1983-1984 BMW R80ST

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Photo by Motorcycle Classics staff
The BMW R80ST was a light, stable, reasonably quick and sharp-steering bike.

Years produced: 1983-1984
Power: 50hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 108mph
Engine: 798cc air-cooled OHV horizontally-opposed twin
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight: 436 lbs (wet)
MPG: 45-55mpg
Price then: $4,190
Price now: $2,500-$4,000

Is the 1983 BMW R80ST the granddaddy of today’s street-oriented dual-sport wannabes? Or a parts-bin special cobbled together from leftover Beemer bits? All air-cooled BMWs from 1970-1995 have their roots in Hans-Gunther von der Marwitz’s R50/5, R60/5 and R75/5 (500, 600 and 750cc) “slash five” models. Using BMW’s traditional boxer engine configuration, von der Marwitz employed a new one-piece crank, added con rods from the BMW auto parts book, and moved the camshaft below the crank (instead of above, as with previous BMW twins) with chain drive replacing gears. Ancillaries were bundled into a large alloy case above the engine, which sat in a new swingarm frame.

The four-speed, drumbraked /5s were replaced in 1973 by the five-speed, front disc /6s in 600, 750 and 900cc flavors. The 798cc R80 engine was first seen as the R80/7 in 1977 alongside the R100/7 and R100S. And in 1979, the lightweight “small block” R65 arrived. Inspired by Rudy Gutsche’s success with an R75/5 in International Six Days Trials in the late 1970s, BMW’s skunk works dropped an R80/7 engine into an R65 frame, equipped it with their new Monolever rear end, added dirt bike cycle bits and gave it to Gaston Rahier, who won the 1981 Paris-Dakar race with it. The “big dually” was born, spawning the dynasty of air- and air/oil-cooled boxer twin GS bikes that’s still running today.

For 1983, BMW added a more street-oriented sibling based on the R80 GIS, but replaced the 21-inch front wheel with a more streetable 19-incher. The new R80ST retained the G/S’s Monolever rear, though again with reduced travel, but the G/S’s kickstart lever was deleted. It also got a dual seat and shorter forks and handlebars from the R65.

The result was a light, sweet-running, reasonably quick and sharp-steering bike (though not as sharp as the then-class leading GS750E, said Cycle) that inspired such confidence it was “easy to ride fast right from first meeting,” Cycle said. Notably absent was the well-known “wobble” that some older Beemers could induce when pushed hard — though driveshaft reaction jacking could still be a problem for BMW newbies.

“You’ll learn not to back off the throttle during vigorous cornering upon penalty of dragging chassis parts,” Cycle warned.

Cycle’s testers also concluded the 800cc engine was the smoothest of the BMW boxers, lacking the 5,000rpm buzz of the 1,000cc and 650cc engines. Transmission upgrades garnered praise for smoother shifting, with neutral now easy to find at a standstill and false neutrals essentially absent. The only problem with the test bike was a tendency of one of the Bing carburetors to leak fuel, ruining at least one pair of boots.

Road Riderwent touring on an R80ST, and threw up a few more issues. The high level exhaust from the GS was retained on the ST and, though wearing a longer heat shield, still toasted the tester’s throw-over bags. “Nobody can make a fuss over this high-flying silencer design on a motorcycle dressed in play clothes,” wrote the tester, “but it’s simply out of place on the street.” Cycle Worldalso voiced a common complaint: the self-retracting side stand. “Don’t even think of parking the ST head-first on a downgrade … You’ll have some lifting to do.” they added. It was just another of BMW’s famous foibles, like their folding ignition key and funky turn signal controls.

Regardless, the overall conclusion reached in period tests was that the ST was about as good as a motorcycle of the time could get, though Cyclewould have liked a dual-disc front brake and Cycle Worldfound the price a little too high. However, they concluded: “What you get for your money is a light, agile, uncomplicated, clean, attractive motorcycle. Some bikes you ride … to get from A to B. The R80ST you ride for the simple thrill of riding.”

Alternatives to the BMW R80ST

1989 Honda XL600V Transalp

Power: 46.5hp @ 7,500rpm/110mph
Engine: 583cc liquid-cooled SOHC V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Brakes: Disc brake front, drum rear
Weight: 4281b (wet)
MPG: 45-55mpg
Price now: $2,000-$4,000

In continuous production from 1987 to the present, Honda’s Transalp was simply ahead of its time for the North American market in 1989: In spite of being named one of that year’s Ten Best Motorcycles by Rider magazine, it was dropped from the U.S. lineup after just two seasons.

While the KLR veered to the dirt end of the adventure bike scale, the Transalp definitely leaned to the street. Using a retuned version of the NTV600 Revere power plant fitted in new cycle parts with Honda’s Pro-Link chain-drive rear end, it boasted nearly eight inches of suspension travel and over 12 inches of ground clearance. But the rest of the Transalp paid only lip service to off-road. The belly-pan/bash plate was thin plastic, and the rest of the bodywork — again, plastic — vulnerable (and expensive to replace) in a spill. Neither was the suspension adjustable, except for rear preload. Gravel and fast fire roads were fine, rocks and single-track much less so.

The bottom line? Most motojournos of the time weren’t quite sure what to make of the Transalp. Road Rider concluded that it wasn’t the best dirt bike, nor the most comfortable tourer, nor the best canyon racer, although it did all these things well enough that they felt “90 percent of us looking for such a machine will be more than happy with it.” Summing up, Cycle opined: “It has the profile of an offroad bike with the detailing of a street bike. Think of it as an after-dinner off-road limo.”

1987 Kawasaki KLR650

Power: 48hp@ 6,500rpm/97mph
Engine: 651cc liquid-cooled DOHC single
Transmission: 5-speed
Brakes: Disc brake front, drum rear
Weight: 3981b (wet)
MPG: 45-55mpg
Price now: $1,000-$2,500

It may be hard to remember now, but Kawasaki’s KLR pretty much created the streetable dirt bike category.

The DOHC, liquid-cooled. dual-balance-shaft engine with electric start said street; but the attitude was enduro. Or dualsport. Or whatever we called it in those days.

Derived from the more dirt-focused KLR600, the KLR650 brought a new level of sophistication to the class with electric start (the kickstarter was even eliminated), liquid cooling, a long range six-gallon gas tank, handlebar fairing, dual seat, luggage rack and the now-familiar crossover dirt/street tires.

Creature comforts aside, though, the KLR could still mix it in the mud and sand thanks to suspension travel of more than nine inches front and rear, nearly 10 inches of ground clearance and a (relatively) low weight of 3981bs gassed up; and even if this was twice the poundage of a real dirt bike, it was manageable.

On the street, the Kawasaki engine’s dual balance shafts ensured reasonable smoothness, and 48hp meant perfectly acceptable highway performance. The only real fault that one could find with the bike was the front brake; it was a little weak, and under heavy use it was prone to considerable fade.

Road Rider perhaps summed up the KLR best, comparing it to a Jeep, “something that could go anywhere, do anything . Now we have a two wheeled version from Kawasaki.” Except, Road Rider added. ” … the KLR650 can go where even Jeeps can’t go.” MC

  • Updated on Sep 1, 2011
  • Originally Published on Jan 1, 1753
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