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BMW R1100S - Track tool or Sports tourer?

Road Test by Adrian Percival

Since its introduction in September 1998, BMW's R1100S has been a popular bike with many a sports tourer fan. The S model features the most powerful boxer motor ever fitted to BMW, yet with its sporty looks, long-leggedness and comfortable riding position, this bike is equally adept at traveling long distances and will certainly rattle a few riders on your favourite road or track!

Could this be the ultimate 'Q' bike? It may be.

The 1100S looks very much the modern bike, dare I say stylish with its twin under-seat exhausts, funky headlights and single-side swingarm. The 1/2 body work is true to BMW and is functional yet modern looking, and allows enough of the mechanical components to be viewed to onlookers. Besides, how can you disguise those huge cylinders even if you wanted to?

I had the opportunity to combine a long trip with a serious track session last month when a group of us went to Germany. Whilst we were there it would have been rude indeed to not go to the Nurburgring circuit for a few days to have a play with the Beemer on track! I had the bike from BMW at Thorne for just over a week, and in that time managed to put some 1250 miles on it. Naturally I spent a considerable amount of time on the bike, either on UK roads, French, Belgian and German motorways, and local roads (the good ones) in and around the Nurburgring. The bike did everything I asked of it and was a complete joy to ride over any period of time.

Now all BMW boxers are a bit quirky with their funny suspension, lift on acceleration and they kick left when you rev them, this 1100S is no different, in fact possibly due to its higher powered motor and free revving nature it actually feels worse that the others in the movement stakes. You still get vibrations at an uncommonly high frequency for a twin, and there's still that strange Paralever shaft-drive clunk when the bike is put into gear. The built in passenger grab rails (under the solo cowl) face inward and are almost useless, but they look great and are well integrated into the tail section behind the seat, which, unlike most other BMW models, is not adjustable. Neither are the handlebars or footpegs, for that matter, but when it comes down to it and you have to ride it for the next 300 mile stretch, this BMW comes through in splendid fashion.

Setting off in tourer mode sees the BMW become a very capable luggage horse, for some reason I seem to never be able to travel light, this time I had a fully packed pair of Oxford Throwover soft panniers and a large tail bag containing two sets of full leathers and boots over the top when I left! It was no problem to get all this on the bike even without many real tie downs available. Strapping everything on was not a problem as I decided to utilise the centre stand (yes it has one!) enabling me to get everything straight and balanced. So off we went straight down the motorways for some 150 miles to Dover from Oxford for the first leg of the trip.

So far so good

Dover came and soon went as we departed Calais on the next leg into Germany via France and Belgium. The benefit of riding a BMW soon becomes apparent as the more miles we clocked up started to take its toll on some of the other riders in the group. Riding the Beemer was really no problem at all and I felt perfectly happy to carry on for ages without a stop. At the stops (usually for fuel) it was stretch and relax time for the GSXR, ZXR and SV riders, but on the BMW it was just business as usual, no stretch needed, no sore wrists or arms, just I'm ready to go now, and how far is it? Is that all!

Riding the BMW is dead easy, well once you get used to the switchgear that is! It certainly is different from the standard Japanese and American built Japanese bike controls, so it still takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the indicators on each side and the cancel switch on one side, but you begin to get the hang of the layout and start to appreciate little things like the hazard warning lights and high-beam flash. My only real complaints, and I have this with quite a few bike manufacturers, is the lack of a fuel gauge and a low-fuel light that is nearly invisible on sunny days. Ok so I didn't actually need the low fuel light on the trip as the BMW would go on forever on its 19lt tank compared to the other bikes, so 150 miles plus before reserve was not a problem.

As a Sport tourer I have no reservation about the 1100S, it is a very capable bike and comfortable bike, but as a track tool or A & B road bike it has its limitations compared to other bikes in that class. I made the mistake of deciding not to remove the centre stand prior to the trip, as I needed to use it! I should have done it, this I found out quite quickly when out on track for the first time and scrape, grind, down it went on both sides! So back in the park I started to experiment with the suspension settings and found out that I had to keep increasing rear pre-load until I ended up with a setting six turns out from maximum. That may seem like a lot, but when coupled with the front rebound setting of fourteen out from maximum, the bike would load the front wheel nicely and provide more feel than people have come to expect from Telelever-equipped BMW's. Even with these settings there was still a couple of grind outs and a shortage of feedback from the front end, but it worked well enough and that's when the fun began!

The 1100S is quite a capable track bike as well, I had some pretty impressive passes out on track getting by some surprisingly fast bikes in some of the strangest places, this I put down to the BM's suspension and the way it turns in nicely and remains ultra stable under high cornering loads. Although not the lightest sports bike in the world at 229kg, and down on power compared to most other sports bikes, the 92bhp and 72 ft-lb really works well for this bike, enabling you to ride most bends and sharper corners without fear of the unexpected. I had a comment from a following GSXR 1000 rider that I was laying lovely black lines down on most of the corners, that was cool!

So after 3 days on track with the Beemer it was time to make out way home again from Germany, another 485 mile ride back to Oxford and not everyone was looking forward to it as much as I was! We left in brilliant sunshine in 31degs (as it had been for a few days) and rode all the way back to near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, only to be caught at about 9pm in the biggest downpour I have seen for a long time! Than goodness for good lights and two position heated grips to dry my gloves out whilst I rode, yes this sports bike has heated grips, bet your Gixxer doesn't!

The BMW 1100S is equipped with good brakes as standard, lots of feel and plenty of stopping power is always available. There is an option of ABS at approx £750 but personally I'm not a fan of ABS on bikes, especially sports bikes, it's great in the rain and in other adverse conditions but, for the most part I'd rather not have it. The worst thing about BMW's ABS, despite it's complexity and weight, which can be overlooked on a somewhat touring-oriented bike is, when you brake hard over irregular surfaces the wheel locks for a split second the ABS kicks in and makes sure that the wheel returns to its prior spinning state, surging the bike ahead toward the obstacle you're trying to avoid. Thus, you lose a great deal of braking power once the wheel starts turning again. I'd rather deal with a momentary lock-up when a wheel is airborne than to lose such a large proportion of your available braking power.

BMW's definitely have a very loyal following, and not surprisingly so. All BMW's are made the same, from the smallest commuter C200, to the 1200 LT tourer, they all get the same build quality and finish, and they will all be running in 10 yrs time looking as good as new. The Ducatisti are more sport oriented in their search for the ultimate truth, but BMW riders tend to be more comfortable at a pace which resembles spirited weekend jaunts rather than all-out country road blasts. BMW's are more than capable of A & B road warfare, especially this one, I can honestly say that the R1100S keeps the sport part of the sport-touring equation in focus,


Can I insure it?


Read external BMW R1100S reviews on ciao.

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