Roadtests have changed. There used to be a time when a test report was the
stuff of Friday night traffic and wet tarmac ribbons running north to Liverpool
and the boat for the Island. The hack's copy began with a last minute dash for
the ferry ramp, paused for coffee and a piss on the autoroute, and ended with
the last two fags in the pack and another 300 clicks to ride before the next
Nowadays roadtests begin and end in the vacuum of performance irrelevance
that seem to come as close to real tarmac as the average rider's knee. In truth,
Maybe the Last Gonzo Motorcycle Journalist died with twin shocks, Moto Martin
kits and the passing of Italian sports bikes into popular legend. Maybe he just
crossed the border and never bothered to come back. But as Jon Doran and I
watched Oli down his Theakstons and send another incendiary pint to his gut, we
found that we could all three recite verbatim from the vanished Gonzo and his
roadtest of the XS1100S, GPZ1100 and Laverda Mirage back in '81. They were
roadtests then, right enough.
And it's on the road, with staggered junctions, blind madams in their
shoperettes, contraflows, 60 miles to make and only 50 minutes to the ferry,
that BMW's K1100RS belongs. So when 1 collected the bike, me and the Last Gonzo.
we split the last of the cigarettes, talked a little Hunter Thompson just as
though we still subscribed to Rolling Stone, then took the road for the
west coast of Ireland to do this motorcycling thing,
A stag do in Galway was all the excuse it needed. Somewhere far enough away
to put miles on the virgin clock of the RS and do real justice to a big
sports-tourer, with no test tracks to come between the bike and the patchy
tarmac of a good thrash. Catch
Sealink's three o'clock Friday morning ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare, ride
round the south west corner of Ireland to Galway and meet the rest of the
celebrants for a Guinness on Eire Square by lunchtime the same day. Do those
stag things. Ride back Monday.
Because this was conducted by the rules of the map-on-a-beer-mat school of
roadtesting, it didn't quite happen that way. I didn't even leave Croydon till
half ten on the Friday morning, seven and a half hours after the morning
ferry, with five and a half hours before the afternoon sailing. Cuttsy gave me a
kiss and told me to take care (translation: "Get on with it you bastard, you'll
miss the fuggin' boat"), and then that tarmac ribbon was wetted with hard and
heavy rain, right on cue.
The bike, which shares the same square-stroke engine as the LT, still
vibrates. Less than the 1000 brick, but more than it should. Up to about
4000rpm, when things start to smooth off, it's a thrashy old thing. And because
everyday cruising speeds translate to fairly modest revs where the engine's
rougher, I never quite mastered resisting the urge to reach for the non-existent
sixth gear to quieten the cumulative clamour from below.
Vibes aside though, the engine unwinds in a smooth if unremarkable fashion. Rolling on in top from
1000rpm pulls you
cleanly through to the redline at 8500. The RS will rev out in top, by
which time you'll be showing the best part of 145 on the clock. For all that it
sounds undergeared, the gearbox, despite its ponderous shift, actually makes the
best of the bike's ample torque. Certainly, the RS felt as if it pulled more
strongly low down than that Royal Mail paint-job special that passes for
Cuttsy's K1. Where the 1000 felt flat two-up until you reached 4-5000, the
1100's comparatively flatter torque curve bridges the gap between the bottom end
and the point where the RS's modest 100-ish bhp starts to come into its own.
All of which was fine by me. It was hintin' down, as they say, as the Smoke
fell behind, and the undramatic nature of the BeeEm's acceleration suited the
standing water on the M4 perfectly. I even started to worry that I might be
reaching that time of life when you order mild rather than bitter and prefer
BMWs to performance.
If truth be told, the RS was doing just fine. At around the ton, it was
managing 47mpg, so I was covering legs of around 170 miles on the 4.8 gallon (22
lit) tank between fill-ups. The fuel gauge itself was rather sensitive and prone
to extreme mood swings, but the fuel warning light comes on with a useful
gallon-plus (51it) in reserve.
For all that the weather was up to Gonzo testing standards (poor), time in
the eminently comfortable saddle didn't drag. The seating position's a happy mix
of Japanese sports tourer and BeeEm comfort. You get all the leg room a gangly
six-foot rider could want, but none of the awful Teutonic straight-back chair of
the RT/LT's tiller-like bars. Instead the short bars pull you forward and over
the tank. At a standstill, the RS has the tall and weighty feeling of Triumph's
Trophy. It's a long old beastie, and at 5891bs (268kg) wet, it's no
featherweight. But under power the riding position and weight conspire to give a
rather stately feel, only compromised by the aforementioned vibes. The RS
like tightly-coiled big bore Jap tourers, so much as process. While
we're on the subject, though the bars are quite narrow, they don't make for
difficulty in town. Rolling along on a scarcely cracked throttle in third, you
can trickle the BeeEm around, 31.5in width across the mirrors permitting, with
At motorway speeds in the rain, the fairing was only beaten by the spray, but
that'll work its way round most anything. The mirrors offer a degree of hand
protection and it's only the points of shoulders, elbows and toes that really
catch the breeze. That said, the bike's 'colder' to ride than the Kl and LT,
which bleed a lot more of the engine heat over the rider. That has its downside
in the summer, mind, but it's a boon in the winter.
The only real problem I had with the fairing was the adjustable deflector on
the screen. Neither of its positions gave satisfaction, as they say. The one
made for awful wind noise, the other neatly directed spray under my chin and
down the neck of my waterproofs. The only redeeming feature was that in the
lower position the slipstream kept the visor clear. Spend nine grand and you
need never lift a hand to your visor again.
Whatever, 1 liked the fairing and I'm happy to trade off some of the RT/LT's
barn-door protection for the RS's looks.
And I would've made that Friday afternoon ferry too, but for the puncture and
the fall of the bike from the outside lane to the hard shoulder in one, swift
tankslap. It was one of life's humbling experiences, limping the shiny,
1000-mile-old burgermeister in the front door of the nearest ATS and being shown
the lorry bay. "And take the wheel of yourself!" they shouted as I parked up
next to a Gwent fire engine.
Panniers off, hub cover removed, you've only the four locating bolts and
centre bolt to shift. It's then a simple enough matter to drop the end of the
mudguard off, swing the caliper away and lift the wheel out (Alternatively you
can get four ATS lads to lift the bike off the wheel, but don't tell BMW).
Geometry, unsprung weights and all that esoterica aside, single-sided swingarms
— Paralevers as we must call them in BMW's case — have a practical appeal in
Being back on the road in the space of an hour was all very well, but the
next ferry didn't leave Fishguard till three on Saturday morning. Eleven
hours to kill on a wet South Wales Friday in January. It becomes completely
bloody academic what you're riding, then.
Tenby was probably not the best place to wash up as an accidental tourist out
of season. The single screen of the local fleapit was playing Home Alone II,
so in the end I joined 150 eight-year-olds to watch the execrable McCauly
Culkin. While the kids dropped sweet papers from the balcony in front of the
projector lens, I spread my wet kit out on the radiator and went to sleep at the
back. Little did the usherette with the smoke-dried face and torch know that the
earthy, steaming tramp at the back wanted to grow up to be just like the Last
Gonzo Motorcycle Journalist. I woke up with popcorn in my boots, dried-in
creases in my kit and four hours to ride the 40-odd miles from Tenby to
For those of you not familiar with the western end of the A40, it's an
uphill, down dale A-road, largely unlit, generally fast but with the odd kink to
wake the unwary and unwashed. This is when it's handy to have something like the
BeeEm on your side. The lights work; the brakes aren't so grabby they'll trip up
your weary reflexes; the motor doesn't require constant shifting to pick the
bike up out of bends; and the whole plot covers ground at a lazy lope. Steering
is neutral and not exactly sharp, but it put the bike where I wanted it. The
suspension wouldn't necessarily let the bike hold the chosen line, mind, but
then it made the ride comfortable.
I didn't so much attack those last 40 miles. I negotiated them.
The lady in the Café at Fishguard woke me in time to avoid missing another
ferry, thank god. Back on the bike, I negotiated a hoarde of beery Celts bent on
wishing me a Happy New Year and made for the boat. The guy on customs had just
come on shift and was obviously feeling keen. He asked all sorts of questions
then ended with a "Huh ... Beats workin' for a living don't it?". I left him
under the illusion that all journalists live on a permanent holiday.
A meal and three hours kip made all the difference, and it was a much
restored Gonzo who bestrode his velocipede at something after seven on an
inevitably dark and rainy morning in County Wexford, and rode out into the
emerald republic for the first time.
I was underwhelmed.
The roads were badly marked and the road signing was worse. From Rosslare by
New Ross and Waterford at first light, Carrick on Suir and then Clonmel, I'd
made a good 50 miles by the time I could decently stop for breakfast. Seen over
a full fry through the steamy Café window, Ireland suddenly looked a whole lot
The 120 mile ride from the eatery to Galway via Tipperary, Limmerick and
Ennis, was a joy. Irish traffic is light, and the road surfaces at least on
the main roads — were better than I'd been led to expect. It was just the road
signs I couldn't read, but then that may have been a function of speed.
Maintaining a good rate of knots, overtaking rarely required downshifts. At
around 80 or 90 the revs were high enough to make for responsiveness. Just as
well really, because although the driveline's snatch free and the clutch light,
the revs don't pick up that sharply and that long-travel gear lever doesn't make
for the most accurate shifts. There's none of that snick, snick FJ1200
short-shifting up through the box. Instead I found myself working at the bike's
pace, straightening the road into a long, fast pass, with the obstacles
carefully smoothed round, rather than treated as a series of. cut and thrust
engagements as I might done with a shorter, stiffer, sharper bike. It's a riding
style that the suspension heartily approved of.
Running on the third of its five spring preloads and the second of its three
damping settings, the Paralever back end was undistinguished in almost every sense. By responding to the small stuff and
coping with the large, it keeps the 160/60 tyre on the road and your bum roughly
the same height above the ground in most circumstances. You simply tend to
forget the monoshock's there. The front, which has just over five inches of
travel, works in a similarly unremarkable and progressive fashion. Soft to start
with but firming up under braking, it didn't patter and didn't bottom out. The
result in a straight line is a comfortable ride for rider and pillion. Fast
sweepers over less than perfect tarmac, white lines, or what have you, produce a
certain amount of steering by committee: you pick a line, and the faint wallow
that develops along the length of the wheelbase carries the bike along either
side of it. The situation never actually got any worse when I was cornering
harder, it was just that I didn't feel I could afford an unexpected bump and
resultant shake of the head to start a series of negotiations over direction
when I was cranked over.
Trying harder in the hills of Co. Mayo, the back end would let the
centrestand ground out. And down-shifting, pointing, squirting and braking was
the surest way to tie the RS's front end in knots as all that weight started to
overcome the springing and damping. It's probably my general wariness of the
legendary Great Big Irish Pothole that's supposed to lurk round corners and trap
the unwary that kept me more or less within the bounds of the suspension's
ABS? Oh yeah. It was there. The little test circuit told me so every time I
started the bike. I never used it in anger tho', mainly because I tend to treat
ABS as a safety net rather than a performance aid, so I try bloody hard not to
need it. On the occasions I provoked the system into operation, it seemed far
cruder than the ABS carried on the FJ1200 and the Pan European. The cadence of
the braking seemed coarser and less controlled.
Perhaps the RS shows its sportiest side at a standstill. Parking up outside
the hotel, people paused to admire its clean lines in a way the studied
indifference of southerners here would never allow. People came up and said,
quite ingenuously, what a fine motorcycle it was. Their uncomplicated appreciation was endearing and contagious. On every
occasion I had to admit the bike was only mine for a short spell. And where your
southerner would be glad I didn't really own this little beauty, the Irish
sympathised that I too, was unable to afford one.
I unlocked the panniers (great locks, damn juggling act to separate the cases
from the bike in the dark and rain, though) and carried them into the lobby.
They're a lot roomier and more waterproof than I first gave them credit for.
They hold enough for those bachelor weekends away but don't get in the way any
more than the mirrors do in traffic, or detract from that 'toothbrush in the
leathers' feeling of riding a bike uncluttered by bungeed luggage. They'll
certainly do no harm to your Image as a footloose young blade either. The BeeEm
attracted a lot of attention that weekend with its oft praised classy and
understated good looks. Standing there on its two wheels, the RS represented the
value of a freehold property on the west coast of Ireland. Property a little run
down maybe and in need of work, but property none the less. Yep, getting away
from the south east of England where the BeeEm was just another K-reg tax disc
rather put the bike in perspective. For me, its real attraction lies in its
It'll cruise for ever and a cliched day at 120, and still sip fuel at around
41 to the gallon. S'true, I clocked it. At more realistic speeds in terms of
safety and licence, It'll make 53 to the gallon. That was the best I could
manage, but it's a credit to the bike's willingness to cover ground (and my
readiness to submit) that I hadn't the heart to run a tank through the injectors
at wholly legal speeds. The RS's raison d'etre is simple enough to
understand. Distance. Style. Comfort. No fuss. And for all that the bike has
fuel Injection rather than carbs, Paralever rather than a regular swingarm, and
ABS to fall back on, the BMW still communicates a simplicity of purpose and
function. It does the job it was built for well, and does It reliably. It's got
that German directness and functionalism that I find quite chilling in the
people and yet attractive In everything they make.
I have absolutely no Idea what the RS made of the stag do. While we saw out
Simon's bachelor days from the settle In the corner of a dozen pubs In a round
of peat smoke and Irish, Guinness and Saturday night bands, the BeeEm stayed
safe from the over-curious in the hotel lock-up. Come the Monday, I loaded the
panniers back on, stabbed the starter and put In ten hours riding to clear the
weekend's cobwebs. Because it prefers not to point and squirt, because it
prefers not to carve the fastest line through a bend, the BeeEm is an
undemanding bike to cover ground on. Which is just as well, because I left the
last run in to the ferry rather late. The temptation to stop'for a last Guinness
by a hearth and write a couple of postcards was too much, you understand. It
wasn't the Guinness that nearly sank me, though. It was losing the bloody keys.
The sense of urgency this created could only be satisfied by 'pressing on', that
great euphemism for kicking the arse out of things.
I made the ferry with an enormous 20 minutes to spare, and honestly don't
think I'd have been any quicker on another bike. I feel sure though, that I
could have been a lot less comfortable. Colder on an FJ, perhaps. Stlffer in the
neck on a ZZ-R. Maybe more numb of the bum on a Trophy, and certainly plain
bored on a Pan European.
At a quarter after one, Tuesday morning, It was jolly chilly as I rolled off
the ferry and back to Fishguard's harbour. The same customs guy was waiting,
this time with his mates, blowing into cupped hands and nodding recognition.
"Yeah, this is the one," he said as the BeeEm nosed between them. "What's it
like then? Did it get the thumbs up then?"
There were nearly 400 miles in the dark between me and a coffee back home.
Maybe even some shuteye if I made it in five hours.
"So it's good then, is it," the peaked cap persisted.
"I guess," said the laconic would-be Gonzo. No harm in making sure though.
And come 6.15am, with the boots off and coffee on, I was pretty sure of two
things. The second was that when he crossed the border, the Last Gonzo
Motorcycle Journalist had probably turned In his press card and bought a BeeEm.
THE MAN MACHINE
I admit that I kind of ignored BMW's Kl 100 RS when it first went on show at
Cologne last year. I admired how they'd extended the sidepanels and fitted an
engine spoiler to the classic RS fairing design but I couldn't understand why
they wanted to replace the 16-valve lOOOcc motor with the 16-valve 1 lOOcc motor
since there was no difference in maximum output and only a slight gain in
Moreover the bigger lump as fitted to the K1100LT was damn noisy, the lower
gearing only really drew more attention to the clumsy gearbox and the claim that
the bigger bore lessened the K's inherent vibration levels seemed pretty much a
Throughout January though I started hearing lots of good things about the new
Kl 100RS from those who'd taken it for a good long ride. So I gave it a good,
long blast myself.
The new RS fairing definitely chucks less noise back at the rider. It's
slightly higher geared than the LT and there seemed to be less vibration
too. The riding position is infinitely preferable to the LT's where you kind of
sit in/behind the screen rather than on the bike, nicely prone as on the
RS. The little screen deflector directs the wind and weather square into your
visor in both positions but this isn't a problem since the fairing has already
taken the sting and most of the force out of it. The handlebar position is much
improved over the LT's long, rubbery jobs and although the bike's still
mega-heavy you don't notice it on the roll. The Battlax tyres are trustworthy
and there's even some rear damping adjustment (hallelujah).
I didn't care much for the Tory Party Conference colours (there are three
shades of blue metallic available) but the red one is very tasty what with its
burnished gold wheels.
But do you know the very best thing about the Kl 100RS? It now comes with an
adjustable front brake lever. It may just be S5-worth of UJM hand adjuster gizmo
on a £9250 bike but to someone who has suffered long and miserably from BMW's
low-pressure (ie. spongy) K brakes, it's a godsend. Nice bike the KRS, very good
at sustained high speeds and definitely the tourer of choice compared to the
Source Superbike 1993