Classic Motorcycle Build

BMW R1100R Review

Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta

If you're a Motorhead, you have to appreciate the power and efficiency of an opposed-twin engine. With pistons traveling outwards and inwards together, it is joyously vibration-free at all engine speeds. And once you ride one, you cannot help but be impressed by the smoothness of a BMW boxer-twin.

BMW R1100R road test

Airheads vs Oilheads

From 1923 to 1993, twin-cylinder BMW motorcycles were powered by air-cooled, horizontally-opposed engines. These older, two-valve per cylinder flat-twins are known as Airheads, for their "cooled by air only" cylinders.

In 1993, BMW introduced a new four-valve, oil/air cooled twin-cylinder engine. These have become known as Oilheads. The opposed cylinders are still air-cooled, but the heads are oil-cooled as well.

The BMW Airhead engine was discontinued in 1995 and BMW motorcycles were now powered by the new four-valve air and oil cooled engine.

R1100R Roadster

The BMW R1100R shares it's chassis and engine with the R1100GS, but does not have body fairings. The front brake is from the R1100RS.

Engine Specs

The camshafts are chain-driven and are in the heads, but not "overhead" in the usual way. Between the camshaft and the valve rockers are short push rods.

Powered by the first-generation Oilhead engine, the R1100R motor is fuel injected and has four valves per cylinder. Models built for the North American market left the factory with about 80 stock horsepower.

Oilhead bikes are mostly cooled by oil, and also by air. There are two oil coolers, one on each side of the motor above the cylinders.


The Telelever front end features a "wishbone" between the bottom fork tree and engine case, which makes the bike very stable and predicable at all speeds.

BMW R1100R Telelever front suspension

The rear suspension is referred to as Paralever. It is a single side-arm with integrated drive shaft. Unlike older BMW models, the rear section of the Paralever can pivot.

The Purchase

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

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

BMW R1100R road test

In addition to the two R11's, he had several other BMW models as well as a Ducati Monster and 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.

Test Ride

A quick review of the handlebar controls and starting/stopping procedure was gone over, after which the seller allowed me to road test the bike for as long as I pleased. Although I hadn't ridden a BMW motorcycle before, I found the controls intuitive and the seating position comfortable.

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

Givi cargo box on BMW motorcycle

Both a center-stand and side-stand come standard with the R-series bikes. Once I got the hang of it, I prefer the center stand.

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.

BMW R1100R review

The factory mirrors are wide set and work well. The windscreen, clock, and tachometer were options. The plexiglass was pretty scratched and cloudy when I got it, and soon after, I painted the inside of it black.

After a few years, I removed the windscreen, clock and tach for a cleaner look.

BMW Oilhead Review

Performance Mods

Finding a good performance exhaust for early Oilheads isn't easy. I was lucky that this bike was already equipped with a Remus Gran Prix stainless-steel exhaust. It adds a deep rumbly tone, but it's not overly loud. At highway speed, with the wind noise, you can barely hear it.

Remus Gran Prix exhaust on BMW Oilhead

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.

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 is smooth and has plenty of power.

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 transmission in 1997, so newer models are a bit quieter and less clunky. The R1100R was produced in Spandau, Germany from 1994 through 1999, with a total of 53,685 units built. After five years of production, it was replaced by the R1150R.

The BMW R1100R is a practical and fun to ride sport bike. Add a few accessories, (windscreen, top trunk, heated hand-grips) and it's a great sport/touring bike. Although not as fast and powerful as Japanese sport bikes, it is respectably quick. And as you would expect, all BMW motorcycles are built to high standards.

Oilhead Maintenance

I've found that the R-series BMW is relatively easy to maintain. So far, I've done an oil change and filter and replaced the spark plugs, wires, and fuel filter. I also replaced the battery.

BMW Oilhead oil change

In the summer of 2020, a stuck key prompted me to replace the ignition switch.

BMW R1100R stuck fork lock

Read: BMW R1100R Ignition Switch Replacement

It's now 2021, and the R1100R is 26 years old, which qualifies it as a classic bike. And at 60K miles, the motor is just breaking in.

BMW Oilhead Review

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