Around about five years ago I bought this 2002 BMW R 1150 RT from a good friend of mine.
The bike was subsequently almost destroyed by fire, caused by leaving the bike idling in the garage for too long. It’s a strange thing to happen, you may think, but true. (All R 1150 RT owners should bear this in mind and take note of the caution label on the petrol tank!)
So, after a long talk to different people regarding whether I should rebuild it or not, the answer from everyone was an emphatic, “No!”
Many people said it would cost too much to put the bike back together the way it was built originally and that it simply wasn’t worth the trouble.
For me this was like putting a red rag in front of a bull: I had to give it a go.
I started to strip it down. The more I did, the worse the situation seemed. I thought to myself on numerous occasions, ‘Stop what you’re doing and dump it – this is just going to be too hard.’
Anyway, I started the rebuild and refit. It was obvious that I couldn’t rebuild the bike to its original design. What was I going to do about the BMW Motorrad ignition, the ABS, all the wiring, the brakes, brake lines and the engine? What about the cosmetics of the bike like the seat and petrol tank? The front fork was covered in melted plastic.
The engine was actually amazing in the way it stood up to the intense heat of the fire. Parts of these engines are made from magnesium, which survived the extreme heat very well.
The rocker-box covers on both sides showed the worst damage but they were able to be restored. I only had to fit new seals and gaskets.
The oil-pressure switch and the engine oil sight glass on the left side of the engine were completely melted.The front of the engine, supporting the alternator, drive belt, plastic covers and ignition pick-up, had also melted away.
All of these parts were easily procurable and bought new. I also fitted a new crankshaft oil seal before fitting them.
The ignition was one of the scary parts, as was the conundrum of what to do with the fuel system.
I was very fortunate to discover this fellow in England, a BMW specialist by the name of Steven Scriminger.
I spoke to Steve and told him what I wanted to do, fully expecting him to tell me to get off the phone and stop wasting his time.
Far from it. He convinced me that this bike could still run and he could supply me with all the necessary parts. This sounded promising.
Soon after this phone call I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Steve and his wife Denise at their business in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, UK.
Although very busy, they still found time for me. We all had a cup of tea together and he assured me things would be fine with my BMW conversion.
All the parts required subsequently turned up at my place in Australia. I was ready to go.
CARBS, NOT EFI
First I mounted the Pazon Smart Fire ignition module together with different coils. It was a bit of a fiddle deciding where to install it and how to attach it.
Using the original BMW rotor, I fitted the new electronic pick-up to the front of the engine. So far, so good!
Apart from doing the static timing once the bike was rewired, the ignition was sorted.
Then came the fitting of the two new 40mm Bing carburettors, plus the choke and throttle cables. Amazingly, with a bit of juggling, they fitted perfectly. With just enough room, they sit nicely in place in the original, rubber-mounted intake manifolds.
I then required a fuel tank. The one I got was from an R 1150 GS. It was a good-looking tank, big, and it fitted straight on.
This tank only picks up fuel from the right side so I decided to install a second pick-up pipe to its left. With the bottom of the tank a bit too close to the cylinders, I decided to fit an external fuel pump rather than fuel taps.
A 1.5-2.5psi pump is required. The needle and seat will just about handle this pressure. A return from the fuel delivery line to the fuel tank is also required. This is just in case too much pressure builds up and it starts to flood the carbies. I did have a problem with this – it drove me crazy.
I tried fitting a fuel pressure regulator. Great, it worked, but not for long. It let go and petrol went everywhere.
‘The bike is jinxed,’ I thought to myself – ‘It’s going to catch on fire again.’ Be careful if fitting one of these pressure regulators – there are cheap and nasty ones out there. The one I ended up using was a Holley, set at the lowest pressure. So far, so good.
I then needed some gauges. I contacted Motorworks UK in England. It supplied me with R 1150 R gauges, headlight, indicators, handlebar electrical switchgear, clutch and brake master cylinder parts – everything I required.
It was amazing, all packed beautifully and in good condition. With a bit of thinking and jiggling, it all fitted straight onto the bike. It seems that many BMW parts and cosmetics are interchangeable.
WILL IT START?
Next up was a total rewiring job. Fortunately, once more, I had a friend who is a very good auto-electrician.
On a cold, wet weekend during the middle of winter, we had a session in his workshop to work out the best way to tackle the wiring.
It wasn’t long before Martin had it sussed. All the safety elements were in place including the clutch-in and sidestand-up requirement before the engine would start.
Then we started wiring up the ignition and lights. There were heaps of fuses and miles of cable everywhere. Everything was then tidied up. It was a top job: everything worked faultlessly. We both sat back and looked at what had been done. I was very pleased and impressed with the result.
Finally came the paintwork and a general tidy up.
Starting the bike for the first time was very exciting. Would it run and would it all work?
Yes! Success. It coughed and spluttered a few times but after about the third press of the button the bike sprung to life.
It wasn’t perfect but after fettling up the carbies and balancing them the best way I could, the bike now runs beautifully. It ticks over smoothly, picks up from low revs and runs through the gears without hesitation.
Regarding economy, it’s almost as good if not better than the standard fuel-injected version.
The cost was around $7000 and the project, involving lots of stopping and starting, took around three years. Of course, I’m not married any more… Just kidding; my wife was very understanding and surprisingly intrigued and supportive of the endeavour.
I would like to thank Munich Motorcycles in Myaree, Perth (WA) for its help. I’d also like to thank Motorworks UK in West Yorkshire, which was a tremendous help in providing spare parts and information. Special thanks should also go to auto-electrician Martin Chinnery (Busselton Auto Electrics) for his wizardry.
Last but not least, thanks to Steven Scriminger of Scriminger Engine Developments, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, UK. Without his help from the beginning, all of this would not have been possible.