1983-1984 BMW R80ST

Cobbled together from existing motorcycle and car parts, the BMW R80ST spawned a line of surprisingly successful racing bikes.

| September/October 2011

  • BMW R80ST on white background
    The BMW R80ST was a light, stable, reasonably quick and sharp-steering bike.
    Photo by Motorcycle Classics staff
  • Honda XL600V Transalp, alternative to the BMW R80ST
    Although it was only on the U.S. market for two years, the Honda XL600V Transalp has been in continuous production since 1987.
    Photo by Motorcycle Classics staff
  • Kawasaki KLR650, alternative to the BMW R80ST
    The Kawasaki KLR650 performed like a dirt bike but also had a lot of built-in comforts.
    Photo by Motorcycle Classics staff

  • BMW R80ST on white background
  • Honda XL600V Transalp, alternative to the BMW R80ST
  • Kawasaki KLR650, alternative to the BMW R80ST
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: 4361bs (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.

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