“I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to make something beautiful, and that all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful.”
For many of us, certain older bikes kick in flashbacks of childhood dreaming, the kind you feel and taste. We each have our own catalyst and in my mind that makes it even cooler. I never get tired of hearing or reading of dream builds.
For me, the 1980’s Paris-Dakar bikes were mind blowing and the strange and distant lands they ventured through retained pre internet mystery. The package deal was brilliantly exciting. I lapped the local common on my BMX with my front wheel lofted in Central Coast air and my head in the clouds of Senegal.
Giant globetrotting machines in exotic locations emblazoned with parental contraband: What more could a young boy want?
Back then a sighting of the giant Dakar machines in print or on “full colour” TV was good for weeks of dream work on the common. Today the web is so full of media it’s easy to become over familiar and even bored. And I’m older now, (slightly) less impressionable, and look kind of silly on a BMX. On the bright side though, I am somewhat better resourced than your average 9 year old kid and yet still receptive enough to that boyhood imagination. At 40 years I’m proudly immature.
So, while to me any one of those 80’s Dakar rally bikes are hot stuff the big old GS is my undoing. Not that I owned up to it right away. Bikes were my only and preferred transport all through my late teens and 20’s. But in my early riding years the already ageing air cooled GS was more infamous as an overweight ‘rubber cow’ then a Dakar legend and my furtive glances at them drew only a ribbing from my mates (still do actually).
But after experimenting with a motley bunch of japans finest offerings a still memorable love affair with a Moto Guzzi Le Mans III instilled in me the simple joy of the air cooled, two cylinder, push rod machine. That glorious engine on those superbly long legs delivered me further and further into unknown territory. Naturally then, soon enough my pace subsided but horizons expanded aboard my first BMW, a 1984 r80g/s, and the seed was sown. Granted, most of what I did on that first g/s I probably could have forced upon the Guzzi. But the BMW did it with relish and more importantly, though hardly Dakar material, it stirred once again those youthful dreams.
Barefoot with a beard and an old BMW long before anyone even knew what a Hipster was.
Man, I rode that bike. It was everything to me; my touring bike, scratcher, scrambler and shopping trolley. Finally, dirt poor, I sold it during university studies to fund an overseas internship, comforted somewhat in the knowledge that as soon as I graduated to a paying job I would simply buy another.
Not just any other I might add. As it turned out, in my time with the old g/s I had also been directed to a “BMW motorcycle tuner” in Northern NSW. I had followed a rough map handed me by the biker father of a neighbor whose scribbles brought me way out of town and finally up a farmhouse drive to a rustic looking shed. Within, and parked just outside were the bikes of my childhood dreams. Modified BMW boxers with long travel suspension, massive fuel tanks and tuned engines abused my sensibilities and I loved it. Only three years after graduation I had one.
My first Rooney Special served only to confirm my addiction. Still, I went cold turkey to start a family.
I said I would never sell that machine and when I said it I meant it. But I didn’t have children then and once I did what meant most to me meant something different. The point here is it’s worth noting that this is my second run at this, and after 2 years spent focused on the first one, and 8 years dreaming up this one well, I’ve had a little bit of time to think it through. Of course that doesn’t mean this build didn’t suffer from sudden changes of direction, but they were subtle changes, well mostly.
It should also be noted that I am no engineer, and indeed only a basically equipped backyard mechanic (supplied with adequate reference material). As such, while the design concept and gathering of major components was my own the actual transfer of the idea into a practical and functional machine was achieved by that same specialist builder Paul Rooney. As Paul also built my first BMW special he knows how difficult I am to work with and how to humor me, a win-win really!? In fact the bike featured here is my 4th air-cooled GS machine, and in my mind the ultimate manifestation of everything I ever dreamed about.
Oh, and let’s get this one out of the way, there will be those of you who will wonder why something was done one way when another approach is far superior, or why I didn’t just go out and buy a KTM. I offer you this: It’s my dream, step off my cloud. Build yours your way or don’t build it at all. Note though that if you do persevere to build the bike of your dreams I’ll think it’s pretty cool, just because of what it is to you.
Okay then enough of the waffle, let’s have a closer look at this new machine……
Originally the concept was to build a 1984 Paris Dakar rally replica (much like the images at the very top), eligible for ‘pre 85’ classic racing events. Yet as I gathered components it became increasingly difficult not to compromise for the sake of performance. And of course there was the fact that, realistically, the final machine would be required for ‘everyday’ riding and touring. So without letting go of the concept completely, I changed the design brief from a period replica to a tribute to those bikes I held in lofty youthful esteem. This freedom brought on a dangerous kind of reveling in fiscal irresponsibility. Ironically, an action that would bring the brakes and suspension up to a safer, more modern specification, so quite responsible really, right Dear? But let’s step back a moment…
An R100gs donor bike departs Tasmania in boxes via Australia Post
The bikes engine started life in a cheap and weary 1989 r100gs that I parted out, of which really only the cases, heads and (rebuilt) gearbox remain. Pretty much everything else was sold or swapped.
In keeping with my boyhood dreaming I wanted a “fun” engine for frolicking on fire trails and fanging along unsealed back country roads (as opposed to one of Paul’s short stroke ‘rally’ race engines). Accordingly a lightened and balanced crank was bolted up to a German manufactured Siebenrock 1070 ‘touring’ kit. The kit included conrods, barrels, pistons, an asymmetrical cam and some other ancillaries. A Siebenrock ‘rallye’ sump was installed, the contents of which are now regulated via a thermostat (Motoren Israel, Germany) and fed through a relocated oil cooler (kit supplied by Touratech Australia). My original r100gs heads were revitalised, re-valved/sprung and twin plugged. Mikuni 38mm flat slides feed them. Paul is a dealer for power-dynamo ignitions and wired one up to feed the four plugs and take care of running the lights and instrument.
A Siebenrock oil proof clutch helps transfer the love from the engine to the gearbox; a rebuilt 100gs model with a lower 1st and higher 5th gear (sourced from HPN Motorrad Technik, Germany). Paul made further modification to resolve as best possible BMWs characteristic tractor like shift. Drive is subsequently transferred through an r1100gs series kardan shaft spinning inside a (Rooney) modified swing arm and affixed to a final drive also of the r1100gs series. Connecting the r1100gs shaft to the r100gs box is achieved by a flange also supplied by HPN. The result is a combination that captures the practical benefits of the mono lever and handling benefits of the paralever while capturing also the aesthetic of the original r80g/s.
The frame is a 1984 R80 G/S, same as my first love. Unrequired brackets were removed while some additional were added, such as the lowered foot peg mounts, a left side pillion peg mount, and of course the reinforcing. The whole thing was powder-coated in good old fashioned black with a slightly textured finish. The foot pegs are MkII Pivot Pegs. The Ohlins 48MXF fork has been tricked with and adjusted in situ to obtain a sure footed geometry and to match rear suspension travel. Both ends were subsequently tuned to safely transport the beasties rider in spirited fashion.
The 320mm EBC rotor and Nissin caliper does the job nicely enough for gravel road rushes
Holding the fork together at the bottom is a conveniently placed wheel, the rim is Excel variety. The hub is bolted up to a EBC 320mm rotor squeezed by a Nissin caliper. At the rear Dan Kyle Racing (California, USA) supplied the Ohlins 46PRC shock, further modified by Paul and attached to the adapted r1100gs swing arm. Together they allow for just over 250mm of rear wheel travel. Rear braking is taken care of by a series r1100gs caliper and disc. The rear wheel shown herein is an R1100gs item but the rim will soon be replaced with a 2.5×17 Excel item. At the time of writing the front is shod with a Continental TKC80 and the rear with a Mitas E-09 Dakar, a very effective combination.
The sub frame, rider and pillion seats are the work of Herbert Gletter (Gletter Motorrad Technik, Germany). Not shown is the pillion seat that secures atop the rack. Herbert also manufactured a custom set of pannier frames to suit the sub frame.
Simple, uncluttered, practical, the essence of the Special.
Up in the cockpit a Trail Tech Voyager computer/GPS keeps things simple and tidy. The voyagers “main” screens keep track of speed, trip distance, overall distance, riding time, ambient temperature, and current time. It can calculate averages of all these and as it functions also as a GPS unit can offer GPS calculated equivalents of these measures, provide altitude and location detail as well as display, record, import and share routes, track and waypoints. It also has two user programmable screens so you can set what you want to see: Nice. The Voyager is joined only by a combination USB dock fixed to Pro-Taper ‘ATV high bend’ bars, which even on risers would do well to be a little higher again. The wind screen is a handy quick release “Deflector Screen DX” by National Cycles that I personally adorned with pin striping and lettering in the fashion of the smaller OEM GS ‘tombstone’ screen. A Gaston Rahier signature decal hints at the bikes racing heritage and connection to the original g/s PD model. Nothing says 80’s like a giant round headlight, this one is a modified unit originating of a ‘Djebel’ 250 Suzuki.
Clear screen offers protection without impacting forward visibility
The r11oogs rear wheel will shortly be replaced with a tube type Excel rim
The 43 litre HPN-Acerbis tank was supplied by HPN Motorrad Technic, In keeping with the tribute concept I finished it to pay homage to the Dakar racers of my boyhood dreams with BMW M-sport stripes. Fuel economy on these big twins varies so much with riding style and my style varies depending on the day so I left a section of tank unpainted to keep an eye on the volume, a decision I have appreciated more than I had imagined. The front guard is a universal Polisport and the rear is an Acerbis Baja ‘Targa’. The leather rallye map holder and tool kit astride the tank is also a HPN item. Although a small addition it is a defining feature of the 1980’s BMW race machines (of Eddy Hau, Gaston Rahier and Herbert Auriol) so a rather important piece of the project and worthy of this special mention. I keep my tools under the seat though and a (lighter) first aid kit in the tank bag.
How does it go? Well, it goes bloody well. After I picked it up from Paul I took it straight out for 1000km of dirt road ‘run in’ followed by a tune and adjust and then a 2000km ride home.
Paul hands over the keys outside his home on the Richmond River. So Who’s smiling?
On winding gravel back roads it feels positively at home. It is firmly planted and indulges in hugely satisfying drifts out of corners, the Ohlins dispensing with corrugations without fuss. The lowered foot pegs make moving from a seated position to a standing one an easy and very fluid movement should you be suddenly confronted with a technical section, a giant pothole or just feel the need to launch yourself over a cattle grid. The generous volumes of torque accompanied with the higher 5th gear result in a most gratifying surge from around 80km/h in 4th to when the push starts to taper off in 5th at around 150km/h. Higher speeds can be found but riding that torque curve produces the most excitement. With the tuned engine and higher 5th gear I find doing 100km/h labours the engine in 5th though which can be frustrating when trying to keep to legal speeds on longer highway ‘transfers’. For short bursts on similarly limited country roads I ride with 4th as top.
The big EBC 320mm front disc combined with a standard Nissin two pot caliper provides a confidence inspiring feel and easy two finger operation using a shorty lever. The last special I rode had a big 4 pot caliper and was perhaps over done for gravel road touring. The disc brake rear end proved itself on my first day of touring on the bike when I rounded a corner, peaked a crest and found myself pointed at stationary eastern grey kangaroo who was in no mind to move, possibly in no mind at all. He had occupied the same line I had chosen to hurtle the Rooney Special along at 100km/h. As I grabbed a handful of brake it became apparent by about 20m away that his escape plan was not yet decided upon and I pushed down on the rear brake harder anticipating a rapid change in direction. The rear brake actually locked (unheard of on my old r100gs) but the Roo chose this day to live, did the ol ‘switch-a-roo’, doubled back on himself and copped a smarting swipe in his rump from the right jug and a size 10 Fox boot. Brakes: they’re bloody good things really, huh skippy?
A closer look at the swing arm and rear disc brake set up
The Rooney Collector Muffler is a magic bit of kit
After covering just over 3000km in 5 days, with 2000 on bitumen the only thing I could really complain about is the seat, and even then it’s a point of use. It is firm, fine for day trips or extended gravel touring but for the next multi day ride I’ll be slapping on an Airhawk.
The Rooney Collector muffler is surprisingly quiet. quieter than you would expect for what it is. It growls a bit on start up if you blip it, but once on the bike it sounds awesome, and standing aside it is not in any way offensive. I will however put a lip on it that turns the output away from the back wheel as I found the wheel blackened by the end of 3000km. At the moment the bike is running standard r100gs header pipes though the heads are machined to accept up to 43mm diameters but the next step is to throw on some 40mm jobs and see how that goes.
I have it home in Tassie now and look forward to getting to know it on trips around the state and farther abroad. I’ll post stories and images and experiences up here on the blog as I go. In the meantime, Clearly, I need some rest…
hey..what you lookin at ….?
Ride on …