BMW Motorcycle Quality
This is an article by Chris Harris of Affordable Beemer Services. He speaks about the decline in quality of the BMW Motorcycle over the past several years. Seems to make some credible points.
Some thoughts regarding BMW Motorcycles:
As everything in our motorcycling lives becomes more reliant on computer controlled devices such as electronic computer controlled ignition and engine management systems, computer controlled braking systems, computer controlled tire inflation monitoring systems, etc. some questions come to mind that I think are worth pondering. Do you ride a motorcycle to get away from life’s daily complexities? Do you prefer a motorcycle that is simple, reliable and inexpensive to maintain? Are you going to keep your bike for many years or do you feel the need to replace it with the newest, fastest, ‘State of the Art’ model each time one comes out? To help answer some of these questions let us look back a few years. Years ago BMW Motorcycles had a well deserved reputation for lasting several hundred thousands of miles and it is still not uncommon to come across a BMW from the 1970’s or 1980’s that has well over 300,000 miles on it. This reputation has been tarnished in the last decade by some design deficiencies and lack of quality control which has even been admitted by BMW AG!
Motorcycle News: BMW Admits Quality Problems
In 1999 during the Dealer Introduction for the new K1200LT in San Antonio , Texas , I listened to a speech by someone from corporate BMW. The speech was preceded by a few video advertisements that were going to be the basis for BMW’s new ‘Target Market’. We were told that BMW was going to target “The smart new BMW owners, the ones who makes $250,000 or more per year, the ones who ride just 1,000 miles per year, the ones who buys a new bike each year or each time a new model comes out. You dealers will be making lots of money by taking in and reselling low-mileage trade-ins that are still under warranty”. When someone asked “What about the guy who rides the same bike for several hundred thousand miles?” the BMW figurehead snapped back “They are not helping our bottom line”!!! When another dealer mentioned that that one person who rides the same BMW motorcycle for hundreds of thousands of miles actually boosts BMW’s sales by getting other people to buy a BMW because of the perceived longevity of the BMW brand, the BMW figurehead stated “The purists will still be loyal”… but for how long?
The typical BMW rider was fiercely loyal to the marque, unlike riders of Japanese brands of motorcycles. During the next Iron Butt Rally, there were several BMW’s that did not finish the event due to mechanical failure of the rear drive. Many of these were brand new BMW motorcycles with low mileage on them! This has been repeated at each Iron Butt Rally since then causing many loyal BMW riders to abandon the BMW brand for other brands and even Harley Davidson!
Problems discovered at Iron Butt Technical Inspection
Sadly, BMW has lost the hard-earned, well deserved accolades regarding reliability. Besides the reasons given above I would like to elaborate a bit on the cause of this matter. Starting in 1999 the BMW motorcycle division was, for the first time ever, being run by staff of the BMW car division. The car division has held a grudge, if you will, against the motorcycle division for several years. BMW motorcycles were built as a passionate endeavor and never made much, if any, of a profit for the company. The car division was the money maker and the bitterness between the two was based on the perceived waste of money by continuing motorcycle production. The car division felt that they were making the profits for the company yet these profits were being squandered on the motorcycles that weren’t ‘earning their keep’. The car division staff had ideas of how to make the motorcycle division ‘profitable’. Now how could that be done, you might ask? Simple… cut back on build costs and quality control expenses, out-source production to foreign countries ( China , Czech Republic , etc.) where costs would be less than producing the part in Germany and reduce the time and expense of research and development i.e., thoroughly testing the product before it is released for sale to the general public.
You are skeptical? I don’t blame you so let’s look at some basic facts before you write me off as being crazy. The Para-Lever rear drive: This type of rear drive unit was first introduced on the R100GS back in 1988. This same rear drive found its way onto the 16 valve K1 in 1989, the 16 valve K100RS in 1992 and all the K1100 models up to 1997. It is a very rare occasion that any of these rear drives have a failure and even when they do it usually merely a leaking pinion seal evidenced at the accordion boot between the rear drive and swingarm pivot. This same rear drive made its way onto the new, in 1993, R1100RS models, followed by the rest of the ‘Oilhead’ line (R, RT, GS). These also rarely fail and I have had only one in the shop that had been assembled wrong at the factory and failed at 34,000 miles. For the 1998 model year, BMW introduced the K1200RS followed in 1999 by the enormous luxury tourer, the K1200LT. The K1200RS of pre-2000 model year rarely had a rear drive failure while the 1999+ K1200LT’s have been plagued with rear drive failures. It is the same design!
In 2000 when the new R1150GS came out, I was still employed at a BMW dealership. We had sold six of these new GS models and five had been in for their 600 mile service before I left employment there. All five of these new GSs had leaking rear drives. This rear drive was identical to the earlier models! The only logical explanation for this sudden failure was quality control, or the lack thereof. Regarding model year 2000+, I have had over 130 leaky rear drive units in my shop. This problem can be cured by Bruno Sax in Iron Bridge , Ontario , Canada . Bruno re-shims these rear drives to the correct preload and I have never had a failure with any of his rebuilt rear drives. This validates the lack of quality control theory even further. If Bruno can rebuild these units to be fail-proof, then why can’t BMW produce them that way?
Let us look at another issue, clutch / transmission input splines. From the 1970 R75/5 through the two valve K75 & K100 models, the transmission was to be removed so that these delicate splines could be cleaned and re-lubricated every 20,000 miles or ‘annually’ a process which takes approximately 4 hours of labor. The motorcycle press ridiculed BMW for this ‘required maintenance’ as no other motorcycle had such a requirement. What was the last vehicle that you owned that required the transmission to be removed on a regular basis as ‘routine service’? Was this a bogus requirement, enacted to ‘pad’ the dealerships pockets with extra service monies? No, it really does need to be performed. When the 16 Valve K1 was released, BMW stated that they were using a ‘new material’ for the shaft and clutch hub and that the spline lube interval was now 40,000 miles for these new models, a process which takes between 5 to 7 hours labor depending on the bike being equipped with anti-lock brakes and of which generation of ABS it is equipped. Still, the motorcycle press complained. Forward to 1993 and the release of the new R1100RS Oilhead. BMW stated that they had again changed the material and that spline lubes were no longer a required service! Really? The design was the same. And if you remove the transmission from a 60,000 mile Oilhead you will likely find that the splines are rusted and that the clutch had some odd engagement traits for the past 20,000+ miles. Why did BMW do away with this much needed required service interval? To make the bikes more appealing and a little less maintenance intensive… all in the hopes that sales would increase (which they did). They didn’t ‘fix’ the problem they merely ‘masked’ it and deleted it from the maintenance schedule.
Let me continue with the saga of the splines. Regarding the 1998 model year, BMW introduced the K1200RS and in 1999 the K1200LT. Both of these models had hydraulic clutch actuation via a master cylinder / reservoir on the handlebar and a difficult to access ‘slave’ cylinder at the rear of the transmission buried between the transmission and the front of the rear swingarm. Again, there was no interval to lubricate the splines of the clutch hub / transmission input shaft and the labor required to do this procedure is now in the area of 10 ~ 14 hours!!! Starting with the 1998 R1200C ‘Cruiser’ model and the1999 R1100S, BMW began equipping the new Oilhead R1150 models with the same hydraulic actuated clutch design that the K1200 models used. We started seeing failures of the clutch hub / transmission input splines on a wide-spread basis within a couple of years most notably on the K1200LT, R1200C and later with many of the R1150 models. There is no warning to precede this failure and it has affected all models of BMWs except, of course, the single cylinder F650 models which use a wet clutch and were not designed by BMW anyway. BMW has flat out denied that there is a problem and the dealer mantra is to place the blame for this failure on the rider!!! I had one customer who had suffered this failure call a local BMW dealership asking if BMW would warranty his failure as the bike only had 22,000 miles. The shop representative actually laughed as he said “No”. When my customer asked how common this problem was, the rep checked the dealerships service records and stated that they had done seven repairs of this type in the past ten months. Now multiply that times the 150+/- dealers in the United States and you can get a general idea of how large this problem is!
This failure is very expensive to repair and is caused by a serious design flaw. When BMW introduced the hydraulic clutch design someone in the design team miscalculated and inadvertently moved the clutch disc 8mm further forward towards the engine and off the transmission splines. This results in the splines of the clutch disc not utilizing the full amount of splines available in the splined portion of the clutch hub. The splines can strip off leaving you stuck on the roadside and ending your journey instantly.
Demonstration of what the stripped spline issue sounds like
Worse is that these splines have failed as early as 7,000 miles but the average has been a failure at 24,000 miles. This usually happens when the bike is out of warranty due to age. Again, Bruno Sax has come up with a cure for this by modifying the clutch hub and moving the splines of the clutch hub so that they fully engage with the splines on the transmission’s input shaft. If Bruno can come up with a solid solution to this problem, then why can’t BMW? The answer is a rather unpleasant one… BMW apparently no longer cares. Profits are the priority of BMW now and as many of my customers have been told by BMW dealership personnel, if you are going to complain about failures perhaps you shouldn’t own a BMW. This bold, in your face, arrogance is disgraceful and insulting to anyone who has parted with or intends to part with $20,000+ of their hard earned money for a potentially defective product. A few years ago Motorcycle Consumer News published a letter outlining correspondence between a potential buyer of a new R1150RT and BMW North America. You can see the corporate BMW attitude for yourself below.
I am frequently asked what my opinions are regarding the latest BMW motorcycle models. While I do not service any models newer than the 2004 model year I’d like to offer some observations that I have made over the past few years regarding these new models. In 2002 BMW began equipping bikes with power brakes. Yes, power brakes. Why? I couldn’t even attempt a logical guess to that besides perhaps technical ‘innovation’, one of their favorite key words of late. Normally, if you want to make a motorcycle stop quicker you would reduce overall weight and / or equip the bike with bigger brakes. BMW has not had a poor braking distance reputation since the drum brake equipped /5’s from the early 1970’s so why the sudden desire to ‘improve’ braking? This electronically controlled servo-equipped braking system called ‘EVO’ has been riddled with problems since its introduction. Besides the annoying audible whine of the servo motors while holding the bike in place with the brake or the puddle of brake fluid left on the ground if you hold the brake lever or pedal with too much force, the brakes are very ‘touchy’ and non-linear in feel. It is sort of a full-on or full-off type of function. This system required, as all DOT 3 & DOT 4 type brake systems do, an annual flushing of the brake fluid. While this constituted an hour of labor for the previous models, the ‘EVO’ system required the BMW dealerships diagnostic computer to be used to perform what should be a simple function. BMW dealerships were now charging over $300 to flush the brake fluid in these models! But you could do this yourself, you say. You would be correct but you are generally looking at around 5 to 7 hours of labor depending on the model of BMW that you have. I view this as insane! While I do not possess data regarding the braking distances of ‘EVO’ vs. non-‘EVO’, I can state from experience that there was nothing gained in a performance aspect by using this system of braking. In fact, this system has severe deficiencies in regard to function and reliability in the long term.
The ‘EVO’ system actually consists of six hydraulic sections. The handlebar holds the lever & master cylinder to control the front brake. From there it goes to the electric servo pump where hydraulic pressure from the hand lever or foot pedal activates the electric servo which increases the pressure applied to the brake fluid. From there it goes to the anti-lock brake control unit / regulator. Lastly it goes from there to your wheel. The same applies to the rear brake. So to flush the brake fluid you are now involving yourself with six hydraulic sections as opposed to what the rest of the motorcycle industry uses… two. Your brake lights are no longer activated by a switch at the lever or handlebar but are electronically activated by the servo unit. This circuit is completed by the brake light bulb itself. If you replace the bulb and you do not get it to fit ‘just right’ you can lose function of the brake light and the power brakes! BMW claims that even during a power brake failure you will still have ‘residual braking’. This is not always the case and I have, on numerous occasions, rolled an ‘EVO’ equipped bike around my yard with the hand lever pulled completely to the throttle grip to the dismay of the customer.
At one point BMW AG in Germany was being sued for 37 incidents of serious injury / death relating to failed ‘EVO’ systems. As this system aged I began to see a spike in failures of this system usually when the bike was 4 or 5 years old. A new servo unit will set you back $2200.00 plus labor and you can be sure that it will not last any longer than the original unit did. So if you own a 2002+ BMW with ‘EVO’ brakes that have failed and you are fortunate enough to still be alive and whole what would you do? Replace the unit? Can you imagine what it would cost to have a new servo unit installed 10 ~ 15 years from now if one were even still available then? Oh wait, you were supposed to trade that bike in when it was just one year old and be on a newer BMW model! One option that several customers have opted for is to have me remove the power brake system completely. While this is a labor intensive task it is less than half of the cost to replace the failed servo unit and you actually end up with better braking that is reliable and can be serviced yourself.
With the R1200GS model BMW started using a new type of rear drive to replace the Para-Lever. This new unit was advertised as ‘Maintenance-Free’ having been filled at the factory with ‘Lifetime Fluid’. I know of no such fluid and it wasn’t long before some of these new rear drives failed at alarmingly low mileages. In fact, there were a couple that actually caught on fire!!!
That is about as maintenance-free as you can get. Just replace the $1600 rear drive every 10,000 miles! Oh, you were supposed to trade the bike in at 1,000 miles and buy the new BMW model.
Let us look at the wiring system of the R1200 Hexhead models. Can-bus wiring was used and while this has equipped most automobiles for several years, when it was applied to the BMW motorcycle it was a disaster, to put it mildly. You could no longer splice a wire to gain power for an accessory like driving lights, a GPS, radar detector, etc. You had to install an auxiliary fuse box that was wired directly to the battery and attach your accessories to that. This wouldn’t normally be an issue but by being wired directly to the battery you now had to manually turn off every accessory that was connected each time you turned the bike off lest you drain the battery which was also inconveniently located underneath the fuel tank. BMW was kind enough to equip these bikes with the traditional BMW accessory outlet to power your electric vest, plug a battery charger in, etc. but even this now had problems. If your vest was plugged in but you rode for 20 minutes with the vest turned off… the bike’s computer turned off the power to the accessory outlet! You would need to unplug, switch the ignition key off & then on again and then re-plug the vest to enable the computer to turn the outlet on again. Personally, I see this as a liability issue as I can visualize a cold rider stopping on the side of a busy road to reconnect his vest and being in grave danger of being struck by an inattentive motorist.
Keeping the battery charged was another issue. When the battery tender went into float mode (which happens when the battery is fully charged and the battery tender stops charging and monitors the battery) the bike’s computer would again turn off the accessory outlet. You would need to unplug, switch the ignition key on, re-plug the battery tender & then turn the ignition off again to enable the computer to turn the outlet on again. So you’d best keep the bike stored nearby and accessible during the long winter months or just plan on buying a new battery each spring. But if you had traded the bike in and bought a new model each year you wouldn’t need to worry about such trivial things.
So, when I am asked whether one should buy a new BMW or keep their older model I have to ask the customer what they expect from their bike and how much money do they want to spend. It is always far less expensive to modify / correct the deficiencies of an older BMW than it is to buy a new model that has the possibility of needing to be replaced sooner than expected. From a financial aspect, buying a new BMW just doesn’t make sense to me. If you must have the newest, latest, greatest BMW model and you have the financial resources to purchase it, deal with the expensive maintenance at the dealership and weather the headaches of possible problems fairly early in its life, you might be a candidate for a new BMW. If you are like me you’ll prefer to have a bike that is solidly reliable and simple. I’d prefer to save those additional thousands of dollars and use them for travelling, therefore I’d suggest keeping your older model BMW or purchasing one made prior to 2005. If that is what makes sense to you I am here to prolong the life of your pre-2005 BMW motorcycle and enable it to be reliable for decades to come.
2011 BMW R1200RT
2007 V Star 1300 - Sold
2007 V Star 650 - Sold
1978 Suzuki TS 125 - Sold
Hillary For Prison!