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Our bikes - BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar part 1

MT #354 circa Oct 2019

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

Fly-Ride Bimmer

Guido continues his effort to empty the NT of motorcycles

It was young Mr B on the email, again, and I’m pretty sure my wallet started whimpering. He first contacted this mag a couple of years ago, offering a pretty nice first model Kawasaki GPz900R, with the opinion that one of the staff should buy it.

Of course I did. That meant flying in to Alice Springs from Melbourne and riding it home again. After a little hassle on the first day with the breather hoses on the fuel tank – which periodically reduced the Zed to a crawl – it turned out to be a great trip.

And here he was again, having a second bite of the cherry. I was in fact half-heartedly in the market for an older adventure tourer. Over the previous months, muggins had been scanning the classifieds for air-cooled BMW GS series and early Hinckley Triumph Tigers, but hadn’t actually made the plunge.

It took the R100 being offered at a reasonable price, and the prospect of another long ride from Alice, to tip the balance. So, nearly three months after sending the deposit, I was on a plane to collect the new toy.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

This would be the first time in 30 years I’d ridden one. Back in 1989, I got to play with what was then a new model and write a story about it. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest thing ever to grace two wheels, but it was a whole lot of fun and left me walking away wondering why on earth there wasn’t one in the shed. Actually, back then, I probably couldn’t afford it.

Since then, the whole adventure tourer market has ballooned in size. Where it was once very much a niche and far more popular in Europe than here, that sector is now mainstream. That in turn has helped to drive up the prices of BMW’s first R80GS – particularly the Paris Dakar version.

By the 1988 model year, BMW launched this, the second-generation. In addition to the bigger 980cc engine option, it ran an articulated Paralever rather than rigid Monolever shaft drive, gained a monster plastic 35 litre fuel tank and, perhaps most controversially, motorcycling’s answer to a bullbar. Overkill? Perhaps, but there was no mistaking the intent, even without the giant ‘Paris Dakar’ emblazoned down the side.

The model was to last through to 1996, albeit with a number of running changes.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

In this original form, it was quick as a point-to-point prospect but not super fast. With a mere 60 horses (45kW) on tap, by far the best way to get the most out of it was surf the very solid mid-range – max revs produced a lot more noise but not that much extra power. Top speed was 190km/h.

Handling was pretty good, if a little weird on first encounter. With long travel suspension and big wide handlebars, you got a pretty smooth ride, though hard braking brought on some fairly radical changes in pitch. Those bars also helped to overcome any resistance from the fairly conservative steering geometry – and the giant 21-inch front rim.

It was actually a good thing to punt through a set of turns. You’d get the occasional brief weave, but it was benign and the GS was surprisingly willing to pitch into a corner.

As for the big trip home, the idea of going via the Oodnadattta Track was toyed with and rejected. I’ve been on that road before, and it is worth doing in the right circumstances. However tackling it on your own on a 30-year-old motorcycle you had never clapped eyes on didn’t make sense. The final nail in that idea was the condition report of the track: 500km of bulldust and corrugations. No thanks – this was meant to be fun.

Kulgera Pub NT

Anyway, down the Stuart Highway may look boring on a map, but I reckon the scenery and the people along the way make it well worthwhile. If you can’t find something interesting to do or see in a town like Coober Pedy (see pic below), for example, give up travelling.

Of course the bike conspired to make life a little too interesting. Mr B greeted me with the news that the front brake wasn’t too flash (understatement of the week), but more concerning was the GS had a top speed of just 110km/h. Really? His theory was it had been sitting too long and needed a good dose of fresh fuel through it. Maybe, but an 80km/h performance deficit made that theory a bit of a stretch.

Out on the road, I soon discovered that it was also guzzling fuel at an alarming rate – getting just 9km per litre! A good one should get 15 at worst and anything up to 20. Adding insult to injury, an indicator stalk snapped, through fatigue. Great…just one of those things.

Coober Pedy South Australia

Over the day, I pulled up and dropped the fuel bowls and main jets and they were as clean as the proverbial whistle, so no problem there. The carbs, given the appalling consumption, were clearly getting more than enough fuel. Air? It had a new filter and there were no blockages.

Spark? The lovely toolkit under the seat had spare plugs, and a plug spanner that was the wrong size. Having turned the air blue with a new range of swear words, I nevertheless had to accept they were unlikely culprits.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

At the end of day one, I pulled up in Marla, a couple of hundred kays short of the planned target of Coober Pedy. This thing needed help. A chat with Spannerman (Motorcycle Trader mag’s mechanical agony aunt) over the phone had him suggesting I check the carburetor diaphrams and reseal them. Of course I couldn’t get the carburetor tops off, as the screws were stuck fast, so I soaked them in penetrating fluid and left them overnight.

By morning we were able to get in and the news wasn’t good. Both diaphragms were badly torn on the hot side, closest to the engine. They had simply perished over time, and the years of inactivity probably didn’t help. With the nearest BMW dealer several hundred kilometers away, this was going to have to be jury-rigged.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

As luck would have it, I’d bought a roll of vinyl race tape the previous day, to strap the broken indicator to the rear rack. It had a particularly strong adhesive and seemed worth a try. So tearing off and trimming patches with my teeth, I kinda fixed the diaphragms.  The result was no oil painting, and there was no guarantee they would work at all, or last longer than the forecourt of the Marla roadhouse.

A cautious roll out on to the Stuart Highway and let’s see what happens. Surprise, surprise, we had something resembling a normal throttle, the engine revved and we had much-improved performance. Better still, the fuel consumption was more like 13 or 14km/lt – still not great, but a huge improvement.

The best part was the dodgy repair lasted for the remaining 1800km home. If I was really slack, it would probably go on for months more.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

One diversion I can recommend is to turn off the Stuart Highway and head east from Crystal Brook. On previous trips I’ve ducked further down and turned east at Adelaide, but the less-used B-route was a lot more interesting. There was bugger-all traffic and a host of interesting places to poke around in. It brings you in to Mildura.

Rather than tempt fate any longer than necessary, I ordered the parts on the second-last day of the trip – a Friday – and they arrived in my office on the Monday. That was through WA-based retailer Munich Motorcycles and included diaphragms and a sorely-needed front brake master cylinder rebuild kit.

Mechanical frustrations aside, it was a fantastic ride. There’s something special about being out there somewhere on your own, just ambling along and taking in the scenery. One correspondent on Faceplant reckoned it was good for the soul and that’s probably right.

See part 2 of the story, the refurb when we get it home.

BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar

Ed's note: And here's a quick vid overtaking a road train, with the jury-rigged carbs - the repair did the job!

 

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