Dr. Frazier’s Old BMW Pig in a Poke

November 20, 2014
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

The 1981 R80G/S was a pig in a poke. To sell it using the Internet screamed caveat emptor but seemed the easiest way to find it a new home.

The Internet ad displayed photographs and described the bike as being “a runner,” and selling “as is.” The seller tried to market the BMW honorably, using the old business saying of “when you proffer the pig, open the poke,” meaning show the buyer what they were getting. This adage dated back to when cats and dogs were often substituted for the more expensive pork by sellers trying to trick buyers, and thus later followed the saying “letting the cat (or dog) out of the bag.” In the case of the vintage BMW R80G/S the seller was trying to prove to the buyer the motorcycle was no dog, but really a quality Bavarian pork, albeit old pork with a questionable 50,000 miles on the odometer.

The prior 10-year history of the 30-year-old BMW was clouded. While it came with a clear title, what was less clear is why the deceased previous owner had taken the engine apart. The motorcycle was a collection of parts, with the gas tank, cylinders, heads, starter motor, diode board, carburetors, air cleaner, battery, associated nuts, bolts and covers placed in three cardboard boxes. It appeared to have all the parts upon first inspection, but was obviously a German puzzle to piece together.

Over several months pieces of the R80G/S were cleaned, tested and then bolted back onto the frame and engine. One missing part never found was the ignition key. The tool kit and tool tray were also absent, as was a cover for the fuse box under the gas tank.

A charged battery was installed, oils and filter changed, and fresh gasoline flushed through the gas tank, lines, filter and carburetors. A new ignition switch key was made by a local key shop that lit up the lights on the dashboard as well as the front light and rear tail light. Finally, with the key switched to On, several kicks using the kick starter proved the engine was turning over and spark being delivered to the spark plugs.

When the G/S first started using the electric starter it blew a huge cloud of gray smoke out the exhaust but made no engine or transmission noise indicating serious mechanical problems. A quick drive around the block ended the polluting smoke and once stopped in Neutral all systems seemed to be working. A multi-meter applied to the battery and under the gas tank at various points proved that above 4000 rpm the electrical system was charging.

Over the next year the old BMW logged about 100 miles. Throughout a long winter the R80G/S was the subject of several discarded plans ranging from prepping it for a ride to Deadhorse, Alaska or converting it to a HPN rally replica. As spring morphed to summer the BMW was sadly rolled from one corner of the garage to another, making room for other projects or extra parking space. Finally a decision was made to find it a new home.

An Internet shopper asked for more details and soon a deal was struck. The deal included the buyer arranging for a motorcycle shipping company to collect the BMW for delivery to his home 1200 miles away.

After mulling over the price of having the motorcycle shipped the buyer suggested another option – flying to see the pig in the polk himself and riding it home. When asked if that could be done? The seller’s answer was, “Well, I’d ride it that far, but I’ve owned half a dozen of these R80G/Ss, ridden one 200,000-some miles around the world and even written a book about them. I have the confidence I could get it to your house.”

Fresh Distanzia Avon tires  www.avonmoto.com  were shipped in to be installed.
The original BMW solo seat was fine for short distances but the 35 year-old foam and cover had become hard over the years.
(Above) Fresh Distanzia Avon tires (www.avonmoto.com) were shipped in to be installed. (Below) The original BMW solo seat was fine for short distances but the 35 year-old foam and cover had become hard over the years.

Some changes and upgrades were suggested before attempting the 1200 miles. On the list was a windscreen for rain and wind protection, a butt-pad for the 30-year-old seat, some soft bags for luggage, a tank bag and a tool kit.

There was no question that there would be a degree of risk in piloting the old BMW R80G/S across some of the most desolate areas of America, like Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. A break-down in Wyoming could find the new owner footing an expensive towing bill to BMW shops in either Colorado or Utah, with none to be found locally.

There was also a certain amount of trepidation for the seller about meeting the buyer face-to-face, versus handing the paid for motorcycle and title over to a trucking company. Using the Internet to market the motorcycle allowed for a degree of anonymity, relying on the buyer being aware that the pig in the poke could well be a dog in the bag. Setting the buyer off on a 1200-mile adventure could turn into an Internet nightmare if the buyer later posted online about the dog he found in the bag when he thought it was Bavarian pork.

The buyer was not new to motorcycles, and had once owned a BMW R90/6, so was able to communicate knowledgeably about valve covers, engine oil levels and other BMW-related airhead jargon. He opted not to trust the unknown knobby tires and old inner tubes and had new Avon Distanzia front and rear tires shipped ahead of his arrival. Since he knew they would be skinning the tires in the seller’s garage, he wisely added new rim strips to the inbound package. Shortly followed a small handlebar-mounted windscreen, tire repair kit and hand-operated air pump, and finally an Airhawk Seat Pad from the Motorcycle Superstore.

The new owner was collected at the airport, helmet in hand and “BMW R80G/S Parts and Repair Manual” in his tank bag. Over the next five to six hours the seller and buyer jointly prepped the R80G/S, attending to things that would not have been dealt with had the motorcycle been shipped to the buyer by truck. They included checking electrical connections, modifying turn signal mounts that were well known to break from vibration, adjusting brakes and adding to the tool kit that the buyer had assembled.

Worried about unknowns on the 30-year-old BMW, they assembled a loaner kit of spare parts for him to carry. This collection included a rear shock absorber, electric rotor, diode board, clutch plate and clutch cable.

Over dinner the two riders discussed numerous problems the new owner might encounter, including running out of gas between long stretches across Wyoming, excessive oil consumption, pinging of pistons, valve rattle and electrical short comings well known for the BMW R80G/S. Checking the repair manual, and gas tank specifications stated therein, the buyer learned his fuel capacity and was told to start praying for gas after 125 miles when fighting the headwinds across Wyoming.

On Day 1 the road riding adventurer knocked down 372 miles, the biggest stress factor being when he coasted into a gas station and topped off the fuel tank with .01 gallons more than specified in the R80G/S parts manual. Day 2 he logged 374 miles with the only noted problem being an occasional drip of oil from the right valve cover, which was stopped by a slight tightening of the bolt and two valve cover nuts. Day 3 was the longest day, 539 mechanically uneventful miles.

Ten days later all the loaner parts were back at the ‘Start’ point, sent via UPS. A note was included offering many thanks and a bed & breakfast invite at the new owner’s home. In closing he added that he had nicknamed the R80G/S “The Goat.”

While the adventure had started off selling a pig in a poke over the Internet, it happily concluded with a goat, not a dog, in the bag.