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 the BMW boxer-twin. Since the pistons travel outwards and inwards together, it is joyously vibration-free at all engine speeds. Once you ride one, you cannot help but be impressed by the smoothness of an opposed-twin engine.

BMW R1100R Review

Airheads vs Oilheads

From 1923 to 1995, BMW motorcycles were powered by air-cooled, horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder 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 boxer engine. Two years later, the older Airhead engine was superseded to the new four-valve air and oil cooled engine. These are known as Oilheads. The opposed cylinders are still air-cooled, but the heads are oil-cooled as well.

R1100R - Roadster Model

Produced in Spandau, Germany from 1994 through 1999, the R1100R is the sports model of the the R-series. Unlike the RT and LT models, there are no body fairings. A total of 53,685 units were produced.

Engine

Powered by the first-generation Oilhead engine, the motor is fuel injected and features 10.3:1 engine compression. North American models left the factory with about 80 stock horsepower.

Suspension

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 driveshaft. Unlike older BMW models, the rear section of the Paralever can pivot.

The Purchase

After owning half a dozen Harleys, a couple Triumphs, a Kawasaki and a Yamaha, I decided to try something different. Aside from my 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, 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.

A quick review of the handlebar controls and starting/stopping procedure was gone over, after which he 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

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 bike also came with a clear windscreen, which seems to be from an R1150 model. The plexiglass was pretty scratched and cloudy when I got it, and soon after, I painted the inside of it black.

Aftermarket Exhaust

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 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 newer models are a bit quieter.

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. Recently, I replaced the battery.

BMW Oilhead oil change

It's now 2020, and the R1100R turned 25 years old, which qualifies it as a classic bike. And at 60K miles, the motor is just breaking in.

BMW Oilhead Review

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

Read: BMW R1100R Ignition Switch Replacement

The BMW R1100R is a practical and fun to ride sportbike. The more I ride it, the longer I want to stay out riding. 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 sportbikes, it is respectably quick. And as you would expect, all BMW motorcycles are built to high standards.