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BMW R1100S

Future collectible – BMW R1100S

BMW R1100S

Teutonic Toy

(by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Mar 2021)

Many folk have passed it by, but we reckon this one is a gem

Mention the BMW R1100S to most people and they won’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Remind them, and they yawn. They’re wrong, misinformed and are about to miss out. Let me explain why.

The S fell into some kind of no-mans-land in BMW history. Back in the early 1980s the company was looking down the barrel of a major and complex expansion plan. Its well-advanced K-series multis were soon to launch (with inline liquid-cooled fours and triples), the thought of developing a new starter series was in the wind (perhaps a single, which initially ended up coming from Aprilia), and the company was embarking on the biggest rework of its iconic boxer twin series for several decades. Perhaps ever.

For Bimmer watchers, it was the redevelopment of the boxer that was going to be most closely scrutinised. That distinctive engine layout, which through sheer bloody-minded persistence the company had made its own, spoke to the ‘soul’ of the motorcycle arm of the company. Cock that up, and you’re in real trouble.

In fact it got so paranoid and weird among enthusiasts that there was a popular conspiracy theory (which BMW did nothing to dispel) that the firm wanted to dump the boxer, but had to bring it back through popular demand – or protest. Take your pick.

bmw r1100rs

The first result was the air/oil-cooled (aka ‘oilhead’) R1100RS of 1993 – an unashamed sports tourer that played to company’s market strength at the time. It was quick, high-tech in the chassis department – with a Telelever front end and a development of the single-side Paralever rear – and very capable. Of course factory luggage and assorted other add-ons were readily available, including anti-lock brakes that were well-established by then.

bmw r1100gs

A GS version followed in 1994 – which was a huge performance step-up over the air-cooled series – then an RT in 1996, along with the 1100R and 850R naked bikes. Those last two, by the way, are particularly sweet rides and should be considered as an all-rounder.

bmw r1200c

Then, in 1998, Bimm really stuck out its corporate neck by delving into completely unfamiliar territory – the cruiser market. With the 1200C. Good sodding grief. This, frankly, was a bit of a disaster.


It was over-priced, didn’t really cut it with the audience and the later touring version, the R1200CL, was pug-ugly and clumsy.

BMW R1100S

Okay, so we have the sports tourer, the full-dress tourer, the cruisers and the nakeds. What’s missing? Perhaps a sport bike?

It’s easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s nevertheless gob-smacking to consider that the new engine series was launched with no hero road scalpel in the armoury. Many series launches since have taken the opposite approach: launch the hero performance model, then roll out the rest.

The problem BMW had was that powerplant – a four-valve boxer twin with short pushrods – was never going to compete with what was then the performance state-of-the-art. Even the V-twins from the likes of Ducati, Honda and Suzuki of the time. So maybe BMW was always on the horns of a dilemma.

Finally, in 1998, it quietly released the S. That designation has a proud history with boxers, and some S airheads built over the years have become very desirable classics.

With some hits and misses over time, and what was by now some confusion over what the oilhead series represented, it was easy to dismiss the R1100S as yet another repackaging of a familiar platform. It was and it wasn’t.

Sure, the overall architecture looked familiar, but BMW could never be accused of being lazy when it comes to attention to detail when developing a model.

BMW R1100S

The S had significant frame changes, including a revised Telelever that also happened to look much more like a conventional fork, a bespoke four-piece frame and fresh wheels.

Its engine had come in for major revision, with a higher compression ratio (11.3:1) different intake, strengthened conrods, raised rev limit and a much-improved exhaust system which also followed the then fashion of under-tail twin ports. That lot claimed a believable 98 horses for a 229kg wet weight. Not stunning stats, but enough to be lively.

I rode a few of them not long after launch, some over long distances and sometimes in the company of their nearest competitors from Ducati et al. You know what? They did well.

Muddying the waters at the time was you could add on all sorts of accessories, including a hard pannier set, which made it look more like a heavily-laden beast of burden than a lithe toy. Strip away all of that, and it was a different story.

One of the crucial things with any late-ish motorcycle is not the bare specifications, but how well it’s been developed. And, having met and spoken at length with a few factory pre-production bike test riders over the years, you learn to appreciate that the end result has as much to do with the final tweaking as it does the original design.

I don’t know who ‘did’ the R1100S, but they got it right. Even back then, it was clearly a well thought out bit of kit. You could bumble along and it would be okay – quite comfy.

Turn up the wick and you quickly discovered it had some serious handling potential. It was sharp and light in the steering without being super quick, with decent feedback from a front end which, in different models, has been accused of being a little ‘dead’ in the feel department.

Both ends had decent suspension and there was a high level of grip. The suspension travel was at the firm end of sports touring – not harsh, but less ‘floaty’ than its RS sibling.

As for the powerplant, it would spin up quicker than your average boxer, and had a very broad spread of power, though it was more about upper mid-range than bottom end.

Of the boxers I’ve ridden over the years – which spans several decades and series – it remains in my top two or three that I’d choose to punt down an unfamiliar sport road. Why? It’s quick and I trust it.

In fact, I’d rate it among the most enjoyable road twins I’ve ever ridden, and highly in any other company. I remember this thing standing out as being fun and capable among much more fancied machinery when it was launched, and nothing has changed that perception.

BMW R1100S

Something I reckon held it back in the market is the looks. Okay, I’m no style god, but the asymmetric thing with the headlights and the corporate fascination with panniers kind of took some of the sex out of the photographs. For heaven’s sake BMW, just let the Italians have a crack at it next time!

That said, either history has been kind to the looks or we’ve got used to them – it no longer detracts from what is a good ride. Is there such a thing as late-90s charm? We’ll have to wait and see.

In-service problems are few. The engine had a long history by this stage and any bugs should have been sorted. Though the Paralever has had issues over time, it’s generally been with the harder-used GS series and not this. Maintenance records are important, because one that’s been serviced more or less by the book should still be bulletproof.

I also like the fact this bike was built before the factory started complicating things with more chassis electronics.

They’re priced from $5000 to about $8000 for an exceptional one. $6000-6500 will get you something very solid. Expect to pay a premium for a really good one in Boxer Cup colours, which are the corporate white, red and blue. That was a Euro race series, so the colours look cute but have no huge effect on local long-term resale values.

If you look back at the contemporary road tests of the R1100S, you’ll see they drew a connection to the history of the airhead S models, and loved this iteration. Times had changed. The original S bikes were at the cutting edge and, when this generation came out, it was a more crowded and fractured market.

In a perfect world, you’d have an old R69S, an R1100S and the first model S 1000 RR – that would wrap up the sports history very nicely.

Two of those are out of my price bracket at the moment, but maybe now is the time to have another look at the 1100…


bmw r1200s

What about the R1200S?

The 1200 was a very different animal, which we should probably tackle another day.

The R1100S ran from 1998 to 2005 and the 1200 2006 to 2007. Though running the same overall architecture, the 1200 was a much-altered machine, with a trellis frame, different front suspension and wheels, plus a much-modified engine that now claimed 122hp from the 1170cc capacity.

It was a pointer to the HP2 Sport, which was its successor.


BMW R1100S

BMW R1100S (1998-2005)


TYPE: Air/oil cooled four-valve boxer twin
CAPACITY: 1085cc

BORE & STROKE: 99 x 70.5mm


FUEL SYSTEM: Bosch fuel injection


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 

FINAL DRIVE: Paralever shaft


FRAME TYPE: Multi-component alloy with engine as stressed member
FRONT SUSPENSION: Telelever, 110mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Single shock, 130mm travel
FRONT BRAKE: 320mm discs with 4-piston caliper

REAR BRAKE: 276mm disc with 2-piston caliper





FRONT: 120/70 R17
REAR: 160/60 R18


POWER: 71kW @ 7500rpm

TORQUE: 97Nm @ 5750rpm

Handles well

Not pretty
A bit of an orphan (so far)

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