's awesomely torquey street motor that is second to
none for road use and decent handling -- I don't look at it and see an ugly
duckling. In my mind's eye, I see a radically advanced bike replete with ABS and
an earth-friendly catalytic converter that takes great pains to retain its
heritage in long-lasting opposed twins. BMW, I think, has merged the best of
both worlds -- classic design theory and modern performance. So here's a
symbolic bow and a tip of the editorial hat to BMW: They have achieved greatness
in this bike. Two problems that, when combined, keep this bike from getting our
first five star rating: A huge sticker price and the front suspension isn't even
adjustable for spring preload.
3. Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor ****
Is this bike a bold styling statement or a fashion faux-pas? I think it's really
a GS in a tuxedo. Once you get past the looks, the 1100R's real beauty shines
through. The word refined kept coming to mind as I racked up the miles during my
stint on this bike. Everything about the bike says quality. The ABS brakes and
the six-digit odometer both inspire confidence. Personal gripes are few: It
should have front running lights for better conspicuity; the engine stops, and
cannot be started, with the side stand down; and with the seat height adjusted
so that both feet reach the ground the foot pegs felt too high for long distance
running. The center stand is a lean-angle limiter, and if the pegs ever hit,
they would soon be followed by the handlebars. Even so, the rave list is much
longer. The removable bags are easy to use, and quite weather-proof, though just
shy of being big enough to hold a full-face helmet. And the bike almost looks
pretty without them. It's expensive at 11,490 dollars (with ABS, 9,990 without)
but the laundry list of high-tech and environmentally friendly features that the
price includes make it worth the money. My advice -- ride the beast, you'll see
the beauty. I give Beemer's Boxer four stars.