First Ride: 1999 BMW R1100S

Our one day test ride covered about 300 miles in about eight hours


Surveying the current landscape of road racing, which is dominated by ultra-light, liquid-cooled Japanese multis and Italian V-twins, it is easy to forget that back in 1976 Reg Pridmore won the inaugural AMA Superbike Championship on a BMW R90S. Back in the good 'ole days, the R90S was considered a superbike that also doubled as an excellent touring bike.

In its time, the R90S offered a unique combination of handling, performance, comfort and reliability. Essentially the 90S was the world's first sport tourer. Today, the entire BMW motorcycle line-up, with the possible exception of the F650, are for the most part sport tourers. BMW is know for well-built, reliable and relatively quick motorcycles, lighter and sportier than touring cruisers like Road Kings and full dressers like Gold Wings.

We loved the R1100RS as a long distance sport-touring mount. But in the canyons it felt a little porky.
A close-up of the new chassis. Look closely to notice to Paralever rear mounted to the frame rather than the gearbox.

Since the introduction of the new R259 Boxer engine, BMW has pretty much owned the high-end sport-touring motorcycle market. Recently the sport-touring class has evolved into two sub-classes, those like the Ducati ST2 and their new ST4 that put more emphasis on the sport side and those that put more of an emphasis on touring, like the BMW R1100RS. While the latter acquitted itself well as a traditional sport tourer, it had a hard time in aggressive sport riding keeping up with the Ducati and the Buell S3. The primary culprits were its imprecise handling and feedback at fast speeds as well as its weight.

Enter the new 1999 R1100S. Changes to the engine help boost power to a claimed 98 horsepower at the crank, the most powerful boxer ever. BMW achieved this by incorporating higher compression pistons, a free flowing air intake system and a less restrictive exhaust. The redline has been increased from 7900 to 8400 rpm. BMW claims that the new two-into-one-into-one exhaust system with its larger heads accounts for 70 percent of the power increase.

The new R11S weighs 20 pounds less than the RS due to weight-saving devices such as magnesium valve covers, a compact six-speed transmission borrowed from the K1200RS and lighter wheels. A re-designed Telelever front end saves about two pounds (one kg) and a carbon fiber front fender also contributes to the weight loss.

Comfort and ergonomics are BMW hallmarks (except the awkward K1200RS), and the R11S is no exception.

Perhaps the most important change to the R1100S is the chassis. Other Boxers mount the front and rear suspension directly to the engine. The R11S mounts the Telelever swingarm directly to a new, chill-cast aluminum frame that provides a direct link to the steering head. The rear Paralever suspension mounts directly to the frame instead of the gearbox as on all other R259 Boxers. The result is greater frame rigidity and better handling.

Of course, the fit and finish on the BMW R1100S is excellent. Everything on this motorcycle, from the new chrome dash to the best looking rear end this side of Jennifer Lopez is done tastefully. No one can ever accuse BMW of producing chinsy, under-engineered motorcycles.

When you start the R11S, it shakes like a Buell but not as extreme, just enough to remind you that this is not like any Boxer you've ever ridden. Once on the road the engine smoothes out but some vibration is still transfered to the handlebars. The rubber-mounted handlebars on the R1100RS absorb some of the vibrations but don't provide sufficient feedback. The handlebars on the R11S are not rubber-mounted and more vibration is felt, but the tradeoff is better feedback which, considering the R11S's more sporting mission, is a welcome swap.

If you've ever ridden an R259 generation boxer, particularly the R1100RS, you'll notice that the R11S is a significantly different motorcycle. The R11S is lighter and more stable and it turns quicker due to a steeper steering head angle and an 11mm reduction in trail.

Another nice touch is a new, single-tube gas shock that provides adjustable rebound dampening, the first for a Boxer, via an easily accessible handcrank that may be adjusted while riding.

The R11S has a decent gearbox. One of the most maddening quirks found on Boxer motorcycles is the clunky gearbox, something you don't expect to find on a $15,000 motorcycle. The new six-speed transmission, the first ever on a boxer engine, is smooth.

False neutrals, which are common on Boxers, weren't noticed during our one-day test ride, but finding neutral is still more difficult than it should be. Something else common to previous boxers but thankfully missing on the R11S are fuel-injection surges. The R11S comes equipped with an all-new Bosch Motronic MA 2.4 that makes surges all but disappear except at low speeds in first gear. All of the test bikes provided for journalists were equipped with BMW's ABS brakes. They're an expensive option and if you don't want to spend the extra $1700.00, the huge 305mm full-floating triple-disc brakes with four-piston Brembo calipers look like they will stop you just fine.

Comfort and ergonomics are BMW hallmarks (except the awkward K1200RS), and the R11S is no exception. Wind protection is superb and the reach to the handlebars is excellent, particularly for six-foot plus riders, and while the footpegs are moderately rear set, long-legged riders might feel cramped. Still, the R11S is a sport tourer, albeit a sporty sport tourer, and like all Beemers it is designed with long distance riding in mind. Our one day test ride covered about 300 miles in about eight hours and no one complained about comfort.

Note to Honda, Triumph and anyone else who makes a bike with a single-sided swingarm. If you got it, flaunt it.

It's hard to make thorough judgments after a one-day ride, but from what we could tell the R1100S is an excellent sport-touring motorcycle with a healthy emphasis on the "sport" side. It could even become the perfect all-purpose motorcycle, excelling in sport, commuting and touring environments, except for one not so small consideration: The list price. After taxes and licenses, with ABS and optional hard bags, the R1100S will cost over $18,000.

But then exclusivity has never been cheap, so if you have disposable income and if your significant other will allow you to own only one motorcycle at any one time, the BMW R1100S may be the choice for you. Still, with the new Ducati ST4 coming out, the R11S will see some competition, so a shootout will be in order. Hell, we might even throw in a new Buell S3 for good measure. Stay tuned.

Specifications
Manufacturer:           BMW 
Model:                  R1100S            
Price:                  $13,900 USD ($15,600/ABS) 
Engine:                 Air/oil cooled opposed twin  
Compression ratio:      11.3:1  
Bore and Stroke:        99 x 70.5 mm 
Displacement:           1085cc 
Carburetion:            Fuel-injection Bosch Motronic MA 2.4  
Transmission:           Six-speed, dry clutch 
Tires/Front:            120/70 ZR 17 radial 
Tires/Rear:             170/60 ZR 17 radial 
Wheelbase:              58.2 in (1478 mm) 
Seat Height:            31.5 in (800 mm)
Fuel Capacity:          4.75 gal (18.0 L) w/1 gal reserve (3.8 L)
Claimed Dry Weight:  487 lbs (221 kg)

View all Photos PHOTOS & VIDEOS

98r11s5
98r11s5
98r11s10
98r11s10
98r11s6
98r11s6
98r11s8
98r11s8
Get Motorcycle.com in your Inbox