BMW R1100/1150 Twins: Tips for Owners

Views 378 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful

A few gems that I've picked up during my ownership of a BMW R1100GS and R1150R...


Please note: The tips shown below are from one BMW 8V owner to another. They are the result of personal experience, not any in-depth expert knowledge. If you have any doubts about the safe running of your bike, pay the money and have it looked at by an expert. Do not rely on internet hearsay unless you're confident that you know exactly what you're doing!


On the ABS version, be prepared to run about 500ml through the front and rear lines when renewing your brake fluid. This is due to all the nooks and crannies in the ABS unit and rigid hoses. There are front and rear bleed nipples on the ABS unit but you have to remove the petrol tank to get to them. If you can't bleed the brakes or your ABS warning light starts flashing, don't mess about. Get the brakes looked at by a qualified BMW mechanic. 

On the 1150s with the Evo/ABS brake system (ones with BMW on the calipers instead of Brembo) be very careful when pushing the pistons back into the calipers. There's a specific procedure so get a manual before you attempt it. Why? Because you could damage one of the valves in the ABS unit and it costs £1,600 to replace! Companies like Motorworks can supply a bypass kit if the ABS unit stops working, by the way.

The rear brake on the GS ABS bikes lacks feel and needs a fair bit of pressure before it begins to bite, thanks to the yard of hose between it and the ABS unit! You may find that your foot slips off the brake pedal if you wear road boots. I went out and bought a pair of clunky touring boots after a couple of months with my GS! MV Motorrad Technik, Touratech and Wunderlich all make brake pedal extenders, but the pedal is made of steel and can be carefully bent out to suit your foot.

EBC make excellent sintered brake pads for the front but not the rear Brembo brake calipers. Ordinary EBC or Vesrah pads work OK at the rear. Ferodo Platinum rear pads work better and are more like the expensive BMW ones. 

Fitting road tyres on a GS not only improves grip. There is also less vibration and road noise and a tiny increase in fuel economy! Bridgestone BT021s are recommended. I love the BT021 because it has a harder compound on the part of the tyre that gets the most wear on the motorway. The shoulders of the tyres use a grippy sport/tourer compound that lets you glide serenely past panic-braking boy-racers on roundabouts.

Make sure that you push the front wheel spindle all the way to the left before clamping it when refitting your front wheel. Not doing so puts the front fork under stress. Symptoms may include leaky fork seals (almost unheard of on the Telelever front end) and chattering when the front brake is applied. The latter is caused by the spring washers on the floating disks breaking up due to the stress in the fork legs. Save a lot of head-scratching and expense by giving that front spindle an extra tap when you think it's properly seated.

Fitting a tall screen on a GS may actually increase turbulence and wind noise for shorter riders. Adjustable spoilers for the standard screen are available from Touratech and MV Motorrad Technik. These do a much better job and can be tailored to an individual rider's height.

On non-catalytic converter bikes, the CO (fuel mixture setting) potentiometer should be checked to make sure that it is fixed to the frame in its rubber cradle. The unit is mounted on the right side of the bike, under the tool tray. If it is allowed to bounce around, the vibration can adversely affect the fuel/air mix AND damage the potentiometer which costs around £75 plus VAT for a replacement! The fuel mixture can be checked and adjusted at service time with a CO meter like the electronic ones made by Gunson. Turning the CO potentiometer screw too far will make the fuel injection unit reset to a default rich mixture (you can hear the engine note change and tickover will slow down slightly when it does this), so adjust in quarter turn steps.

Actual usable fuel capacity in the GS petrol tank is about 23 litres (just over 4.5 gallons.) You will hear the fuel pump whine get louder as the fuel level gets really low. On the motorway, the engine feels slightly rough when it begins to run out of fuel, then you will notice it missing occasionally and the throttle will feel less responsive when you accelerate. This is a good time to find a service area and fill up. The GS is a heavy bike to push so do not run out of fuel! General solo use will see a tankful of petrol last about 220-250 miles. Two-up with fully-loaded luggage you may see as little as 180 motorway miles on the trip meter before the warning light comes on. If you run out of fuel, you can sometimes get the bike running again by laying it on its right side. This allows the dregs from the left side of the saddle tank to flow over to the fuel pump side and will give you a few miles extra range. Don't rely on this dodge working every time though!

The 1150R fuel tank capacity is about 21 litres and consumption is a little better than it is on the 1100GS. I've seen 200 miles from a tank and that was two-up with luggage. The 1150R has a pessimistic warning light that comes on with about 4-5 litres to spare, so it's good to get a rough idea of how far you can get before you run out of fuel (taking your riding style into account, of course!). There's no "lay the bike on its side" dodge for the 1150R so once you're out of fuel that's it. Start pushing!

When filling the GS tank with petrol, beware of overfilling. If the bike is on the centrestand, the petrol will rise up into the filler neck and sink back down when you stop filling. You can do this a few times and get another litre in the tank if you are on a long motorway jaunt. Ride off as quickly as possible after overfilling or fuel will begin to drip steadily from the overflow pipe, even with the bike parked on the centrestand! If you only ride a few miles and park the bike on its sidestand, it will pour a scary amount of petrol out of the overflow pipe! For some strange reason the 1150R doesn't seem to suffer from this incontinence problem.

BMW recommend using a semi-synthetic 10W40 grade engine oil. If your bike is under any sort of BMW warranty, you need to use an oil with an API SG to SH rating, like Castrol GPS or Silkolene Comp 4. This is because of BMW concerns over the levels of their preferred anti-friction additives in  oils rated SJ or higher. If your engine goes bang, BMW will have the oil tested and if the required additives aren't there, they won't honour the warranty! If your bike is not warrantied, you can use a 10W40 car oil that meets the API SL standard and BMW car oil requirement like Miller XSS, which could save you as much as £9 on each oil change. Please note! The BMW R1100 Series of bikes have dry clutches so my advice about engine oil is specific to them only. Running any motorcycle with a wet clutch on car oil is not recommended. Car oil contains cheaper anti-friction additives that will contaminate wet clutch plates and cause them to slip. Only use car oil in motorcycle engines with dry clutches!

My 1150R had some rattles when I bought and they remained after I'd checked valve clearances, balanced the throttle bodies and even removed the camchain tensioners to check them. My tame BMW technician suggested changed the engine oil from 10W40 to 20W50 and the rattles stopped. Apparently this is due to the thicker oil increasing oil pressure but I'm no expert. All I can tell you is that it does the trick! However, I do start the engine before I put my gloves on now, just to give that thick oil a chance to warm up a bit before I ride off.

Before checking the oil level on your 8V twin, leave it on its side stand for about 10 minutes then put it back on its centre stand and watch the level rise in the sight glass. This allows oil to drain out of the oil cooler and other galleries in the engine casing. If the oil level has fallen below the red dot in the middle of the sight glass, it needs topping up! The oil can be topped up to the level of the upper red line on the sight glass. Average oil consumption on my 53,000 mile GS was about 100ml of oil per 750-1000 miles. The 38,000 mile 1150R is about the same. A lot of motorway miles can as much as double oil consumption in some engines so check your oil level EVERY DAY.

Mixing different brands of motor oil is A BAD THING because they all use differing blends of additives with their oil stock. Stick to the same brand when you top up and your engine will love you for it, although a different brand of the same API grade will do in a dire emergency. Buy a cheap 1 litre alloy water bottle and fill it with your preferred engine oil. Take it with you when you go touring for peace of mind when you check your engine oil level. Make sure that you label the bottle "OIL"!

Various companies make tamper-resistant oil filler caps. I love the chrome-plated Wunderlich item which unlocks with a 7mm allen key. If your plastic oil filler collar leaks or spins round in the rocker cover, you can re-seat it with a socket of the same diameter and a couple of taps with a rubber mallet. The collar can be removed and replaced if it continues to leak.

Home mechanics can buy oil filters etc from specialist aftermarket BMW dealers like MotorWorks, James Sherlock and MotoBins, who all sell spares that are OEM quality for much less than BMW prices. Remember that the oil AND oil filter should be replaced every 6,000 miles. Also remember that you always replace the aluminium sump plug crush washer with a new one when you change your oil.

Spark plugs should be replaced every 12,000 miles. BMW recommend either Bosch or NGK multi-electrode plugs but you can also fit NGK BKR7EIX iridium plugs on the GS. I believe that the single fat spark from iridium plugs give a cleaner burn than the multi-electrode plugs, especially as the plugs erode over time. The iridium tip on a BKR7EIX still looks sharp after 6,000 miles. You can also adjust the spark gap on the iridium plugs, which is impossible with multi-electrode plugs.

The 1150R uses 2 plugs per cylinder and seems to run quite well on the standard NGK BKR7EKC and DCPR8EKC combination. I'll replace them with iridiums in 10,000 mile's time so until then I won't make any claims about the benefits of more expensive plugs in the 1150 engine. Something I can advise on are the coil packs for the main plugs. They're exposed to a lot of heat and moisture so it's a good idea to pull them out every month and give them a clean, followed by a light coating of ACF50 or some similar corrosion protector. Extracting a coil pack with the plastic tool in the BMW kit is a delicate procedure. Pull too hard and the tool comes off the coil pack, dumping you on your bum next to the bike. I've bought an alloy extractor tool from an eBay seller, which makes the task a lot less painful on my backside! You need to apply steady pressure as it's still possible for the extractor tool to pull off. In this case the alloy tool will damage the top of the coil pack and make it even more difficult to extract, so be careful!

The R1100 engine has an annoying habit of bogging down and surging at low speeds, making you kangaroo down the road in a very undignified manner. There is a lot of discussion about this on various web sites so here is my twopennoth on the subject. (A) Keep the bike in a good state of tune. This means checking and cleaning the spark plugs and checking the balance of the throttle bodies every 6,000 miles. (B) Change to iridium spark plugs {see above for my reasoning}. (C) Practice low speed  machine control. The Motronic injection system does not like you closing the throttle at low engine speeds, so try to keep it slightly open as you ride slowly. You can vary your speed with small movements of the clutch lever as well as the throttle. Find an empty car park to practice in and work on your feet-up U-turns. Beware! Other BMW riders will tell you to fiddle around with the throttle position sensor and a multimeter and poke paperclips into the wiring harness. Don't listen to them! Buy a cheap Motronic/ABS diagnostic tool.  Check the TPS (throttle position sensor) with this tool every 6,000 miles and you'll find that it very rarely goes out of adjustment. Trying to fine-tune your 8-valve Boxer engine if you're not sure what you're doing guarantees an expensive trip to see someone who does!

The diagnostic tool mentioned above will not only help you test your TPS. If you plug it into the 3-wire socket under the seat it will help to identify faults with engine management and ABS too. It has a single LED which flashes fault code sequences that you decode with a table. I bought mine from a German eBay seller but I've now been told that these simple tools are available at a reasonable price in the UK from MotoBins. Thanks to Danny for this piece of info.

Unfortunately the 1150 2-spark engines have a newer ECU setup and the old 3-pin diagnostic box won't work with them. There are expensive tools that you can buy to read the diagnostics on the later models but the best bet is to befriend your local independent BMW service provider. Most of these guys have access to diagnostics and will be happy to give you an idea of what's wrong for a small fee.

Persistently hesitant throttle response at low revs (around 2,000rpm) can be a symptom of shrunken or cracked injector o-rings leaking air. It's a fairly simple and cheap DIY job to replace them.

If you are short, turn the handlebars to the right when you get on the bike. This naturally leans it toward you and makes it slightly easier to throw a leg over. 

MV Motorrad Technik make excellent handlebar risers if you want to have the bars closer to you on the GS. You may have to slightly adjust the angle of the front brake hose banjo union if you fit bar risers, but there is enough slack in the cables to make for easy bar riser fitment.

If you drop the bike, use the handlebars as a lever to pick it up. Turn the front wheel away from you and heave the bike upright with both hands on the handgrip.

In the winter, ABS-equipped bikes will sometimes show an ABS fault due to low temperature draining the battery on startup. Give the throttle a couple of blips before you ride off and you should hear a whirring noise that wasn't there when you first started the engine. The ABS should then set itself normally as you ride off. If this doesn't happen, ride off with the ABS lights flashing. Once the engine is warm, turn off the ignition, wait a few seconds, turn it back on, start the engine and ride off again. PLEASE NOTE! The bike also shows an ABS fault if you turn the ignition on and quickly press the start button. Always wait a few seconds between turning the key and thumbing the start button! Thanks to keen-eyed reader Baz for reminding me of this tip.

A cheap battery isn't always a good battery. Stick to well-known makes and go for heavy-duty options when replacing the battery on your 8V twin. The battery has a hard job moving those big pistons when the bike is started from cold. The king of BMW batteries is the Hawker Odyssey; expensive but it starts the bike every time and take a lot of abuse before it fails.

The alloy wheel rims on the R1100GS are uncoated, so be careful when using acid-based wheel cleaners on them! It's worth buying a can of ACF-50 and applying it carefully to the wheel rims every month, unless you like polishing them every weekend...

The 3 16g CO2 capsules in the BMW puncture repair kit will not inflate either the front or the rear tyres to their correct pressures. Carry a sturdy mountain bike hand pump or a compact foot pump for emergency inflation. 4 16g CO2 capsules will inflate a tyre to around 1.5 BAR, good enough to get you out of trouble if you ride carefully. BMW sell the components of the puncture repair kit separately if you need more repair cement or tyre plugs.

The standard toolkit is good, but does not include pliers. It is a good idea to carry a Gerber or Leatherman multi-tool with you.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides