Road Test: 1995 BMW R1100RS

Blue Beemer on the Backroads


The BMW line of boxer motors -- two-cylinder engines where the pistons swing back and forth like a boxer's fists -- goes back more than 70 years now, an unbreakable BMW tradition. It wasn't meant to be that way: The Bavarian Motor Works would have been happy for the boxers to just fade away, like old boxers do, in a series of inarticulate grunts leaving the memories of fights fought and punches taken. Then the BMW motorcycle line could all be based on the three- and four-cylinder K-bikes, which use so much automotive technology as to be functionally identical with BMW's bigger car engines.

 But the boxers wouldn't die without a fight. Though the old air- cooled two-valve motors are gone now, the R series continues, one cylinder sticking out each side, albeit with vastly improved power and a veritable tour de force of technology. With more than a nod to the automotive side of BMW's business, the Bavarian firm equipped the new boxer family with the most advanced running gear in the business: Second generation ABS brakes, catalytic converter and fuel injection means that BMW's engines are in the forefront of new motorcycle technology.

Improved power and better environmental protection are products of this new technology, and the RS is the hot rod of the twin cylinder range with a claimed 90hp available. Riders with a big enough credit rating to buy one of these $14,000 (with ABS) motorcycles are also hoping that BMW's legendary reliability and durability are also along for the ride. The RS shares the same "frameless" construction as the R1100R (previously reviewed in Motorcycle Online), with an engine tuned for more top end power than the naked bike, at the expense of a little midrange. The 1085cc engine is used as the frame, and the front and rear suspension attach to it via a front Telelever wishbone and rear single sided Paralever swinging arm.

The only time you notice that this suspension isn't the old telescopic type is when going backwards. When trying to move the bike backwards up a slope, you can't push down on the forks and rebound it up. There is no rebound: the suspension doesn't work that way. Which means, during the 99.9% of the time that you spend going forwards, that brake dive is all but eliminated.

On the RS, the non-adjustable front suspension unit's damping settings are a little on the squishy side for a serious sport bike, and according to BMW riders, they only get looser with time. BMW aficionados will counter that the RS isn't a serious sport bike, and they're right. Efficient as the engine is, the transmission is a liability. Even though drive shaft squat is countered by the paralever system on the rear, the boxer's gearbox is still as clunky, noisy and slow to change as ever.

Instead of a sportbike, the RS is a bike to take off for a weekend, or a month, for a blue backroads ride, where the intent isn't to blitz the corners but to enjoy them in the smoothest way possible. Be warned that, when the rear shock is jacked up high enough for decent ground clearance, the cylnder heads drag. Otherwise, if you've set the shock up with minimal preload, the centerstand touches down first. Unfortunately, they sound about the same whilst grinding away at maximum lean so be aware of what, exactly, you're dragging (if you do). You'll never stay with an expert on a sportbike on the twisties, but you'll probably pass him/her 10 miles up the road at the coffee stand -- thanks to the good ergonomics the Beemer is comfortable enough to ride until you have to stop for gas. Indeed, the RS is good for the long haul, as long as you wear earplugs to eliminate the wind roar from the small fairing's screen. While it may lack sportbike transmission and suspension, the beemer's sticky Bridgestone Battlax BT50 tires (both of which were half worn out by the 2,500 mile mark on our motorcycle) give great grip. Several different tire combinations are available for those who don't want to replace the black bits that often. Just be on the lookout for large potholes on the RS: The three-spoke wheels are apparently fairly easy to bend, and at over $700 each, expensive to replace.

How often you have to pit for gas depends on how hard you yank the throttle: With a careful right wrist, 200 miles is possible. A severely ungentle right wrist can sometimes bring on the fuel warning light before going 100 miles. In fairness to BMW, we should say that there is a long way to go from warning light to an empty tank, but since there is no reserve tap, and the fuel injection may be clogged by detritus if the tank is run bone dry, we never tried to see exactly how long it would go. The optional rider information console, mounted on the right side of the fairing, includes a bar graph gas gauge that is less useful than the old needle type. The last bar is gone long before the fuel stops swishing about in the tank, leaving us wishing for a plain-jane fuel gauge. BMW specifies 89 octane fuel as the minimum requirement, but 92 octane is a better option to prevent detonation under hard acceleration since a knock sensor is not part of the Motronic fuel injection package.


The BMW R1100RS features adjustable handlebars and seat, and the front windscreen can be tilted forwards with the turn of knob.Rider comfort is catered to by a leaned forward riding postion, reminiscent of BMW's best oldsters. Footpegs don't stick out at ninety degrees, instead they follow the natural waddle of the human form and point slightly backwards. Sit on your motorcycle, whatever it is, and you'll see that your feet want to do that, too. The switchgear takes a while to get used to. BMW have a switch system all their own, with turn signal buttons on each handlebar, cancelled by a separate switch that you push up to actuate. Unlike earlier models, turn signals aren't self cancelling. The horn, too, is a pale vestige of previous BMW honkers: Hit (or, more correctly, painfully wedge up with your thumb) the awkward, left side-mounted button and a duckish squawk results. Thankfully, there is room under the fairing for a good loud pair of Italian horns.

Ground clearance, always a boxer problem (comes from having one cylinder sticking out each side), is still on the low side for ultra- serious sport riding, and even though you'll have to be trying maniacally hard to grind a cylinder on the street, we managed it. We also managed to plant a cylinder on the asphalt at zero mph in a parking lot tipover -- too easily. Turns out the sidestand, always a BMW failing in the past, is still not right. Park on the wrong gradient, or put just a bit too much weight on the handlebars, and the bike tips over the stand and onto the tarmac. Thankfully, the cylinder head sticking out there prevents too much ground contact, but scratched cylinder heads aren't pretty, or cheap to replace. Another niggle concerns the saddlebags. While they are easy to mount and remove (and use the same key as the ignition/steering lock), it seems you only have to breathe on them to mar their glossy finish. The rumor from dealers is that wrinkly covers are back in for '96.

As with every modern BMW, the single-skinned exhaust pipes turn blue immediately, which used to be a sympton of poor running but nowadays just shows how lean engines run. You can feel that lean running when the engine surges at low- to mid-rpm as the oxygen sensor in the pipe adjusts the mixture to be as lean as possible. The pipes are connected to the atmosphere through a catalytic converter that cleans up the engine's pollution quotient even further and makes you feel fully justified to drive in the carpool lane.

 The second-generation ABS works without drama to stop the bike on gravel or other poor road surfaces. As you drive away from a stop, the 'chirp -- chirp' of the ABS solenoids arming themselves reminds you the system is on. Otherwise, you never know the ABS is there until you need it. And when you do need it, the bike will pull up smartly on any road surface.

The R1100RS's styling is sleek. A shark-like look, redolent of 1930s streamlining, carries the RS into the 1996 season. One of the few obvious changes from the first RS, introduced three years ago, is the seat, which is now black instead of off-white; and now the light blue of the original RS has mellowed to a somber, almost navy shade. Conservative, almost. Nice touches include the million-mile odometer and the California-proof filler cap. Motorcycle magazine junkies will remember the nifty sidestand fairing that used to be tacked onto Honda's flagship VFR 750. A sidestand fairing? The Beemer has plastic panels of the same dubious utility mounted onto each front fork leg. Reason? perhaps to avoid anyone actually looking at those fork sliders and realising they go all the way up-or nearly-to the fork tops. The fairing hides the unconventional front end from public view, a fact that probably saves the rider at least five minutes per day in explaining time. And this is a bike that can be used every day. It offers turnkey reliability and stone reliable starting and running, and servicing that for the most part can be performed by a mechanically inclined owner. It's a sport styled machine for the long haul.

Specifications:
Manufacturer:  BMW
Model: R1100RS
Price:  $13,790 (with ABS)
Engine:  sohc, 8-valve, opposed-Twin
Bore x stroke: 99.0 x 70.5mm
Displacement:  1085cc
Carburetion:  Bosch Motronic EFI
Transmission:  5-speed
Wheelbase: 57.9 in.
Seat height: 30.7-32.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.2 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 491 lbs.

Time to Distance:

      60ft:       1.975 seconds
      120ft:      5.133 seconds
      1/8th mile: 7.807 @ 92.934 mph
      1/4 mile:   12.170 @ 110.995 mph

Measured Power:
 
      Torque: 67.3 ft-lbs @ 5500 rpm
      Horsepower: 81.3 @ 7000 rpm
      (As measured on the Graves Motorsports DynoJet dyno.)

Impressions:

1. Andy Saunders, Senior Editor  ****

The jack of all trades, as the old saying goes, is master of none. The BMWR1100RS wants to be a Sport Bike -- the fairing and tucked in riding position tell you that. It aspires to be a Touring Bike, with capacious saddlebags. And with that carrying capacity, enough for a couple of bags of groceries, it's an Everyday Bike that you can use to run errands. Of course it can't succeed at all of these roles the way a single purpose bike can. But if you've ever tried to carve corners with a Gold Wing or pick up groceries with a GSXR, maybe you'll appreciate just a little compromise.

2. Brent Plummer, Editor  ***1/2

Call me crazy, but I didn't like the RS nearly as much as the R1100R. The motor is tuned for too much high-end power and has a terrible flat-spot in the middle (a new EFI controller chip should cure that). And the bodywork was cheesy -- ours came with a warped body panel that was held to the bike at one point with Velcro ® and popped out all the time. For my money, I'd get the R1100R without ABS and pocket the four or five grand difference (depending on how many options you get on the RS), buy a clamp-on windshield for long trips and spend the rest of the money on camping or food or something silly. Oh, before I forget, spend some extra dough on BMW's optional baggage, it's awesome.

3. Mike Franklin, Managing Editor  ****

Until I rode the RS, I though for sure that it was going to be a better bike than the R1100R, more sporty, more powerful, and better suspension. After putting it through its paces in city driving, canyon carving and freeway droning, I wasn't so sure any more. Don't get me wrong, the RS is a very capable bike, but it felt too big for me physically, and it wasn't as much fun to ride as the R1100R. I don't believe there is any such thing as a bad BMW, even if the switch gear is a bit awkward, and I applaud their use of technology for the rider's sake, not their ad department's. It's not my favourite Beemer, but I still have to give it four stars.

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