1977 BMW R80/7 – Part 1

Okay, it leaks a bit of oil, and the front brake isn’t up to modern traffic, and there’s a bit of a stumble off idle, and that screen has got to go, and, and… Martin Gelder, his new BMW R80/7, and true happiness…

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It all started in the summer of 1980, and I blame Eddie’s Uncle Alan.

And now Graham W off of the RealClassic message board as well.

Eddie’s Uncle Alan had been lured back into the biking fold (we’d call him a Born Again Biker these days but back then he was just Eddie’s Uncle Alan) after seeing his nephew’s tearaway mates turn up on a variety of spangly seventies motorcycles. While Eddie’s mum Rita made us all cups of tea, Uncle Alan would come out and look at the bikes on show in the street.

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We’d gone rapidly from fifties to two-fifties and by 1980 most of us had four hundreds, except for Ted who had a Z650 (smart) and Andy with his a GS750 (ace). Uncle Alan was impressed enough to end up in a bike shop in Liverpool that spring. Victor Horseman’s sold Triumphs, Kawasaki and BMWs, and Alan decided he wanted a Bonneville like the one he’d had ten years earlier. The zero miles T140 they tried to sell him seemed *exactly* like the one he’d had ten years ago but not as well put together, so Uncle Alan bought a brand new Kawasaki Z750 twin.

The Kawasaki caused a bit of stir when he turned up outside Eddie’s house, but really it was just a bigger (although much newer) version of what we were riding ourselves. It also wasn’t quite as good as Uncle Alan had hoped, and a month later he turned up on another new bike from Horseman’s; a BMW R80/7. We were impressed with the amount of money he was spending, but unmoved by the BMW. “Old man’s bike,” we said. “Ideal for Uncle Alan; he must be at least 35,” we muttered.

Round about the same time, I picked up my second speeding ticket in just over a year. Getting caught again in the next two years would mean an instant ban. The obvious solution was to buy a bike (buying a bike is always a good solution to any problem) that could be ridden more slowly and sedately than my 400 Yamaha. Inspiration was sadly lacking until Uncle Alan turned up on his R80/7.

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While the rest of the lads scoffed, I marvelled at the inventiveness of the engineering, from the built in pre-load levers on the rear shocks to the petrol taps (two of them!) that went “clunk” when they were turned to the on position. And then he started it up. It sounded so smooth, so… different to our bikes. It shook itself like a wet dog when it fired up, as well. Everyone else laughed but I marvelled; it was almost alive.

If I had a BMW I could ride it like an old man for two years and avoid a ban, and every time I started it, it would do that cool shuddering, shaking thing. Problem solved.

A month or so later I was the proud owner of a 1977 R60/7. That bike took me everywhere, from the daily commute to a two-up three week Euro tour, with a rally thrown in every fortnight or so. It only broke down once, and it had the good sense to do it outside Z650 Ted’s house. I was on my way again quickly; the points had closed up for no apparent reason.

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I was devastated when it met an untimely end and it was inevitable that I’d end up with another BMW when funds allowed, this time a ’79 R100S. In all, I’ve owned BMW twins for nearly half the thirty years that I’ve been on two wheels.

An untimely end. Don't try this at home...

A year or so ago I started looking round for a two-up classic capable of doing a bit of distance work. There was only one choice, really. A Guzzi might have been nice (Had one of them for a couple of years), or maybe a Laverda (How much!?) but my heart always pulled me back to the Bavarian flat twins.

It would have to be an early-ish stroke-seven; the later ones had a lot of quality control problems and the prices of earlier models are creeping up. Ideally, it would have original panniers and a sprinkling of other BMW accessories to show that it had been owned by an enthusiast rather than a courier. Most importantly of all, it should be in regular use. And at the right price…

Ideally it would have...

Enter Graham W, stage left. Graham has just bought a purple R100GS and needs to make some shed-room by selling off his 1978 R80/7; BMW panniers, clock, screen and “medium” bars, steering damper, otherwise original, 100k miles, needs a new battery and rattles a bit…

A remarkably short time later I’m getting off a train at Crewe and looking for a RealClassic reader with a BMW on a trailer. The bike is exactly as described, and after a quick tour of Crewe I’m sitting on it in a lay-by on the A5020, about to head off into the unknown. Or Stoke, at least. Some would say there’s not much difference.

Shaking like a wet dog...

BMW R80 stuff on eBay.co.uk

Petrol on, choke on, ignition on, press the starter and sure enough, the bike shakes like a wet dog as it grumbles into life. Welcome home.

The next 150 miles pass in a strange mix of first impressions blurred with familiar sensations. Pulling away for the first time the rear of the bike lifts as the drive shaft tries to crawl round the rear wheel’s bevel. The gears can’t be hurried but the riding position is almost perfect.

Into the first roundabout and Graham was right about that front brake; it’s pretty ineffective. The indicator switch is fantastic though. This is what I like about 70’s BMWs; they went their own way. The indicator switch on the right and the dip switch on the left are almost under the switchgear housings, right where you’re thumbs rest, and they operate in the same plane as your thumbs; fore and aft, not left to right. It sounds wrong, but it’s ergonomically wonderful.

Check out the dip and indicator switches, poised to be thumbed down for right or dip, up for left or high beam.

Unlike the screen. At anything over 55mph a wind powered Cozy Powell pounds a relentless drum solo on my helmet and even at a lowly 35mph the wind drives every bit of gravel and grit straight into my eyes if I open my visor.

I bounce my way home across the country (the rear suspension is past its best) to the accompaniment of the indicator repeater meep-meeping its way round every roundabout. The proper-sized petrol tank swallows enough fuel to get me home and halfway back again, the sun shines, the flies avoid me (so that screen must be doing some good), life is good.

I reach down to unlock the steering after stopping for an ice cream break and I get one of those weird muscle-memory moments as my hand unconsciously snakes under the bars to put the key in the headlight mounted ignition switch. It’s eleven years since I rode an air-cooled boxer and it really does feel like coming home.

The screen has gone already...

Okay, it leaks a bit of oil, and the front brake isn’t up to modern traffic, and there’s a bit of a stumble off idle, and that screen has got to go, and the neutral light comes on whenever I pull in the clutch, and the speedo needle wavers a round a bit, and the rear suspension is pretty shot, and a hundred thousand miles is bound to mean I’ll find some engine and drive-train wear and tear… but this bike has transported me right back to the first time Uncle Alan turned up at Eddie’s house. Thank you Uncle Alan, and thank you Graham W.

...and the front brake is on the list of things to sort next.

If that last paragraph sounds like a list of things to fix, then it probably is. Once the Morini is sorted out, of course…

And talking of Morini’s, Graham W has one for sale about three quarters of the way down the classifieds page: rhaglaw-bikes at yahoo.co.uk or 01492 650890

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