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Airheads. Many of us still ride them, even though the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1994. They hold special places in our hearts and garages. This blog is dedicated to them and those who ride, wrench and love them.


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Looking back to look ahead

Posted By John Phillips, Saturday, April 2, 2016

By default, the first motorcycle ride is one of the most memorable. So it was for me, a nervous teen perched on the back of a ’64 BMW R 60/2, black with white pinstripes. Back in the day - before Japan, Inc., before BMW cars - the roundel represented smooth, refined two-wheeled Teutonic precision and sophistication in the era of raucous, vibrating British vertical twins that ruled American boulevards then.

The memory stuck for nigh on three decades until the day a cherry ‘84 R 100/7 parked on the side of a country road with a ‘For Sale’ sign taped to its sport fairing came home with me. I was bound to honor the spousal pact to ‘buy one, sell one’. The Harley went. I liked the Harley, a lot, but I didn’t like the weight and I hated the constant expectation from other Harley riders to make riding about image. It is liberating that the understated BMW draws little attention, except from like-minded enthusiasts. I never tire of admiring its timeless aesthetic. Its blend of performance, comfort, reliability and maintainability meets my every riding need and want. But at the root of it, the BMW combines three levels of motorcycling enjoyment that few other bikes of any era can, and no other bike I’ve ever owned has:

  1. The technology leap from 1984 to 2016 is startling, as one would expect. But with proper maintenance, updated front and rear suspension and new rubber, the old technology still works pretty damn well. The R100 surges with sure-footed ease through the off-camber corners, blind bends and fast sweepers that comprise the winding rural roads of PA, NY and northwestern NJ where I mostly ride. For longer distance work, the seat is comfortable, the set of Krausers are spacious and look right and there is enough horsepower to accelerate smartly down the on-ramp and cruise the interstate smoothly all day long at 80+ mph.
  2. The joy of wrenching. Wrenching on a proper motorbike from the mechanical age can be (should be, IMHO) as enjoyable as riding it. It’s that ‘Zen and the Art..’ thing that opens a portal to learning something about ourselves as it teaches us about our machines. The R100 was made when it was most practical, preferable and often essential for owners to perform their own routine and at times even major maintenance. The bike was designed for it. The technology allows it. Wrenching on the R 100 more than doubles the fun and satisfaction of owning and riding it. For newer riders particularly, this portal is rapidly closing rapidly in the era of digitized, computerized systems. More’s the pity.
  3. With airhead ownership comes an entire community of fellow enthusiasts and support resources (a nod to BMW) that is unsurpassed by any motorcycle organization. “Airheads” are down to earth, fun to be around and ever eager to share and help with their extraordinary depth of knowledge and experience. As one Airhead put it, he might have to give up his riding his airhead one day, but he will never give up the community.

Putting it all in perspective, the high quotient of smiles per mile delivered over the years by one motorcycle, an airhead BMW, has been a constant of enjoyment and of expectations met and exceeded in an inconstant world too full of disappointments and too dependent on throwaway gratification. It has helped keep this enthusiast young at heart, energized and looking ahead with a sharper focus on what matters most in this pastime. I’m a lucky fellow indeed.

Not John's R 100
This isn't John's R 100, but a general photo borrowed from

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Pilgrimage to the 2016 Airhead SuperTech

Posted By John Phillips, Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I got my entrance fee check in early when the Maryland chapter of The Airhead Beemers Club (ABC) announced they would be running the much anticipated annual ABC SuperTech weekend February 19-21, 2016 at the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Association museum of vintage steam engines in Easton, MD.  In 2014, when it was announced that SuperTech must find a new venue, MD Airheads grabbed the torch and have done an outstanding job for the second year.  The event drew attendance  from around the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, but also from as far away as Washington state.  As quick introduction for those who might not know, the ABC is an international network of owners of air-cooled BMWs (discontinued in 1995) founded in 1991 to help fellow Airheads keep their classic bikes on the road   There are ABC chapters in every state, in four Canadian provinces, the UK, Japan and Australia.  The activities of each are orchestrated by an elected Airmarshall. 

Through local riding events and tech workshops, the monthly newsletter Airmail and the on-line Airlist forum, members connect to help each other answer wrenching questions, troubleshoot problems and keep abreast of upgrades and a growing network of commercial resources for airhead parts and services.   Sometimes the help can be one on one, like when NJ Airmarshall Dave Cushing called with an offer I couldn't refuse: "Hey, if you haven't learned how to lube your clutch splines yet, bring the bike down and I'll show you."  For five hours, Dave patiently instructed while I turned the wrenches.  It was a gift of time and knowledge I hope I have the chance to pass along to a new Airhead one day. 

For the 70 or so Airheads fortunate to attend this year, the payoff was once again the collegial pleasure of catching up with old friends and making new ones, kicking tires about our favorite bikes, sharing knowledge and comparing experiences, taking copious notes at the tech seminars and refueling at day's end with the culinary delights arranged for by MD Airhead organizer, master of ceremonies and head chef Mark Lipschitz.  His booming voice and frequent use of a Bengal taxi horn kept the program running on schedule. 

A special BMW airhead retrospective was presented this year by Ian Clarke from the UK.  A rather interesting fellow, Ian.  He has toured extensively through  Europe and the UK on airhead BMWs since 1967.  His personal collection of motorcycles numbers more than 40. Though not all of his bikes are BMWs, he is best known in the shire as a restorer of, and acknowledged expert in, pre 1970 BMW airheads.  He haunts the auto jumbles (flea markets) of the UK and Europe to buy/sell/swap rare BMW bits and contributes regular articles to the UK BMW Riding Club Journal and the e-zine, The Airhead.  With Ian's arrival earlier in the week,  Mark wangled invitations to tour the private BMW motorcycle and memorabilia collections of Jim Hopkins and Bob's BMW dealership in Jessup, MD (see links) both terrific time capsules of BMW artifacts dating to the 1920s.    A variety of "how to" technical sessions, from upgrading fork dampers, to replacing the rear main seal to proper gearbox shimming was supplemented by a much appreciated club update given by NY Airmarshall and ABC Board Director Mike Friedle.  Membership and finances are growing, a good thing.  SuperTech 2016 closed with a recognition award to Bob Sipp  for his many years of contributions to ABC education.  Bob's traveling display of expertly machined airhead component cutaways is a hugely helpful teaching  aid at every SuperTech.  

I've been an MOA member for almost 20 years, but an ABC member for only five.  I can honestly say  say I've  not met any  group more closely knit, more passionate and knowledgeable, more engaged or more eager to share than those who ride and maintain BMW's classic air-cooled twins.  Because of their dedication, beautiful 30/40/50+ year old airhead BMWs are ridden to almost any motorcycle gathering.  Once again, SuperTech proved that  providing "continuing airhead education" not only helps bring the airhead community together, but also strengthens the ties that bind it together.  Thanks again to all Airhead volunteers who made the 2016 SuperTech a success.  While at it, another round of thanks is in order to the Air Marshals and ABC volunteers everywhere who arrange for all the ongoing local airhead events.  Their efforts inspire the rest of us to help out whenever and however we can, and that after all, is the whole point.  

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Tags:  ABC  Airheads  Maryland  SuperTech  tech 

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