Friday, February 27, 2015

Celebrating a great motorcycle

johnk100rsMy 1991 BMW K100RS was born/assembled 24 years ago today in Berlin.

It was a fabulous motorcycle. It was pearl silver, just like the one some Japanese design institute hailed as the most beautiful motorcycle in the world in 1991. I remain in full agreement.

On June 24, 1991, when I rode my new bike out of the parking lot of BMW Motorcycles of Indianapolis, I vowed that one day I'd see the odometer turn over 100,000 miles.

I remember chuckling at the audacity of BMW to put an odometer on their K-bikes that would read so high: Most bikes are junk long before their odometers need a sixth digit. But I knew this bike could do 100 grand and lots more.

I really wasn't in the market for a new bike back in the spring of '91. I had 80,000 miles on my 1981 R100RS and still had big traveling plans for that elegant graphite twin that had shown me so much of the country. I figured I'd eventually replace it with another R100RS, since the RS riding position suits me so well.

One afternoon, just to humor dealer Greg Polzin, I took one of his new 16-valve K100s out for a demo ride. In less than 15 minutes, I was utterly seduced by the power and the handling of the new K. As I headed back to the dealership, I was doing the math to buy one of these amazing machines.

Luckily, this seduction came at a time when my finances made the purchase possible and the new bike was soon mine.

A few weeks later, I headed west for a week in Breckenridge, Colo., with Indianapolis BMW Club friends and then on to the Top O' the Rockies Rally in Paonia, Colo., then down through southern Utah to the BMW MOA National Rally in Flagstaff.

I remember how proud I was riding into the rally at Flagstaff. Heads turned. Riders gathered around to ogle the bike whenever I stopped. This was, after all, the new flagship of the BMW line - the latest example of the legendary BMW engineering prowess.

Over the next 12 years, the bike carried me through 40 states and two Canadian provinces.

We climbed the highest paved road in the United States to the summit of Mount Evans and we screamed across the Nevada desert at just under 150 mph.

It performed reliably in temperatures ranging from 20 below zero to 115 above.
Together, we've carved twisties from Deal's Gap to Big Sur, endured savage Kansas crosswinds and Wyoming hailstones. We split lanes in Los Angeles freeway rush hour traffic and passed solitary hours cruising the Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We raced thunderstorms across the southern Utah wastelands and probed California redwood forests so deep and dense it was dark at midday.

This magnificent machine carried me across the Golden Gate and down Highway AIA to Key West and up the backbone of the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Jasper.

We rode the entire length of historic U.S. 50 from Sacramento, Calif., to Ocean City, Md.

My memory is flooded with images from the saddle:

  • Endless fields of North Dakota sunflowers at sunrise, each turning its golden face to the rising sun that warmed my back.
  • The haunting tragic sadness of the Shiloh battlefield.
  • Riding the white sands of Daytona Beach.
  • The incredible intoxicating sweet aroma of desert flowers after a Wyoming thunderstorm.
  • Mount Hood shining at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge.
  • An unseen Ponderosa pine forest filling my helmet with fragrance as I rode into Flagstaff at midnight.
  • The snow-clad majesty of the Colorado Rockies as I-70 ascends to the clouds west of Denver.
  • The hellish sulfur pits of Yellowstone.
  • Dodging rubber shrapnel as the car in front of me shredded a rear tire on a California freeway.
  • Climbing to the snowy summit of Independence Pass before attacking the twisty road down to Aspen and lunch at the Woody Creek Tavern.

To be fair, there were problems. This bike, like many of its generation, had chronic exhaust system problems. It liked to break welds between the header pipes and the muffler and did so in the summers of '92, '94 and '95. In the summer of '93, it broke a baffle in Nebraska.

Each time, BMW replaced the $1,800 exhaust system under warranty.

Finally, when a weld failed at Mount Rushmore in 1995 and BMW couldn't get a replacement to me quickly, I rode to California BMW at Mountain View and stepped up to a Staintune.

A year later, the Staintune ripped itself apart 60 miles west of Oklahoma City. It was replaced under warranty with what was touted as a more robust version.

In '97, the header pipe developed a spiral crack a few inches forward of the muffler. Naturally, I was on my annual Mid-Life Crisis Tour at the time - the Fourth of July weekend in Silverthorne, Colo., to be precise. I spent two extra days waiting for BMW of Denver to open on a Tuesday before I could get welded, ride on to the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America rally in Missoula, Mont., and then to Portland and finally to Mountain View to get a replacement.

That was the bike's final exhaust crisis and the Staintune held together for the rest of the bike's life.

The top end of the engine, found to have a bad exhaust port, was replaced at 30,000 miles. I replaced the alternator in Portland, Ore., in 1996. The fan quit in Tennessee in 1997, shooting a geyser of coolant out of the right side cover.

When I took delivery of the bike, I only made two minor modifications: I added a front fender extension to protect the radiator and belly pan and I installed a luggage rack.

I loved the clean, sculpted look of the bike and took care that subsequent tweaks preserved the look. I upgraded the headlight with a 100/80-watt bulb, added a Hyperlite flasher to the brake light, replaced the right bar end weight with a Wrist Rest cruise control, swapped the stock clock for a Fuel Plus clock/fuel calculator and replaced the wrung-out stock shock absorber with a Works shock. I also replaced the stock black saddlebags with custom painted matching pearl silver bags.

I estimate I went through 42 tires - 26 front and 16 rear - and filled the tank about 900 times.

I could go on to tally the quarts of oil and how much I've spent on service, but that's stuff for the bean counters.

And I hate bean counters.

The odometer reached the 100,000 mile mark at 5:10 p.m. Oct. 19, 1997 in the 2900 block of North Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

But, like the Energizer bunny, the bike kept going and going and going.

I was at the BMW Riders Association rally in Red River, N.M. in July, 2002, with about 153,000 miles on the odometer when I noticed a rattling noise that sounded like it came from deep inside the engine.

The noise didn't go away and, when I had it checked by the guys at BMW of Santa Cruz a few days later they opined it would cost too much in labor to dig that deeply into the engine and suggested I have it checked when I got home.

The final verdict came months later from Phil Forgey, head technician at Revard BMW Motorcycles in Indianapolis. The bushings on the output shaft were disintegrating. By now, the bike had 159,698 miles on it and, considering its age and mileage, the cost in labor and parts to fix it would be greater than the value of the motorcycle. Dealer Bill Revard said I'd be lucky to get $2,000 for a bike with nearly 160,000 miles on it.

I decided to ride it the remaining distance to the 160k mark and then think about parting it out, concluding that there ought to be at least $2,000 worth of saleable parts.

Finally, just before Thanksgiving, 2003, with 160,124 on the odometer, I got out my tools and started removing parts, photographing them and listing them on Ebay.

Over the next two years, I stripped off the gorgeous pearl silver fairing, removed the starter and alternator, handlebars, engine and antilock brake computers, fuel tank and other stuff, cleaned them up, photographed them and sold them to BMW riders all over the country.

The saddlebags are in Sheffield, Ill.; the seat is in Chelmsford, Mass.; the fuel gauge went to Lusby, Md.; the temperature gauge to Tampa Bay, Fla. The headlight and rear wheel are in the Florida Keys and the tailpiece in Washington, Mich.

The Staintune Sport Exhaust is singing its song up in Wayzata, Minn. Parts of my bike are as far northwest as Bainbridge Island, Wash. I sent the Bosch Motronic Computer to Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada. The Fiamm horns can be heard in Banner Elk, N.C. The left footpeg is in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., and the right one is in Tiverton, Ontario, Canada.

Every July, when I go to the BMWMOA where about 5,000 BMW riders gather, I wonder how much of my old bike is there.

Searching the internet, I found and downloaded an Adobe Acrobat version of the K1100RS/LT service manual. I was a huge help in the more complicated stages of disassembly, since I'm pretty inept mechanically.

The day I shipped my first parts, I told the folks at my local post office, "You're going to see an entire motorcycle come across this counter over the next couple of years."

I ended up selling the engine, frame, front wheel, front brake calipers, front and rear brake rotors, centerstand-sidestand combo, transmission and drive train and other odds and ends to Galen Perry, who runs a BMW motorcycle salvage operation in Carroll County, Ind.

And my auction proceeds totaled $3,504.92, which was a big help in making the payments on my next bike - an '03 BMW K1200GT.

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