In part one, we talked with Steve about his growing up on motor bikes and his adventures as a young motocross racer. We also talked about his myriad bike history and how it led him to his baby: a 1978 BMW R100 RS. Where we left off, we were just digging into the history of Steve and that BMW, and about how by his estimation, he’s put more than 150,000 road miles on it.
Nathaniel: So in all those miles, how much has the bike changed or needed major work?
Steve: We rebuilt the motor, I don’t know, three, maybe four times? It’s also had five-to-six different paint jobs.
On those rebuilds, did you ever have to touch the bottom end or anything?
Yeah, I’ve been in the bottom end. I’ve also had the motor blueprinted, with the crankshaft out and balanced — all that kind of stuff. That was very early on with [my ownership of] the bike. I’ve never been in the bottom end since. That was probably at about 40,000 miles. Since then, I’ve rebuilt the top end many times, but never the bottom end, ever again. Been though a few transmissions, though.
Oh, okay. Figures with all those miles.
My wife and I toured on that thing. She was my riding partner. She probably has a good 80,000-100,000 miles on that bike, also, sitting on the back seat.
Oh, wow. That’s a lot of pillion miles.
We’ve done a lot of riding. Her thing was we used to do a couple of trips a year, but it’s still an old machine and inevitably the bike would breakdown at some point every trip. Whether it be something electrical, something mechanical — there was always something.
We’d be stuck on the side of the road, or stuck in a parking lot. I’ve been out in West Virginia on the side of a mountain with no car is coming by at all. Bike is broken. There’s actually snow up there, because we were up there in March. I have the bike stripped apart on the side of the hill. We fix it though. I fix it, anyway, and we get back on the road.
Then probably about seven years ago I took the RS all apart again. I rebuilt the whole bike, basically. I totally disassembled it all the way down to the frame. Every nut and bolt was touched. Every wire was replaced — the whole harnesses. Everything. Then my wife and I, we go on a long ride.
At one point, she says to me, “You know what? There’s something different about this trip.”
I say, “Well, we’re just riding.”
She says, “No. The bike didn’t break down. It worked.”
It actually kept moving the whole time.
Right. I said, “That’s what happens when you take your old bikes apart and put them back together.”
The only real way to fix an old bike that’s got issues is taking it all apart and fix it again.
This current condition of the bike right now is probably where it’s going to stay. I’ll leave it alone now.
What year is it?
The bike is a ’78 RS.
That would make it a Slash 7?
It’s just an “RS” BMW. We would call them “twin shocks” as opposed to slash this or that.
It’s a ’78 RS, and it’s also a Belgium bike. It’s a European model.
In that it was built in Belgium?
No, the story goes that these RS’s were built for the Belgium police. But, they decided not to take the order. They wanted RT’s, or something different. Whatever it was, BMW basically loaded up these bikes and shipped them off to the US instead. So that’s how my bike came to the US.
It’s a ’78 but still has a kick start. On normal bikes, kick starts ended in ’74, but this bike has a factory kick-start on it. It has 40 mm pipes on it also, which would have been on the ’77 or ’78 RS S model. So all of that is what makes it a ’78 “Belgium” RS.
So it’s basically a police interceptor?
At one point it would have been, yes. There’s no big difference to it. It is the same as any BMW, except for having a kick-start. Other than that it’s just an RS, but I’ll tell you why the RS’s are cool bikes. It’s a perfect fairing.
Yeah, I like that fairing a lot.
You’re totally wind-protected. If you can keep on rolling in a rainstorm — say 80-90 miles an hour down the highway — all that gets wet is your shoulders and your helmet. The fairing keeps you dry.
Yeah, so that’s a pretty neat bike. I like it. It will probably be one that I won’t ever get rid of.
Sure. Obviously, you have all that experience with the BMW stuff and we [Motoworks] started as a BMW service shop and continue to do that stuff. What’s been your experience, or do you have any thoughts on, the post-airhead BMW’s? K bikes? The oilhead bikes?
K bikes are great — just great bikes. I always said that if you can put ten bikes in front of me, one of them be a K-75, and said I had to choose my very last bike, and it needs to ride around the world? I would pick the K-75.
Why is that?
They are very dependable, they will keep on running with lack of maintenance. It just keeps on going. The thing about that is, pretty much any BMW will keep on going with lack of maintenance, but when she decides to stop, it’s going to be very expensive.
It’s going to catch up with you?
So yeah, I love the K-bikes. One of my other favorite BMW’s is K1100 LT. I figured that the K1100 LT would be one of my “old guy” bikes. I really like that one.
I also dig the oilheads. When the Oilheads first came out, the RS was the first one that came to the streets. I’m an RS fan, obviously. Right away got to work on those and really enjoyed working on them. They have their little quirks here and there, but yeah, I love the oilheads.
You’re a big fan of the RS. BMW just brought out a new RS model.
Yeah, and I saw it.
It’s coming back to states. What do you think of that bike?
Right. I like it. I’ve only seen pictures. Beautiful bike.
It looks just as good in person. I’m really interested to ride it. I’m a big fan of that motor. I got to spend some quality time on the last generation of the RT.
If I was going to buy myself a street touring bike, a road touring bike, it’d be really tough to pass on the RT. The RS would be one of the other bikes I’d definitely consider, because it’s the same motor. The RS is a great engine, great chassis set up. All that jazz, just a little less fairing.
That’s what I like about BMW, they’re basically all the same bikes. It’s just they have different fairings on them. Unlike the Japanese stuff, where they have twenty different models. Next year they’ll add another twenty. Nothing’s very consistent. With BMW they’re all the same bikes handful of bikes except for different fairings on them. That’s also why I like working on them. They’re very consistent.
Sure, makes sense.
As new BMWs go, I really like the new 1200 motor. I think that when that 1200 came out, that was the perfect boxer engine. Transmission was great. The motor was great. It had tons of power to it.
It still has some character and some heart?
Yeah. You speak about heart — that’s what I feel about BMW’s. That’s why I really like the old stuff. They have soul. They have some personality. You can have two old bikes that are one digit off on VINs. Each one is a different bike.
Oh, yeah. I guarantee you, my 1980 R100 RS is very different from your R100 RS.
Yeah. Totally different.
Guarantee it. Having never ridden your bike, I can still guarantee it because mine is so weird.
Yeah. They have their own personality and the old bikes, they talk to you. They speak to you. The other thing is (and this is another reason why I like the old bikes) up to, I believe, 1978 the Beamers were all basically hand built.
That means something to me. A real person built this motorcycle. End to end. It wasn’t built by a robot or any of that. That’s why my favorite bikes are always the BMW’s up to 1978.
That’s the cool thing about being at Motoworks. We’re not a BMW dealer, but we work on all the vintage stuff, so I get to see great vintage BMWs all the time.
The other thing with old bikes is the customers. If I’m a technician working on a new bike, a customer will bring it in and I’ll do an inspection on it, do a tune-up, whatever it needs for service. That customer of that modern bike will never call me back or came back in and raving about, “Yeah, fucking bike’s running great. Great job!”
Because to him, the bike ran the same as it did when it left. Came in running that way, left running that way.
Oh I see. That makes sense.
Customer brings me an old airhead BMW though? Say that bike came in running poorly. It’s going to leave running better. Way better. Those customers notice that and come back to me. They call me on the phone. They stop back in just to say, “Thank you, very much.”
I like that. I’d get done working on a bike and somebody’d come back in the shop a week later and go, “Man, thanks for working on my bike. Bike’s running great.” It’s very cool.
Let’s switch gears a little bit, over to more the day-to-day side of things. What are some of the things that you wish your customers knew? Just pick two or there things.
A lot of customers don’t seem to understand that parts don’t come very fast. The bike is here, and I can work on it and get it done, but often I’m waiting for specific parts to come. We’re not like the car business, where we keep a huge inventory of specialty parts in the back. Sure, I have all the parts in our shop to do all the maintenance work.
Okay, all the wear out stuff?
Yeah, all the wear out stuff. That said, when something goes down on a special order, and we’re working with European manufacturers, parts are literally far away.
Beyond parts, I’d like customers to know how important tires are on a motorcycle.
What do you see people doing? Are they waiting too long to get new tires? Are they cheeping out on tires? What is it?
Folks don’t understand why tires are expensive. They’ll come in saying, “Well, my car tires aren’t that expensive and they all sure do last a whole lot longer.”
Well, this isn’t a car. It’s a motorcycle.
Motorcycle tires are specialized. They don’t make that many of them [as compared to car tires]. They’re simply going to be more expensive. And yet, tires are very important on a motorcycle. I see a lot of people not replacing their tires on time, simply because of them being expensive.
They’re running old tires too long?
Yes. Letting them go a little too long. They’ll have dry rotting, or no tread left on them, while guys try to get as many miles as they can out of them. That kind of thing. Thing is, I can’t just tell a guy that he needs new tires. I need to tell him why. The why is very important. Telling him why his bike needs what it needs. That’s part of the challenge for all of us in the Service Department — it’s that experience the customer has at the counter. It’s the why and not just the what.
Another thing I want all my customers to understand is that preventive maintenance is key. You can ride today’s [modern] bikes without much thought until they finally do break, and then it gets very expensive. Being in Chicago, in the Midwest, we basically only have six months riding season. It sucks when your bike is broken, but most of the kind of crap we see in the shop could have been corrected in preventive maintenance.
You feel like people are skipping on the small things and then it’s coming to bite them on big stuff?
Oh, yeah. It does. It really does. At Motoworks we really push preventive maintenance. We really push those services. Do them now instead of later. We’ve found that over the years, we get a much happier customer when they prevent problems before they happen. We get a much happier shop, too.
Sure. Do you have an example?
On BMWs, one of the biggest things are their [clutch] spline ribs. Spline rib is very expensive to replace, but much cheaper to do preventative service on. Some bikes need to be done every ten thousand miles, some bikes every forty-thousand miles. If you don’t do it on time, though, you’re just going to spend a whole lot more money later on.
If you just come in for a spine lube I can get you in and out. If you’ve gone too far and you’ve damaged the clutch and damaged the input shaft? Now I’ve got to go up inside your transmission, and now I’ve got to order expensive parts that I don’t keep in stock. You’re not getting your bike back for a week or more.
And all that’s way more expensive than just getting the preventative service done, right?
Way more expensive, yes.
Yeah, it’s like some people balk at the price of synthetic motor oil. Or even people who have a sports car and complain that they’ve got to put premium gas in it. They’re complaining about thirty-cents on the gallon, trying to find work-arounds for these small costs, meanwhile not taking into account just how expensive the engine damage can be from not running the right fuel grade.
Folks get so much more sensitive to little [financial] pain that doesn’t matter, but it blinds them to big pain that’s going to matter a lot in the future. In the case of a motorcycle, this kind of thinking is going to take that bike away from them.
Not just that, but a lot of people don’t seem to understand that the bike needs work correctly in order to be safely ridden.
Everybody wants to paint their bike. Meanwhile the brakes don’t work, and the motor doesn’t run very well but, “Yeah. I want to get it painted.” No man, let’s take care. Let’s make the bike safe to drive first. Let’s recondition the machine first, not the paint.
Unless it’s just going to sit in your living room.
Yeah. We have to straighten folks out sometimes in terms of their priorities. Yeah, once you get them there, then it’s all good. They get it.
So you’re not in the trenches fixing bikes very much these days.
Not anymore. We’ve got our crew of mechanics. Some guys just do BMW restoration work. We’ve got some guys who focus more on scooter stuff. We’ve got guys who focus more on the Ducatis.
So we’ve got a lot of guys who work here at Motoworks, who take care of our customers, and they are obviously a team that works together to get stuff done. I’m curious if there are common threads through those guys. Asked another way, if you needed to hire another mechanic tomorrow, what’s the kind of person you’d be looking for?
One of the first things that I really want to look at on a new technician is their tools. Tools say a lot. If they don’t have good tools, they’re not going to do a good job. To me, they’re not taking pride in their work. Good tools are a key thing in our shop. You can strip out fasteners very easily [with cheap tools] and that makes for poor quality work. So good tools is something I look for.
If a technician has decent tools, he’s going to have some pride in the work that he’s doing. It’s not everything, because you can have a guy with great tools who still can’t work on a motorcycle, but it’s a start.
That’s a very interesting answer. I wouldn’t have thought of that, in terms of how to gauge if somebody is a decent mechanic or not. I suppose if they’re running dollar-store tools, they’re perhaps only good for dollar store work.
Right. The other thing I look at with technicians, especially once I’ve worked with them, is how dirty they get. If you have a really dirty technician that is just covered in grease, they probably aren’t very good. If they’re covered head to toe, you know, then they’re not doing it right.
What do you mean?
A good tech, like a doctor, is going to clean their hands between tasks. So with any new tech, I want to see how dirty they’re getting.
It’s dirty work, though.
It’s dirty work. Sure. That’s why you need to stay clean.
I look for techs who are in it for the long haul. That is, having guys that are really into the work and making the choice of is this going to be their career or is this just a job? That’s something I look at. Here at Motoworks we got five guys working in the service shop, and I think we’re on our third year with the latest technician that we’ve hired. Really, a key thing in the shop is having all that experience in-house and not having to hire new technicians every year. The quality of work goes down then.
As soon as — and this matters in any job — you decide that it’s going to be your career, you’re going to put 110 percent into your job. I think the guys we have here at Motoworks look at this as their career. This is what they’re going to be into, so they have a lot of pride in their work, you know? Of course we’re human, and we are going to mess things up. It is going to happen.
We’re going to break something, but I always tell my technicians that, “You can’t break anything that I haven’t broke already. You can’t strip something out that I haven’t already done before.”
You’ve made all the mistakes.That’s great. Thanks so much for chatting with us.
No problem. This was fun. Let’s do it again.