The Airheads Beemer Club is a non-profit club reclaiming the 'Legendary Motorcycles of Germany'


My First BMW R100RT

I guess it was only a matter of time before the day came around that my buddies and I used to joke about, the day one of us would be the first to buy an RT. Twenty years ago we saw RT riders as old farts, guys that valued comfort over performance, that "needed" to carry too much stuff, and that typically marched to the BMW party line, keeping their machines bone stock and dealer maintained. These guys would show up at club camp outs a day or two early, and when we were all scrambling on Sunday morning to get home, they'd lounge around drinking coffee and fixing themselves a nice breakfast, in no hurry to go anywhere. After all, most of them were retired and pretty much did things on their own schedules. All of them were well traveled, and would tell us stories of trips through the Alps, or down into Baja, or maybe a transcontinental ride or three.

Fast forward thirty years and guess what? I'd accumulated enough moss to join the old farts club. The reach to the ground on the GS bikes was getting longer, the heave it took to get one onto the center stand more straining, and my appetite for bad dirt roads had pretty much been quenched, at least when riding overweight "adventure" bikes. I was also really starting to appreciate the large windscreen on the R1200GS, which kept me dry and warm in even the worst weather, but I wanted something simpler and easier to maintain than the recall prone 1200. I'd piled over a hundred thousand miles onto the R100GS, and felt comfortable maintaining and modifying most of the systems and components on that bike. About that time it hit me that I was looking for a touring equivalent of that R100GS, that BMW had made one back in the day, and it was called the RT.

I was uncertain I really wanted one though, as I'd almost abandoned motorcycling altogether after a couple of years on an '81 R100RS. I still fondly recalled the great weather protection and stable handling from the RS, but memories of baking behind that fairing in the summer and sliding on cylinder heads in corners left me doubting I wanted to buy back into that same experience. But just like the rest of the R100 line, the RT had been updated over the years to a single sided "Mono Lever" swing arm, dual disc brakes up front, and stylish "K" style saddlebags. In the last years of production, BMW had even seen fit to bring back the circlip on the transmission output shaft, eliminating the need to rebuild an otherwise perfectly serviceable gear box. I was looking for a cold/wet weather bike and had no plans to sell the R100GS, so the RT could stay parked when the thermometer soared. So I started my search for a '95, which at the time BMW was calling the "Classic". Not many were imported into the US, as by then BMW was focused on the "K" bikes and the very new "oil head" 1100cc machines.

But I kept my eyes open, scanned the marketplace and Craig's List ads every week, and in November of 2014 came up with three prospects. One was in Florida, another in Georgia, and a third close by in Reno, Nevada. I emailed all three and quickly learned that the Florida bike had been sold, but didn't hear anything back on the other two. Two weeks later I got a call from the owner in Georgia, who apologized for his slow response, explaining that he was in the middle of moving. But the bike was still available. He'd had some maintenance work done while he'd owned it, but it quickly became obvious that it had sat unused in a storage garage for most of the time he had it. That was good from a mileage and wear standpoint, but a bike that sits idle rots away with leaking seals, dying battery, and bad tires. If I was going to ride it home from Georgia, it would mean either finding a place to catch up on deferred maintenance, or roll the dice and hope it made it home without it.

While I was thinking that option over, I got a voice message from the owner in Reno, and that bike was still available. That fellow turned out to be a railroader, and his schedule took him out of town for weeks at a time. He was only recently returned from one of his trips and saw my enquiry in his email, and wanted to know if I was still interested. I made the trip over the hill the next day. The test ride showed that it had a head shake at around 40MPH with hands off the bars, and as could be expected after 43,500 miles the rear shock was shot, but the bodywork was mostly unmolested. I wasn't thrilled with the Corbin seat, but somebody out there would be. The bike used the same seat as several other bikes in the BMW range, so finding a stocker to use as a base for a custom saddle wouldn't be an issue. It had plenty of get-up-and-go, nice to feel in spite of the 5000 feet of elevation in Reno. I was able to get a foot down easily at stops, I wasn't all hunched over the bars like on the RS bikes I'd owned, and aside from a little more wind noise than I was used to, still air enveloped most of my body, even up to 80MPH where that same stable ride as the old RS prevailed. There were some issues with oil leaks and deferred maintenance, but nothing that a few days on the lift wouldn't take care of. After a quick trip to the bank we rolled the RT onto my trailer and I headed back over the hill.

Here is is only a few months later and most everything's been done to bring this bike to it's fill touring potential. With new suspension front and rear it handles almost as well as a GS, the fairing keeps me toasty down into the 20F range, and the Day-Long saddle leaves me refreshed and ready to keep going after covering 500+ miles. Once again BMW nailed the concept of a long distance sport tourer right off the bat, and the aftermarked upgrades available today have only perfected that excellent start.

The pages that follow detail maintenance, upgrades, and repairs I've made since the purchase. As usual, they reflect my intended use and preferences, and are not presented as the only way to skin any particular cat.

Alternator by Emerald Island
Auxiliary Power Bus by Centech
Battery by Odyssey
Brake Pads by Galfer
Brake Light LED
Braided Stainless Brake Lines
Cam Upgrade by Siebenrock
Carb Swap to 40 mm Bings
chargeGuard by Kisan
Driving Lights, HID, by PIAA
Engine Upgrades
Euro Headlight Switch
Fork Boots
Fork Springs by Wilburs
Fuel Lines & Filters
Grip Heat-Troller
Ignition Upgrade by Emerald Island
Instrument Clean & Lube
Laminar Lip Windscreen Upgrade
Oil Filter Canister Depth
Painting a Side Cover
Pulse Air and Fuel Solenoid Removal
Pushrod Tubes and Seals
Saddle by Russell
Shock by Wilburs
Side Stand Removal
Shock by Wilburs
Improved Speedo Cable Boot
Starter Upgrade, Valeo
Tail Light LED Upgrade
Tail Light Housing Repair
Tires for Touring
Tires Pump
Top Brace Upgrade
Top End Upgrade
Transmission Check Out & Spline Lube
Valve Cover Update
Windshield by Clearview