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Budget Beemer: A Good Used BMW on a $4,000 Budget

I’ve had nine BMWs since 1976, eight of them were bought new. Currently, I have a 2016 R 1200 RS still under warranty and I’ve almost never been a guy to have more than one bike in my garage. But in June, I flew to Sacramento, California to buy a 2004 R 1150 RS with 57,000 miles on it—my first used BMW and exactly the same color as the one I bought new in 2004. I kept asking people if they thought I was nuts.

Here’s what this 2004 Oilhead’s got: partially synchronized ABS disc brakes, Telelever and Paralever suspension, fuel injection, 4-valve heads, 6 gears forward and dual spark ignition.  [Editor’s Note:  Airheads are 1969-1995; Oilheads are 1993-2005; Hexheads are 2005-2010; Camheads 2011-2013; Wetheads are 2013 and following.] The Oilheads, were a huge step forward in technology from the Airheads. You can still work on them and can do 90% of the 12k maintenance on your own. I had a 1996 R 1100 RT for 100,000 miles and the guy who bought it in 2004 now has a total of 175,000 miles on it. He says it is the best bike he has ever owned.

The phenomenal Telelever front suspension is comfortable and handles better than regular forks. The baggage capacity is closer in size to the Airheads. The seats are great for both rider and passenger and you can do most of the maintenance that it really needs yourself. Although it sports 30 less horsepower than current Wetheads, I have to ask: what are you trying to accomplish? The power to weight ratio makes the Oilhead really competitive. I love the horsepower of the Wetheads, but with everything the Oilhead has to offer at its current price bracket, I can forego it. At $4,000 the R 1150 RS is a good trade-off and a good buy.

My 2016 R 1200 RS has a warranty that expires next year and BMW claims that the push button suspension is superior. Not for me. Though it’s really cool in concept, I hardly ever use the Rain or Dynamic modes. The horsepower and cassette transmission are fantastic but I can get along without them. And with the advent of the Wetheads, the seats and luggage have been designed for style—not comfort. The passenger seats on all but the RT are stylistic; my lovely wife has a svelte figure but it’s still a squeeze. The nice digital suspension will cost over $2,000 to replace—as it also does with the Hexheads. The 12k tune-up is a dealer’s cash cow…and I live 100 miles from a dealer.

If you decide to look for an Oilhead, get as close to 50,000 miles as you can. The carbon cannister is a useless piece of toast. Remove it and completely clean out the gas tank and replace the fuel filter, gas lines and vent lines. Be sure you have stainless steel brake lines and perform a good brake line flush and install new pads and tires. And if you cannot balance the fuel injection injectors and do a good tune-up on your own—get it done—and the bike will be ready to be your main squeeze. The registration and insurance will be a bargain. You’ll miss the cruise control, that comes on Hexheads and Wetheads, but you can get a throttle lock. And if you can ride, you can do as well as 95% of the guys with the Hexhead or Wethead.  I hightly recommend that you get an Oilhead while you can still find them.

Steve Cantrill, RA 14988

[This story first appeared in the September-October issue of “On the Level”]

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