Monday, December 3, 2018

BMW R80RT Badlands Cafe Racer Project Part 1

BMW R80RT Badlands Cafe Racer Project Part 1

This really is not a rags to racer story, but more of a jem to jewelry story that started over twenty years ago. This represents the Part 1 of the journey as I tear down and morph this BMW R80 into a cafe racer of my dreams.

During the time my wife and I were struggling through undergrad and graduate school, my wife said the only way I would get back into motorcycle riding was with my next wife and so the story went for about two and half decades. 

Mountain bikes and recently ebikes marginally satisfied my desire to get back on a motorcycle all while still remaining faithfully married - a load of fun, but not growling power of motorcycling. Eventually, she suggested restoring cars, but after noting we don’t have a spare three stall garage and my continual stream of whining, wailing, and annoyed her enough she relented to me restoring motorcycles. The caveat was ONLY if I could find my mythical later 80s or early 90s BMW R80.

Why a BMW R80? The BMW R80 (800cc) motorcycles were gentlemanly air cooled horizontally opposed dual cylinder bikes with enough power and torque to keep things very exciting. They were widely know to be just as comfortable puttering around town at 20 mph and 85 mph on highways all with enough stability and weight to feel planted on the open road. I wanted this era BMW Airhead because they are notoriously easy to work on for the garage wrencher, have shown to increase in value, can literally be infinitely rebuilt for 100s of thousands of mile, and deliver a heart throbbing sound of a tractor with two giant cylinders hanging out each side. Notably, pretty much any older BMW updated, restored, or even converted or chopped tend to bring premium values.

A broadcast went out across a three state area to every dealer, bike collector, and friend of a friend I could dig up a number for - “please mister… could you spare a BMW R80?” In a part of the country which only recently got its first BMW and Ducati dealerships in the last decade, finding a thirty plus year old BMW was not expected to be easy. Nearly a year went by and then I got a call from the used powersports dealer just a few miles from my house. “We have a 1983 BMW R80RT, but the owner will only leave it here for six hours and… it is also in your price range.” The R80RT was the “luxury Race and Touring model” with all the bells and whistles, race and touring fairing, loads of storage, factory steering damper, and even had a clock.

Two hours later I was the proud owner of not “just a 1983 BMW R80RT”, but a third owner, full maintenance history, already had the top end work done, carbs rebuilt, purrs like a kitten, oil tight, and you can put 100 miles on this on the way back from your motorcycle driving test no problem 1983 BMW R80RT. The previous owner talked to me for over a hour about all the maintenance schedules he followed in such passionate detail that a German engineer would get teary-eyed. The $1900 flew out of my pocket - it was a steal about $3000 under book value, but the owner just wanted the bike to go to a good home.

The goal though was not to restore a BMW R80RT to its former glossy red Race Touring glory, but instead to create one of those super custom, clean and tidy Cafe Racer BMW R80s you see in European Pinterest posts. Obviously, starting with a perfectly functioning R80 put me way ahead on the project and delivered loads of fun before the build even started.

The overall strategy for converting any groovy older bike to a sleek badass cafe racer is to strip off the bodywork, remove all the unneeded parts, swap out old giant subframe for a short cafe racer subframe and seat, add on clip-ons, billet rearset, update the electrics, and finish it all off with some pretty high-tier billet goodies. Add in inspection of all the seals, a new set of tires, swap out all the fluids and filters, some fresh powder-coat and paint, and some shock upgrades. It sounds like a lot of updates and upgrades that can add up to $3000 easily when you also add in some well needed electrical upgrades. Stock BMW’s are increasing in value and custom BMW’s are selling for $9K+. Well maintained BMW Airheads can deliver well beyond 300K miles to owner so the investment is smarter than dumping that money in many other brands and a valid reason BMW R-series bikes are coveted and usually pricey.

As with any used bike, regardless of condition, the first thing to be done was replacing filters and all fluids. In this case everything looked great, but the filters and fluids were swapped anyway. The nearly bald circa 1990s tires were swapped to go anywhere knobby Continental TKC 80s. I love the look and also love the concept that the TKC 80 tire has no limits and still handles great on the road. The tire has proven itself globally as a all terrain on and off road tire even at 80+ MPH highway speeds and was perfect for my Major Pandemic Badlands Cafe Racer concept.

Initial issues were really around understanding the R-series BMW itself and its idiosyncrasies including how all the crush washers seal and the capacities. For example I was attempting to chase down leaks at my shifter input and the rear hub which was covered in oil after replacing my rear tire and rear transmission, shaft and hub fluids. The culprit was a barely out of balance rear TKC 80 tire which at around 60 MPH would vibrate just enough to shake oil out of the hub’s vent hole and vibrate oil out of the shifter input seal. With the wheel balanced the problem resolved itself even after topping off the oil levels. Another leak was resolved with understanding the right torque to keep the seals intact and leak-free. The $40 Clymer Manual was expensive, but the most important tool you can purchase when working on any bike. For the most part, these older carbureted bikes are both simple and frustrating at times with most issues caused by either rushing or overthinking the issue.

My style of building guns has been to have all the parts and then start the build. I absolutely loathe having to do partial upgrades one little bit at a time, tearing things down again and again. Some folks love this, but that level of patience escapes me. My preference with any build has always has been to prevent tearing everything down multiple times - usually this prevents a lot of damage and replacement along the way of finishes and fasteners.

If you have a new current bike, it is easy to just say you want to upgrade the muffler, or swap out some lighting. On an old bike one part swap typically has a cascading impact to many other components. Electronics upgrades are a good example of this. Old bikes tend to drain batteries much quicker than newer LED lite bikes thanks to the old high current incandescent lights and thirty year old electronics, but adding LED lights usually means adding extra resisters or even requiring an entire electrical upgrade. While doing that same exercise stripping down a fairing equipped 1983 BMW R80RT, requires all the blinkers to have additional LED conversion blinker resistors, all new new signals with mounts, and potentially all new wiring.

As builder, if you are going this care then a complete Motogadget m-unit electrical system upgrade is smart to improve reliability & looks while increasing features to a very modern level in the process, but requires a full rewire of the bike.

To further clean up looks, most builders opt for a tiny Antigravity lithium battery pack. These tiny battery replacements are about 1/10th the weight of OEM batteries and less than ¼ the size all while being easy to tuck out of sight. Upgrading to lithium batteries also has a cascading requirement to upgrade the rectifier so the new Lithium battery does not get overcharged. These old bikes are money pits, so be prepared.

Revzilla was a heck of a resource for my safety gear which included a Speed and Strength Hi-Viz versions of the Power and the Glory armored mesh gloves and Midnight express Jacket with included CE armor. Frankly the quality on the Speed and Strength products was great for the money and I also added one of their helmets which I added tasteful accents of reflective tape for even more visibility. Having ridden back in my youth and a whole crap load of street riding on bikes that if drivers cannot see you, they will hit you. As bicycle rider I generally am wearing a safety orange shirt which I can tell you has saved my butt too many times to count. The hi-viz jacket and gloves you can see me from over a mile away which is exactly what I wanted.

To keep the distracted driven thing to a minimum and also provide for music and the ability to communicate with other riders I choose to add a Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset. For just over $150 it is an excellent add on which I think adds a margin of safety from a communication perspective.

SEAT - After a month of agonizing over a myriad of upgrades, styles, and looks, the start of any cafe project is getting the seat and rear subframe right. This typically involved shorting the long seat subframe while delivering a retro look. A lot of builders break out the angle grinder and a welder to take an almost three foot stock subframe down to around 18-inches. The usual process after the chop and weld is then to top with a cafe racer seat and rear cowl. That simple process takes lot of experience to get right. With that noted, Pinterest delivered loads more bad frame chop jobs than good ones. Several used bikes I looked at were destructively butchered.

The safer...and easier route is to go with one of the many bolt on replacement subframes and yes, there are a dozen various aftermarket BMW R-series cafe racer subframes on the market. There are also a variety of cafe subframes for other non BMW vintage brands such as Yamaha and Honda. Unbolt the factory subframe and bolt on the new aftermarket cafe racer subframe and matching seat kit and the rear end is done in about the same time as replacing a slip on muffler. This sounds like it takes out some of the fun, but the reality is for around $500 the bolt up subframe/seat solution delivers an easy professional option that is done in about twenty minutes.

I decided on a Vonzeti cafe racer T92 subframe, T67 seat, and seat base to deliver the cafe racer look. Vonzeti products are very highly regarded, all handmade with options for various seat fabrics, cowl colors, and are also available in completely custom subframe designs. I choose the T92 subframe and T67 seat but upgraded to a synthetic microsuede with a custom square sewn seat pattern.  Vonzeti also sells a matching flat metal seat base which allows an otherwise rounded hollow seat cowl house ugly electronics out of eyesight under the seat. Vonzeti is based in England and will ship anywhere to most countries around the world. About two months after ordering, I had my custom made order in hand and it is gorgeous.

ELECTRONICS - Everything on this 35-year old bike worked, but beyond a replacement regulator, the electrics were all original stock and delivering heavy battery drain. The older the electrics are, typically the less efficient and reliable they become. The headlight and signals were really quite dim compared to modern lights and from a safety perspective were due for an upgrade. Though a relatively new battery was installed just a few years ago, about once a month the battery required a boost on a battery charger/minder. Many old R80 owners know the stock alternator is not super high output and unless longer rides are the norm, this kickstarter-less R80 will end up with a dead battery - so I ordered an Antigravity Micro-Start XP-1 to tuck into a pocket for a little insurance.

The OEM set of two horns sounded pitiful since one horn was nearly dead it made the sound of a loud dying cow. Kind of a Beep-ooooohhhhhh sound. I also noticed that every time I used the horn that the next ride my battery would be dead. I replaced the dual horn set up with a insanely loud Denali Soundbomb Mini Horn and OMG are these loud.

With the new breed of aftermarket electronics available for the vintage builder, it is hard not to consider a top-to-bottom electronics and a wiring upgrade to improve reliability and drop the current load off the battery. The $310 Motogadget M-Unit and $380 M-Unit Blue are the most well regarded vintage cycle digital electronics upgrades on the market. These premium tier German electronics are about half the size of a deck of cards, include modern digital self-resetting breakers for all of your electronics which eliminates often problematic fuse boxes - and can be completely programmed with a variety of features including special flasher modes, fault programing, built in alarm, loads of automated safety features, configurable outputs, and even a smartphone keyless start on the m-Unit Blue model. 
The Motogadget m-Units are actually cheap considering all the deliver including the most reliable vintage bike possible. Motogadget also has a full line of premium quality custom level mirrors, high output LED signals, tachometers and speedometers all of which I included in this build.  If you do go this route, I highly recommend buying the Motogadget wiring kit as well as it is a spectacular time saver and not a bad deal for all that color coded wiring.

For my build, I used the Motogadget m-Unit Blue, bar end LED signals, bar end mirrors, rubber grips, and a retro vintage style Motorscope Speedster speedometer to greatly clean up the electrics, reduced the overall power consumption, and delivered a super clean customer look. The bar and LED signals are particularly trick in that they are directionally designed to optimize super bright light output to everyone except the rider. The rider just sees a subdued flash.  Revival Cycles super bright $15 LED Supernova Turn Signal & Brake Lights rear brake and indicators we used at the rear. Paired with the Motogadget m-Unit these tiny ¾-inch combo LED indicators deliver brake, fade-in/fade-out, flash emergency braking, left and right signals all in a tiny super clean design that is annoyingly bright and sure to get and keep drivers attention - a super custom but huge safety upgrade.

The stock 7-inch BMW headlight is a huge but was built with 30+ year old technology and needed an LED upgrade. The ugly headlight bucket is attached via an even uglier mount hidden under the fairing. I removed the OEM headlight mount and used EMGO fork mounted aluminum headlight bucket mounts and swapped out the stock headlight and bucket with a HogWorkz 7” LEO Halomaker and new Bikemaster headlight bucket. This added a bit of modern look to this otherwise classic themed build and drops the overall current draw by about 40%.

The Midwest is either blisteringly hot or cold much of the rideable season so I did add Symtec Heat Demon Heated Grips. Sure the goal is to reduce current draw, but these on low setting are not a huge draw on the electrical system and are typically only used on longer rides when the charging system is humming along anyway. Probably the best money spent on this entire build.

The Motogadget Motoscope Tiny Speedometer packs an accurate digitally controlled and calibrated stepper motor speedo, integrated warning, turn and signal lights all in a tiny 2-inch wide speedo. Again the Motogadet Multi-Conductor Cable is recommended for simplified hookup. One missing component was a tachometer which was fulfilled with a Motogadget Motoscope Mini which was tucked under the handlebar controls. At only 2.32" L x 0.85" W x 0.51" H, the Motoscope Mini can disappear on the big all while offering full digital speedo, tach, clock, trip & total odometer, trip timing, and rev limit warning. I do tend to wind up this R80 into the lively redline and needed insight into where I am precisely in my rev range.

All those gauges into
one little 2-inch gauge
in Oshmo billet beauty Clamp
FOOT CONTROLS & BILLET - Oshmo is an outstanding beautiful custom builder of BMW related accessories for the vintage builder. Several of the very cool accessories are BMW R-series specific top clamp with integrated Motogadget Motoscope Speedster speedometer and the rear foot controls used to slide foot placement back about six inches. For Beemer bike guys, Oshmo’s billet bits are not just me-too mass produced imports, they are amazing premier quality CNC machined parts made here in the US. I opted for the mirror polished top triple clamp which increases fork stiffness and collapses all the speedo and warning lights into a super clean single piece of billet. Even when new the factory steering damper does little other than to help the bike track with crosswinds, so I locked it in high position and removed the adjustment knob to clean up the overall look of the top clamp. Later, a modern steering damper may be added to the chassis.

The Oshmo rear sets are a true work of art with curves that minimic the curves of the BMW and come complete with billet polished shifter input and connecting linkage. There are a variety of imported BMW R-series rear sets, but these are simply stunning.

To get the lowered look of a cafe racer without wrist breaking discomfort, I chose high-rise Tarozzi clip ons for “the look” while preserving the comfort of a low-rise straight handlebar. The Tarozzi multi-mount setup delivers class leading mounting flexibility with complete adjustability. The mounts were machine polished to match the Oshmo billet top triple clamp.

Racing style Monza gas caps have been a fixture of cafe racer builds mainly due to their long history as the style of gas caps used in aircraft and then racing. The style dates back the 1930s and is neither light nor the worlds best gas cap, but it is crazy cool looking and prevents a lot of refueling scratching to expensive paint jobs. The OEM BMW cap is also notoriously failure prone often locking itself in place. Having had a few issues already with my cap, a replacement was due.  There are the many BMW compatible versions, some cheap and some solid billet. This version is the $180 later version which installed historically backwards, just to be a smart ass. Triumph recently introduced a faux Monza cap on a new bike installed backward allegedly to improve safety in accidents and Monza induced scrotum ripping (Google it). The direction of the Monza cap is a conversation piece.

ENGINE, BRAKES & EXHAUST - The engine was in great shape with the exception of a tune up, but I upgraded to re-pop vintage peanut style valve covers from Bob’s BMW which I machine mirror polished along with new exhaust nuts. The factory exhaust was wrapped with black titanium 2-inch wrap, secured with stainless wrap ties, and tipped with chrome Dime City Cycles Norton Commando 19.5-inch exhaust. The $160 peashooter style muffler set is inexpensive, but deliver the delightful grumble from the BMW that we love paired with great looks.

The front brake rotors are still in good condition, but brake pads were upgraded to EBC High Performance Brake pads for the duel disks and the rear drum. This upgrade delivered a sizeable increase in stopping power with just a brake pad swap.  Apex cycle Shop makes a billet aluminum brake reservoir cover that updated the look of the integrated factory hand controls just a bit. The reality of the dual front disk and rear drum is that the rear does very little unless you are literally standing on the rear brake pedal. The rear brake is better with new drum shoes, but I wanted a lot better brake bit up front than what a dual piston caliber can offer. Currently I am working to retrofit a set of used R1100RT Brembo four piston calipers to further increase braking performance and will post how that works out.

SUSPENSION UPGRADES - The thirty-five year old front suspension was in delightfully great condition thanks to the previous owner’s meticulous maintenance, but I really wanted a vintage look bike with modern suspension. The seals were good, the shocks were smooth, and there were no leaks. The easy route was just a simple shock fluid swap which was done shortly after purchase, but if a builder wants a more modern and advanced race suspension feel, aftermarket suspension upgrades are available.

It used to be that you were stuck with whatever front fork setup the bike came with but now, we have other options to upgrade the existing valving to modern compression and damping levels. My plan is to use RaceTech Gold Valves which are one company that offers a stock suspension Gold Valve upgrade insert which adds adjustable compression and dampening to a stock BMW R80 front shocks. The RaceTech upgrade delivers nearly the same performance as a new advanced fork. Instead of a $3000 Suzuki GSXR front shock swap, as is often done, a builder can drop about $700 for a complete front fork upgrade with RaceTech including upgraded progressive springs, seals, valving, refinishing and anodizing the fork stanchions - in essence a new fork set. As the build progresses, the fork will go to Racetech.

At the rear, the process is more of an easy shock swap to an upgrade to a current suspension.  I am still deciding between the $500 YSS and $800 Ohlins rear shocks which deliver tunable preload adjustment. The Ohlins are kind of winning in my mind. With the RachTech and Ohlins suspension setup this has delivered a giant jump in both ride quality and cornering confidence for other builders.

PAINT & FINISHING TOUCHES - The next steps after all the components were fitted and needed mounting tabs were added, removing any extra OEM factory tabs were ground off to clean up the frame, the frame will get powder coated. Yes, it is a pain in the butt to strip the frame and replace all the bearings, reassemble and re-wire but there is nothing else that transforms a bike like a strip and powder coat. In the case of this old BMW’s which has a few areas which have been brush painted over the years, powder coat will be a substantial upgrade to the finish.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

1 comment:

LKS said...

Congratulations with a cool build! Glad you found my wiring diagram useful :)