A little over a month ago I picked up a new-to-me 1996 BMW R1100GS “oilhead” motorcycle, and it was love at first sight. The seller assured me that the bike was ready to ride anywhere in the country, and I took them at their word in the most literal way possible. Aside from a handful of around-town jaunts, I pretty much loaded the bike down with camping gear and extra clothes and headed for the hills. I didn’t so much as check the tire pressure (do as I say, not as I do) before hitting the road for a 1500-mile round-trip from Reno to Seattle for Radwood PNW this weekend. I might be a little worse for wear, but the bike has only deepened its hooks into me.
When I got the bike hauled home last month, I took an inventory of everything it came with, and I was happy to note that there was a full set of SW-Motech crash bars and a fresh set of Barkbusters in a tote bin. To give the GS its full Dakar-wannabe look ahead of Radwood, I decided to install both. The bars wouldn’t do much, as I didn’t plan to drop the bike just touring pavement all weekend, but the Barkbusters would be super handy as wind breaks for my hands in the bitter PNW weather that was forecast. Plus they just look cool.
While I was adding a few choice cosmetic upgrades, I decided to remove some of the previous owner’s pieces of ephemera. There was a radar detector hanging off of the gauge cluster and a handlebar-mounted clock bolted on, I ditched both of those. Meanwhile, the left rear turn signal needed a new bulb and I had to attach my new Home Means Nevada license plate. I topped off the work with a Radwood decal and a Radwood keychain, natch. Should I have done more to prep for a 1500 mile road trip? Yeah, but time is short and it’s time to go.
The trip north was a leisurely jaunt. I left on Thursday morning and gave myself all day to get to the KOA in Corvallis, Oregon. On a normal day this would have taken about eight hours, but I decided to take whatever curvy roads struck my fancy, and it ended up adding a couple hours to the trip. Ultimately, it was well worth the side tracking to get to know my new bike. The seat and suspension are super comfortable, making extra miles a breeze. I found I could fairly easily go about three hours in the saddle before needing a stretch, which is convenient, because the fuel tank would hold enough fuel for around 180 to 200 miles of riding at speed. We’re vibing.
The day started out a little contentious between the two of us, as the GS occasionally didn’t want to idle right. It seemed to be fine at highway speeds, but anything below a quarter throttle got jumpy and idle was impossible. After half an hour of this I pulled off into a rest area for a look around. Maybe I’d bungled something in the installation of the drop bars? As it turned out, the right hand side “choke” cold start throttle cable had gotten pulled out of its home, so the bike was giving more throttle to one cylinder than the other. Once that was sorted, the bike ran great for the rest of the trip north.
A night camping in 40-ish degree weather is, uh, invigorating. The hot shower the morning after even more so. The bike and I got a good night’s rest and headed out to get the rest of the way there. This time there was no scenic route, it was just The Five North for four more hours, and a nap at my hotel. Oh, what a lovely nap it was.
I’ll have much more to say about Radwood PNW shortly, but for now I’ll just say it was a rockin’ good time, and the weather held for the whole of the event. My bike was one of only five that actually made the trek to the event. More had pre-registered, but I think people were turned off by the torrential downpour that occurred on Saturday. Thankfully Sunday was an absolute delight all day with excellent temperatures and even a bit of sunshine on occasion. Diffused light most of the day made for great photographs, though.
When it came time to leave, however, my heart sank when my Alpinestars weren’t where I’d left them. Helmet and jacket and rain gear, thankfully, were there, but someone had absconded with my phalange covers. Ugh. I really hope whoever took them needed them more than I did. I sauntered into town and found a lovely little local hardware, the kind which doesn’t really exist anymore, and purchased a pair of Master Ranchers to make my trip home slightly less unpleasant.
I needed to get back to Reno on Monday afternoon to help a friend of mine get her late father’s 1979 Porsche 911 back on the road for the first time in a decade, so it was decided that I’d try to log as many miles as possible on Sunday night after a full day of running around hosting a Radwood. When it comes to road trips, I absolutely must be a masochist. Done up in my rain gear I hit the road and hoped for the best. I had wanted to make it as far as Klamath, but the fatigue set in after sunset and I could only go as far as Eugene before booking a two-star Motel 6 to get out of the wet.
As luck would have it, the lone “fault” in the bike, if you could call it that, came on Sunday night. Somewhere around Portland the throttle decided it had had enough of being smooth and progressive, and instead wanted to be sticky and refused to snap back to idle. It was a bit like cruise control, but there was no cancel button, and it didn’t respond to braking. For the next 500 miles I needed to roll the throttle closed manually before pulling on the front brake. That wasn’t the most confidence inspiring thing in the world, but I made sure to leave more room to cars in front of me, and covered the rear brake out of an abundance of caution.
Monday morning was an early rise, and boy howdy was it fucking cold. According to my Tim Apple iTelephone I saw temps as low as 34 degrees that morning. Thankfully it wasn’t any lower than that, because there was a thin sheen of water on every paved surface for the first five hours of riding, particularly before sun-up. I will say, however, that it was worth it for the view, because sunrise on Oregon 58 between Eugene and Chemult is truly spectacular. And on the plus side I found a bait and tackle shop that served a mean egg and cheese croissant.
All in all this trip was a pretty good one. I’m more convinced than ever that I bought the right bike for what I need bikes for. This thing was a true joy to ride with for days. It’s so close to perfect that I don’t understand why more people don’t shout about these things. They’re pretty dorky looking, but I’m leaning into the GS dork way of life. I’ve already ordered my high-viz vest and matching Schuberth helmet, don’t worry.
Back in Nevada and fighting fit, it dawned on me that I’d just taken this twenty-five-year-old bike on a long road trip as though it were a brand new press bike. I didn’t bring a single tool or spare part, and I was hard on the throttle for the better part of all damn day. While I might need to practice a little more preparedness for future journeys, I’m now more confident in the bike’s abilities than ever before. The BMW is my rad machine, there are many like it, but this one is mine.
Aside from the sticky throttle and the weird choke issue last week, I think the speedometer cable needs to be replaced. Not only is it a little jumpy around 70 miles per hour, but at those speeds it sounds a little whiney. I’ve had speedo cables break before, and I definitely don’t want that to happen here. I’ll order one up and replace it prophylactically.
There’s a bit of work that needs to be done on this BMW before we take our next trip, but for now it has served extremely well and deserves a brief respite before our next trip. I’m coming up on a year since my cross-country Ducati trip, so maybe I need to head out to another national park on two wheels. I’m thinking Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Cleveland. Why not? Maybe this time I’ll spring for the Aerostitch and heated vest. God, that would have been so nice to have Monday morning... [sigh]
I told myself that I wouldn’t order up any parts for the bike until I figured out how well I meshed with the bike in its current configuration. Honestly, I’m pretty satisfied with the way this bike is as it sits. After about 2,000 miles in the seat now, I’ve got two things I need to change right away. The adjustable windscreen, while quite good, implies need for multiple heights and I never like them. I’ll be swapping it out for a taller single-piece screen as a way of claiming the bike as my own. Shorter riders need not apply. And I’ll be ordering a set of 1.5-inch bar risers ASAP, because my shoulders are a bit sore from the reach. I think I also need some kind of bike-specific GPS, because visual cues would be nice, and you’re not supposed to mount phones to your bike.
I do wish the bike had some kind of cruise control, but I’m terrified of throttle locks, so I’m on the fence about getting those. Before I’d said I wanted some different mirrors, but I’m not so sure now. These mirrors are damn near perfect in size, placement, and lack of vibration. Why mess with a good thing?
Dammit, I just realized I went all the way to Seattle and never actually got Starbucks.