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Thread: New member from Colorado - airhead owner wannabe, maybe

  1. #1
    bytesNbikes
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    New member from Colorado - airhead owner wannabe, maybe

    Hi all, just joined am on the hunt for an airhead (I think, see below). I love the vintage /5/6/7 bikes and have been searching for one for about a month. I finally test drove one yesterday and have to say I was a little surprised at the ride.

    The bike was a 78 100/7 that seemed in nice shape mechanically. I'm curious about a couple of things though. My past bikes were a 79 Honda and a 74 Norton, and my current (as of a month ago) is a 75 CB 750 (can't seem to make it out of that decade) - I found it hard to get used to having the cylinders there over my feet. Does that just take a little getting used to? Do your feet get hot?

    Second, when shifting there was a pretty substantial ker-chunk as it went between gears - is that normal for these?

    So... I'm not actually sure what I want either. I love the classic bikes, but can't really take on a project right now. I really want bike to get back into motorcycling as it's been about a decade. I'd really mostly use it for short trips and around town stuff - think maybe I should look at something newer and/or smaller/lighter?

    Thanks for any words of wisdom! Just trying to make sure I find the right fit for now.

    -Tom

  2. #2
    Registered User skiteach's Avatar
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    Ker chunk is how they shift. And no feet don't get hot-at least not any more so than other bikes.
    '73 R75/5
    Never had a bad day skiing!

  3. #3
    Brett
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    You will fall in love with the airhead, so simple and so much fun to ride. A little maintenance required to keep them on the road but not much if anymore than a newer bike plus you can do most if not all of it yourself. Feet never get hot especially if you wear riding boots. I have a 1970/5 I could use as daily rider if I wanted but mostly use a GS for the heavy lifting.

    Brett Endress
    Altoona pa

  4. #4
    Registered User ebeeby's Avatar
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    The ker chunk is SOP. You will have to learn how to ride an airhead (yes, yes, I know you know how to ride, I thought the same thing when I was told that).
    The airhead shift is pre-loaded with the toe and then finally shifted in with more of a click.
    1973 R75/5

  5. #5
    Registered User mneblett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ebeeby View Post
    The ker chunk is SOP. You will have to learn how to ride an airhead (yes, yes, I know you know how to ride, I thought the same thing when I was told that).
    The airhead shift is pre-loaded with the toe and then finally shifted in with more of a click.
    +1 -- Also, the slower you move the lever, the smoother the shift; the gears, sliding bits, shift forks, etc. in these trannies are large/heavy/high inertia, and strongly resist being slammed about. The granny shifts may not be "fun" at first, but they fit the "character" of an airhead ride (mellow, soul-soothing), and it becomes very satisfying to master the art of the smooth shift on a tranny that is not inherently capable of such shifts.

    This isn't to say a BMW can't be hussled along -- my '88 RT does quite well with the young kids on the block, and in quick/sharp combat commuting to the office -- but the older the bike (particularly the 4-speed /5's and early /6's), the more relaxed shifting pays off in smoothness.

    I had SWMBO's toaster /5 out for a run for ~30 miles yesterday, and in hindsight I realize that I automatically rode it with granny shifting -- that is just it's nature. I had my airhead RT out an hour later, and the difference 15 years of tranny refinement made was instantly apparent, as I was immediately shift like a "modern" tranny. You may want to look at a mid-/late-'80's monolever airhead as an easier-shifting bike more in line with your expectations/desires.

    HTH!
    Mark Neblett
    Fairfax, VA
    #32806

  6. #6
    Yarddog
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    Well, if yer goin' into this thinking that the Beemer will be a well engineered, well-thought out machine, you'll be disappointed, as I was...If you are looking for a well built machine, you'll be happy, BUT...don't expect that you're just gonna jump on this thing and ride merrily here on after without doing some work!

    When I bought my '78 R100/7, the first thing I did was change my oil...it was over a hundred degrees out, but, hey, no biggy, right, it's just a simple oil change...

    WRONG!

    This was my first that the engineers had been tokin' up when they designed the oil filter housing on the block! Ya gotta just have the housing JUST SO to get it past the frame...THEN ya gotta get it past the exhaust pipe...and keep in mind that as per proper procedure, the bike has been warmed up...Then getting the stinkin' filter back in, and lined up with this little shim and an O-ring, named the '$2000 O-ring' (because if you don't get this right you'll be rebuilding the engine!) back in...along with trying to get the STOOPID housing past the exhaust and the frame...well, that was my first hint that I would be sorely disappointed...Hey, all they had to do was bulb the are out just 1/4", maybe a little more, and everything would line up well...Because it was so poorly done, they came out with a hinged oil filter to make it a little easier...imagine that...a HINGED oil filter instead of just doin' it right the first time!! Or, they coulda used a spin-on oil filter, but NOOOOOO!!!

    The second thing that disappointed me was the dumb way that the clamshell air filter goes together...now, how hard would it have been to have designed that thing with bosses and screws along the lower edge instead of relying on metal CLAMPS to hold it all togther...that have to be lined up JUST SO!!! Sheeeeesh!

    Then we come to...the lubrication of the clutch splines...you'll hear 'Oh, that's so wonderful, it's automotive design'...true, and I like that part...the part I don't like is the apparently current recommendatin by BMW and by other members of this forum that these be lubricated once a year...now, imagine if your car with a manual transmission had to be taken apart every year to slop some grease on the clutch splines...do ya think that car owners would put up with that? Well, it's not a particularly easy job to do every year! Oh, sure, it's no big deal to take off the rear wheel, swing arm, disassemble a buncha stuff, move the tranny back or out, grease the splines with not just any grease, it's gotta be just this or that sticky and greasy, the debate has gone on and on and on...then put it back together!

    Why not have just designed it like so many other vehicles along the way, where it doesn't need greasing so frequently!!! Every single vehicle that I've had with a manual tranny I've just greased when I had everything out, put it back together, and the next time it gets greased is when it needs the next clutch...How hard is that?

    So, don't expect the well thought out and executed design of your Japanese bikes, or even my Harley! They are fun machines, and they last a long time, but man, they take some work keepin' 'em thataway!!! More than a Japanese bike for sure, and if you're really not looking for a project, maybe an older airhead might not be the one...

    Yes, I enjoy riding my Airhead...Now that I took it all apart and fixed everything, all should be well, BUT...it's still a 32 year old motorcycle!!! And I consider having to take everything apart just to keep the clutch splines greased to be one pain in the spizerinctum!!! And yes, perhaps what I'm writing is heresy, but I don't think everybody has to walk along in lock step...

    Bottom line...good bike, will take more maintenance, perhaps repairs than you may like, PLEASE go back and look at the threads on this and other forums if you are concerned about not getting involved in a project!!! If some work getting your bike to a certain point where it's dependable doesn't bother you, get the airhead...if you just want to jump on a 32 year old bike and Ride Sally Ride...get a 32 year old Suzuki/Honda/Yamaha/Kawasaki...

  7. #7
    I've always worked on my bikes. In my past, that has meant Suzuki 250, Kawi KZ650(4 carbs), and a BSA Thunderbolt and a couple of others. A friend at work convinced me to buy a used BMW, 1981 R100RT, in 1998. It's still my primary ride and I've hit all the lower 48(except for NV-came close though) and Canada. I am 80% into rejuvenating a 1984 RS. I think the Airhead has been the best bike for me to work on. As I'm a cookbook mechanic, I rely on other Airheads, ABC, Snowbum's site and the contributors to this forum to keep me on track. The spline lube and oil change are a pain but it's mostly time, not difficulty. Easy access to valves and carbs more than makes up for more time consuming jobs. I've enjoyed the people and the rallies. The brand support from fellow riders is great. That's brand, not model. With other brands, you may get a subgroup such as Concours or Goldwing or KLR650. With BMW, for the most part, it's the marque. See you in Oregon.
    Sent from a Galaxy, far, far away

  8. #8
    Registered User toooldtocare's Avatar
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    My first airhead was a new 86 R80RT. That was followed by an 88 R100RS (used), then a 95 R100RT (used), a 74 R90S (very used) and finally a 78 R100RS (used but low mileage. I will second the fact that airheads are not always the best engineered motorcycles when compared to modern Japanese bikes, especially since their design goes back before injection molding, CAD, modern manufacturing processes, even modern alloys and electronics.

    In the 40+ years of riding I have had other bikes too, including 3 oil heads, 1 K bike, and an F bike, 3 Ducati‘«÷s, two Hondas, one Harley, two Triumphs , one Moto Guzzi, and a Yamaha. I may be forgetting a few more.

    However, airheads have a simplicity that I like. They are easy to work on, live with, and parts for bikes 30-40 years old are available. A friend has an 85 Honda and cannot get many common parts such as side cover gaskets, some seals, etc. From my own experience, I can easily adjust my own valves, synch my carbs, grease the splines (although a dumb design), and change the oil. In 25 years of riding airheads I have never messed up the $2K oil ring, but it can happen if you are not careful.

    When changing oil on my bike I take the opportunity to grease the exhaust nuts at the same time and drop the exhaust pipes to gain access to the oil filter. Adds about 15 minutes, but it is a simple procedure. On my long departed Moto Guzzi (850T) the oil filter was a spin on unit, but it was inside the oil pan that had to be dropped to gain access. It also had two sets of points, one for each cylinder that had to be adjusted individually as well as each cylinder timed separately. However, on that bike changing the air cleaner was easy because it had none. Guess Guzzi felt that their engines could devour small objects such as bugs, birds, sand and gravel with no damage.

    There is something to be said about a bike that may be 25-30 years old and still rides like it was the day it was built, and that you can ride it across country without fear of it breaking and not being able to find parts or someone to help. Yes, 30 Hondas may be more reliable, but finding a person in the middle of a trip that has a can cover gasket or engine seal for one may be more difficult.

    I also agree that a GS would be a wonderful bike to have. I spent 2 weeks with one riding through Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Northern Italy and I loved it. The reason I rode it, my brand new K bike broke the second day out and a 6-year old airhead was the back-up bike.

  9. #9
    bytesNbikes
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    Lots to think about

    Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful replies! I think this forum is a huge asset and imagine that the community behind it must be fantastic. I look forward to making some rallies somewhere down the line.

    I do like to work on my bikes and don't mind that the airheads would require some upkeep. It's very good to hear some of the issues with that, however, so as to reset my expectations somewhat. One of the appeals to me is the simplicity of the bikes -- I look at the newer models with so much going on and can't imagine working on one of those.

    That said, the GSs do look like they'd be a lot of fun, and though I guess they started 30 years ago, you don't seem to see many of those older models on eBay, CL, etc too much. I may look up a BMW dealer in the area (Denver metro -- any suggestions?) and try to get a feel for the differences between R and F series a little better, and between the various models in each.

    For now I think I'll just keep my eyes out and not rush into anything. I can tend to be impulsive and if I encounter the right bike at a good price I just hope to have good background info to inform me. I really appreciate all your great viewpoints!

    Thanks,
    Tom

  10. #10
    It is what it is. Bud's Avatar
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    Both of the Denver locations have great reputations. There is one in Lakewood and in Aurora.

    Good luck in your search.

  11. #11
    Atomic City Boxer 154048's Avatar
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    I once heard the BMW Airhead line refered to as "old, reliable farm tractors". Actually this is fairly close to the truth. They aren't the fastest, but they are very strong and have stump pulling pulling torque. They seem primative compared to the newer fare, but are solid and unpretentious. And with a little love, they keep going and going...There are Boxers with 200 - 400K on them and are still putting along.

    Working on them can seem ponderous at first, but with a good manual and practice, all the routine procedures are no big deal. To me it is nice to be able to do the basic maintainance myself (I had a BMW K11 and it was much more laborous to do valves, air filters etc...the oil change was easy tho...). When I put the beast away for the winter, I do the routine stuff, then when warm weather comes, I am off (Just wish the dang Spring wind would die down already)

    These Airheads just feel solid...and they are so satisfying to ride. Just enough vibration that you know you have an engine (unlike that toooo smooth, buzzy
    in-line 4 feeling), but not enough vibration that it becomes bothersome.

    The mellow exhaust sound is like music. In fact, what firmed up my decision to return to Airheadland was the day I was fueling the K bike and a pair of older Boxers puttered by...I put the K up for sale the next day. I ride with a bunch of Airheaders plus one friend who has a Honda ST1300. He scratches his head at the passion we Airheaders have, but when we trade off and I ride his Honda, I can't wait till I get back on my Boxer. It is what motorcycling is all about.
    Steve in Santa Fe
    1980 R100RT
    96' Triumph Trophy

  12. #12
    Atomic City Boxer 154048's Avatar
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    Airheads

    Hi Tom,

    I sent you a private message going nito more detail on the Airhead Phenomenon.
    Steve in Santa Fe
    1980 R100RT
    96' Triumph Trophy

  13. #13

    new to Airheads

    If you're close to Colorado Springs, give me a holler. I'd be happy to wok you through the maintenance needs of that R100/7 - my wife rides that make and model.

    Matt Parkhouse, Colorado AirMarshall.

  14. #14
    Registered User
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    regarding shifting and the infamous "ker-clunk".
    i always believed that "ker-clunk" was normal (then on my 3rd airhead) until i met a traveler on his R90S who told me to "stop riding it like an old man and get those revs up around 5K before upshifting".
    holy crap- smooth shifting could be had! All that was necessary was to wring the motor up a bit, preload the shifter, and don't dawdle in the shifting process. less clutch lever usage (about a half pull in) rather than more also gives shifting rewards.
    Ride Safe, Ride Lots

  15. #15
    Registered User lmo1131's Avatar
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    get those revs up around 5K before upshifting
    goes for all-round puttering around town too ... 3500-4000 rpm is a happy place for my /5.
    "It is what you discover, after you know it all, that counts." _ John Wooden
    Lew Morris
    1973 R75/5 - original owner
    1963 Dnepr

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