Malcolm Wilson’s BMW R65
BACK IN THE SADDLE
Those who’ve experienced riding in an English winter will empathise with the sensations of a poor student on his 250-mile (400km) homeward journey heading south on the A1 (M) somewhere north of Watford Gap.
The year is 1980. The bike, a 1958 BSA B31, is struggling to maintain 60mph on a freezing cold, grey, drizzly day. Coming the other way, like a thing from another universe, is a silver BMW. The student lifts the hand not frozen to the throttle in salute to the passing vision of technical superiority.
The Beemer pilot, dressed in matching silver suit and helmet, thumbs his flasher button and releases an effect reminiscent of Captain Kirk firing a photon torpedo. I, with my worn-out six-volt Lucas set up, am worried about making it home with sparks to spare, never mind illuminating the cosmos.
Fast forward to January, 2012 in country Victoria. I have decided, in my late 50s, that there will be one more bike before I die.
Scanning MT, and having decided that I wasn’t game to mess about with chains and kickstarters, I was looking for something with electric start and shaft drive. Imagine my surprise, then, to find that old BMWs, both R- and K-series, were priced within the scope of my limited budget.
My mind was drawn back to Thatcherite Britain and the vision on the freezing motorway. Could I, at last, aspire to own such a paragon of engineering? I could, and I did. Oh, frabjous day! Suddenly there I was, towing my own Beemer home on a trailer, aided by my excellent son-in-law, with clearly envious looks coming from passing bikers and other road users. I paid $3500 to a friend of a friend for the Beemer and beautiful it looked, too.
Despite wearing a rather daggy black handlebar fairing with a Ulysses club insignia adorning it, it was clearly well-looked after and spotlessly clean. The fairing came off immediately, after which the bike sailed through its roadworthy inspection. A call to an insurer, a trip to VicRoads and, suddenly, I was back in the saddle.
The bike is the last of those R65s without electronic ignition, so runs contact breakers. It has an aftermarket stainless steel exhaust system through which it makes lovely motorbikey noises, and Ikon rear shocks.
There are two Bing carburettors, one behind each horizontal cylinder, each connected to the central airbox by a plastic elbow-shaped tract. There is a toolbox under the seat, which will accommodate a useful (though up until now, unnecessary) tool roll, and my waterproof strides.
There is yet another cubby-hole in the tail of the seat, where I keep spare light bulbs. The headlamp is fitted with a 100/55W globe, which is the explanation for my aforementioned Star Trek experience. Now I can shoot photons of my own! The previous owner had fitted a new battery before I took possession, so no problems there. For brakes, we have a single disc up front, and a drum at the rear. Ample for the likes of me.
And everything just works. I have experienced a failure rate of 0 (zero, nought, nada) regarding the switchgear. The kill switch, presumably once red, has now faded, after 34 years, to a pale pink – but it works, as do the indicator switch, the flasher button, the horn and dipswitch.
There have been failures – the clutch thrust bearing for some reason reduced itself to a gritty paste just as I arrived home from a 200km round trip to Melbourne. Thankfully, parts were available (why was it cheaper to get stuff from the UK?) and after a reasonably tortuous process, we got back on the road.
The little link between the gear shifter and the ’box just snapped one day, and was replaced after a trip to the hardware (second gear all the way) by a metal strip with holes in it at a cost of less than $5.
Riding with a friend one day, the speedo needle, suddenly went right round the dial, bent itself past the stop pin and ceased to function. The speedo is currently at the menders where I shall spend $295 when it s ready. Steep you think? It’s $650 for a new one and $350 for secondhand.
Riding? Ah yes, riding the thing. Going up the road out of town that first time, I was aware of just how unused to this I had become. We’re going how fast? And I have to lean over now? Brakes? Good grief, the thing has brakes!
And the power! Back in the Beezer days, a friend had let me pilot his XS500 with him on the back. As we dismounted, I remarked on how much more powerful it was than my bike. My friend replied, laughing, that we hadn’t even entered the powerband.
The R65 boasts 45bhp and is quite happy to tootle my 188cm, 100kg person around in top gear at low speeds – plenty of low- to mid-range grunt for that. But get it up into the 6000rpm range and we’re moving; not by modern sportsbike standards perhaps, but we’re in a realm of acceleration and speed the Beezer and I could only dream of. At speeds in excess, which I sometimes attain, the thing just sits there, solid as a rock, with nary a shake or a wobble.
The suspension seems a little unforgiving: the rear shocks are on their softest setting (front forks non-adjustable) and we feel our remaining teeth tremble in their sockets at times. On the other hand, the frankly rough condition of Victoria’s rural roads seems not to unsettle our chosen line through the corners.
And it’s such fun! I remember a guy talking several years ago about how he’d paid around two grand for his old RS, and some people were paying more than $20,000 for their machines. This guy remarked that he didn’t think they could be having 10 times the fun he was, even though they’d paid 10 times the money for their bikes.
It’s not the paragon it once was, the Beemer. It’s not particularly fast, and I’m sure there are bikes that handle better. Then again, I’m not going racing anytime soon. I swing a leg over, switch on, press the button and go tootling or blasting (relatively speaking) at will.
I can go to Melbourne on it if I want to, and not worry about bits dropping off or breaking down. It just goes. I’ve only cleaned it twice since I bought it, and it doesn’t care. I will do it again, one day, maybe. But mostly I think I’ll just ride and enjoy it.
• Powerhouse Motorcycles, Pakenham – good price on a front tyre. Ph: (03) 5941 6400
• Motobins UK – clutch parts and delivery. www.Motobins.co.uk
• Discount Motorcycle Wreckers – prompt delivery of a set of front brake pads. Ph: (03) 9350 4417, www.Motorcycle-Wreckers.com.au
• Ringwood Speedometer Repairs. Ph: (03) 9874 2260
• Andy at Kickstart Components – cheerful replies to my emails, even though I didn’t buy anything.