The ups and downs of owning a classic motorcycle
The BMW back out on the road. Photo courtesy Jerry L. Hall
Back in the Seventies and Eighties an older gentleman named Loren often rode with me and my brothers and our father. We all rode BMWs. Loren rode FAST in the curves, but what I remember best is his unique riding style. He sat straight upright as if he had a steel rod for a spine. Curves to the left. Curves to the right. Flat out down the straights. Nothing mattered. He was always sitting bolt upright. And always FAST.
About two years ago Loren’s trusty polaris silver with blue pin stripes 1971 BMW R75/5 serendipitously crossed my path. It was offered to me, and thankfully I was in a position to say, “Yes, please.” I had been wanting a /5 again and I had a personal connection with this bike. It had passed through one or two owners since Loren, and wore a Wixom frame-mounted fairing and safety bars. It was missing the headlamp innards and front turn signals, and it had aftermarket silencers, but everything else was still showroom stock and in amazing condition! I smile every time I cast my eyes on that beautiful saddle with the two chrome hand holds.
New Mikunis on an old /5. Photo courtesy Jerry L. Hall
The fairing and safety bars were shelved. Then I went treasure hunting and located all the missing headlamp parts and the polished aluminum signals with the amber side reflectors. I bought new replica cigar-shaped silencers. I wanted it to look just as it did out of the crate. I tried to rediscover my factory-trained BMW mechanic skills from decades ago. What was foggy to my mind was somehow remembered by the muscle memory in my hands. My hands knew which size wrench to use and how to remove the front cover and how to torque the heads and how to adjust the valve clearance. But no matter how many times I balanced the carburetors for idle and smooth acceleration the adjustments wouldn’t hold. I overhauled the carbs to no avail. A little research and some memory jogging made it clear that these Bings were from a batch of bad carbs that found their way into production. There could be no “fixin’ ’em.” Then I remembered putting Mikuni carbs on a number of bikes in those years. Some Internet research led me to a shop in Massachusetts with everything I needed.
Today I put the new Japanese carbs on the old German bike. I hung the auxiliary fuel tank from the handlebars. I slipped the fuel lines onto the carbs and turned on the petcock. I pushed down the old plunger key on top of the headlamp, took a deep breath and thumbed the starter button. Without any hesitation the engine came to life, complete with that old /5 rocker noise and valve clatter. Oh, sweet music to my ears!
Sometimes an old motorcycle will let you know it’s happy just like a good dog does when it looks up at you and “smiles.” Ya know what I mean? — Jerry L. Hall