I'm a miserable old git.
I'm ashamed to say it's been a **** very **** long time since I reviewed my "trusts", have sought to rectify this by going through every review I've written in the past couple of years, if you feel hard-done-by, drop me a note.
The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
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There's nothing that reflects a countries character more than a motorcycle, or indeed encourages national stereotyping.
Italian bikes generally look exquisite, handle magnificently but their electrics all go to pigs and whistles when it rains
The Japanese have stupendously subtle and high technology machines, but somehow lack soul,
The Brits can still make a world beating machine when they put half a mind to it, but somehow it all goes horribly wrong when they actually try and sell them,
And finally there's the Germans, or, in particular BMW. Uncompromising, ruthlessly efficient, and hideously expensive.
Ever since I've been old enough to look seriously at motorcycles, I've yearned for a BMW.
There's something immensely appealing about a quarter of a ton of pure Teutonic muscle, which, when you've wound it up to 120 (on the Autobahn of course) will happily stay there all day, every day, as long as you keep pouring fuel in it.
Your typical BMW is an object lesson in defining motorcycling your own way.
Take the engine.
BMW made their first horizontally opposed twin (or BOXER) in the 1920s - and have generally stuck to that in one form or another for the remaining seventy five years.
Yes - they've toyed with other configurations, the rather odd in-line triple which was featured on the 'K' series engines, and they make a 'lightweight' single (that's in BMW terms!) but the Boxer has been an enduring theme, and is what they do best.
My first and only experience of BMW bikes is on an R1100R.
The first 'R' identifies it as a 'boxer' engine (all the 'R' series machines are based on this configuration) and the final 'R' indicates 'Roadster' - or put it another way - 'naked' - ie without fairling.
The R1100R was made in the second half of the 1990s, and features the usual 'big twin' design, with a huge air cooled cylinder poking out of each side of the massive engine block.
Beyond the fact it's got two wheels, a set of handlebars and a couple of seats, virtually nothing is the same as you'd expect on a 'normal' bike.
The sales brochure describes the frame as using the engine as a 'stressed member' - that's understating the case somewhat.
The engine IS the frame; everything being bolted on to it, take the engine out, and you don't have a bike any more!
The back end has a single cast swing arm, which contains a vastly over engineered crank shaft - not as efficient as a conventional
Pictures of BMW R1100R
chain, but requires virtually no maintenance beyond replacing the gear oil every couple of years. The back wheel is mounted like a car, by a set of bolts on one side.
The single swing arm lends itself to monoshock design.
The engine consists of a dirty great hollow two part casting which contains the crankshaft, gearbox and massive clutch - this is what accounts for a substantial part of the bike's quarter ton weight.
At the front, normal telescopic forks have been discarded, instead, a wishbone strut mounted either side of the engine comes together and supports the front wheel with a massive single coil spring and damper unit.
What LOOKS like the front forks are simply hollow tubes.
Old BMWs had a fearsome reputation for diving when you touched the front brake - no more!
Carburettors have been abandoned in favour of fuel injection, connected to an electrical system far more complex than that of the Apollo moon rocket!
This constantly measures output gasses, engine performance, outside temperature and the throttle position, although this makes setting the engine up a remarkably difficult procedure, still, it develops nearly 90 break horse power, bit instead of coming in narrow 'bands' as you would find in 'ordinary' bikes, is extended over a massive range of engine speeds.
To top it all, the bike has a catalyser to keep the 'tree huggers' happy!
Of course all this adds weight, and to compensate, ABS is a common option.
All this is very interesting, but how does this affect the ride.
This is a brute of a bike in simple terms.
At just under 250Kg it's one of the heaviest machines on the road, if it decides it's going over, there's virtually nothing you can do to stop it, and it'll take three grown men to lift it off the deck if it decides to have a lie down!
Get it moving, however, and all that weight miraculously disappears - it's astonishing!
The riding position is easily the most comfortable I've ever experienced.
The seat profile is almost equestrian in profile - it's designed around the human bottom, rather than some afterthought in the design shop. This means you're virtually 'in' the bike rather than 'on' it. The back seat is sufficiently broad to keep your pillion's bum from getting numb, and having a long wheelbase, isn't perched miles over the back wheel.
I've been riding bikes on and off for over twenty years, although nothing can quite prepare you for the BMW experience.
Admittedly, the R1100R has twice the engine of anything I've ridden previously, but the combination of shaft drive and a big boxer engine requires a different style of riding from anything I've been on before.
Most of the Japanese bikes I've been on thrive on high revs, the secret is to keep the engine turning over as high as possible, and let the chain take all the punishment with engine braking.
You simply can't do that with a beemer - the shaft drive and fuel injection are sufficiently powerful to lock the back wheel up at virtually any speed, so don't drop a gear and shut the throttle down to slow it down - you'll look VERY silly!
The gearbox is a bit different as well, you'd think it would run like a Swiss watch, virtually silently, and have quick precise changes - not so!
It's very clunky, and if you pick the wrong gear, it'll sound like you're trying to shred bolts in a mincer (goodness only knows what it's doing to the inside!)
Whilst it's reasonably forgiving changing up, No - just like a car, you only change down when the engine is about to stall.
The sheer torque though, makes up for this, and you know there's enough grunt to pull out of virtually anything, at any speed, no matter what the circumstances.
Looks are a bit of a sore point.
There's rather too much chrome for my tastes, and my bike has a Perspex screen above the headlamp - it's extremely functional, and takes most of the wind force off your body on the motorway, but it is rather reminiscent of the old CHIPS TV series - perhaps I'll get round to making some carbonfibre panels to cover the chromework, but then again, perhaps not.
If you have to ask about fuel economy, then you shouldn't be riding this bike. On motorways it'll manage in excess of 50mpg, but in town, the engine is rather thirsty.
At 1100ccs this bike is well beyond any 'learner' capacity, you DO have to adapt your riding style considerably, but it DOES provide an extremely rewarding ride.
On motorways or dual carriageways this bike comes into it's own - the first time I opened the throttle right up was on a slip road of the Edinburgh Bypass, someone was on the inside lane doing seventy and wouldn't move over, I decided in a split second that I could probably outrun them and gave my right wrist a tweak, I was doing 90 before I realised it, and the car was but a speck in my rear view mirror!
I don't have any points on my licence, and intend to keep it that way, so I immediately eased off.
Even at 'cruising' speed, there was plenty of power in the engine, it's supposedly good for 120mph+, but I have no intention of verifying this! This is one rider who has no wish to become part of the latest accident statistics of middle aged men with over powerful bikes!
A new 'beemer' will set you back roughly ten grand - that's more than a small family car!
Mine (a 1996 P reg) was had for just over £2,500 - considering the performance and the fact it's barely run in at 40,000 miles is an absolute bargain!
I do find it a bit hard to ride as well as I'd like, but I am aware of my limitations, and as a result, will take it easy - at least for the first few months!
I think anyone who's on the lookout for an out and out cruiser could do a lot worse than an R1100R, as long as they appreciate that it's going to feel quite different from anything you've ever ridden before - unless, of course, you're talking about another BMW!
*** One month on ***
I've been riding the bike now for a couple of months, and gradually I'm coming toi terms with the leviathan weight!
Gear changes are becoming quieter, although they do tend to give a rather alarming 'clunk' changing down - which on any other machine would indicate something was broken!
Something I didn't mention in my initial opinion was the rather erratic behaviour of the engine, I missed this out as I figured it was unique to mine, this has proved to be the case, and I've managed to cure it;
Being a 'big twin' - it's vitally important that the calendars are balanced - in my case, there was a slight difference between the throttle cable adjustments on each side, so one pot was pulling garder than the other.. At high revs, the effect was balanced out, but led to a rather 'jerky' response when trying to drive slowly.
I acquired an electronic gizmo on Ebay - a 'Twinmax' vacuum gauge - which measures the difference between the throttle bodes, within five minutes I had the engine running sweeter than it probably had within the last ten years, and has improved the handling immensely.
I have to confess to having 'dropped' it on one occasion, taking it off a kerb in a supermarket car park, I had left the side-stand down, it dug in, the bike lurched slowly away from me and next thing it was having a 'lie down' - luckily the calendars stopped it from lying completely flat, so it only took a couple of us to get it upright - although I had only scratched the brand new pannier slightly (Grrr!) and broken an indicator lens!
It could have been a lot worse, but I wish I'd not been so stupid in the first place!
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