BMW Airhead (and some prior) Motorcycles
Model differences over the years (and some information on prior models).
Including WEIGHTS and capacities.
(PLUS information to identify the model/year, if you do not have a serial number, ETC.)
©Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer
Before getting into the differences
between models, years, etc.....I will firstly clear up "identifying year of production by
serial and/or VIN
number". Beginning in 1980, U.S.A.-shipped bikes changed from
a pure serial number to a Vehicle
This new type of 'number' is a combination of characters: that is, numerals and
alphabet, and the total length is always 17 characters. The TENTH position character
(from the left
beginning) is the official production year. As an example, for 1980, that was an
"A". Each year following was one letter further
in the alphabet. NOTE that I, O, Q, U, Z, were all
skipped. Beginning in 2001, a digit was used, with 2001
being 1, 2002 being 2, etc. NON-U.S. models might not use the
17 character VIN number system.
In every instance, the LAST SEVEN NUMBERS can fully identify the year and
brands of vehicles use the same 17 character VIN
For BMW, there can be some confusion between year of manufacture and year model: the actual "model year" could have been produced near the end of the PRIOR year, due to the Company-wide vacation month, and restart of production after that vacation. That means September. There are exceptions and anomalies...so:
For VERY considerably more information on VIN and Serial numbers, sequencing, etc. see the following article: BMW motorcycle ENGINE AND FRAME NUMBERS
"Airheads", for the purpose of this website, and this article, are taken here to mean the BMW boxer-layout engine style with two valves in each head, as produced beginning 12/1969 as the /5 models. Airheads are generally considered as being in production until 1995. Airheads are NOT the other boxer type motor that BMW produced, slangly called the Oilhead, Hexhead, etc. Those are considered air and OIL cooled, and have a very different type of engine, which is also fuel injected.
In no way can the details in this article be considered to list every yearly change. I may add to these details now and then.
Models PRIOR to 1970:
This article you are reading has a small amount of information on
models prior to the /5...mostly to set some background. A detailed discussion of the various models prior to the /5, is not included
BMW made some radically
different bikes from 1923 to the end of WWII. Overhead
cams, single cams, dual cams, supercharged, besides the more
pedestrian models, including single cylinder models that paid the bills. For a
discussion of of these early bikes, refer to:
3. http://www.benchmarkworks.com/....A source for technical information, parts, ETC. for early
BMW's. There are few knowledgeable folks that specialize in working on or supplying parts and can
supply information for earlier than December 1969 BMW's. This one in particular is Bench Mark
Works, Craig Vechorik ('Vetch'), 3400 Earles Fork Road, Sturgis, MS, 39769 USA, (662) 465-6444
In 1970 BMW made HUGE changes to their production bikes, especially of note was the changes to the MOTOR. The last such huge changes was in the R5 of 1936. The motor for 1970 had plain bearings lubricated by a high pressure system, and there was a modern pleated paper filter. Previous motors had roller bearings for crankshaft and camshafts, low pressure oiling systems, and some form of ""filtering"" that is generally referred to as a slinger or slingers. There were a LOT more changes....and I will get into them in depth, later herein.
There are websites and groups devoted to the early bikes. URL.HTM
/5, /2, G/S, ST owners....and some
others....have their own websites. See MY above
The MAIN source of information for all BMW AIRHEAD boxer models made from 12/1969 is NOT the single model websites, but the Airheads LIST. See my Technical Articles List page for information on how to get on the Airheads LIST. It is free.
BMW has tended to find ways to use up old parts bins stocks, and has shipped various combinations of components; this was particularly so in the 1973-1976 era. It is fairly easy to swap some of the parts used on MANY OR ALL Airheads. While there is a lot of interchangeability possible on parts and components, this is not to be taken that all can be interchanged, or that just because some will physically fit, it is wise. There are very specific problems, or concerns, in interchanging MANY items. It is also possible to put some items from other BMW bike lines into Airheads. The K bike front ends and brakes, for example. Actually, very substantially-built forks from other makes can be installed, as can alternators from Ducati's, etc. Those thinking of swapping Airhead cylinders, cylinder heads, transmissions, rear drives, etc., can consult the Airheads internet LIST for expert advice, although there IS information in my #60-x articles, and information on other things, like drive-shafts, rear drives, fuel tanks and seats, etc., found scattered in the appropriate areas on this website.
NOT all models were shipped to the U.S., in any given year. In fact, BMW stopped shipping R100-engined bikes for a couple of years in the 1980's; and the R45 bikes (both versions) were never imported into the USA by BMW. Some of these various bikes are seen now and then in the USA. Some of these are the later R80GS and R80GS-PD, with Paralever, the R80R, 1995-1996 R100RT Classic and R100GS PD-Classic.
Here is a
good website page, showing a chronological index for BMW
motorcycles. If you click on a model, you get a lot more
The MEAT of this article starts here:
There have been MANY changes to the Airheads over the years, yet a lot of similarities. This article is NOT to be considered as showing all the changes....there are too many. Cosmetics are generally not included here.
In late 1969 BMW began the /5 series. The /5 was a
radical departure from their previous motorcycles. Although
BMW had conventional telescopic AND leading link (Earles) forks
on previous models, now only telescopic was offered.
The frame was considerably modified, and no longer wrapped to the
rear, a separate bolted-on rear sub-frame being
used. I do NOT consider the new rear sub-frame an improvement. As
the years rolled on, BMW did beef up the frame, but the separate
rear subframe was always a problem ON THOSE MODELS USING IT.
It contributed to the famous 'rubber cow' effect.
The swing arm type of rear end, incorporated a bit earlier, was retained, and the much older plunger design abandoned. The plunger design is better for sidecar use. The /5 and every Airhead and all other BMW motorcycles made since the end of 1969 were not designed for sidecar use.
The first "Airhead, as noted, was the /5 series. The changes from prior models was considerable. The engine had a considerable amount of changes. Mechanically, the biggest change was to move the camshaft location to below the cylinders, this improved lubrication. The pushrod tubes delivered the oil from the top ends to the camshaft lobes by draining downward inside the pushrod tubes. The engine internal oiling system was much modified. An oil filter was incorporated, where only crankshaft 'slingers' were used before. This eliminated the need to remove the crankshaft every 30,000 miles +, for slingers cleaning/replacement. The 6 volt system was changed to 12 volts and the magneto was abandoned in favor of points & coil ignition. A starter motor was added.
If you have a /2, you CAN install a 12 volt alternator and lamps conversion, and even coil ignition can be installed (not needed IMHO), and using the best modern (very especially full synthetic) oils can extend the time between /2 crankshaft slinger cleanings, although just how much is questionable, and depends on engine condition. For instance, a worn engine allows more blowby, more contaminants into the oil, more carbon, which fills the slingers faster. You surely do NOT want the slingers to fill totally...which causes oil starvation to some parts of the /2 engine. Full synthetic oils, in general, have FAR FEWER amounts of carbon, etc., to deposit into the 'slingers'.
The internals of the wheels of the /2 era bikes are very similar in basic design to the /5 and even into /6 airheads, but the /2 era bikes had larger diameter axles and frames that flexed less...all of this was because the motorcycles were DESIGNED for sidecar use. The /2 era ended BMW's practice of "sidecar fittings as standard". This was made doubly so with the abandonment of the adjustable trail Earles leading link fork...which had been an option, or standard, depending on the model and ordering by the dealer. The use of the separate rear frame on the /5 and later (most models) causes problems, not nasty ones though, when fitting a sidecar to a /5 and later Airhead. The /5 Airheads had a thinner front axle diameter than later Airheads (14 mm versus 17 mm); and some bending had been seen under severe conditions, hence the factory change from 14 to 17 mm. This was easily accomplished by BMW by simply changing the internal spacers of the wheels, and the hole size in the fork lower legs. The /2 era bikes steering heads had ball bearings, which were NOT as good as the /5 and later tapered bearings. Luckily, /2 era steering head bearings can be relatively easily changed to the later tapered roller bearing design. The /5 came with a 180 watt alternator. Later higher capacity alternator conversions are relatively simple and easy to install, including a stock BMW/Bosch /6 alternator (only earliest /6 types).
The /2 series ended the use of the very nice looking early type turn signal housings.
The first /5 models had a shorter wheelbase (easily seen by a
quick glance at the rear area of the black colored driveshaft housing,
it has NO welded section a few inches from the flange end).
This early /5 SWB (Short Wheel Base) and the early R65 (also short
wheel base, but production began on the R65 much later, in late 1978) could (not WILL), have some potential for instability under SOME SPECIFIC types of riding....and IN PARTICULAR if a STEERING mounted windscreen was installed and worse if the rider had
considerable weight aft of the rear axle and speed was high. BMW elected to go to the LWB (Long Wheel
Base) in mid-1973, and for the R65 it was in the eighties, but the R65 never had the same level of possible instabilities as the SWB /5. There is an article on instabilities on this website. You can see the welded-in
section, used for many years after it became standard.
The LWB also allowed for a bigger battery. My personal preference is the SWB. It feels
quicker-handling. BMW incorporated the longer wheelbase in mid-1973 and
had a later
addition of a cushioned driveshaft. The cushion
was provided by a smooth-finished two-part mating cams, whose actions were backed up by a strong spring. It is better for the transmission to have the "cush driveshaft", but not at all critical, and not required at all if shifting is done very smoothly..
There is a lot of wrong information, IMO, going around about the SWB versus LWB, /5 models. Here, I expand a bit on what is above:
ANY motorcycle can have high speed handling problems if the steering and swing arm, bearings, etc., are not set up correctly. IMO....THE problem with the /5 SWB, was that it was more susceptible to instabilities if someone put a modest to substantial sized FORK MOUNTED windscreen or FORK MOUNTED fairing, on that bike. It was worse if a trunk box and bags were installed. Instabilities can still be found on a /5 LWB, and later bikes, just not nearly as susceptible.
BMW went to the LWB for more than the stability situation. I am not privy to internal BMW deliberations about wobbles at speed, and, in my opinion, they could have issued restrictions on usage (windscreen, etc.)...but, the LWB allowed the use of a larger battery, and a few other changes, that were highly desirable, considering the practical uses of the bike in the various countries it was sold in. BMW was not, itself, offering frame-mounted fairings. There were some real problems with large bat-wing and other styles of FORK fairings.
IMO, the SWB was the better-handling of the /5 bikes...just not with a FORK mounted fairing.
While not getting into it any deeper than a mention here, keep in mind that there was no hue and cry about instabilities at speed on the SWB R65...which out-handled any /5.....some of which was due to the top triple; even though the 18" front tire was a negative (IMO).
It's all arguable, of course.
The /5 bikes had 10 mm flywheel bolts, and the 1974 /6 also did...these could be twisted off from rider abuse during riding. SOME slightly later /6 may have them...perhaps into early 1975. After this, the bolts were 11 mm. The bolt torques vary, and using the information on this website is a good idea.
In identifying a /5 engine block, there is an eyebrow cutout on the front face of the engine block and it is solid from 1974. See:
Obviously, these are not viewable on a motorcycle with the timing chest & outer cover still on the engine!
NOTE that the /5 SWB bikes and LWB bikes use different saddlebag mounts. NOTE that the early R65 can be fitted with its own bag mounts, or /5 mounts adapted.
The /5 came with a 45/40 watt NON-halogen headlight. It is best to convert to an H4, BMW offered a kit for that. You HAVE TO change the lens too, OR the H4 pattern is spread about and awful. You can rather easily adapt the R65 headlight parts to a /5. Conversion gives vastly better lighting at night, using a 55/60 watt H4 halogen lamp. Later bikes got rid of the clip method of holding the bottom of the headlight chrome ring which sometimes allowed a headlight assembly to fall down. Modification of early chrome rings to avoid loosing the ring, headlight, etc., is a good idea. My lamps article has information on a more powerful NON-halogen lamp that WILL work with the original reflector and base.
Other changes, mostly from
1979, some earlier, included disc brakes on various models, sometimes just the front, some (RS
and RT) had them on the rear as well as the front. Having a
rear disc brake is probably only a sales item, as the disc brake
is certainly no better than the drum brake...which BMW went back
to, years later.
The /5 models came with a crankshaft rear mainseal that tended to leak after enough mileage, and maybe dirty oil helped that along. BMW has made a LOT of changes over the years, and considering mileage and servicing, the chances are low that you will find a /5 or even and early /6, with the original type of WHITE seal. With the /6, BMW added an O-ring inside the flywheel bore, and with the /7 came a metal cap and the same O-ring continued. BMW upgraded the mainseal several times, and the final version has a teflon section, and works very well, and fits all models.
The 1974 MODEL year was a not-so-good year.
NOTE here that when I say 1974, that MAY include into
early or even mid-1975 calendar year. The newly introduced /6 bike had carry-overs from the /5, and new problems. The 1974 STILL had the 10 mm flywheel bolts; shearing them off could ruin a crankshaft, sometimes just messed up the threads though. A 5 speed transmission was introduced....and it had many problems. The Pawl springs would break,
the input kickstarter special gear was soft and wore (don't use the kickstart on a 1974 unmodified transmission unless actually needed). The shift forks were too wide,
and gear dogs broke. You can't purchase the gear alone, only the
whole cluster assembly...and THAT original one is no longer available.
That means that you have to install the 17.5° late model items, and that is
$$$. There is a huge amount more on
transmissions in my
article. Finding neutral was often somewhat difficult, and overshifts also
happened.....and most problems were not
fixed until 1976. As I mentioned, some 1974 transmission parts are
now NLA, and brand new transmissions or a good later model are often the best answer to
trying to rebuild a 1974 transmission. The transmissions are
directly interchangeable, that is, they will physically fit and operate OK, from (and even including the 4 speed) to 1980. The handlebar
controls of the 1974 were a carryover of sorts from the
/5. Some of these parts were part /5 and part /6, and NLA,
although later controls certainly fit. These switches may look like /5,
but have different wiring. The 1974 switches are no
longer available. The handlebar right side assembly is rather difficult to
convert to a handlebar master cylinder. The 1974 front axle
was still 14 mm, in bushings (the 17 mm axle came a year
later). Under some severe usage, the front axle could
bend. You CAN make simple changes in the wheels innards to accommodate the later
fork lowers and 17 mm axle. The 1974, ONLY, had
"strange" fork tubes/lowers (1974
lowers are NLA). Engines tended to vibrate around 4000-4600
rpm. The frames were a bit weak, with the 1975 being
better, and the 1977 better yet, with more substantial bracing. The
1976 incorporated many upgrades, including the larger pushrod tubes, pushrod
changes, engine case cylinder hole size increase (later engine's Nikasil
cylinders will fit).
BMW made their "Hot-Rod" (or, call it the sporty model) R90S starting with production at the very end of 1973, for model year 1974. Production ceased in mid 1976. The bike was the only one that ever came with Del'Orto carburetors. Partly due to its very fancy and hard to duplicate paint job, partly due to its history of racing at Daytona, partly due to the small fairing, etc., the R90S became, and is, a cult collectors item. The very first models were the fanciest looking. The R90S had a high compression ratio engine of 9.5:1. Performance was about as good as the Euro version of the later R100S/R100RS/R100RT.
During production time of the R90S, the factory began deleting things. Fewer chrome fasteners, chrome in the front of the horn, the taped pin stripes became painted. The 5 position ignition switch changed to the standard 3 position type, mirror stalks became straight, no kickstarter (orderable though). There were improvements along the way too, such as went with the rest of the /6 line, such as drilled brake rotors and a slightly more powerful starter.
In 1977 BMW made a R75/7 model, the last of the 750 models. Production was between the end of 1976 and end of 1977. This was a very good motorcycle. In 1977-1978 BMW also finally installed the electronic tachometer (the motorcycles had already been wired-for them) in the bike. 1977 bikes had good horsepower output, good torque.
1978: The transmissions had gusset reinforcement running ONLY from front to rear (NONE left-right). Beginning in 79 the gusset reinforcements at the bottom of the case were cross hatch like a crossword puzzle. Changed was the shift linkage. It now pivoted from the footrest, and was more positive. Camshaft timing changed in this 1977-1978 change era, by changing the camshaft sprocket keyway, amounting to a 3° advance in the cam, which means 6° advance in the crankshaft. This was the beginning of the emissions changes, that were not all incorporated at the same time...much more happened later-on.
In 1979, BMW changed the internal driveshaft to a 'cush' type, incorporating a very stiff short spring and a dual cam, that made shifting much nicer. The driveshaft housing was still the tapered type, which lasted until 1981, when the housing changed to a straight tube. At one time, BMW offered a 'kit' to incorporate the cush driveshaft into earlier models. Note that if you try to install a 1980+ driveshaft into the earlier style of driveshaft housing, a bit of grinding on the shaft will be necessary. The piston pin 'keepers' were changed to external clip types. The handlebars got the padded centers on all models, as of 1979, as previously it was just on the R100RS. Note that the RS and RT got BREMBO rear disc brakes, but the front brakes remained ATE swinging calipers. The RS and RT also got the oil cooler as standard.
Also in 1979 a different system of
driving the ignition points came...the "canister"; sometimes called 'the bean can'. The canister contained points for the 1979 and 1980
years, and worked well. In 1981 the same canister was used
to house the trigger for the new electronic ignition. There
is nothing wrong with any of the points-types ignitions BMW
used. The points ignitions are cheap, fixable
anyplace, but you do have to check the points every 5000
miles for gap, lubrication of the cam/felt on the early
model (no felt for canisters), and engine timing
setting...all easy to do. Points last about 15,000 to
20,000 miles, then must be replaced.
amplifiers or boosters are available that reduce the current
through the points, and I recommend them. If the points are
installed carefully, and kept LIGHTLY lubricated at the felt pad
and the points cam, then with a booster or amplifier, the points life CAN TRIPLE
OR MORE, yet be EASILY field-repairable
in a few minutes, if the
booster-amplifier should fail. The 1981+ electronic
ignition is quite reliable, very powerful; but, for reliability
you must NOT EVER pull off the spark plug caps whilst running
(BAD idea for ANY 1970+
Some literature is flat out WRONG about it being OK to do that on
1970 and later models. Some BMW models such as the R80ST and R80G/S had a single coil with dual towers, instead of the prior two each 6 volt single tower coils, and the early single coils with dual towers tended to fail (gray plastic bodied ones). All very late BMW airheads had such a single, dual output coil, but the later versions are more
reliable than earlier ones. Some early models in the 1980's had two
separate 6 volt coils in series, just like much earlier models, and these were very reliable.
You can read all about the
ignition stuff on this
website. Besides that link, there are articles on
dual-plugging, single plug ignition, ignition theory.
From 1980, BMW made a change in the oiling system that is cast into the block. see: oilsketch.htm There are more than one sketch on that page to look at.
It is not anything critical at all. To identify the engine blocks, you must remove the transmission and clutch, and stamped into the rear of the engine block is a triangle with a N in it.
BMW made various changes to the valve gear over a long period of time. The
/5 had sleeve bushings in the rocker arms, the rocker arms were
not positively located, and more care in adjusting the valves squareness of the rocker blocks, etc., was
needed. BMW made changes to more positively
locate those rocker blocks, and installed needle bearings, and in
1985 came the last big change, to a shim method of setting rocker
end play, which helped reduce valve noise even more; but the
rockers were narrowed. BMW also added 24
small black rubber inserts into the head fins, to eliminate fin
ringing. ALL valve gear changes, with few exceptions, can be
installed in part, or in total, in any earlier model. These updates
are not mandatory.
It was in 1980 that BMW lowered the compression ratio of the bikes coming to the USA, and, the air cleaner housing was changed to the rectangular type, and Pulse Air emissions controls were incorporated, but this did not happen the same way and time slot for the Euro machines. For the USA, 85 mph speedometers were fitted. The carburetor and choke cables, previously twinned, were now single cables at the bars, and a T box was incorporated, located under the fuel tank. Contrary to what some believe, it really was a good change, enabling better cable synchronization.
A fairly radical change was made to the clutch in 1981, together with installing the vastly better Nikasil cylinders. The clutch, including the 'flywheel' which was renamed a Clutch Carrier, was now vastly lighter, and changes made for a much easier clutch lever pull. Prior to 1981 clutch lever pull was fairly stiff, many folks with less strong hands would complain. There is a Easy Clutch conversion kit that is very simple to install for the early heavy clutch, see the above Craig Vechorik's website. Installation of that is a tradeoff. NOTE that the 1981 (only) clutch was weak, and some 'blew up'. Anyone with an original 1981 clutch being worked on, should update to the later parts. There is an extensive clutch article on this website.
Note that pre-1981 and 1981+ transmissions have different input shaft lengths, so take this into account if substituting transmissions. Shafts can be changed at $$$ cost (or shortened easily), of course; as can clutch parts, to provide even more interchangeability. Another problem to be considered is that Paralever bikes have different transmission mountings.
Nikasil (or, by another company also making these
cylinders under their trademark name Galnikal) is a special coating in the cylinders. That coating wears extremely slowly. The cylinders could now be made of all-aluminum, the
older iron sleeves
eliminated. Cooling was improved, and the new cylinders
last almost forever, and oil burning is reduced, compression
stays higher over time; and every aspect of roundness, taper,
etc., is improved. The new cylinders can
theoretically be bored to a larger diameter and if damaged
may possibly be reclaimed by one of several specialist
companies. I do not recommend boring (or other machining)
and plating unless by such a specialist. Information in my
references page, has listings of who
does that sort of thing. If you can obtain oversize
pistons, you might be able to machine and recoat oversize. BMW
does not offer over-sizes, only fitted sizes for these cylinders.
Other manufacturers may; particularly from Germany. For the earlier iron cylinders,
all sorts of pistons are available, and they can be bored conventionally,,,,preferably by someone who KNOWS BMW airhead
cylinders!...boring can be tricky to do correctly on the
In 1981, BMW changed the ignition from a points type, to a full electronics type, incorporating a Hall element inside the canister, which, for 1979 and 1980, had been a new item, but with points inside.
The oil pan was made deeper, and it could hold a bit more oil, and now incorporated a surge-baffle. The exhaust pipes became 38 mm, and the second crossover pipe was added to twin shock models. BMW also changed the internal design of the front forks, and, IMO, NOT for the better. Over the next 4 years, BMW made modifications to the new design, to try to cure problems, such as rattling noises, etc.
In 1983-84 (1982 in Europe) an R80ST model was produced with a single
sided rear end called a Monolever. There was a G/S model
which was similar, with a bash pan and larger 21" front wheel, meant for on/off road, produced from 1980, continued to 1988,
which also had the single sided rear end. MONOLEVERS ARE
RELATIVELY EASY TO FIT TO TWIN SHOCK BIKES, although not totally
a simple bolt-up. Single sided rear ends have both
advantages, and disadvantages. They use only one rear shock unit
(aftermarket ones are VASTLY better than the stock BMW ones), and
tire/wheel removal is VASTLY easier (wheels of
both 3 and 4 bolts were offered, depending on year and
model). The forces are applied more forward, and handling
is considerably improved, particularly when quite
aggressive. The rear subframe on other models is no
longer a rubber-cow problem. There is no wheel bearing as such, that
function taken over by the crown gear bearing INside the rear
drive; the disadvantage to that is that forces are applied to the bearing/type that cause wear; while the tapered wheel bearings of the twin shock models can last forever . When that bearing
does wear enough, it is MUCH more costly to replace, and a rear drive OVERHAUL is usually done. Another disadvantage is that a
twin-shock rear end is theoretically better suited for use with a
sidecar. Many a Monoshock or Paralever bike is pulling a sidecar, however, with few or no problems.
A FEW Monolever rear drives were not produced correctly, and failed early. Some were also assembled with the cardan cover sealed by a sealant and not a paper gasket, and unless the rear drive is re-shimmed, the SAME method must be used.
Fully faired models were produced from approximately
1976 but early models did not come to the USA. The R100RT was first fully faired model to come to the USA, and made quite a splash in the
U.S. in 1979. This 'splash' was all over the print media, and the fairing added a LOT of weather protection, etc., and it was very unique for the era, compared to the naked bikes in production, or ones with bat style front part-fairings/windscreens. The RT fairing was designed and tested using a windtunnel and had rather low-lift, so high speed cruising was fairly nice. A RS model, a somewhat different fairing, cut-down if you will, with different bars, etc., came soon after. RT and RS bikes have their individual proponents. Both are quite nice for distance touring.
The front brakes and master cylinder were all changed drastically, and now Brembo brakes were installed and the master cylinder was a Maguro type. Due to how the calipers were mounted, etc., the assembly, over-all, was lighter, probably improving handling....but the brakes had better stopping power too. Asbestos was not used in the pads, which were a metallic-containing type, which had a very long life, worked well in wet weather. BMW kept its own SS perforated discs.
Note that in the 1980 to approx. 1985+ era, the Euro versions had some changes I have not set down here, such as SOME models having a lower compression ratio, changes in the controls switching and wiring. I have already mentioned that the Euro bikes did not get the full-blown emissions setup and same rectangular airbox, well, at least not in the very beginning (1980+-). In addition, certain models did not have the same changes incorporated at the same time (example: R80RT versus R100RT).
In 1987 a Paralever model was introduced. The introduction was on the R80GS and R100GS models. The Paralever was supposed to be an improvement on the Monolever, adding a link to the rear drive that eliminated the jacking effect of the rear drive. For the most part, any jacking was not really too detrimental during even fairly hard riding, but the magazine press had disliked any jacking, having always having previously faulted or looked down upon the reliable BMW shaft drive bikes with the jacking effect. The Paralever driveshaft bearings and U-joint are not nearly so long lasting as the lasting-nearly-forever prior versions. This is particularly so on the GS models, which have quite an acute angle on the system. Shaft failure problems of the GS, especially the R100GS, have not ever been fully solved...although work on that by private folks was done in the early 2000+ era...but worked stopped due to lack of funding. Various 'fixes' for the GS driveshaft are available, none seem 100% perfect, but all probably help with longevity; information is in these pages on this website.
There are 'fixes' that involve rebuilding the
driveshaft U-joints; fixes that eliminate the sometimes
troublesome CUSH RUBBER section (which can get the driveshaft
ends out of perfect synch), fixes that add grease fittings with a
different U-joint, and so on.
The Paralever bearings can be 'upgraded' (IMO they are market hype!) with an aftermarket solid bearing that is quite sturdy; yet it is not really an improvement, and CAN create new problems!! I do NOT recommend them. Yes, I KNOW that this means I am at odds with dealerships and aftermarket Independent Servicers.
The Airhead Paralever bikes occasionally have rear drive troubles. Opinions differ on why and how these troubles come about. Opinions are such as: (1) improper shimming of the crown gear; (2) use of overly high viscosity oils; (3) both 1 and 2.
Last of the Airheads: Some models were produced into the 1990's. R80GS, R80, R80RT, R100RS, R100RT (to 1994), R100RT Classic. A new model, the R100R model, was produced in three versions, R100R, R100R Mystic, and R100R Classic, and produced between 1992 and 1996. There was also a R100RT Classic produced in 1995-1996 that was never imported. There were some Authorities bikes (Police bikes) produced in this period, and possibly for some months later, but I have never managed to get the information.
Some of these various bikes, besides as noted above, but see early in this article, were NOT imported by BMW into the USA.
The R100R bikes all had the latest fixes, of which there were not many. Transmissions,
from 1985 to MAYBE a few in 1995 (see transmission article) might not have the circlip, an
expensive problem if the transmission fails. I recommend you read this
More on these R100R models, much further below.
BMW airheads have a NOMINAL displacement, with the actual displacement being slightly lower than their model number indicates.
The /5 bikes were produced as R50/5 (500cc); R60/5 (600cc) and R75/5
BMW has produced various single cylinder displacement models:
Other BMW twins including the 450 cc (R45 series); 650 cc (R65 series); 800 cc (R80 series); 900 cc (R90 series); 1000 cc (R100 series).
ALL the twin cylinder engines until production ceased in 1996 had two opposed cylinders. The cylinders are NOT directly opposite, but offset slightly, as the rods are side-by-side.
The /5 bikes had the classic bullet headlight and instrument shell and used a 'stick' ignition key, one key fit all. Thus, the only locking security is the standard type of key lock located in the steering head area.
After the /5, the lovely bullet style headlight shell that contained the headlight and the combined tachometer-speedometer was abandoned, in favor of one of two basic styles of instrument pods. The speedometer/tachometer unit in the /5 is a fun and games job of removing for service.
The /5, ONLY, had a starter relay, mounted under the tank, that was
specially designed and wired to prevent the starter from being energized and thus engaged, if the
engine was running at idle...or a bit above (it was wired to the
alternator output). That relay had a transistor circuit
inside it that gave problems that could seem to indicate that
the battery was near dead, and the sound produced is called 'the
cricket'. This could happen when cold, or with even a slightly discharged battery, or
both. A simple modification to the relay innards will
cure the problem. There is an article on this website
covering this in much detail, slash5cricket.htm
Later models had a more conventional relay, without the transistor, and there was no protection against running the starter motor with the engine running....although a combination of a switch on the handlebars that was part of the left-side clutch lever assembly; and, a two-terminal neutral switch that had multiple functions, tended to keep one from using the starter at the wrong time.
The Bing CV carburetor was introduced on the
R75/5. The earliest CV versions, BING model plate
ending in /1, /2, and the commonly used one on the R75/5, the /3 and /4, had many troubles. There is an
article devoted to those early carburetors, on this website: Early Bing
The next carburetors, the /9 and /10, were MUCH better.
As earlier noted, the /5 production started with what is called the Short Wheel Base models (SWB). Under some hard riding in very specific circumstances, which you'll probably never figure out how to duplicate (unless you also have a steering mounted fairing and maybe some rear area weight), some instability was noted, and in mid-1973 BMW lengthened the subframe and the driveshaft/driveshaft housing, with a very noticeable welded-in 2 inch section, that welded section was kept for some years, even into the /6 production. The early SWB bikes use a small battery and a different saddlebag mounting (not all that different from the later-introduced R45 and R65 which were also short wheelbase). Halogen headlamps came later, but the /5 can be converted, most do this with R65 parts, the official factory kit being pricey and no longer available anyway. There is a halogen lamp that WILL work with the /5 lens assembly, see my LAMPS article.
The /5 had a 4 speed transmission with a kickstart (as well as electric start, of course, common to nearly all BMW bikes after 12/1969). Later in production BMW phased out the kickstart, but kickstart transmissions were available on some models as standard, and on special order or on Euro models, and can be retrofitted or the function added. Many later models are seen with kickstarters, although this is possibly more so with the 'off road' G/S and GS models. As mentioned much earlier in this article, the 1974 kickstart transmissions were very weak, and the kickstart on them is not to be used except in emergency. The kickstarter shaft on the /5 could move inwards, and a SIMPLE fix is available, see my transmission article.
Many early SWB bikes were converted to LWB (which came in 1973-1/2), and there often is no big reason to do so. The pre-1981 5 speed transmission can be installed in earlier models. The pre-1981 transmissions had the longer input shaft. Installing a 1981 and later transmission into early bikes requires a change to the input shaft, which is pricey! In many instances an pre-1981 transmission fits into a 1981 and later bike, and you need not change the input shaft, just cut it. There are other methods of doing these various things. For example, in some instances, depending on what you want to do, installing a late or early clutch and flywheel (or clutch carrier as it is called from 1981) will enable a particular transmission to be installed.
The 4 speed transmission has VERY pricey parts these days, and few know how to properly overhaul them. I suggest Tom Cutter or OAK Okleshen or Ted Porter or Bob Clement. There is a comprehensive transmission article on this site that covers BOTH the 4 and 5 speeds: transmission.htm
The /5 models used a 180 watt
alternator, adequate for its purpose, but having little reserve for more than an upgrade to the H4
headlight and a bit more, meaning that then it is BARELY adequate for a heated
vest and perhaps 4 LOW power running lamps. In 1974 a
280 watt alternator was produced, and ONE specific version of that alternator for 1974 and PARTLY
into 1975 was such that the 280 watt parts will fit the 180
equipped /5 motorcycles, as almost 100% plug and play. After sometime in 1975, the
alternator stator parts do not fit into the /5 timing
***At least one true 1976 model (99 mm cylinder bore in the crankcase, for example) has been seen with 105 mm alternator hole, so be cautious here; but that would be very rare.
I will explain more about this alternator interchangeability:
The 180 and early 280 watt
interchangeable alternators both had a 105
mm stator outer diameters, the later ones that cannot be
retrofitted are all 107 mm. The alternators varied in
output over the years, with 180 on the /5, 238 on the R90S
and 250 or 280 on all the others. I've never figured
out, totally, all of the 238, 240, and 280 situations. The 238
watt R90S had a very slightly changed INside diameter STATOR, which was done as crankshaft
whipping was believed possible on that model and the larger
air gap is responsible for the lowered output. Rotor diameters were changed slightly too. The
alternators over 180 watts use a different
diode board, but the later board CAN be used on the /5 models but
not the reverse, except in emergency (where power output
would be a bit less). The early rotors were ~7 ohms, and succeeding
generations of rotors had less resistance. Some BMW's had
rubber-mounted diode boards which were VERY troublesome, and
caused charging problems, breakage and aging problems,
be changed to aftermarket solid mounts. There are
several article on this website dealing with diode boards,
grounding wires, and other allied items.
The battery size, physical and capacity, has changed over the years. There was supposedly a small 9 Amp-hour battery used on the NON-electric start G/S, I've never seen one of these. While battery sizes are listed in the books on all the other models as 15, 16, 28, and 30 ampere-hours sized, in truth just two fit everything. Generally those are known as the 20 (or 17) and 28 (or 30). There are all sorts of types of batteries available for Airheads.
The 500 cc engine was eliminated in 1973, but a 450 size, the R45, VERY rarely seen (and never officially imported and sold in the USA) was produced from 1978 into
1985. The R45 was made in two versions, one had
26 or 27 horsepower, depending on what literature you are looking
at, and the other had 35 horsepower. These bikes varied in
not only compression ratio but in carburetor size and rear end
ratios. There was a definite reason for the differing
horsepower/performance....license classes of expertise for
motorcyclists in Germany and elsewhere's had
associated changes in vehicle insurance costs and
requirements for beginners. Thus, with the
proper R45 (R45N),
'beginners' could legally ride a big bike, but with a lower output
engine. For a comprehensive article on rear drive ratios, see my
The 600 cc R60 bikes were eventually eliminated in favor of a 650 cc engine, the R65. The early R65 was on a short wheelbase, something like the /5 SWB models; later R65 models used the larger engine sized frames. An R65LS model was produced with compound construction wheels. The R65 650 cc bikes perform quite favorably compared to the larger 800 cc R80 bikes. The R45 and R65 are the ONLY boxer airhead motorcycles that BMW produced from the /5 era onward, that use a SHORTER stroke, compared to the larger engines. These smaller engines are designed, and geared, to run at a somewhat higher rpm. Like all Airheads, the engines are designed to be capable and reliably able to be run for enormous mileages continuously at high speeds and high rpm. The R45 and R65 should NOT be heavily 'lugged' however....not that such throttle use is good for ANY gasoline engine, actually.
The R50/5 is not adequate for two-up freeway riding. Neither is the R45N and R45. In fact, they are marginal for freeways without a passenger. The R65 is far better than many think, and will carry two-up on the freeways.
Pinging (Pinking) on lower graded fuels (even 91 octane) is a problem with the R50 and R60 models, and can be dealt with.
Airheads came with 18 inch front wheels (R45, R65) or 19 inch front wheels for most all others. All had 18" rear wheels. This changed with the R80G/S, R80GS, R100GS and the later R100R bikes. Depending on model you could have 17, 18, 19, or 21 inch wheels.
The Paralever came about in approximately 1987, but all the models were not so fitted. All Paralever bikes are mono
rear, but not really the same as 'the' Monolever, although
there were mny similarities.
The Monolever can be swapped relatively easily into a twin shock model.
/6: The /6 began in 1974 with mostly cosmetic changes. The bullet headlight went away (BOO HOO), but a 5 speed transmission was now fitted. A new size engine was added, the 900cc, and a famous sporty model, the only one ever made that was equipped with Del'orto carburetors, the R90S, was introduced. The 1974 into some of 1975 transmissions had problems, as has been extensively noted, well above. In 1976 BMW enlarged the case cylinder hole to 99mm; previously it had been 97 mm. The pushrod tubes also changed to 18mm. It is unclear that the alternator bore in the case was 107 mm from 1976 in 100% of bikes....at least one 105 mm 1976 year has been reported to me.
/7: These actually began production at the end of 1976 and the 900cc model was abandoned in favor of the 1000 cc model. An 800 cc model was introduced for the 1978 model year. If the the engine has the sloped breather housing opposite the starter motor, and a recessed oil filter cover, then it is a 1977 and later model. The recessed area on the oil filter cover is on the non-oil cooler outer covers, and it is a fairly large round area. The rear of the clamshell air cleaner on the 1977 and 1978 R100S and R100RS had holes drilled at the factory for better breathing, probably helped with the hot air intake too.
The early R65 (and R45) models were SWB, and in the mid-eighties, the larger frame was used, and the R65 always had a very nice thick casting for the top triple clamp...a handling improvement,... and 18 inch front wheels.
BMW installed tubeless rims and tires on late models. BMW also designed some clever spoked wheels on the GS, which allowed tubeless tires, as the spokes were located outwards on the rim.
The R65LS was produced from 1982
into late 1985. It had a few things thought of by SOME enthusiasts as a 'cheapening'. It is
NOT really that bad. They did have compound wheels. Earlier and non-LS models of the R65 were very similar
to the larger airheads of the same year, except for the short
wheelbase type of subframe (which is somewhat like a /5), and in some FEW instances some things
on the R65 were MORE desirable (that cast top triple clamp....). The early R65 had a smaller
clutch, the later ones (1980 or 1981+) had the same clutch as the larger
engine models. The relatively beefy front forks top triple clamp is one of the things that was quite nice about the
R65. The R65 also used the different type of instrument pod
common to the G/S and ST.
The later bikes basically had two styles of instrument pods, the original /6 type, and the early G/S-ST-R65-R45 type. There were some weird technical things with those R65 instruments, but nothing of great note. Later R65 had the larger frames, as BMW standardized, as I noted.
The ignition system was changed in 1979 on all bikes to a canister with a better drive method off the camshaft, and in 1981 that points canister was changed to a Hall device type canister. In 1979, and later, BMW changed to a single roller timing chain which is just as good as the prior duplex chain, and possibly a bit better, considering the tensioning. The points bikes (1970-1980) are reliable, but like all points do require regular maintenance. The 1981 and later ignitions not only have the solid-state (semi-conductor) Hall device, but also have an electronic ignition module located underneath the fuel tank; and for the early years of this change, the module occupied the same place as the prior used cable-driven brake master cylinder that the ATE front brakes the swinging caliper types had. The electronic ignition bikes MUST have 5000 ohm spark plug caps, or the system can fail. NO BMW airhead bike built from the /5 onward must EVER have the spark plug caps lifted while the ignition is ON. I am well aware that some owner's booklet may say differently! ALL models can have coil failures from this abuse, and the 1981 and later models can have the electronics AND coil(s) failures. BMW used TWO single output 6 volt coils in series connection on the primary windings on some bikes from the /5 onward, and also introduced a single 12 volt coil with twin outputs, this came on the R80ST and the G/S. Eventually that became standard for the Airheads. Early gray plastic two-tower coils tended to crack and then fail, especially with moisture being present.
There can be a LOT of confusion about the /7 and later bikes. SOME feel that after 1976, all the bikes were /7, but this is not so OFFICIALLY, as the /7 production stopped in early 1979, except that some R80/7 were produced into late 1980; AND, much later for Authorities use. A FRAME may be identified with a xxx/7 tag at the steering head, yet not really be a /7. This has been a point of controversy and argument, for silly reasons. Basically, BMW stopped adding slash numbers, and this confused things even more.
The fully faired RS and RT models were QUITE an innovation when they were introduced, and they became THE long distance touring bikes of choice. BMW did wind-tunnel experiments when these fairings were designed. These faired bikes made a big impact upon the motorcycling world. The RS was introduced in 1976, but few are around. The RT came in 1979 in the USA. Aftermarket fairings were also available, and one, the Hannigan STe, was VERY good at slicing through the wind.
The highest power output bikes were the R100 series of the late 1970's (up into 1984 for FOREIGN shipped bikes). BMW began in the very late 70's to make changes, of all sorts of types, including camshaft, exhaust, valve size, carburetor size, and compression ratio, to comply with U.S. smog requirements. Earlier bikes need premium fuel, later bikes use regular grade. There is a lot to know about various valves area problems, an EXTENSIVE article is on this site. valves.htm
The Brembo rear disc brake caliper was introduced on the
R100RS in 1978, and the R100S and R100RT in 1979. The
Brembo front caliper(s) and the Magura on-bar master cylinder
came about in 1981 for ALL. Prior to using Brembo front brakes, the front
brakes were either the swinging type made by ATE, which had an under-fuel-tank
master cylinder; or, were ATE single spot calipers that were fixed, and
looked something like the Brembo's. Every Airhead that came with single disc brakes can be converted to dual-discs. There is a fair amount to know, so refer to the BRAKES article.
After 1981 linings were NON-asbestos. Squealing of brakes is fairly common, and the brakes article discusses this. As I mentioned, earlier disc brakes used ATE calipers, and there were two types, one type had a 'swinging' adjustment, and the lesser known type looked a lot like the early Brembo caliper.
BMW stopped production of the R100 airheads for the USA for a period of time, with a supposedly last model series known as the Last Edition; and then, due to screaming by enthusiasts, restarted production for awhile. It was all a bit messy. During this off-production period, which is a bit complicated with models, etc, these were not officially produced for the public (some police models, known as Authorities types in BMW literature WERE produced). BMW tried to placate those who had sometimes paid a premium price for Last Editions, by offering free helmets. It all became somewhat of a public relations mini-nightmare between BMW and die-hard BMW traditionalist owners. This so-called Last Edition has nothing to do with any similarly named bikes in the mid-nineties.
In 1975 the FRONT wheel spindle (axle) was increased from 14 mm to 17 mm. As typical with BMW, one can fit things interchangeably if one knows how. ...(one changes the lowers and changes wheel innards).
The R100 cylinders won't fit the R90 cylinder heads.
If you contemplate making piston/cylinder/head types of changes, DO SEE my technical articles index, including #60.
Between 1979 and 1980 the swing arm housing size got larger, and the driveshaft design was changed, the driveshaft with the torsional stress relieving spring and cams was introduced.
Fitting of oversize tires on the early bikes can be a problem. The front fork brace on some models might need to be replaced. For the rear, particularly if prior to 1981, you may need one spacer changed, not expensive, and very easy to change; and BMW sells the wider spacer. Still, SOME 120 size tires of SOME manufacturer's will NOT properly fit, particularly on the disc brake rear models. Oversize tires change handling, not necessarily for the better....and the removal of the rear tire may be more of problem if you get a flat tire...if you have tube type tires. Most 110 x 18 tires fit fine with the spacer change, but SOME 120 x 18 are much too wide.
The forks were changed fairly radically INternally in 1981, to a WORSE fork. At the same time the rear drive housing casting was changed, side-stand modified, the master cylinder was now a Maguro type located on the right handlebar. That was a good change, eliminating the often leaky, hard to bleed, and slightly spongy operation of the cable-driven master cylinder under the fuel tank. In place of where the under-tank master cylinder WAS located, was now installed the heatsink/mounting for the electronic ignition module (needs to be removed and heat sink paste renewed every couple of years). Brembo disc brakes were now fitted in place of the ATE. The ATE 'swinging caliper' brakes can be OK, but one needs to know how to adjust the eccentrics. There may still be an article on the Club website, www.airheads.org, about that. It should be noted that every model with a single front disc can be converted to a dual-disc. BMW offered slightly thinner discs on some models, particularly with dual front discs. I think they were trying to keep good handling by keeping the weight down. Also, as noted above, in more than one place, ATE DID make a type of brake caliper that is similar to the Brembo, it is NOT the ATE 'swinging adjustment' type, and in fact LOOKS like the Brembo, except for the ATE cast into the outer area, and the color. The 1979 R65 was one of these. These are EXCELLENT brakes, and a 1979 R65 bike converted to twin front discs with this ATE non-swinging caliper and proper master cylinder piston size CAN stop VERY well; you will think you have 4-spot brakes. When converting, one may want to keep the original single brake disc master cylinder size...that usually works out quite well. I have converted some by going to bars type round MC, which works very nicely. See my brakes article!
The first disc brake was introduced with the R75/6 and R90/6, the R90S getting dual front discs. ATE swinging calipers were on the early bikes, and they are a bit more work to adjust properly, and maybe a bit more work to bleed of air bubbles; whilst the Brembo brakes have no adjustments at the caliper area. It is possible to improve braking by various means. Earliest brakes on the front wheels were drums, and they are fine, except that they can grab on a damp morning for the first stop, and will fade under severe use. A single disc brake is NOT always more powerful in initial braking than a properly set up drum brake. That applies to both front and rear. BMW front drum brakes, used only on the earliest Airheads, are of the twin leading shoe type.
In the U.S. models from 1980, the compression ratio was lowered, to allow lower octane fuels and as part of the upcoming UNleaded fuel changes. It is possible to raise the compression ratio with different BMW pistons, or to mill the head, or even turn the cylinder base. If one mills the head, one must also do something about the recess area of the head that the cylinder lip fits into. Several folks on the Airlist will do this type of work properly. BE SURE to get someone with CONSIDERABLE experience and knowledge. This milling is usually done at the time the heads are converted to dual-plugs, which are of some advantage for fuel mileage, ease of starting, octane requirements, etc. Going to different intake spigots and carburetors can further improve power.
1981 brought about MAJOR changes, some of which are already noted herein. Electronic Ignition, Nikasil/Galnikal cylinders, heads modified, major changes to the clutch/flywheel, changes to the transmission, frame beefed-up, ETC. The 1981 frame was not the same as the 1982 and later twinshock models....and the 1981 was particularly hard to put on the center-stand....a kit is, or was, available. The 1981 clutch/flywheel ('clutch carrier') was not overly strong and some of them blew up, and could damage the transmission input shaft at the same time; this was fixed in 1982. The transmission on the 1981 was still having neutral and overshifting problems, and that did not get fixed until 1982. Basically, whenever BMW introduced radical changes, there were bugs in them, witness the 1974 and the 1981 bikes. Oak has said that some 1981 castings for engines or transmissions had incorrect dimensions, which could cause perpetual failures of the input shaft of the transmission. There is NO fix for that, I think. I personally have NEVER seen this.
In 1981, the simplified newly introduced front forks were noisy (fixes came later), and I think they did not work as well as earlier forks.
From late 1980 to 1984, the type of valve seat material was changed, and gave serious problems. Prior to 1981 models, using unleaded fuels was bad for the valves. 1981-1984 bikes had a serious problem with the valve seats in the cylinder heads, there is an article on the valves/valve seats on this website, detailing it in great depth. That is a must read! BMW had some SERIOUS problems with use of UNleaded gasoline's for the early models prior to 1981, and from the valve seats from 1981-1984....until 1985 when they made a final fix for the valve seats. This has been discussed in depth, many times, in AIRMAIL, and I have done an extensive article that is posted at http://www.airheads.org . This is very worthwhile reading but, expanded with additional information, it is on the website you are presently reading, at valves.htm.
In 1982 some gears in the transmission were changed, from a 15° angle to 17.5°. The 15° and 17.5° parts do not work together, but a transmission can be converted. I fail to see any reason to do that....UNLESS...one is changing to an aftermarket higher ratio 5th gear....a long messy story, that. As noted, if you have a 1974 transmission with serious problems, you may be forced to upgrade....see prior information on this page. The transmission article is MUCH more extensive in describing all these things.
There are rumors that the later model's crankshaft were designed and balanced for the R80 engine, and is therefore not as smooth on a R100 engine. This rumor can be discounted. What is true is that when the R100 appeared, the pistons were very carefully designed to maintain the desired original balance weight. It is also true, for more than one reason, that the R80 engines tend to be very smooth.
Expanding a bit on earlier information: Sometime near the end of 1980 BMW lightened and greatly modified the clutch parts. Since model years crossover with production time, it is usually called 1981. The earliest diaphragm springs were weak for very hard use and discs were poor and blew up. 1981 clutches should be updated, when they are overhauled.
While it is possible to fit almost all the latest model
Airhead valve gear to most earlier models, with less convertibility on the /5, you might like to see some
photos and descriptions of the various gear. I
If the flywheel is removed, the rear face of the engine is exposed, and you can see casting information stamped (cast-into) the area. Typically there is a two digit number signifying the year of manufacture; and that number is surrounded by 1 to 12 raised dots which signify the production month of the CASTING.
Some engine blocks for replacement purposes were made without any serial number of the type normally seen on the pre-1984 models, that is, at the dipstick area. The dealer was supposed to transfer (stamp into the metal) the old engine's number, and destroy the old engine and/or ship it to BMW (or Butler and Smith....which was the importer/distributor before BMWNA). Some dealers did not apparently have metal punches and there are no serial numbers on those replacement engines. NOTE that all 1984 and later engines did not come with serial numbers at the dipstick area.
1977: valve covers can not (well, should not) be reversed anymore and the RECHTS & LINKS for right and left on valve covers are located on the INSIDE of the valve covers; alloy pushrods with steel ends quiet the valves a wee bit and make clearances a bit more constant with engine heating; crankcase is made stronger; cast-in breather housing area; deeper sump...changed again in 1981. Most of the cylinders, and eventually phased into all production, now had a large O-ring at the base (the cylinder base now had a machined groove) to ensure positive sealing to the engine, hopefully to prevent oil weeping and one does not HAVE to use a sealant like Hylomar. Instruments still had white numbers, but RED needles. The area below the steering head is strengthened; RS introduced and gets a larger diameter exhaust pipe system. The cast wheels, called Snowflake, are introduced. The FRONT wheel only, and ONLY 19" cast wheels of production BEFORE 10/82 have ALL been recalled...see 19inchrecall.htm
1978: linkage type gear shift lever arrangement
introduced; electronic tachometer; R80 engine; RS with Brembo
rear disc brake (and both RS and RT from 1979). Valve
Covers have L & R information on the OUTSIDE. In ~mid-1978, BMW started installing a larger 2-bulb tail light assembly. The wiring was no longer in the frame tubing but alongside the tubing.
In 1977-1978 the piston pins clips changed from internal to external type. NOT ALL 1978 had this change. Some had the pistons re-machined.
1979: points in a canister; single roller timing chain with hydraulic tensioner; spring/cam shock absorber system added to the driveshaft. RT introduced.
1980: lowered compression ratio to the U.S.; modified oiling system routing INside the engine; rectangular aircleaner; pulse air system (not all countries); 85 mph speedometer (U.S.A.); single throttle cable at throttle and same for choke, which is located at the left bar. BMW began to put various numbers and letters on a raised flat boss of the crankcase, located below the left cylinder, slightly forward. Interpreting those characters is in another article on this website.
1981: light weight clutch and the flywheel eliminated in favor of lighter 'clutch carrier'; electronic ignition; larger sump; modified clutch lever; brazed-on pushrod tube collars; different input shaft on transmission to match the new clutch; Nikasil. Engines vibrate more...generally....and are more touchy to get smooth with carburetor adjustments...due to the lighter clutch components. The 1981 and later CS (Classic Sport) models were supposed to have wire wheels, but they had interference problems with the Brembo brakes in hard cornering, so snowflake cast wheels were installed at the BMW warehouse in the USA.
1985: On demand no-servicing type of wheel bearings; much quieter valve gear now having different components and the end clearance of the rocker arms is set by shims.
Late 1984 (???),
but for sure from sometime in 1985 TO 1993, and maybe even as late as some of
1994-5: BMW abandoned the use of a part
(circlip) in the transmission, and made a few other associated
changes. MANY transmissions have failed due to this. See Transmission.htm
Noisy or vibrating operation, or feelable (sharp bits) metallic particles at the transmission magnetic center drain plug are cause for investigation. Other tests are appropriate, some should be repeated often. NOTE that some of the similar sort of vibrating symptoms can be the Paralever bearings and U-joints. The transmissions can be updated (de-dated?) relatively easily. NOTE: If one has sudden unusual vibration in the transmission, stop riding NOW!!!!
Last of the Airheads: Some models were produced into the 1990's. Versions of both the R80GS and
R100GS; plus R80, R80RT, R100RS, R100RT. A version of the R100RT
called the Classic was built as late as September of 1996 for the EURO civilian
market, and I think some R80RT and R100RT were built as Authorities bikes even
Some bikes, besides as noted above, such as the R80R and certain GS versions,
were NOT imported by BMW into the USA. The R100R bikes all had the latest
fixes, of which there were not many...BUT: The transmissions, at least prior to
1995 (see transmission article) might not have the circlip, an expensive problem if
the transmission fails. I recommend you read this article: transmission
The mentioned new model, the R100R versions, were produced between 1991
and 1995. The first years (1991-1992) had single disc front brakes, thereafter
the brakes, which are very good, were dual-disc, 4 pot Brembo's. AFAIK, only a
few hundred of the R bikes came to the USA. There were quite a few changes,
some subtle (such as rear shock length, which reduced the U-joint angles).
In some ways, these Paralever bikes with Showa forks were the best
handling Airheads. They are rather similar in many ways, except for the Retro-
styling and equipment, instruments, etc., as the R100GS. The exhaust system
was different from earlier Airheads, and the instruments-group styling is a
matter of one's personal taste (there were at least two versions of them too).
The saddlebags were like the Tour Bags on the K bike models. One's
shipped to the USA had the 32 mm carbureted motors, and a change to the
Euro spigots and 40 mm carbs; and changing to higher compression pistons
will really improve acceleration.....this could be said about all the 32 mm
carbureted R100 engines, from the early eighties.
Bottom line, is that except for the possibility of the transmission circlip problem,
these were, arguably, the best Airheads, as far as handling goes, & had the least
MISCL notes: BMW made some models seldom seen, particularly in the USA. The R45 and R45N
are VERY rare in the USA. There were Police (Authorities) models of many Airheads.
One example of which is the R100TIC. This was SORT-OF a naked R100 that had a
low compression engine of 67 HP, but the RT fairing was added, with police
equipment as ordered. This was a EURO available bike only. Since it was not a RS
or RT, it came with a rear drum brake. It was made from about 1980-1984.
A full treatment of all the special BMW models is far beyond what I can or should
do in this article. If you cannot find, elsewhere's, the information on a specific
model, you may furnish me the full VIN or serial number, and all information you
have, and I can possibly identify the bike and details.
The weights shown in various literature about BMW motorcycles are often wrong, sometimes wildly wrong. Some of the differences come from failure to understand BMW's own literature, and some differences come from translations or conversions. Differences can come due to models as shipped to various countries. Some were available without starter motors, and different sizes/weights of batteries. Different oil pans and fuel tanks were sometimes installed (yes, by the factory), and BMW's weight figures INCLUDE full fuel and oil and standard tools. BMW's full fuel figures are FULL TANK, whether or not YOU can fill it that full or not (some tanks are difficult due to flapper valve or using screw type cap). Non-stock shock absorbers, different saddlebags, or adding racks, backrests, ETC., make for small changes. The original type flooded batteries are a lighter than the often-substituted AGM/VRLA type batteries. Standard ORIGINAL TYPE tires are assumed.
In general, the figures I have, below, are for standard USA models (unless otherwise identified), standard equipment, full fuel on standard tank (at capacity on U.S. gallons), and with oil and tools as appropriate to that model.
NOTE: There are some anomalies, in which dead-stock bikes were actually measured, and did not agree with published figures. As ONE example, the R90S, officially 474 pounds wet, but was measured at 452 DRY (no oil, no fuel). The fuel alone weighs more than the difference.
MODEL or ITEM
|R50/5; R65; R45;||452|
|R80G/S||423||with electric starter, std. battery|
|R80ST||436||No kickstarter, 1984|
|R60/5; R60/6; R75/5; R75/6/; R80; R90/6.||463|
|R60/7; R75/7; R80/7; R90S; R100/7; R100T
|474||R90S, measured 452 dry. R80, measured 463 dry. Others withOUT fuel, withOUT tools, but WITH lubricants, 430 lbs.|
|R100S, R100CS||485||WithOUT tools and fuel 441.|
|R100RS||505 to 507||measured 463 no fuel, for 1978-1979 USA models, but WITH lubricants.|
|R100RT||516 to 525||Depending on year. 6.3 gallon (24L) tank is assumed. Includes all lubricants and full fuel tank. Without fuel, 472 lbs.|
|R80GS PD; R100GS PD||1988-1990||535||32L tank|
|R80GS PD; R100GS PD||1991+||520||TESTED at 588 with full tank|
|/6 transmission||24||drained, w/o shift lever|
|R65 LS rear drive||1982||16||with brake shoes, drained|
|Engine, 1978 R80/7||140||With starter, with carburetors, withOUT ignition coils, withOUT intake system.|
|Engine, R100/7, S/RS,RT||1979||138||as above|
Gasoline weighs 6.0 lbs per USA gallon.
Lubricating oil weighs ~7.5 lbs per USA Gallon.
Most early engines had 2.38 quarts of oil (0.6 gallon) (including the oil in the oil filter).
Later engines had 2.64 quart, and later with the COOLER had 2.91 quarts.
Transmissions had 0.85 quart.
Rear drives had 0.26 quart on early models and then had 0.37 quart on all models except the R80R and R100R had 0.28 quart.
Early shafts had 0.11 quart of oil, after which they had 0.16 quart.
Use 0.85 quart for transmissions.
The front forks varied considerably. For early models you can assume ~9-1/2 ounces per each of the two legs; the GS models had up to 17 ounces per each of the two legs, and the R80R/R100R models had 14 ounces per each of the two legs.
The /5 series fuel tanks held either 5.39 or 6.34 gallons. Except for the models listed just below, most tanks held 6.34 USA Gallons. That capacity was not necessarily what you COULD, or not easily, fill the tank to, because later tanks had flapper valves (many owners removed them), and if filled to the flush-filler area, held 6.34 gallons. Note that BMW fuel tank specification INCLUDES the reserve, and the capacity is to FULL (whether or not you CAN fill it that much). Some tanks vary a small amount in ways you might not think of, including the space for the ATE under tank master cylinder; and, BMW was not careful about specifying the difference in capacity between the early flip type caps and the later tanks with the screw-in removable caps....which either had a flapper valve (or not) but the NECK if not well-filled, detracted considerably from the fuel capacity. The actual reserve amount (INCLUDED in the tank capacity) varied, and the left and right sides were NOT the same. Small pointshere, but a cup or three difference.
The R80ST and R80GS had small tanks of just barely ~ a couple of cups+ over 5.0 gallons. The RS & RT models generally held 5.55 gallons, although some held just about 5.2 or 5.3 gallons. The PD models had large tanks with the R80GS PD holding nearly 8-1/2 gallons (a non-imported version had 26 Liters). A larger GS-PD tank was available, and sold with many of the bikes as standard, and it held 9-1/4th gallons.
04/17/2003: minor typos and clarifications, some major
05/10/2003: Add information on VIN numbers at top of page, and set space for additional serial
and VIN number references. Minor clarifications, 247-248, etc.
07/20/2002: Brembo & Magura information; transmission hyperlink & transmission dating note &
clarity of wording.
12/06/2004: Re-arrange the placement of some information, add more hyperlinks; add some things
deemed important that had been left out previously. Clarify a few details.
10/06/2006: Update 1974 information
11/05/2006: Some editing
04/14/2007: minor editing
06/10/2007: Article number removed, editing entire article for clarity, page placed before all the
rest on the T.I. page.
11/27/2007: previously had no article ID number, now is 67B
02/03/2008: remove hyperlinks to engineinternals.htm
07/20/2008: typos and clarifications only
10/24/2008: update article
11/10/2008: minor clarifications
02/23/2009: a couple of minor clarifications on rotors and stators
02/24/2010: Quite a few updates, to help primarily with identification
06/05/2010: notation regarding 105 mm alternator being seen on 1976 engine case.
04/09/2011: Minor updating, and a bit more on 04/19/2011
08/29/2011: Add link to Verrill's site page
07/24/2012: Just minor cleanup
03/01/2013: Clarified a few details.
07/27/2013: Clarified details on transmission gusseting for 1978 and 1979.
08/06/2013: Had a request to expand the R section, so did so.
update and add many links.
01/15/2015: Move capacities and weights from other articles and put them all here, at the end.
01/16/2015: Add some information to the chart on weights/capacities.
© Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer
Return to Technical Articles LIST Page
Return to HomePage