2002 BMW R1100s Motorcycle Review RoadCarver

2002 BMW R1100s Motorcycle Review

So how did I come to buying an old BMW r1100s from a k1300r?

A 2002 BMW r1100s - how? I had a pretty lousy finance deal on the k1300r, so I decided to sell up and pay it out. Not to mention the k1300 is a magnet for the boys in blue and only fun when breaking the speed limit by an extra 3 digits. In test riding boxer-powered Beemers I've discovered they are as much fun to cruise on, as they are at going fast. Inline 4s are fantastic on-song but sounds and feel mundane otherwise.

While waiting for a buyer, I was browsing around for something nice I could buy for cash. Looking around for another Beemer, for a budget of up to 10k, I had to look for something older.

 I came across the BMW r1100s which, as a boy, I had up on my wall as a poster. At the time the promo-colour was a bright canary yellow. I remember how tall it looked thinking if I would ever be big enough to ride it. Not that I could now be described as a towering guy, but tall enough for the r1100s!

As it happens, it seems whenever you start looking for a bike, there magically happens to be something amazing for sale.

So there it was, down in Albury, a pristine r1100s. Despite being a 2002 model, this thing looked brand new. Better than new actually - it had a beautiful stainless steel exhaust system and polished wheels which looked terrific. Good service history, 40,000 on the clock. I put a deposit down and flew down to Albury to pick it up.

Just as attractive in the flesh, I was just hoping it ran as well as it looked. After a quick press of the starter, I was greeted by a deep mellow boxer growl. Then a quick spin around central Albury confirmed the bike ran sweet. Paperwork sorted, money transferred, and I was on my way. Quick thanks to Blacklocks BMW, Albury who made this possible.

 BMW r1100s snow mountains highway

The trip & Adventure:

The maiden voyage of 800kms in one afternoon. Albury to Sydney via Snowy mountains. It would be a good time to mention that it was mid-July and cold. Sunny but still plenty chilli at 4 degrees and 3 pm. The new first lady, unfortunately, was not equipped with heated grips like my newer BMW's. I noticed this only when I was in the mountains pictured below.

4 degrees (celsius) at 3pm in the afternoon. I had to stop to warm my hands on the cylinder heads.

First Impressions of the r1100s:

Coming straight off the K1300r, the r1100s was obviously dating a bit. Can't hold that against the old girl, running on 15 years of age and looking the same as the day she rolled off the assembly line. The older boxer did vibrate a little more than the K1300r, and the sideways pull when revving in neutral was a bit odd at first.

Compared to the feature-crammed k1300, this BMW r1100s was a straightforward bike. That did add to the charm. There is something neat about having only two dials - speed and revs. That's it. Add to that, the black and yellow dash, and it did look very retro indeed.

The r1100s has a tallish seat and a relatively forward sporty position which has you leaning forward quite a bit. It's easy to stall at the lights if you're not used to it. It took me a fair bit of time to be able to punch out quickly when the lights went green.

Shifting was a bit vague and at often found neutral shifting from first to second. On many other motorcycles, you tend to get a reassuring click, but on the r1100s initially, the lever felt a bit numb. I hear this was the case with many of the old beemers, including the guy who bought it, said it was far better than his old version. The key to any bike is getting used to it, which is why I don't put much stock into first impressions. After a while, I didn't notice the gearbox anymore, which to me meant I'd worked it out.

BMW r1100s Handling

Handling I think is the ace card of this bike. Once I felt a little more familiar, I was indeed able to throw this boxer around the bends confidently. Very precise and easy to flick through transition corners. More so than the k1200-1300, where the weight is felt.

 While the BMW r1100s doesn't have blistering acceleration, it is swift and happy carries that speed all day. With such a substantial fairing, you never really feel precisely how fast you're going. Big open spaces and long high-speed sweepers are where this bike felt at home. The result being able to ride the bike fast all day without getting that fatigued. The telelever at the front made every ride a smooth one. And the feel is indeed a bit numb but make a very comfortable ride dampening wise. 

Ergonomics of the r1100s:

The bike is quite tall, just about at the limit at what I would comfortably ride (I'm 178cm). I do hear there is a lower seat for this bike too. The overall riding position is on the sporty side of sport-touring. Quite leant forward and legs tucked quite high. In fact, it was the only bike I ever got cramps on (I was 36 at the time). A comfortable bike overall I but could see having issues with it as I get older, fatter and less flexible.

My wife was not a fan of this bike, which is one of the reasons I sold it. The pillion seat, even though large, was quite slippery. Things made worse by there being nothing to hold onto. Combine this with rider leaning forward quite a bit and you've basically got the comfort level of a regular supersport. Having something to hang onto would improve this immensely. I've seen the BMW r1100s equipped with Ventura racks at the back, but for me, it would be like putting a roof rack on a Ferrari 458. 

BMW R1100s Backside


Looks of the BMW R1100s leave a lot of folks polarised, bodywork as is typical of BMW. Mostly I would say the bike is quite the masterpiece. Only the front would have me understanding people who didn't love it. Directly front-on it is a bit unpleasant - a face only a mother could love.

As one guy put it; Italian from the back, German from the front. Otherwise, a sexy piece of machinery with its expansive bodywork. Particularly in the ice-blue or silver, I like how the body seems to blend into the engine and other components. Sort of like one chunk of metal. I mean - just look at those polished pipes!

A sophisticated stately machine worth of any distinguished gentleman, without the stigma of a "fat" beemer.

It just has this superbly solid look and feels. It's one big-ass motorbike that is tall and long. Overall very impressive.

Probably my least favourite angle of the r1100s. Amazing from all others! 

The r1100s In the City:

The tall, commanding position does give a good view over the traffic, and the low-slung boxer weight makes slow-speed handling a snap. But the old boxer didn't enjoy going slow, so it was a little lumpy at low speeds and needed a lot of clutch work. Needless to say, I don't think any air-cooled machine is at home in mid-Bangkok style traffic. There was also the ever-present sound of the oil pump (I believe) which could get pretty loud when just crawling along. Unless you are dealing with heavy traffic, otherwise city riding was so-so. All in all, doable, but not an ideal city bike.

I did end up keeping this bike for only around a year, after which I had the urge for something more potent and with more pillion comfort. I enjoyed the r1100s immensely but I just like swapping bikes - life is short. Plus, while I do ride every day, it is usually short rides. The only epic trip I did on this bike was the one when I bought it. And it really isn't a commuter - it feels at home on the open road at speed.

I do often look nostalgically at the pictures and wish I had a bigger garage - I even contemplated buying another. But then remember that I liked the appearance more than actually riding it.

 Would I recommend this bike? Yes, unless much of your riding is in heavy traffic. It's a bike that needs space. A further tip - try to find the ABS model with heated grips.

I'm sure that if you are considering buying this bike, it will make a big impression on you as it did on me.


Photos & Story: George Ihring

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No ABS !!!! The system is so dated and has a really bad feel..whereas the non ABS has the Best feeling brake I have ever had …and I have owned 158 bikes. Very smooth below 75mph….little buzz above, but seems rather good at 100mph. I am in Arizona and do often run these speeds with my radar detector on. 04 up has better fueling due a change to the Motronic and 4 spark plugs. Change out the Hydraulic Slave cyl as it can-will leak on the clutch. Tremendous deceleration ..which I love in the canyons,makes me super smooth . Rich

Richard michael Hammond

Brought a new r1100 ss in 2004
Have 203000 ks on the speedo
Still goes well
23rd back tyre 😊


this is the bike I lusted after for many years. I have a super clean ’99 coming my way in Tuesday. Red was not my favourite colour but I am stoked to finally own one and thankfully have plenty of space for more bikes. How do you think it will look next to my 640 Adventure? Thanks for the review.


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