Test Ride: BMW R1100S, Part 2


By Rob Harris

Parked bike

Okay, so I promised part 2 of the new Beemer write up last week, but I got busy, then I got lazy and then I got drunk. No excuse really but then what ya gonna do anyway? Okay, okay, here’s the blurb ….

Monday, August 10th

I flew into Montreal with drinking buddy … err, fellow journalist Scot Magnish, in the early evening. Although BMW had paid for the flight, the official schedule implied that we were to make our own way to the lavish Hotel Vogue in the heart of downtown Montreal.

“Bloody liberty” I muttered to Scot, as I couldn’t help but notice that the big B had also neglected to fly us in super snob class, and assumed that we were more at home with the peasants in economy. We sipped on champagne and brushed our way past the common folk … No, that wasn’t how it happened … We choked on cigarettes and hauled our sorry asses to the taxi line, and announced “L’Hotel Vogue Monsieur Cabbie” in our best Franglais.

Thirty minutes later we were unpacking in our suites and ten minutes after that we were sipping on cocktails with fellow journos and BMW staff, listening to such things as “Didn’t you see the limo driver with a sign at the airport” and “Who are the idiots that took a taxi?”.

The night progressed to a presentation on the new bike followed by food, more food and an extra dolloping of food. Things were finally wrapped up in a local bar.

The bike and the plane…

Tuesday, August 11th

The following day the alarm rudely awoke me at 7am and I awoke to the realisation of excess the night before. Another 5 hours sleep would have seen me right, but these events are usually planned to the minute, especially when you have a police escort ready at $50/cop/hour.

Outside we were greeted with a line a spanking new R1100S’s parked in front of the hotel. After a brief explanation of planned route and any motorcycle oddities (why the stupid indicator controls BMW? Why?), we were off avec le police escort. This was kinda surreal as bystanders gawked at yet another group of dirty bikers being (rather slowly) removed from the city limits.

After breakie at Monette Sports in Laval (“Look at how the new BMW dealerships will be laid out”) we were off at a more energetic pace for the twisties of the Laurentians.

The Laurentian Mountains are located just on the north side of the Ottawa River (within spitting distance of Hawkesbury, Ontario) and proved to be some of the finest roads almost-in-Ontario that I’ve ridden on. Well worthy of a weeks exploration should time and money allow. Thanks to the mass of undulating hills, the North American road builder couldn’t opt for the usual ïthe quickest way from A to B is a straight line’ kind of philosophy, much to the relief of the average motorcyclist. Snarley corners, interceded by occasional straights allowed you to throw the bike around like a demented hamster (? – sorry, but I can’t think of a better comparison, so that will have to do), and then tuck in and open it up on the straights as if radar traps had yet to be invented.

Mont Tremblant, PQ

Max speeds that I saw were in the reign of 210Km/h, before the R1100S ran out of go and/or the next section of twisties gave notice with a ‘sharp right – 30 Km/h’ sign.

The days ride ended at Chateau Mont Tremblant, and after a rest in the hot tub it was over to the Gondola for a ride and dinner at the summit. Sitting at the bar with Scott , slurping on our cocktails, we did the traditional junket toast to “Life doesn’t get much better than this”, before indulging in another multi course meal, courtesy of the BMW people.

The night ended back at the hotel bar, recounting tales of motorcycle hooliganism, heroism and “Another round of single malts for all my buddies.”

Chateau Mont Tremblant

Wednesday, August 12th

I departed Mont Tremblant alone. Pushing the schedule envelope by a whole 10 minutes was obviously too long for my ïbuddies’ of the previous night – and after all the single malts I’d ordered them, albeit on BMW’s tab. This didn’t really matter as BMW had supplied us all with ‘Harris proof’ route maps, outlining each turn off to the nearest tenth of a Km. I eventually caught up with some of my ‘buddies’ and we meandered back through the Laurentian twisties (check out Hwy 327) to an afternoon on the race track of St. Eustache.

On the track

I could go into details here, but I won’t because I already did in an article two weeks ago, and you can just go back to the home page and read it there. One thing I did however forget to mention is that on departing St. Eustache I almost ate the Big Cookie. I think I was still a bit buzzed from my time on the track and upon getting to the main road back to Montreal, I looked left for cars and then pulled out to go right. Imagine my surprise to see a car in my lane, coming right at me as he illegally passed a line of traffic. Instinctively I pulled off to the shoulder, got hit by a full dose of adrenaline and continued on, pondering life, bikes and horrible ways to die. Since I would have been the one who would have become a pink hue then I curse my own stupidity. I guess it’s just one of those things that happens, that usually goes without incident and therefore without recognition. Useful, if only to reinstate the vulnerability of being on a motorcycle, and the risk of not being alert at all times. Okay, thoughtful piece and tour over, what about the bike?

Being a BMW Boxer, the bit that grabs your attention first are the two horizontally opposed cylinders jutting out low and to the sides. Add to this a streak of sculpted single coloured plastic along the top of the bike, finishing with two pipes under the rear of the seat, above the single sided swing arm and you have a very unique looking motorcycle. Of course, whether this is good or bad is a relative term and firmly in the eye of the beholder, but I definitely sit on the side of good and would think that most of the potential customers would do too. So styling wise, Beemer seem to have hit the nail on the head.

As far as how the bike behaves however is dependent on how you categorise it. BMW stressed that although this is the sportiest Boxer to date it is not a full sports bike, rather a sports tourer. This makes sense, because in comparison to it’s Japanese sport bike counterparts its a lardy assed slow poke. But take away the need for speed, lurid wheelies and the flick ability of a dry bogey and you have a machine that has a foot in both the touring and sport bike camps – while not excelling in either, it’s probably more usefully being competent in both, which in reality actually pretty closely matches the average riders needs.

Because it’s now Tuesday morning and this was supposed to be posted yesterday, I’ll just summarise the following points, if that’s okay with you. Yeah? Okay:

The Rear


– The engine has been tuned up over the other boxers but still manages to pull wonderfully all the way from 2,000rpm in sixth to it’s redline at 8,400rpm. No doubt due to 70% of the total torque being available from the 2,000rpm mark.

– The redline is relatively low at 8,400rpm (where the rev limiter cuts in), which initially means that you keep hitting it, as the power keeps on coming on strong, but, like all things, you eventually get to feel where this point is and ride accordingly.

– Carburation is by fuel injection, which works well, aided by a fast idle rather than a choke to get the engine past the initial warm up stage.

– The gearbox feels smoother than the other Boxers, but still a tad rough (clutchless changes are difficult) and I did find a couple of false neutrals during the two days.

– When you first ride the bike you immediately notice some buzziness through the bars. More so than other boxers (but then the engine is used as a stressed member which will transmit more of the vibes to the rider). Riding out of Montreal with a slow (15~20km/h) police escort made this very noticeable. It’s only when we got out of the city and opened the bikes up that, although still present, the buzz became somewhat less intrusive.City riding also highlighted the more aggressive riding stance (lowish bars) which cause your wrists to take a chunk of weight, leaving most testers a bit sore. Again, once you opened her up and got a good cushion of wind on your chest, aching wrists were no longer a problem.


–  The bike feels heavy. At 505lbs it’s light for a BMW but definitely not in the sport bike range, but then it’s a sports tourer so that’s alright then. The weight does make it feel very solid, holding its line well around corners, but then flick ability is somewhat of an effort.

– Suspension is fully adjustable front and rear. Actually damping is infinitely adjustable – not one, but two knobs are available for fiddling with, the front one positioned just behind the steering head is readily available to the rider. I always tended to have it cranked on hard, ’cause I’m from Yorkshire and I’m ‘ard! Front suspension is the usual Telelever which works well and eliminates the tendency to dive associated with telescopic forks. The only downside to this is that stoppies are hard (but not impossible) to do. Rear suspension is the usual single sided paralever jobbie.

– Brakes are good but not excellent. The twin discs at the front are grasped by 4 piston Brembo calipers, with a single disc at the rear. They do the job in everyday riding but on the track or just plain spirited road riding they require a bit more forward thinking if you want to avoid filling yer trousers full of fudge! “Who put that brown fudge in my back pocket?” I like the ABS (option, not standard) as you don’t have to think too hard if you’ve left it a bit late – just squeeze hard and enjoy the adrenalin dose.


– You may have noticed the odd shape of the headlight assembly. There is a reason for this – Ellipsoid main beam, with a parabolic high (sounds more like a state of mind). What this actually means I don’t have the foggiest, and how they work I don’t know either as we never rode in the dark. I forgot to ask the BMW guys what it was all about so I guess we’d better file that one under ïBugger it, bugger it all’.

– The seat is a tad on the hard side, but of good size and well shaped (just like me), so although you get sore relatively quickly, it’s easy to move around and find fresh arse to rest on to prevent numb bum.

– The mirrors seem to work well (from what I can remember) but my main grip, as with all the Beemers, is those damn directional indicators. Why, why, why, why? One to turn left, one to turn right and one to cancel. It’s too complicated! Why not have three throttles? One to accelerate, one to decelerate and and one to cruise? No, because that would be silly and so are these indicators. Hahhhh …. I feel better for that.


– If you want less sport and more touring then BM will happily sell you a higher handlebar and screen kit, as well as hard luggage. You can also buy BMW tank bags and backpacks, but then that would seem like an area where you could save a whole load of dosh if you can live without the BMW logo on every thing you own. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the center stand!

–  If you want to go the other way and get sportier, then how about a wider rear wheel which will take a 180/55ZR17 tire? Yes, that is an option. And then there’s rear set pegs to stop yer feet dragging before the pegs do – something I found to be a bit of a problem on the track only.

– Then of course there’s ABS, which in ïspirited’ riding situations stands for “Anti Brown Stuff”. When you’re trying to slow down from 180km/h for a mild left, followed by a sharp right, it helps to just squeeze the lever as if there were no tomorrow (which could be the case) without fear of being one of the first to dump Beemers pride and joy.

I’m off.

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