City living is all fine and well, but every now and then you've gotta get out. Usually a hard run in the canyons will do it, but sometimes you really have to pack up a few essential dry goods and get the heck out of Dodge. My buddy Ron in San Francisco wanted to get out of his town and suggested I get out of my respective Tinseltown with him on a wild run through Arizona. The whole thing seemed to fit in nicely with the scheduled arrival of a BMW R1100RS at the office, and it seemed that my editorial duty to you, our faithful reader, called for a high mileage road test.
This particular model has been out for almost a year. Either you've read all about the R1100RS's technical specs and already know, or haven't and don't need to know. What you need to know is that this fine rig is a high speed sport-touring missile. It feels like all the moving parts rotate around its center of gravity, giving it eerie poise and directional stability. At speed it feels like it's got a gyro, and when you turn, it gently, yet assuredly rotates around the vector of its driveline. It's a princely ride for motorcyclists looking to do some serious miles.
So I packed a few things into the stylish and extremely functional BMW tank and pannier bags, zipped into my Aerostitch, filled the Bimmer with five gallons of the mandatory premium gas and barrelled up the Crest to the 14 in Lancaster. My urban stressed out nerves literally loosened up and became unwound as I watched little glimpses of LA twinkling and stinking in my rear view mirrors. Later, brah.
The TeleLever front end is a wonderful thing. Since it separates the incompatible jobs of braking and suspending the front end during the weight transfer of braking, the front tire finds its way along the surface of the road with the same smooth, supple grace that it does when just tooling along on the straightaways. You can hit a bump while on the brakes in a corner and everything is just ducky. Apparently it is set up to give just a little dive on order not to spook you, and once it finds its level, the bike just stays planted in forward position. It's not adjustable, which is fine, since I never really even felt the need to mess with the highly adjustable rear shock and spring. I stopped a few times to get the adjustable seat height and tiltable windshield combination just right. With the seat in the top position and the windscreen at the bottom position, I got the cleanest airflow around my helmet, and everything was just fine.
There are all kinds of little roads that parallel the highway through Lancaster and basically every other place in this long, wide country. If you stop and look at a map, you can usually find an interesting route that roughly matches the uninteresting multi-lane freeway. Shame on you motorcyclists who travel for long legs on the highway. There's a better life in the parallel universe which is just a few turns away. I established a fine rhythm of doing 125 or so when I could see far enough ahead, and only 80 when a suspicious corner or car was coming up. The Bimmer likes these kinds of speeds.
They say a BMW is just barely getting broken in when it hits 100,000 miles, and this one sure felt like it. I must confess that I am not a Bimmer expert, and have only ridden a handful of them here and there. All BMW bikes have a refined, precision engineered feel to them which give you the confident feeling that the bike will be reliable for a long, long time. But the new boxer, jammed full of four valve, fuel injected trickery has a lot more power than the jugheads of old, and this bike just loves triple digit cruising. It inhales miles and miles of roadway, trying to hit that 100,000 mile mark with the restraint of a teenager with a condom in his (or her) virgin pocket looking forward to the big date at the prom.
I finally hooked up with Ron on his pristine old VFR and made a dash across Death Valley. The hot night desert air was as dry and clean as the stark rocks and sand. I noticed an odd thing about the R1100RS; none of the engine heat ever hits the rider. The heads and pipes get hot enough, but I didn't seem to get any hot air on my legs. I suppose all the engine heat gets ducted through the bike and out from underneath somehow. And at 135 mph the Bimmer was as smooth as Vaseline on glass.The VFR was faster when it wanted to be, but the RS does a better job of keeping air turbulence off the rider and is just plain stable at speed. After hours of shredding the road I wasn't tired at all when we finally hit some hotel in Nevada. Ron was understandably beat.
Nevada roads are mostly straight stuff, so we made short work of it and hit Arizona. Arizona is hot. I unzipped as many flaps as I could on my Aerostitch, but once high noon hit, I was down to a squid outfit of just jeans, boots, and a tank top. Arizona doesn't have a helmet law, so I rode without one on the straights just because I could. (It's been so long.) The handy adjustable windshield provided decent coverage for that in its high tilt position, but I kept my earplugs in to minimize deafness from the turbulence. But soon enough we were on the twisties, and I put the helmet on again.
Everyone knows that Arizona is the home of the Grand Canyon, and hundreds of miles surrounded by majestic rock formations. But all the minivans and RVs can't really appreciate the beautiful roads the way you can on a bike. You might want to dig out your atlas and a highlighter to mark down a few highways that are undeniably gorgeous. From Flagstaff 180 is nice, but only on weekdays, because it gets thoroughly clogged with slow moving tourists on weekends. It takes you to Holbrook where you have to choose between 77 and 180, which by the way leads to the extremely winding 191 that every motorcyclist should hit at some point. Rt. 89 between 93 and Prescott was so much fun that we switched bikes, and went up and down the 50 miles of mountain road again.
Now, BMW's take some getting used to. The transmission is clunky by Japanese standards, but If you shift slowly at first, you get used to timing the unsynchronized gears just right, and after awhile, you figure it out. The boxer engine also offers tremendous engine braking, which demands an even right wrist at the throttle in order to keep the suspension settled. Flag the throttle too much, and the front end dives. Once you get this down, the R1100RS was truly rewarding in the corners. As always, it felt like a gyro stabilized missile, with the suspension pressing down just enough at each end onto the generously wide and sticky Battleax radials. The R1100RS will take the turns a lot harder thatn a lot of bikes that are supposed to be more sporting. The thing of the whole experience is that once you learn the precise throttle and gear control, you become a better rider, period. This and the fact that the high ratio of riding time to maintenance time on a BMW are what must make BMW riders such good riders.
In fact, there's a certain amount of cachet involved with riding a Bimmer. This one especially, because it looks so good with the BMW pearl paint and that saucy bright teal seat. Ordinary folks know it's the somehow related by the propeller logo to expensive and refined cars that they desire very badly. Other bikers think you are serious about what you ride. They assume that you are a good rider, because most BMW riders are. Nobody thinks you bought it by mistake, which can't always be said for cruisers and sportbikes. They might assume you are middle aged and affluent, which of course would be a grievous mistake when the rider is a radically minded and poor young motojournalist like myself.
Despite the fact that the BMW has generous storage space, I traveled relatively light out of habit. When I'm packing clothes for a road trip, I treat them like tools. One tank top, one tee shirt, one long sleeved shirt, etc. I had been wearing the same tank top for three days and I took a whiff of it out of instinct before I put it on for the fourth and final day of our little getaway. Much to my surprise, it smelled like I had just pulled it in off a clothesline and then ironed it. This is not normally the case after rides around LA, which leave you and your clothes smelling like smog. Bleaching in the sun through the hot dry Arizona air at triple digits had kept it fresh, somehow. This only confirms my suspicion that there is some reason that many wise Southland city dwellers head for Arizona and New Mexico. It's clean, relatively unspoiled and simple. Oh, and the green chili is not to be missed.
But unfortunately, I am not sure how one goes about making a living out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, I've always wondered what is up with the obviously occupied houses here and there that are a good fifty miles from anything. How do the inhabitants make a living? It's not exactly farm country, and what happens when you need to get some potato chips? How do they live? Are they out riding motorcycles all day long? For that matter, did you ever wonder why on any long road trip you always see someone standing off the road out in the middle of basically nowhere? Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about.
These mysteries, along with the roads, flora, fauna, and geography are what make living and riding in America so great. That, rock and roll, and girls, anyway. Ron and I parted ways and pondered these things, as well as the numerous stories and biking lies we'd exchanged at little dive bars. Such
talk and the silent glory of roadbound companionship are what make motorcycling so great, as well. - by Paul Peczon
Some of the images on this page were, uh, remote parked from BMW's site.
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mildly updated Dec 09.