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Thread: Newbie in BMWs - Airhead, Oilhead or K bike?

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Nov 2009
    Beaverton, OR

    Newbie in BMWs - Airhead, Oilhead or K bike?

    Hi everyone,

    I don't want to start a war here, but I'm new in motorcycling (currently riding a Vulcan 900) but a cruiser style, while fitting my rebuilt knees, is not what I thought I would be riding. I have the age old question of what type of BMW to get. I'm looking to get into BMWs as reasonably as I can and a new bike is out of the financial question. Therefore, I have to go used and have the age old question of what to get. I have spent the last month or so looking on this website as well as others and reading the 96 edition of the BMW Motorcycle Buyers Guide. I would like to find something for less than $6000 or so and am not afraid to get my hands dirty.

    Because I would like to get into touring, I have been primarily looking at R100RT, R1100RT, and R1150RT. I'm also starting to consider the K-bikes as well. There is so much on the Web about some of the issues with final dives and such that I'm looking for advice and recommendations from those who know much more than me.

    I have seen some bikes on the Flea market here, on Craigslist, and at my local dealer that fit my initial purchase price but am also interested in long term maintenance costs. I've also seen some project bikes that also fit the bill, but again questions about repair costs.

    Any advice?

    Thanks for the bandwidth and your time.
    Last edited by efoltyn; 12-30-2009 at 03:00 AM. Reason: spelling
    Ed Foltyn
    BMWMOA # 154327
    1999 R1100RT-P
    2009 V-Strom 650

  2. #2
    You stupid, fix it! r11rs94's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Tiverton, RI
    Welcome to the wonderful world of BMW. The three you listed, R100RT, R1100RT, and R1150RT are three good choices. I can not speak for K-Bikes as I have never owned one. Good Luck
    The thing about traveling is, you never want it to end and you can't wait to get home.
    I answer to Roy, Chief, or Sarg.
    04 R-1150-RT current bike. 94 R-1100-RS74,383, Sold, 78 R-80/7, K.I.A by a D.U.I

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by efoltyn View Post
    Any advice?
    The K bikes (older, I haven't ridden any of the new ones) and the R bikes have a much different feel in the way power is applied to the road. Try to test ride both. Get the one that puts the biggest smile on your face.

  4. #4

    Greetings from another relative newbie to BMW land!

    When I was considering buying a BMW last year, I spoke with my brother - who has ridden BMW bikes exclusively since the mid '70s.

    I was looking at an airhead boxer (1987 R80RT) and a slightly newer K1000LT. His basic summary: the RT is at its best on twisty roads, plenty of power and great handling. The K-bike has awesome power and tears up Interstates like nobody's business, but it's heavier and less capable on twisty roads.

    To each his own - enjoy the ride.

  5. #5
    Life Member SCJACK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Upstate South Carolina
    It's purely subjective as to which would be best for you. I've owned airheads, oilheads and K-bikes and my personal preference for the type of riding that I now do is the 1981-1985 airheads. I'm sure you would enjoy any BMW.

    For regular, long-distance touring, the 1996-2001 RT's would be my choice although those models have fuel pumps and fuel injection and IMHO, require more time to maintain than I am willing to provide (the transmission input spline lube is very labor intensive). I've owned a 2002 R1150RT and this model (all years) had the power assisted brakes that are a pain to bleed and seem to be somewhat prone to the dreaded transmission input spline failure (ouch, expensive to fix). K bikes are heavier but in general, are comfortable and fast. Like I said, it's really subjective. My suggestion is to take your time and learn all you can about the different models/years of BMW's and pick the one that suits you best.

  6. #6
    From MARS
    Take part of your $6000 and go buy a well maintained airhead. Ride it. Work on it. See what you think. Don't like it? Sell it.

    One could die while waiting for the "perfect" bike; especially if they don't *know* what that bike is.


  7. #7
    the Wizard of Oz 26667's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    NW suburban chgo

    my 2 cents

    Much as I've loved the airheads I've owned, they're all starting to show their age in terms of performance. I've owned two 1100RT's and loved them in part because of the ABS, heated grips, big (if somewhat high) alternator, adjustable screen, trick suspension. Not to mention tubeless tyres. I've owned a couple K75's and they just didn't ring my chimes. Can't even exactly may have been something as simple/stupid as the sound. I love my R100RS, but my son likes the back seat of the oil head RT better, so the airhead is FS.
    It's obviously a matter of personal choice, but IMHO, the front (Telelver?) suspension and ABS put the more modern machines light years ahead of our beloved airheads.
    and ps. I think the clutch input spline lube is pretty labor intensive on any of 'em because of its location. you gotta remove a lotta stuff just to access. la guerre.
    Last edited by 26667; 12-30-2009 at 01:32 PM. Reason: french
    We might as well walk. ~ Adam Guettel The Light In The Piazza
    used to own: 1982 R100T, 1984 R65, 1986K75C, 1997 R1100RT, R850R, K75S, 1978 R100RS... what was I thinking?

  8. #8
    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    Santa Cruz CA
    Quote Originally Posted by marchyman View Post
    Try to test ride both. Get the one that puts the biggest smile on your face.
    What Marc said. Each has different characteristics. Gotta try 'em all.

    And what you like now doesn't mean you'll choose it in the future. Tastes (and budgets) change: since the early 70s, I've ridden /2 machines (from the 50s and 60s), Airheads (early 80s), early Ks (late 80s), and now an Oilhead (mid 90s).

    Painting with the broadest brush: the earlier the machine, the more suitable it is for the home mechanic, but the more likely it is to need mechanicking; the later the machine, the more specialized stuff it has and the less suitable it is for the home mechanic, but the less likely it is to need mechanicking.

    There are certainly exceptions - some jobs on the early bikes (e.g., clean slingers on a /2) can't easily be done in a home workshop, while some jobs on the late bikes (regular maintenance on an Oilhead) can. But, generally speaking, ABS brakes, CANBUS electrical systems, and FI on the later machines sometimes require computer interfaces, tools, and expertise that most of us don't have in our home garages.
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

  9. #9
    John. jstrube's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Atwater, CA
    All I really know is that right now, there are some KILLER deals on used bikes. I bought my 2005 R1200RT for $9000, my wife's F650CS for $3500, both in wonderful condition, the CS only has 9K miles on it! Both had maintenance records & new tires!

    Use SEARCHTEMPEST.COM, put in BMW, 250 mile radius, & see what is out there.

    My preference, is for the newer bikes, ABS was important for my wife's bike as well as mine, fuel injection is awesome, I HATE carburetors & have eliminated them on all of my vintage cars, People worry about not being able to fix it... but I've never had to.

    I bet, in this environment, you could find a nice maintained R1150RT with extras for under $6000, easily. Or, you could get a cop bike for $3000 & see how you like it.

    Oh yeah, with the DVD available for mainenance, anyone good with tools can do it. Things just have to go back together the way they come apart!

  10. #10
    I've owned airheads and and Ks. Each was great. The closest I've come to the perfect bike were a couple of R100GS/PDs. Other than the drive shaft issue, I've never owned or riden a better, more versatile bike. The new GSs have more power/suspension/brakes than the airheads.
    My two cents...
    Beaverton, Oegon...I bet there are lots of forest roads nearby.


  11. #11
    Rally Rat
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Big Sky country (Montana)
    All I'll say is if your budget is $6,000, don't spend more than $5,000 on the initial purchase, and that's still too much for an airhead. That does not mean buy a bike that needs work; it means buy the nicest, best condition example you can find for the least money... You'll wind up spending the rest later.

  12. #12
    Douglas Williams
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Raleigh, NC
    I've only owned airheads, an 81 R100RT and an 84 R100RS. I enjoy wrenching on them so maintenance isn't an issue. The performance suits my style of riding and the RT has been coast-to-coast a couple of times including 2-up with a trailer. I have read good things about the K75 which was made for a few years around 1990. It is allegedly the smoothest K and doesn't have the weight of the larger K's. A friend has an R1150RT and you can't get him off of it. I agree with the poster, spend $5000, save $1000 for the unexpected. See you in Redmond.
    Sent from a Galaxy, far, far away

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Reno, NV
    You have expressed interest in a used machine, and that you would be willing to do your own repairs. It is no fun having a bike you cannot afford to operate. In dating terms, a used touring bike means you are seeking LTR, rather than FWB.

    I would suggest you begin by perusing the tech pages here, and initially just look for a few recurring themes which pertain to each type. Such as Bing finickiness on Airheads, Oilhead FI surging, Paralever issues on bikes so equpped, spline lube on all, etc. So you can become somewhat conversant on each type.

    People tend to come into the forums with problems, so the good you hear less about. Conversely, people with new bikes tend to not have issues, are in the "honeymoon" stage, etc. I like to meet real world riders of bikes I am interested in; they will tell you about the good and the bad. Especially if you have taken the time to learn a bit already. If there is any riding in your area now, winter is a very good time to meet some dedicated riders, especially high miled ones with the patina on their bikes. Ask that Oilhead rider about FD issues, etc. Did they fix it themselves? How long did it take? If shop, how many hours were charged? Also, what kind of riding do they feel their bike is best/worst at. Etc.

    Now take your list of issues, and get on a website which posts prices. I use A&S BMW, as they have fiche for my Airhead, and I can see ancillary parts. And I get typical dealer prices - theirs seem on the high end. So I know the maximum cost for whatever I am dealing with. These tech pages can give you insight into whether a likely job on a particular model is a DIY proposition for you personally.

    This process will identify cost of ownership issues which may or may not be showstoppers, for you personally, on particular models. And you will be a much wiser test rider for the much more fun round 2; seeing which bike suits your riding style and expectations. And which one touches and tickles that strange MC gene all of us here have.

    Prices for anything you want to buy will also tend lower now in winter. Have fun!

  14. #14


    Go with an RT. You won't be sorry and you'll love the ride.

  15. #15
    RK Ryder
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    London, Ontario
    After you do the research on the different bikes and narrow your choice down, you really have to test ride them to see what appeals to you. With one K and one R in the garage, I can honestly say that they are definitely different from each other. Both have minuses and pluses and both are great rides.

    As JStrube said, there are some great deals available.
    Retired and riding my RTs, the '87 K100 & the '98 R1100 !
    Niagara Riders #298 & Knights of the Roundel #333

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