The first portion of the road winds through fields of sunflowers and green pastures and is comprised of twists and turns that can be taken well in excess of the speed limit and into the triple digits. This leads into, almost suddenly, a much tighter section of the same road that is now first- and second-gear tight, with mossy trees casting shadows onto the road. This is a majestic place, but one that can be perfectly clean and clear at one moment, then quickly change into a cow-pattie-covered corner in no time flat, with said animal standing at the apex, ready to greet your rapidly approaching bike.
No time for games, here. Nor is there time for the weak of heart, as our riding companion (and sometimes racer) on this fateful day, mounted on a Year 2000 GSX-R750, was finding out. Riding as hard as we could while still staying at a safe pace, he couldn't shake off the Beemer's attack from behind throughout the entire ride. All the way from the desert, over the pass and now, down Caliente Creek road, he had his mirrors full of BMW's saddlebag-equipped R1100S.
Say what? How is it possible that a sport-tourer made in Germany was able to keep up with Japan's latest race weaponry on a twisty backroad? It wasn't skill, that's for sure. Brent "Minime" Avis was piloting the BMW, so there must be more to it than that.
BMWs are more than capable of backroad warfare
Since its introduction in September of 1998, the R1100S has been one of our favorite bikes in BMW's stable. The sportier cousin to the R1100RS, the S model features the most powerful boxer motor ever to grace a motorcycle with a spinning propeller logo on the tank. With a sporty, yet still comfortable riding position, this bike is equally adept at long highway drones and twisty canyon carving. Could this be the ultimate sleeper bike? It may be.
When we first rode the bike at the press introduction in New Jersey, we came away impressed with the strides forward that BMW had made. The new R looked modern and, dare we say stylish with its under-seat mufflers, funky headlamp arrangement and bodywork that looked stylish while still allowing enough of the mechanical bits to show through. Then again, could it have just been the New Joisey air and a mechanical fluke? Besides, how would you hide those huge cylinders even if you wanted to?
After spending a considerable amount of time on the bike recently it has done everything we've asked of it and more. Sure, it's a bit quirky, but aren't all BMWs? This bike is no different. There are still vibes at an uncommonly high frequency for a twin, and there's still that odd Paralever shaft-drive clunk when the bike is put into gear. The passenger grab rails face inward and are all but useless, but at least they look pretty and are well integrated into the tail section behind the seat which, unlike other BMW models, is not adjustable. Neither are the handlebars or footpegs, for that matter. But, where it counts, this BMW comes through in splendid fashion.
As a tourer, the bike has the best bags in the business as well as heated grips that we feel are a welcome addition on anything this side of a Vespa scooter. The switchgear is standard BMW fare, that is, different from standardized Japanese- and American-bike controls, so it still takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with, but you begin to get the hang of the layout and appreciate little things like the hazard lights (these should always be activated when Calvin is on board) and high-beam flasher. Our only real cockpit complaints remain the lack of a fuel gauge and a low-fuel light that is nearly invisible on sunny days.
As a sportbike, ABS is still not our friend. Sure it's great in the rain and in other adverse conditions but, for the most part, we'd rather get rid of it. The worst thing about BMW's ABS is that, despite the complexity and weight that can be overlooked on a somewhat touring-oriented bike, when you brake hard over surface irregularities and the wheel locks for a split second the ABS kicks in and makes sure that the wheel returns to its prior spinning state, surging the bike ahead at the obsticle you're trying to avoid. Thus, you lose a great deal of braking power once the wheel starts turning again. We'd rather deal with a momentary lock-up when a wheel is airborne than to lose such a large portion of available braking power. This little built-in trait made more than one corner entry hairier than it should have been. Fortunately, the BMW turns in nicely and remains stable under high cornering loads.
I could ride this bike for hours without getting tired of it.
At high rates of speed on the backroads, especially when chasing GSX-Rs, the left side of the centerstand started dragging frequently enough that we had to keep increasing rear pre-load until we ended up with a setting six turns out from maximum. That may seem like a lot, but when coupled with the front rebound setting of fourteen out from maximum, the bike would load the front wheel nicely and provide more feel than people have come to expect from Telelever-equipped BMWs. Even with these settings there is still a shortage of feedback from the front end but, as Minime found out on Caliente Creek Road, sometimes you just gotta' believe.
BMWs definitely have a very loyal following. Where Ducatisti are more sport oriented in their search for the ultimate truth, BMW riders tend to be more comfortable at a pace which resembles spirited weekend jaunts than all-out backroad how-fast-can-this-thing-go jaunts. BMWs are more than capable of backroad warfare, mind you - it's just that they have a reputation for being toys for the "my bike has more miles than your bike" slowpoke crowd.
We're setting out to change that, though. As well as the R1100S keeps the sport part of the sport-touring equation in focus, we're wondering just how far we can take this concept. So we told BMW that we would be holding on to their black beauty for a few months so that we can get in touch with a few aftermarket manufacturers and see just what we can do with this bike. There is one caveat, however, as the bike has to return to BMW in the condition it was when it left the factory. What this means is that there will be no hugely over-bored cylinders, chopped or lengthened swingarms or even gaudy race-replica paint jobs.
So what we're left with, as far as options are concerned, is bolt-ons. It's true that everything from titanium connecting rods to plastic deer-warning whistles are technically "bolt-ons" but we're going to look at the most cost and time-efficient route when deciding which mods we actually bestow upon our long-term "Bavarian Money Waster." Who knows, we might even end up on a racetrack with this thing. It makes us wonder if Roland Sands has ever ridden a twin?
Philip Strauss, CEO
Okay, there is the Boxer buzz in the handlebars at certain rpm ranges, but I really enjoyed the miles I was able to put on the R1100S. I could ride this bike for hours without getting tired of it. I was never able to find enough time to get out on the open road for those hours, but whether I rode in traffic, at freeway (and above) speeds or on the curved roads near my house, the bike exuded an incredible amount of confidence. I still like to sit a bit more upright, but with higher bars on our sample, I really had nothing to complain about.
My only nitpicks are that I would prefer a real fuel gauge, since the low fuel warning light comes on too early for my taste. It's like a nagging significant other (not that I have any experience with one). I found myself filling up earlier than I had to just so I wouldn't have to deal with it any longer. Second on my list is the width of those bags. They hold a ton, or least several 24 packs and some ice, but I was highly conscious of them when lane splitting. Fortunately, I escaped without incident. I wish they were more integrated into the rear of the bike. That's probably not possible given the placement of the mufflers under the seat. I'd probably opt for the city bags. They are much narrower and as long as you're not going out of town for an extended period, they might be all you need.
Brent Avis, Chief of Nothingness
Chasing GSX-Rs on a "touring" bike? You bet your lilly white ass. This bike surprised me to no end; not to mention the surprise of our buddy roosting on the Suzuki. The look on his face was priceless.
Having grown up on the back of my dad's 1977 R100S, I was especially excited to see what BMW's latest attempt at a sport-oriented motorcycle would be like. At the end of the day, I just kept demanding a higher salary so that I could have one of these R bikes to call my own. Am I sold? Is this BMW black?
Sure, the ABS annoys me and there's no fuel gauge. And the feedback from the front end exists, like a God, in that it's there if you believe it is. Some people have more faith than others, I guess. but I urge you to believe. The sticky Michelin tires may not last long in touring mode - they're a bad choice, actually - but they sure make canyon dancing a whole lot of fun. For our long term bike, I'm thinking Michelin Pilot Sports which are a nearly perfect all-around tire for a nearly perfect all-around bike.
Calvin Kim, Czar of Flotsam
BMW's have never let me down in the past and this is no exception. The only things that got on my nerves? The ultra wide bag profile, and that ugly EVAP canister that is shown plain as day when the bags are removed. As for me, I prefer soft bags, so I'd get my S without bags thereby negating the wide bag profile situation.
Unfortunetly, short of being illegal, there isn't much you can do about that canister. Still makes for great ride though. Power out of the corners is great, handling is a good balance between firm performance and soft compliance depending on the various suspension settings available. Wind protection is very adequate as are ergonomics.
Long distance hauling on the highway system is a waste for this bike. Open up your map and pick the twistiest route to get there.