Classic Motorcycle Build

BMW R1100R Ignition Switch Replacement

(Article by Mark Trotta)

Occasionally, I'll take in automotive side work, and when I do, it's usually something time consuming like an engine build or complete rewiring job. To make room in the garage, a motorcycle may have to stay outside for a while. And since the R1100R is my least vintage bike, it's the one that has to stay outside.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

After rolling the bike out onto the driveway and pulling it up on the center stand, I turn the bars to the right and turn the key to the right, and the fork lock engages into the frame. I give the handlebars a tug to make sure the lock is engaged, then cover the bike with an outdoor motorcycle cover.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

The next weekend, I get ready for my Sunday morning ride. I pull on my boots, slip on my jacket, and grab my helmet. I put the key in the ignition switch, but it won't turn - the key tumbler is stuck in the "lock" position.

What I Tried

None of these methods worked.

Several weeks later, my side work is done, the garage is clear, and I'm faced with the task of moving the motorcycle back into the garage with the front forks stuck toward the right.

I summon two helpers and have them stand on either side of the bike, while I lift it from underneath with a floor jack. Then I slowly pull the floor jack along, front wheel off the ground, while my helpers balance the bike and walk slowly with me.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

Ignition Lock Removal

Many BMW motorcycles left the factory with two security bolts holding the ignition switch to the top clamp. Unless the ignition switch has been replaced before, the top fork clamp (triple tree) needs to be removed in order to remove these security bolts.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

Handlebars and Instrument Cluster Removal

Handlebar removal is straightforward; Allen bolts and a couple of threaded studs. The left and right bars were wire-tied out of the way so they did not hang by the wires. Once the handlebars are removed, the one-piece instrument cluster and headlamp bucket can be moved out of the way.

Remove Ignition Switch From Top Fork Clamp

I thought I would have to remove the top clamp, but in my case that wasn't necessary. Seems the ignition switch had been replaced before, as the factory security bolts had been replaced with Allen bolts.

BMW R1100R replace key lock

I was able to unbolt the switch, then pull it down and out of the clamp.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

Remove Wire Harness From Switch

On the right-hand side of the key barrel, there is a tiny set-screw. Remove the screw and the wire harness and switch separate.

BMW R1100R stuck fork lock

This required using a smallest jewelry-sized screwdriver I owned.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

Lock Barrel Removal

The lock barrel can only be removed with the key in the "on" position. Trouble was, mine was frozen stuck in the lock position. I had three options.

The first option was to soak the ignition switch and tumbler in carburetor parts cleaner, and hope that it works free. I did this for two days. It didn't cost me anything, but it also didn't do anything.

soaking stuck key switch in Chem-Dip

The second option was to drill out the key tumbler, taking care not to do any more damage in the process. This would involve time and labor and risk, and I'd still have to buy a replacement key tumbler.

The third option was to find a good used ignition switch.

Seems that the top clamp, ignition switch and key tumbler are the same for several BMW models, including 850's and 1100's. Looking through ebay, there were a handful of sellers offering the key lock with various other parts. I chose one from a reliable seller with reasonable shipping. Included with the ignition switch was an accompanying seat lock, helmet lock, and gas cap door.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

The replacement switch still had the factory security bolts holding it to the clamp.

BMW R1100R security bolt removal

Removing Security Bolts

Although there are specialty tools to remove the security bolts, it's fairly common to drill them out and replace with Allen head bolts. I drilled the center of each bolt head with successive-sized drill bits. This allowed me to get a "bite" on them with a #3 spiral screw extractor.

BMW R1100R key switch removal

After the security bolts were removed, the replacement ignition switch was installed, then re-installation of headlamp and instrument cluster and handlebars.

Why This Happened

On the BMW R1100R (and other motorcycles), the key and switch are exposed, and over time, a small amount of water will get in there and eventually rust things. I have often ridden in the rain as part of my daily commute, and I believe this is where the key stuck in the lock issue originated.

BMW R1100R summer eveing ride

Read: BMW R1100R Real World Review

Looking back at it, I'm probably better off not even using the fork lock. A cable and lock is a better theft preventative, because unlike fork locks, it's a visual turn-off for would-be thieves.