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Our bikes - 1979 BMW R65

(MT#351 August 2019, updated July 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen, pics by Ben Galli Photography


Turning 40

BMW's R65 was never intended as a glamour model, but it's aged well

Is that the time already? It’s nearly 15 years since I bought the R65 from Ms J and the toy is now celebrating its 40th birthday. As is often the case, I reckon time has been kinder to the motorcycle than it has to me – it hasn’t aged a bit.

Anyway, what better way to celebrate your bike’s 40th birthday than by heading off for a ride? Even if it’s just a brief mid-Winter squirt to a local cars and coffee gig in August 2019.

Back in 1979, when this thing was built and the model as a whole was launched, BMW's R100RS with its trend-setting fairing was the star in the line-up.

The company in its wisdom decided to have a crack at the middleweight market, producing this and the R45 – which was nearly identical, exception for the engine capacity.

Hans Muth, who designed the RS and later the equally dramatic Suzuki Katana, penned the lines for the middleweights. Overall, they were shorter and narrower than their big brothers with, for example, a swingarm cut back by around 50mm.While sharing the architecture of their larger siblings, the engines were substantially different, with a shorter stroke (and about 60mm narrower), different conrods and pistons, a lighter flywheel and smaller dry clutch.

It shared the cast alloy wheels of some of the bigger models, while scoring twin-piston caliper front brakes from ATE – single or dual disc, depending on the market. A nice practical touch was the reasonably generous fuel tank, at 22 litres.

They weren’t however a big seller, as the pricing was prohibitive. For the $3800 being asked in Australia, you could have got a Honda CB750 and $1000 change!

Performance was a bit of an issue, too. The R45 was pitifully slow, while the 45-horsepower (34kW) 650 was acceptable but a long way from being a rocketship. What saved the day to some extent was the comparatively nimble handling and generous cornering clearance – it could be punted fairly quickly through a set of bends once you got your head around the handling.

Our example is a bit of an oddball – you may have noticed the subtle red-orange paint on the wheels and the Ecco BMW stickers on the tank. The story goes that it was once owned by Graeme ‘Gyro’ Carless of Ecco Engineering, who over the decades has been responsible for building some the quickest and most desirable airhead boxers in the country.

This, I’m told, was his runabout for a while. There don’t appear to be any significant mods, other than the two-into-one exhaust and the lairy wheels. The ability of those wheels to offend people is a constant source of amazement.

Ian Falloon in his tome The Complete Book of BMW Motorcycles, describes the R65/45 series this way: “Although functionally superior in some respects, the smaller boxers never really endeared themselves with buyers. They may have been narrower and more stylish, with better handling than their larger brethren, but they remained expensive, underpowered and relatively heavy.” Ouch!

He’s pretty much on the money with those comments, though I’d add the proviso that while the R45 was underpowered, particularly in 27hp (20kW) form, the R65 can hold its own when looked at as a classic rather than a contemporary bike.

With over 88,000km on the odo, our example has been incredibly reliable. Over time, I’ve used it as a commuter, daughter Ms A did likewise for a while, it’s been used for weekend joyrides and still gets out and about on a fairly regular basis. The one breakdown was when it backfired and spat off a carburetor, which was a five-minute fix.

In fact, if all my classic bikes were this reliable, I’d be much wealthier, would have less grey hairs and be better looking. Okay, maybe that last one is wishful thinking. But, really, if I want an older bike to take for a run and don’t want to be messed around, this is the machine I turn to.

So far all it’s required is oil changes and the odd check-over. I am about to replace the points – yes it still has mechanical contact breakers – as they look close to being worn out.

Overall tuning is very straight-forward, with the aforementioned points, plus four screw-and locknut tappets that are very easy to access. It is, from that point of view, a true home maintenance proposition.

The only thing I can see getting expensive or time-consuming is a clutch and rear main seal replacement. You’d do both at the same time, but I’ve yet to see any indication of a need for that.

It’s funny how your performance goalposts shift as a bike ages. When new, its performance was regarded as ordinary. But as an older machine on club plates the 170km/h top speed is perfectly fine. In that context, acceleration is pretty good and it has no trouble dealing with modern traffic on that front.

Braking however is very dated, as the front disc needs a fair bit of muscle to get much action out of it. You get used to it, but newcomers to the bike sometimes return from a spin looking a little pale.

Handling has a lot of the boxer quirks of the era. There’s the torque reaction roll as you blip the throttle, plus a noticeable rise and fall from the shaft drive. However once you nut out how to work with it, there’s a sense of achievement in riding the bike well.

I’ve developed a real affection for the thing over the years. Though we’ve toyed with selling it a couple of times, it inevitably seems to come back off the market, particularly if you make the mistake of taking it for a ride…










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