Classic Motorcycle Build

BMW R1100R Review

Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta

After owning Harleys, Triumphs, a Kawasaki and a Yamaha, I decided to try something different. Aside from my budget restraints, the only criteria was my next motorcycle weigh no more than 500 pounds.

BMW Oilhead Review

BMW Airheads

I had always admired the mechanical simplicity of the BMW boxer-twin. From 1923 to 1995, BMW produced motorcycles powered by an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed boxer engine. These older two-valve per cylinder flat-twins are known as Airheads, for their cooled by air only cylinders.

BMW Oilheads

In 1993, BMW introduced a new four-valve, oil/air cooled boxer engine. Two years later, the older Airhead engine was superseded to the new four-valve air and oil cooled engine. These bikes are known as Oilheads. The opposed cylinders are still air-cooled, but the heads are oil-cooled as well.

The Purchase

The seller of this bike was an older rider who was obsessive about motorcycles and their maintenance. He owned seven bikes, including two of the same R1100R models; one was yellow, one was black. He was selling the black one.

BMW R1100R real world review

In addition to the two R11's, he had several other BMW models as well, along with a Ducati Monster and a Honda Ruckas. They were all neatly arraigned in a motorcycle-only three-car-garage. Each of them were covered, and each had trickle chargers attached to the batteries.

After a quick review of the handlebar controls and starting/stopping procedure, he allowed me to road test the R for as long as I liked. Although I hadn't ridden a BMW motorcycle before, I found the controls intuitive and the seating position comfortable.

BMW Oilhead Review

After a 20-minute test ride, I was ready to drive it home. My wife then pointed out I had no insurance or plate, and no, the owner wasn't going to let me drive it home on his insurance and plate. So onto the trailer it went.

Buying a used BMW Oilhead

Included with the sale was a Givi cargo box and a nearly new indoor motorcycle cover. A folder of past receipts showed the engine oil and filter, transmission oil, and rear end fluid were changed just 500 miles ago.

R1100R - the Roadster Model

The R-series fits my six-foot-tall frame well, with the seat/pegs/handlebars all comfortably within reach. There is a three-position seat adjustment, which I keep on the middle setting. The motor has plenty of power and it's as smooth as can be.

Clunky Transmission

Yes, the transmission is a little clunky when shifting gears. Neutral is a little tricky when cold. The clunking doesn't bother me at all, as I've ridden mostly Harleys over the last 30 years.

BMW upgraded the R1100 transmission in 1997, so 97 and newer models are a bit quieter.

BMW R1100R review

The bike also came with a clear aftermarket fairing, which didn't exactly fit this year and model. To fit on this bike, the gauges had to be scrunched together. The plexiglass was pretty scratched and cloudy, so I painted the inside of it black.

BMW Oilhead Review

Aftermarket Exhaust

Finding a good performance exhaust for early Oilheads is getting harder with each passing year. I was lucky this bike was already equipped with a Remus Gran Prix system. It adds a nice pleasing tone; a deep rumbly sound that's not overly loud. At highway speed you can barely hear it as the wind noise blocks the exhaust note.

With a stock R1100R tipping the scales at 515 pounds, removing the stock BMW exhaust and replacing with an aftermarket system saves about 40-45 pounds. I figure that brings my total motorcycle weight down to about 480 pounds.

BMW Oilhead Review

Oilhead Maintenance

I've found my R-series Oilhead easy to maintain. So far, I've performed oil change and filter, spark plugs and wires, fuel filter, and battery replacement. All R-series bikes are shaft-drive, which require less maintenance than most other types of motorcycle engines.

Read: Motorcycle Maintenance

Replace Rear Tire

When I originally bought the bike, both tires were a little cupped, and the rear tire was nearly bald. I replaced the rear tire with the same type that was on it, a Michelin Pilot Road, size 160/60ZR18.

Michelin Pilot Road tire 160/60ZR18

Replace Front Tire

When the time came to replace the front tire on my R1100R, I went with the same tire, Michelin Pilot Road, size 120/70ZR17. Both front and rear tires have the high speed "Z" rating.

Michelin Pilot Road tire 120-70-ZR17


It's now 2020, and my R1100R is 25 years old, qualifying it as a classic bike. At 60K miles, the motor is just breaking in. The more I ride it, the longer I want to stay out riding.

BMW Oilhead Review

Read: Motorcycle Safety Gear