Alison Green in her shop bringing a BMW GS80 back to life
There never was any concrete plan to restore or resurrect abandoned and abused air-heads, but somehow for the past six years, my garage has become a winter workshop. Let me hastily add that I make no claims to being a mechanic. I just can’t stand the sight of an otherwise lovely old boxer resting derelict under a pile of accumulated debris. It must be rescued!
My mechanical experience, limited as it is, has accumulated along with a substantial assortment of bits and pieces over the course of a 33 year acquaintance with my now venerable R60/6.BMW. The /6 has served me faithfully in spite of my meddling with its works.
This has led to a somewhat inflated estimation of my own abilities in the workshop, the fact that the R60 has been all but bulletproof notwithstanding.
Four years ago, with the confidence of the uninitiated, I purchased a lovely 1973 R60/5 that had languished unloved in the back of a shed since 1985. On first examination it appeared complete if more than a bit tired, especially the rubber bits. Now, general motorcycle grunge is quite familiar, but this was grotty to a new degree! Apparently it had been driven for some miles with no rocker-cover gaskets installed and the resultant oil spray had done of fine job of rust proofing the back two-thirds of the machine. Parked with its coat of oil, the family cats had proceeded to use various bits as scratching posts and sleeping quarters. There was a large and hairy blanket thrown casually over the whole lot when first exposed from behind the usual assortment of garage collectables. Now this would not normally be a problem, but I am more than a little bit allergic to cats. Consequently, the removal of the exterior layer of oil/grease/cat hair/grime caused an inordinate amount of sneezing and wheezing on my part. This was not at all an agreeable process. That accomplished, I set out to see if this could be resurrected into a useable machine.
Never having attempted such a project before, I approached the whole business with some degree of trepidation. I decided to start with those operations that were most familiar. Strip off all of the bodywork and set aside; change all fluids, drop the oil pan and degrunge; pull both wheels, check bearings, clean, new tubes and tires; replace points, set valves, fork seals; vigorous cleaning of engine housing and removal of quite an assortment of stray pieces (battery box, handlebars, brake linkages, signal lights, etc.)
Now I had a fairly serious assortment of bits and pieces to clean and re-install. I was reasonably diligent about bagging and labeling parts but for those of you who regularly have bikes disassembled my concern over finding the appropriate home for all of the parts would be laughable. I was quite pleased when there was nothing left in the parts boxes but some lint.
Fortunately, the tank had been left empty and was in tolerably good shape inside. However, the carbs were seriously gunked up and were summarily removed and sent to Al Blanchard (Blanchard’s Motorcycle Works, Port Hope, ON) for him to work his magic with them. I just wasn’t going to go there (this time). Needless to say, the old Everbest petcocks did not stop the flow of gas regardless of the position of the handles. Some Internet research and a very helpful page from Craig Vetich, and a trip to the gasket supply place, and I was on my way. My partner milled a couple of job-specific tools for the operation and the petcocks were disassembled re-lined with cork and re-assembled. The first one was nasty, the second a lot easier. The best part - they worked just fine! They are not nearly so difficult to rebuild as expected. It is a somewhat tedious operation, but straightforward.
With a new battery charged and installed, and with fingers tightly crossed, I could now check all of the various electrical components - originally the bike had sported a rather abused and cracked Vetter fairing which I had removed and (hopefully) correctly re-wired all of the necessary functions. Eureka! The signals worked, indicator lights worked, brake lights worked. Now for the big moment.
On a suitably warm day in May, my now shiny and pretty ‘project’ bike was wheeled outside for the big moment. As I have had little experience with BMW kickstarters, and this model sported a starter button, guess which one I tried. I had also never encountered the ‘tickle’ carbs before, but Al’s advice was fairly simple. Poke the button until gas drips on the ground. OK, but then what? I tried the starter button - silence. Damn! Pulled in the clutch and tried the button - it fired and started in about two seconds! Subsequently I stalled it a few times but it actually ran! German engineering to the rescue. I was absolutely elated! In time I even mastered the kick start routine, although never with any degree of elegance. Thankfully she always started on the first or second kick and only once tried to kick back. I never did locate the starter-button glitch as sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t...
Some more assistance from friends and the local mechanical guru and the carbs were tuned and balanced and she was purring like the proverbial kitten. I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had built the bike myself.
Various people had warned me that after so much time and effort I wouldn’t want to part with the bike. They were right! However, common sense prevailed and I sold the /5 later in the summer. I hope she has a good home ...
Since then, I have continued to invest in a ‘project bike’ each winter. Every one quite different but all have been Airhead BMWs. If nothing else, I am really getting quite good at detailing! Occasionally I get in over my head (and mechanical abilities). Fortunately there are many friendly and knowledgeable people available to come to my assistance. Most of all, I must thank my husband for tolerating and even encouraging my motorcycle habit; and for quietly accepting the occasional very late dinner when I am totally immersed in one of my bike projects. – Alison Green