Thinking about purchasing an old Airhead?
What about getting started on doing your
own motorcycle maintenance?
© Copyright, 2012, R. Fleischer
Are you thinking of purchasing a BMW Airhead motorcycle??
... have no or little experience with them??
Very modern motorcycles all have a FEEL to them, and it is generally one of competence (not necessarily with character). They tend to be electronic marvels, with special knowledge, & often special equipment, needed to analyze and repair them. It can cost $$$ for a dealership to do analysis & repairs. Those dealerships may be necessary for you when something 'interesting' happens; granted, the bike may...MAY...be more reliable OVER-ALL, depending on how you describe 'reliability'....than your Airhead....yet....with a BMW Airhead, you can do most repairs yourself.
OVER-ALL, NORMAL & NECESSARY & SCHEDULED simple maintenance is probably done more often with an Airhead; but it is likely to be MUCH easier to do.....and there are VAST amounts of knowledge easily available on the Internet, Mailing Lists & Forums, Club documents, etc.....& help is always available from numerous informed sources. The Airheads were in production for a very long time (1970-1995); yet there are less than a dozen places, in all models, all years, that are well-known problem areas! Except for a few, all are fixable by YOU!
The balance of this SECTION 1 was originally written by Greg Feeler 07/07/2015, & posted to the Airheads LIST. The original Subject Title was "1971 R75 purchase questions". I have Greg's permission to add-to & edit freely, & I have done so.
This was sent to a friend who was looking to buy his very first Airhead (a 1972 R75/5), so it is very general in nature. I wanted him to know that there are a lot of things which might be lurking under the covers of even a "clean, low mileage, well cared for" old motorcycle. Fully informed purchases are best.
Let's start with the fact that you are considering an old machine.
Typically, when someone comes to me wanting an evaluation of the "really clean, low miles" BMW (or similar) they found, they are not prepared to hear that they may have to put two or several thousand dollars into that bike to get it to proper condition. They think because it has "low miles" they can get by with some new tires, a tune up & a bath, & have a fun cool old bike. That's a romantic dream that is almost never is that the case.
These were wonderful bikes in their day ---- far & away ahead of anything else on the market in terms of build quality, reliability, & longevity. And they held their own in overall performance & handling. However, the motorcycle is now quite old, as vehicles go, and that age is a long time for rubber, paint, grease, oil, & plastic. To have something that is worth having & truly enjoyable to ride, you need to get the motorcycle into proper condition. By that I mean getting it into near factory specifications so that it might run & ride like it was designed to do; &, be as reliable & trouble free as it is capable of. It's been my experience that despite what they say in the heat of passion for a "barn queen" bike, in the end no one enjoys owing a bike they have to work on all the time, that doesn't run right, & that is not reliable.
Here's the kind of things a person typically runs into:
Fitting correctly working cables (which usually means new ones), new rubber parts such as drive shaft rubber boot, fork gaiters, cable covers, connections for the carbs to the cylinder heads, etc. LOTS OF ETC! You will likely have to remove, clean, & grease the wheel(s) & steering head bearings. You will need to do a proper bearing adjustment on these items. You may need new brake shoes, if not from wear at least from age. You may have to repair the gas tank from internal rust or bulging paint at the bottom, signifying rusting-through. You may need to remove the transmission, clutch, oil pump cover, etc., & replace parts & seals & lubricate the transmission input splines. You may run into botched workmanship on the electrical system; or, elsewhere's.
You will be making up a fairly lengthy & often very pricey parts & supplies list for the above items, as well as a MAJOR tune up & service. You may find problems with the alternator, have to rebuild the front forks; may need new rear shocks, new tires (and tubes), battery (and often battery cables), hand grips, rebuilding of the speedometer & tachometer (combined unit). You may have some fun chasing-down wiring harness & other electrical problems. Plan on a LOT of cleanup of wheel rims, spokes (rust), frame & body paint. The valve seats, valves & valve guides will probably need work, perhaps piston rings too, all of which means a total top-end job (possibly the cylinder head will need valve seats that will be OK with unleaded fuel, if the motorcycle is prior to 1985 and not previously fixed). If the transmission sat a long time with moisture in it, you may need to overhaul the transmission; $$$. Rubber seals throughout the bike will be questionable.
This might sound like an extreme list, but remember that perhaps as much as 46 years is a long time for a piece of machinery to sit around possibly un-used or neglected, exposed to the elements, & generally un-cared for. In fact, the bike may even LOOK beautifully-cared-for, but be a MESS mechanically and electrically. As a result many of the Airhead bikes people find are really nothing more that a starting point for a complete restoration, & that requires either that they are (or become) a pretty good & patient mechanic, or they spend significant dollars for the services of someone who *really* knows these bikes. There are a relative handful of those gurus, & far too many "mechanics" who will take your money but should never be allowed to put a wrench on a vintage BMW.
When you look at it, go over it very carefully & ask questions about the service history. Is that history documented by actual paperwork & receipts? Were the valve seats upgraded (pre-1985 models)? Have the transmission input splines been lubed?...when? Last fluids change? Who did the work & when? Does it have the original tool kit & owner's manual?
For various reasons the Airheads are growing in popularity & their prices have gone up dramatically. It's very easy to sink two or three thousand dollars OR MORE into such a bike, and this won't be a full frame-up restoration; but, rather, just a decent looking & good running bike. For something "looking like new" or a valid restoration..... it can often run several times as much more than you may think.
So, why do people even bother with all this?
Once you have it in good running condition, and in the opinion of many experienced riders.... it will give you one of the best pure motorcycle riding experiences you will EVER have. You will have a large smile every time you throw a leg over it & go for a ride.
There are many reasons to do your own, or some, 'wrenching'. Just a few of these are:
1. You'll feel good. You'll have some quiet, peaceful times for yourself. SOME people get a LOT of pleasure by tinkering with things. Some get a lot of pleasure making sure that no speck of dust will be anyplace on that pristine showpiece...(might even ride it now & then). I know of a few folks who will pay a trusted mechanic to do all the maintenance on their Airheads. I actually know one person who does not even do his own cleaning & waxing.
2. You'll save LOTS of $$. You'll avoid poor dealer work by knowing what is good, proper work, & correct, for such work, & you'll know about the consequences of poor or bad work.
3. You'll know the motorcycle better; feel better when riding the bike.
4. You'll have increased safety.
5. You'll learn new skills that may well be useful in other areas of your life. You'll begin to covet tools, & your workshop area MIGHT take on a more professional look.
6. You'll know when to go to an expert. This is part of being mature & a knowledgeable person. You will know when to farm out jobs...& to whom....for those things you decide you are not yet qualified or do not want to do.
7. Your fear of the unknown will diminish; you will become less shy, you will want to ask questions on the AIRHEADS LIST. The answers will often educate you on technical details and sometimes re-affirm that you ARE gaining knowledge.
8. For those who want to learn, even if they tended in the past to be ham-fisted & break things, they CAN be taught to be competent wrencher's. We CAN teach them if they want to learn....sometimes the transformation is very interesting to behold.....and they become do-it-yourself addicts.....sort of like getting, suddenly, '''religion'''.
For ME, the best part is seeing the light turn on in someone's head at a TechDay; or, maybe on the TechLIST (Airheads LIST);.....and, watching that person do a competent job, & understand what he/she is doing.....why....how....etc. Don't let that "she" throw you. MANY a woman has become a competent wrench.....and, guys, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the gals tend to follow instructions more than you do!
Section 3;Sources...like Mailing Lists, Forums, Manuals, Websites, ETC:
Sometimes...rarely though....contrary opinions on some topic are expressed by so-called 'guru's' on such as the Airheads internet mailing LIST, or elsewhere's. If you are trying to decide who is correct, or most correct, politely ask for someone's reasoning behind their statements, explaining your confusion with the differing opinions. You do not need to question their competence, nor try to make them 'prove' their opinions; but, if they are secure in their reasons, that should be made clear to you. Once in awhile, such questioning might result in a terse or testy reply. We don't always have perfect days ourselves you know!
Probably if all of us "guru's" agree on something, it would be a good idea to pay some heed to us. Sometimes we so-called Guru's (I humbly put myself in the class of some sort of expert here) disagree, & sometimes we have off-LIST, that is, private, discussions between ourselves. Sometimes we disagree & we never discuss it. .....Professional courtesy!! I've even had some real arguments at rare intervals about something that was posted. In general, you will find us so-called "guru's" in agreement. Sometimes we differ in our approach. That can come about due to a racing background; or, perhaps shop work versus home work; where labor costs are particularly important in the shop atmosphere. So, yes, when thinking over what some 'expert' is telling you, you should think about 'where he is coming from'....maybe just ask!
There are some good sources for information on the Internet. The website you are on, http://bmwmotorcycletech.info is one of these. Many links to other website articles are on this website; some are below in the article you are reading. Other links are provided in various articles & ESPECIALLY in the http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/url.htm and http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/references.htm pages.
You may find the following to be useful. http://www.airheads.org. There are numerous pages/articles of technical information. Some I even wrote. The beginning of the articles are available to you even if you are not a member of the Airheads Club. Joining the Club is very worthwhile, and hardly for just the full articles on that .org website. http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/joinclub.htm
For parts information, if you want to identify a part by number or description, and BMW's price:
Each of the above 3 dealer sources uses a different format, and method, and sometimes one has to use all three! I find the last one, from Max BMW, to be the most useful.
There is a very knowledgeable independent West Coast BMW repair shop....which you may want to use not only for repair work...but for purchase and information on parts. They can provide information on what you want to do, etc: www.beemershop.com. Ted Porter owns this shop. Highly recommended.
Airhead Master Guru, who will answer questions directly: AskOak@aol.com. Oak writes a technical article, published in the monthly Airheads Beemer Club magazine called AIRMAIL. See www.airheads.org and see the information I wrote on joining the Club: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/joinclub.htm
http://w6rec.com/ is Duane Ausherman's website. LOTS of BMW information here, particularly /5 and prior models. Duane's website has expanded considerably over the years. A lot of useful information!! This is also the home to Randy Glass' major illustrated article on /5 and later front fork alignment (Duane's website hosts that article). Duane quite often has a 'different' way of looking at things.
http://www.bmbikes.co.uk/. This is Phil Hawksley's website.....lots of information there.
http://largiader.com. This is the website of Anton Largiader. Lots of GOOD stuff. Very trustworthy information, and a nice website!
I recommend Anton's site. You can also use: http://www.largiader.com/tech/
http://www.beemergarage.com/bulletin.html. Has some factory bulletins for the pre-/5 bikes.
http://www.beemergarage.com/literature.html This URL has a LOT of literature, all sorts of things, definitely worth a long look-see. NOT just for the pre-/5.
http://members.aol.com/vechbmw/index.html. This is Craig Vechorik's website for pre-/5 bikes. Good stuff & information. "Vetch" stocks a tremendous amount of parts for the really old BMW's....and quite a few for the later bikes, including manuals and other literature. Well worth your time to browse that site. I don't agree with his 1970+ Airhead advice to use GL4 gear oil.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/vintagebmwmotorcycles. For help on PRE-1970 BMW motorcycles.
There are also model-specific web groups. Some are good, some are not. I list a number of them on my URL page, that IS a hyperlink to that page in this website.
Keep in mind that the best source of information is on the Airheads mailing LIST....a secondary source is, perhaps, my own website you are reading this on. http://micapeak.com/mailman/listinfo/AIRHEADS
Section 4; Snowbum's RECOMMENDATIONS for do-it-yourselfers:
1. For beginners:
a. Washing, cleaning, waxing, re-oiling and/or re-greasing levers, cleaning electrical connections, basic soldering (there ARE things to learn about how to do it correctly) and mechanical attachments of electrical wires. Checking battery, oil levels, tire pressures, looking about for obvious developing problems. Quite a few folks have poor ideas about how to properly maintain paintwork, rubberwork, plastics. Some overfill.....or do not even look...at batteries. Some over-tighten drain and fill plugs and do not change the gasket washers. You want to avoid stripping things by NOT over-tightening them. LOTS of things to learn in this basic area. What wax? what cleaners? how to work with wiring, how to do any of these things. YES, there are little things, tricks, hints, whatever, to most everything. ASK questions! We ALL started someplace, right? BTW: The website you are reading this on has 100++ articles on most everything!
b. Changing oils (and filter on /5/6 era, with the internal single bolt cap). NO filter changes on bike IF it has an oil cooler...that is in section 2.
c. You own a torque wrench, and know how to use it.
d. Purchase (or, get one free from Harbor Freight Co.) a digital multimeter, and it need NOT be an expensive one. PLENTY are available at under $30, and MANY good ones at under $10. The often FREE one from Harbor Freight is VERY GOOD, actually. READ the article on this website on selecting and using multimeters. Purchase a TEST LAMP from Harbor Freight too. Both are covered here: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/multimeters.htm. Do a bit of practicing on how to use both of these.
e. Begin to read all the articles on this website.
f. You are reading literature and various types of Internet/LIST traffic...and participating in that traffic.
g. You have read the basic electricity article on this website: http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/boxerelectrics.htm
h. Change lamps (including in the instruments...without damaging the printed flexible material).
i. You seem to be always reading technical articles on http://www.airheads.org & THIS site, with the idea of getting an over-all flavor, feel, and absorbing information; even if you do not understand it all.
2. Advanced beginners:
a. If your bike has an oil cooler (or, you have the type of oil filter canister outer cover of the late type (no internal metal cap cover with the single bolt), read the article on this website detailing the potential problem areas, ETC. http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/Oil.htm. Changing the oil filter, shim, O-rings, etc., on these later types REQUIRES some GOOD understanding. At this point you should be able to properly measure filter canister depth, determine shims and gaskets, and do a proper oil filter change job....perhaps with some questions.
b. Change tires, tubes, wheel seals, clean and lubricate wheel bearings. You are barely (?) competent to do shimming on pre-1985 wheels, and NOT competent to do lubrication of /5/6 types that require wheel heating for innards removal, but have a fair idea of what is involved.
c. You attend, or are planning to, a BMW MOA National Rally. You've already attended Airhead events, including TWO nearby TechDay's. You may have hosted one youself.
d. Change alternator brushes and service electrical contacts and connections. You do it, use the correct tools, and have a happy 'done it right' smile.
e. Remove and replace points, adjust points gaps, adjust timing, adjust valves, torque head nuts with torque wrench, synchronize carburetors by the shorting or gauges method. You are a bit hesitant, but listen, read, and then do these things competently...and the bike runs fine afterwards, and you did not ruin anything (like screw or bolt threads).
f. Properly take apart the throttle grip drive, clean and lubricate it, and get it back together properly.
g. You understand the 4 stroke cycle engine operation, at least basics. You could find top dead center (OT mark) on the compression stroke for either cylinder and know you did this correctly, after all, you did it when adjusting the valves!
h. You are beginning to participate more in technical discussions, as you are understanding things more clearly now. You now have better ideas on WHAT to ask, and can assist novices.
i. You goofed awhile back; but, you figured out on your own that you mistakenly installed a flywheel in the wrong position. But, you are also the type that will never do things half-assedly, no! you will NOT remark the flywheel. You grit your teeth, chalk it up to a learning experience, remove the transmission & clutch again & redo the flywheel mounting assembly. You remembered to install the crankshaft blocking tool first (you made one! You remembered to not forget the clutch marks you made the first time around. You find this all a bit amusing, some later time, when you relate this story around a campfire.
3. Definitely moderately advanced:a. Basic trouble shooting for more complex electrical problems. Willing to at least read some additional information on electricity and the workings of such in your Airhead. You are NO LONGER freaked-out by electrical's.
5. Strongly advanced:
Some other things once you have a lot of experience:
You feel you likely can do any job on an airhead if you REALLY want to. You have a short list of the better shops, all in your head, and MIGHT have even considered working for one, perhaps part-time; maybe to learn even more. You understand how to degree out a camshaft, and understand the process for any make or type of engine. You feel competent to analyze worn parts on your own and determine if they need repair or replacement. Some of your Airhead friends feel a bit intimidated about asking 'stupid' questions of you; since you ARE A REAL expert, and are looked-up-to. You have delved into a problem in the depths of your own modern fuel injection car (or bike), and are not overly intimidated.
You are not hesitant in answering, if asked, about Airheads and many other types of bikes, some cars, yard equipment, etc., as you know MOST of what there is to know about the common maintenance items. You received your 100K or 200K badge some time ago You feel competent to do some technical seminars on your own. You are constantly asked about technical things at TechDays, and otherwise. You have read every article, in depth on this website; the .org website, Duane's website, Anton's website, and every other airhead-concerned website. You correct other's mistakes, and make cogent replies your motto. You are even interested in how other models and makes of engines are designed and serviced. You are even absorbing knowledge and even working on servicing such as Oilheads and K bikes. You are a well-known contributor to several forums and LISTS. You can do ANY job on an Airhead.....well, if you had a machine shop and every needed special tool you could. You still might shy away from some things, letting a specialist do them; after all, you don't have certain machine shop equipment; but if you did have access, you could surely do the job. Sometimes you manage to borrow the use of such equipment. You are passing on your hard-learned knowledge to others. You have developed a fine feel for engineering, materials, designs, etc., and understand quite a bit about what the factory was up-to in its designs. For some time you have 'presided' as honored guest at TechDays, and are doing Technical Seminars. You think about or have become a BMW MOA Ambassador, and Airmarshall for the Airheads Club. You are, or will be, considered for Keynote speaker at SuperTech.
After being in this Well-Advanced position for quite some years, you are finding that you don't always have as much fun wrenching, as you did quite some time ago. You would rather ride than wrench, yet seem not to find as much riding time. You meticulously restore and prepare an older classic model that requires extensive work, right down to removing the crankshaft; overhauling the transmission, etc. Folks are always coming up to you with questions, as you have kept yourself approachable. Some tend to gather at your feet, awaiting pearls of wisdom....and this might embarrass you at times. You are more interested in Teaching. You wonder about how YOU would run a BMW dealership. You certainly know lots of Wrenches, lots of dealerships, and surely know who is good, who is mediocre, and who should never touch an Airhead.
You own a number of bikes. You might have a small barn full of old parts, old bikes, and strange bikes. You can talk about off-the-wall bikes you have owned and wrenched on. You can talk about almost anything motorcycle, mechanical, or electrical related. You have burn and skid and other marks, remnants of fun and games. You may have been on a racetrack more than just a few times.
You have learned to ride well in soft dirt (if you were previously only a street rider). In fact, you LIKE dirt riding. You no longer have semi-permanent blackened fingers. You worry about your own kids who are drooling at the idea of riding 'those dangerous motorcycles'. You FINALLY figured out that sidecars are fun too, but you prefer a solo bike, carving a canyon by yourself, then camping, where you get lost in the beautiful scenery, and further lost in your own thoughts and memories. You probably ride your own bike solo, and your spouse too...who is FINE with that. You might put together a sidecar rig, so you can ride on snow next Winter, and carry the spouse and kid or two or family dog. You are looking forward to your 400K mileage badge. You know you are looked up to, yet don't take advantage of that position. You sometimes get very grouchy and have a short temper with incompetent wrenchers....and then you remember how things were years ago.....and you shut up.
©Copyright, 2012, R. Fleischer
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