Uh-oh – Sabrina’s date with the BMW Scrambler

CMG’s long-term BMW RnineT Scrambler looked amazing and sounded fantastic. The flat boxer engine gave it that unusual vibration and it was fun to ride. What was not to like? Well, watching it leave on a flatbed – that would be it.

I rode 300 worry-free kilometres to and from Wasaga Beach to show off the Beach Bum Beemer, and then, on a cool but absolutely lovely evening, I was invited to downtown Toronto for a night out with friends. What better way to hit the town in style than to show up on this looker?

The CMG long-term BMW Scrambler in happy times at Wasaga Beach.

It seemed like a good idea to take the Scrambler as my date, but on the ride in, as traffic thickened, the weight of the clutch lever became a never-ending handgrip workout.

I was running late and getting stuck between rows of cars (no legal lane-filtering in Toronto), but as I exited the clogged highway to reach the equally clogged ramp, the bike seemed to show signs of impatience. Normally, a guy who’d start behaving badly one hour into the date would be kicked to the curb, but considering my date was also my ride, I had to stick with it. At least for now.

I gripped the clutch and worked the throttle to follow the traffic flow, but it felt as though the motorcycle was struggling to get gas – it would hesitate and lose power at take-off. That wasn’t good, but on a highway ramp, there was pretty much nothing else to be done. I even wondered if maybe I was releasing the clutch too fast. My left hand was tired, after all.

Funny – the BMW library of stock photos doesn’t seem to include a picture of a Scrambler stuck in traffic. This is the closest we could find.

The bike seemed happier once I reached Spadina Ave., but at the first traffic light, releasing the clutch to accelerate, the Scrambler gave up and died. There was no choking or battery issue – the engine simply would not fire back up again.

Was it out of gas? I pushed my moody date to the side of the street under the watchful eyes of curious pedestrians and started looking for a leak of some sort, but the visual inspection gave no clue. There’s no gas gauge on the Scrambler, but there is a warning that comes on when the gas is low, and that warning wasn’t there. I looked in the tank and shook the bike and heard the slop of gas, so that wasn’t the issue.

Hmmm. If I just squat here for a while and look hunkily into the middle distance, perhaps the bike will start back up as it’s supposed to.

Eventually, it fired back up again and I rode on a little farther, but it didn’t last long. A few minutes later, still stuck in traffic, a warning signal lit up on the gauge to say the air-and-oil-cooled engine was overheating. I pulled a sort-of-legal left turn in the middle of the commotion and I was in luck – there was motorcycle parking right there.

I parked the Scrambler between two other motorcycles and turned everything off, after snapping a picture of the flashing gauge, just in case nobody would believe me later.

Proof, in case you need it, that an oil-cooled bike can overheat.

Frustrated, late and aggravated, I dumped my date, hoping that stepping away for a few hours would cool our spirits. I called Editor Mark to tell him I’d broken the CMG long-termer, then ended up spending an absolutely lovely night with friends. And when I came back to the Scrambler, it started back up with no hesitation. A guy in a shiny black Corvette even nodded at me and called a loud “cool bike” as I rode away. Flattering, but he didn’t know what I knew: cool is good, too hot is not.

I got home, left the bike alone, and called BMW first thing Monday morning. The bike was taken away on a truck to be looked at by a dealer, but instead of answers, the inspection left everyone scratching their heads. The service team found nothing. Niet. Nada. The Scrambler showed no sign of failure. Despite their best effort, the problem simply couldn’t be replicated.

Okay, it’s been a few hours. Let’s see if it will start now.

Was it bad gas, or a blocked gas line? Then why did the bike overheat? We may never know. If you have a theory, please leave it in the comments below.

It was reclaimed soon after by CMG’s managing editor Jacob Black for a last blast before returning it for good. We’ll read his thoughts here next month.

Jacob Black waits his turn to review the Scrambler. He wishes! As if Jacob Black could ever look this good.


  1. My bet would be a faulty temperature sensor. I had the same issue with an Ipad believe it or not. I was using it doing forestry work in temps just below zero. It suddenly showed me a screen that said “unit turning off due to overheating”. I was confused for a few seconds until I realized that a software engineer in San Diego programming an Ipad to shut down if it was outside of a set temperature operating parameter must have assumed that anything outside of the normal temp zone would be an overheat situation. The overheating message was a bit humerous in my Canadian underheat situation. Anyways, my point is that if the temp sensor is bad it can confuse the hell out of an ECU. My bet is the temp sensor was at least momentarily faulty.

    To further bore you – my 1998 R1100RT overheated one winters day when I left it idling on the centre stand for 45 min and forgot about it. The temp sensor was cooked (so was my oil and oil glass) and only read full hot after that. I had to replace the sensor to get it to run properly.

    Hope to meet you one day Sabrina. Cheers

  2. Over heating?? Bah humbug. Drove my R1200RT through the Okanagan on fresh very hot pavement in 40 degrees in bumper to bumper traffic in Kelowna. No “Overheating”. 16 Degrees in TO, not overheating. Probably could not get any clean air into the engine!! That would be my guess. Come west you poor sods. LOL

  3. Being as all modern motorcycles, cars, toasters etc. are operated by an ECU, ie tiny little digital brain, my WAG is that the bike simply turned itself off. Most ECU equipped devices will do this if they are operated in some red zone or other.

  4. The important thing to never, ever point out here is that I was the last one to ride the bike before giving it to Sabrina. (and it ran with me) 😉

  5. Funny, my R1150R never overheated, and that’s with commuting traffic and high heat.

    I know they hotted up these air cooled engines a lot since the 1150, maybe at the expense of stuff like this?

    Still, unforgivable if you ask me – my Harley on occasion shuts down to 1 cylinder when running hot in traffic but it’s never left me stranded, even a couple of years ago down south in some of the most hottest riding weather I’ve ever experienced.

  6. BMW’s heads traditionally were rather ingenious for natural air cooling; since the fins are vertical, the warm air naturally rises from and through them without barriers. Contrast to a Harley or most other bikes where the fins are horizontal and under the seat and tank, all of which will tend to hold the hot air in place.

    But it still shouldn’t happen on such exposed engines. I had this happen, almost, once on my FJ1200 in blistering heat and stopped traffic. I shut it off and it locked for about 5 minutes. The exposed surface of that engine pales in comparison to the Beemer. Bad engineering in my view. Must have hired the guys who designed my Mercedes.

    • Curious that dealer didn’t cotton on to this when problem was described to them. Long term idling in hot traffic will do this to any air cooled engine. If I owned that bike, I’d be getting an oil change asap. Many of BMW’s bikes are now watercooled which adds weight and complexity to the motor but this tester isn’t watercooled so rider needs to keep an eye on temp gauge in hot weather crawling traffic. Curious that dealer didn’t cotton on to this when problem was described to them.

      • I don’t think anybody would be scratching their heads had it been a hot day – I know I wouldn’t. But we’re talking about a 16 °C September night (and I remember the 16 specifically because I was wondering how many layers I should put on before hitting the road).

  7. I have the same motor and overheating will do this. The image of the The description of being tied up in crawling hot summer traffic would do it. Its aircooled motor and in a way be glad it shut down as the alternative is a fried motor. Notice Harley aircooled guys shut off their bikes in hot weather when in idling traffic as they wait at the US border and push their bikes towards the border when a car advances? The fact that it started up easily when the bike had time to cool down is confirmation. Avoid idling in hot weather and watch the temp gauge. If it goes well above normal operating level pull over to cool down. Its a great bike.

  8. First off I enjoy your articles Sabrina. You manage to take the BS out of what every you’ re riding. Thank you.
    Secondly your article reminds me of a K75S that I owned in the late eighties. It was prone to vapour lock in hot weather. That underpowered turd was liquid cooled though. I look forward to more of your reviews.

  9. The big air/oil cooled Scrambler simply overheated in my opinion. I have seen this before on a clogged freeway ramp in Montreal as late as last August. While my water cooled K1300Gt fan was running hard my friend R1200RT air/oil cooled started to overhead so he drove to a safe place on the shoulder of the freeway and he had to let the bike cool down before continuing on the ride. Sometime the obvious is the answer.

  10. Did you try rebooting it ?
    Seriously, with all the computerized stuff on the new bikes it was likely a software/hardware glitch.
    I had borrowed a Yamaha FZ6 that did the same thing, came back for it the next day and it fired right up.
    Not exactly anything you could fix in the driveway…

  11. Sabrina – great to meet you at the Dawn-To-Dusk Rally! 🙂 Hmmmm. Were you riding through mud or sand with it “Paris to Dakar-style” up in Wasaga? 🙂 Maybe clogging the fins a bit? Clogging the oil cooler? Which could have cooked some of the oil – and produced some of the apparent clutch problems you seemed to be experiencing too? The stop-and-go, slow, heavy traffic could have exacerbated things or have been more of a root contributor. How hot was it outside at the time? Was the bike clean when you picked it up? Just some thoughts.


    • Hello Mike! It was great to meet you as well 🙂 I didn’t over do it in Wasaga and stuck to the paved ways, unless a bit of sand on the tarmac was enough to cause an issue. And we’re looking at a rather cool evening in September – around 16 °C or so. The answer would have been a lot more obvious had I been stuck on the Gardiner, slow-cooking in the 30+ heat.

      • Then my response is not useful given the temps were so reasonable. I’m on my second R1200R and never had any issues but always a first time. What about fill up at a no name gas station?

Join the conversation!