BMW R 80 G/S – Time of the legends
When I turned 40, I got a poster. On it, a fat 40 grinned in my face, in front of it a BMW M1 and above it the slogan – “Legendary since 1978”. It doesn’t look that old yet, I thought, and wondered who would have held up better – definitely the M1! When another BMW legend turned 40 last year, my cylinders suddenly started ringing. No amount of 100 octane from the trusted fuel dealer helped, but I went into my garage, stroked the squeaky orange seat of my 1983 BMW R 80 G/S and looked at it as if falling in love for the second time with my own… um… let’s not make such comparisons.
In a frenzy of birthday joy, I cleaned the carburettors, looked fondly at the battery, courageously pressed the start button suffering from senility and the birthday boy reliably but shakily set his two cylinders in motion. A little more revs and the boxer purred promptly at me. As unpretentiously as it then bucks with me over the country lanes and roads, next to a modern 1250 GS, it is unaware of being a milestone in motorbike history and this modesty makes real legends all the more insanely likeable.
AGAINST THE TREND – THE BMW R 80 G/S
At the end of the 1970s, BMW’s motorbike division was in serious trouble and sales were weakening. Although the Bavarians won the German off-road championship in 1979 with their motorbike factory in Berlin, the Japanese were shaking up the market on the road. The trend for small, light off-road motorbikes, which Yamaha had set with the DT, now spilled over into the German gravel pits at a time when BMW was offering its customers comfortable and bearish rather than nimble and agile.
New sales equipment was needed and so the engineers in Berlin developed their off-road machine into a more than capable world-rounder. The BMW R 80 G/S was born, the G standing for off-road and the S for street.
The boxer engine is a must, and so the first long-distance enduro with more than one cylinder – namely two – is born, and incidentally a new motorbike class. With just under 800 cubic metres and 50 hp, the two-valve engine is not a wild racehorse, but the machine doesn’t have to be – it has to last and, if possible, manage two round-the-world trips in a row. My bike has almost 80,000 km on the clock – 2 x 40,000 km – I hope it’s enough for a third round-the-world trip, but it just gurgles happily, sucks in high-octane through its two Bing carburettors and sometimes acts like a lift.
What? The Monolever single-sided swingarm, which was the first of its kind in series production at BMW, has the advantage that you can change the rear wheel in a fraction of a second – but when the load changes, the shock rests against the frame and the rear end wants to go up.
Fortunately, I bring enough counterweights and the so-called “lift effect” remains manageable. In 1987, the BMW people upgraded and developed the Paralever, which destroyed this rubber cow-like bucking.It handles surprisingly dynamically on the road – the low centre of gravity literally puts it into the curve by itself and that is really fun.
BMW’s engineers recognised the G/S’s qualities and, in 1982, presented it with a sister model, the R 80 ST, as a tourer. On the other hand, if you pull the rather pressureless brake lever, the 260mm puny brake disc simply needs some time to follow its destiny, but who needs to brake – it supposedly goes 170km/h after all.
THE R 80 G/S IS TOO HEAVY FOR DIFFICULT TERRAIN
At 192 kilos, the G/S is not exactly a lightweight and even less so in heavy terrain – here, the packaging that smells like “off road” promises more than the bone-dry reality. Its true destiny is rather endless dirt and gravel roads. It feels at home here, can be loaded with 200 kg and rides all the way to Uzbekistan and back – it can also be repaired there in an emergency, which is what makes it so popular with globetrotters and motorbike travellers even today.
On what were probably her most prominent trips between 1981 and 1985, she and the Frenchman Hubert Auriol, who died on 10 January 2021, and the Belgian Gaston Rahier pounded so much desert sand around their wheels between Paris and Dakar that they took the overall victory in all but 1982.
They were hotshots back then. Auriol won the Dakar for BMW for the first time ever in 1981 and when he also crossed the finish line first in a Mitsubishi Pajero in 1992, he was also the first to win the motorbike and car class.
His stablemate Rahier, at 1.64m tall, barely made it onto the G/S, almost lost his hand in 82, crashed so badly in 1985 that the G/S was almost irreparable in the process and yet they both took the overall win. Incredible!!!! This is the stuff legends are made of. I think I’ll go for another ride…
Text Ulf Schulz Photos Ulf Schulz, BMW AG
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