I've just finished my MSF program and am looking for a bike to buy. Would you recommend a R80RT for a beginning biker?
Believe it or not I receive more e-mail of this sort than any other. I guess the reason is that it is such a great question. You've just started riding, you've passed the MSF and bought high quality riding gear. Now what bike to buy? This piece is written for the person looking for a good used BMW motorcycle, a bike to either fall in love with and keep or use as a steppingstone to one of the newer and more powerful models. I would advise not buying a new bike right away -- if you do you will not find this article to be of much use.
The First 3,000 Miles
You have the training, you have the equipment, now you need to gain experience. Ask yourself, "what kind of riding will I be doing over the next 3,000 or so miles?" You see, if you plan on commuting in rush hour on congested highways your short list of bikes will be much different than if your plans are for weekends in the countryside on sedate and largely deserted backroads. With commuting or heavy "around town" use you will be doing a lot of sitting on your bike, a lot of stop-and-go clutch work, and the potential for dropping your bike either through an accidentally popped clutch or locked front brake or by being tapped or nudged, is significantly higher. Out in the countryside however, you will be spending time working on your cornering and your riding technique -- with the exception of animals in the road you will largely be free of repeated or panic starts and stops.
While I will heartily recommend that your first 3,000 miles be the latter of the two, the choice is of course yours and helping you find a motorcycle that will not only maximize your comfort and but your gaining confidence and ability is what this piece is all about.
The second question you must ask is, "OK, 3,000 miles are over -- what kind of riding will be doing now?" Three thousand miles seems like a lot, but it will pass very quickly. In that time you will have gained some very valuable experience and will probably have the confidence to venture forth anywhere (though I must confess that at 15 years and about 130,000 miles of riding the Washington D.C. beltway still scares the living daylights out of me.) How do you plan on using your bike? Commuting and around town? Weekends in the country and long trips? A mix of the two?
If you have gotten into motorcycling in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes during rush hour your choice of first bike will probably be something that is easy to handle at low speeds, confident at higher speeds, probably will have a low center of gravity, and will probably have a lower than average saddle inseam. You will in all likelihood want a bike without an big fairing - a top-heavy bike is an unwieldy bike, besides a $25 fall-over on an unfaired bike can be hundreds on a bike with a fairing.
THE RECREATIONAL RIDER
If you are riding primarily for recreation, your choice of bike can expand a bit. It is no longer critical to have low-end maneuverability or plenty of flatfoot/inseam room, and things like fairings take on a new importance (especially if you are planning on eventually taking long trips.)
The following four bikes I have found to be great bikes for newer riders. They run the gamut from the naked and purely functional R75 to the heavily purposed R80GS/PD. They are each well known for reliability, ease of handling, moderate but purposeful power, and ease of finding, buying and maintaining. For more BMW Bikes, see the Chron List.
The (modern-ish) BMW R75 was made in three different models (the /5, /6 and /7) from 1969 to 1977. It is one of my favorite BMW's of all time. While it came as a naked bike several companies made fairings and many bikes on the market today come so equipped (along with the inevitable sliced up wiring harness - ugh...) This bike is a snap to maintain and has a great combination of low-speed maneuverability, good power, easy handling, comfort, availability and low price. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $2,500 to $3,000 for one in good condition.
The R65 was manufactured between 1978 and 1985 and remains one of the easiest older airheads to find on the used-bike market. While unlike most other airheads the R65 has some parts that are not interchangeable with other airheads, it is looked upon by most as a solid, incredibly reliable bike. It shares the power, low center of gravity, and maneuverability of the R75 with a bit more of a modern design. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $2,500 to $3,000 for one in good condition.
The venerable R80 has been made in a variety of formats for over a dozen years. From the globe-conquering R80G/S Paris/Dakar on/offoad version to the sedate R80RT touring version, there is an R80 for almost any variety of riding. Over the years it has appeared as a simple R80, an R80G/S, an R80 G/S Paris/Dakar, an R80ST, an R80RT, and an R80R. The R80 motor is viewed by many as the finest airhead motor BMW has ever built. R80's tend to be a bit on the expensive side and it is not so easy finding someone wanting to part with one. In very good condition, for the naked R80 you will probably pay in the neighborhood of $3,000, for the RT about $4,500, and for the GS or ST expect to pay over $5,000. For the R80GS Paris/Dakar, if you can pry one away from the owner, expect to pay *at least* $5,500.
The BMW K75 is the venerable workhorse of BMW motorcycles. Over the last 11 years it appeared as a K75 (popular low seat shown), a K75C, a K75S, and a K75RT before ceasing production in 1996. It earned its reputation as "the Brick" by being ridiculously reliable and virtually free of the annoying things that give other motorcycles "character." It will start as easily in 5-degree weather as 95-degree weather, handles well, and has virtually none of the assorted buzzes and vibrations common on other motorcycles. What maintenance there is can for the most part be easily performed by the owner. The low seat version K75 is comfortable for folks with 26" inseams making it the BMW of choice for those who are not horizontally blessed. Fortunately the K75 series is easy to find in the want ads and most are in pretty decent shape. For a bike in good shape expect to pay about $3,000 for the standard to around $6,000 for the RT.
The four bikes I've mentioned are a great place to start, but the list by no means is definitive. There are hundreds of great bikes out there and with a little research and time spent sitting on and riding as many as you can, you will find the right bike for you. Your first bike is rarely one you will keep for more than a year or two, as your riding style and needs change so will your taste in the style and brand of motorcycle you ride. The most important thing is to learn to ride safely and with confidence.
That is it - If I've missed something good, please let me know!
(Thanks to Omar for this one :))