by Victor Wanchena
“Motorad ist gut.” Motorcycle is good. I believe these words crossed the mind of a BMW engineer as he or she gazed upon the final prototype of what we now know as the R65LS.
Born in 1981, the R65LS was an short stroke version of the bigger R motored airhead. BMW accomplished this fitting smaller pistons and shorter rods to the standard airhead boxer motor decreasing the displacement down to 650cc.
The origin of the motor’s basic design dates back to 1923. After World War I, BMW, which had been building aircraft motors during the war, switched to motorcycle production. Max Friz, an aircraft designer by trade, penned the design for their first bike. It was a 500cc horizontally opposed two cylinder. This basic layout is still being manufactured today.
Through the years BMW has pioneered many firsts for motorcycles. A four-speed gearbox, hydraulically damped telescopic forks, and the unit construction of the motor and gearbox where the transmission and the motor are encased in the same housing (a feature now seen on almost every motorcycle manufactured today) come from BMW.
Despite some rough periods during and after World War II, BMW came out on top of the German motorcycle business. The machines were always well built and expensive, but in the late 1960’s, BMW began to take on the British, Japanese, and Italian companies by offering more up-to-date machines and reducing the price of the bikes by lowering production costs.
In 1975 they introduced a new machine that helped shed the old BMW image. This model was the R90/S. It did away with the black paint scheme and conservative styling in favor of orange and silver fogged paint and modern body work. This was their first attempt at capturing the cafe racer market with a bike that offered styling and performance on par with other manufacturers. Sales were strong despite being priced considerably more than its Japanese counterparts.
The R65LS was brought on the scene six years later as a scaled down sporty ride with a more reasonable price tag than the vaunted R90/S. The basis of the bike is the traditional horizontally opposed twin of 650cc. The motor has a bore of 82mm, a stroke of 61mm and two overhead valves per cylinder, and the fuel and air mixture squishes into a space 8.2 times smaller than where it started. Those large pistons with their comparably short stroke give it real strong bottom power, but that large bore comes back to haunt you with a low 7600 rpm redline and a cut in the overall horsepower. At the rear wheel it puts out approximately 40 ponies, not a fire breathing missile with handlebars, but more than enough for the average rider.
The burnt mixture exits through a two-into-two setup and has a balance tube between pipes to increase low end torque. The transmission is a basic five-speed with fairly wide spacing between gear ratios giving good flexibility for city riding.
The clutch is a dry clutch. This means the clutch plate is not submersed in oil like the bulk of modern motorcycles, and it uses only one friction plate. This sort of clutch is often noisy and engages very suddenly, but the engineers at BMW have created one that seems to have a nice consistent action and wide engagement point and is very quiet.
The final drive is handled by the requisite shaft drive. It is ultra-reliable and is cleaner, quieter, and easier to maintain then a chain, but it is subject to an up and down motion in the rear of the bike when accelerating and decelerating. This is a trait common to all shaft drive motorcycles except for newer BMW machines. They feature what is called the Paralever System, which eliminates all rear end jacking.
The frame is the standard double tube cradle affair with a bolt on rear sub-frame. Front suspension is a non-adjustable conventional forks. The rear is suspended by a pair of shock absorbers that have a nifty built-in handle for adjusting spring preload, but lack any other adjustments. The R65LS was given twin disk brakes up front using top shelf Brembo calipers, but it (unfortunately) has a drum brake in the rear. The wheels are 18 inch cast mags front and rear. Much to the frustration of the owner they are painted white. You will waste hours scrubbing to keep them in some semblance of the word clean.
The instruments feature both a speedo and tach and are easy to read even at speed. There are also the usual warning lights including a low charging system light.
The body work, while not ugly, does suffer a bit from the angular severity of the early eighties&emdash;especially the wedge shaped bikini faring that mainly serves to house the instruments and keep kamikaze insects off your belly. The tank is six gallons&emdash;good for a solid 240 miles including most of the reserve. That’s farther than I can go without emptying my bladder or having a nicotine fit.
The first thing I noticed when swinging a leg over the bike was its narrow profile and relatively low seat height. The seat was a bit soft for my taste, but it is flat allowing me to sit as far forward or back as I desired. Those 5’2″ and over will fit just fine, and the pegs are in a reasonable position. The bars are narrow and tipped slightly down in the name of the cafe racer look. Don’t get me wrong, They do look swank, but their narrow width means high steering effort, and they do put a bit of weight on your wrists.
When starting the Beemer you’ll notice the torque of the motor pulls the bike slightly to the right due to the crankshaft running along the center line of the bike. It doesn’t pull enough to ever tip you over, but it’s very different from the norm. At idle the motor gives the whole machine an almost v-twin shake, but as you accelerate the vibration disappears and at around 3500 rpm the motor smoothes out to glassy calm that feels more like an electric motor than an opposed twin. This is where I see how BMW gets it reputation as serious 500-mile-a-day bikes.
Big power off idle and wide spacing of the gear ratios make for easy city riding, but they do cut in to the fun a bit on real twisty sections of asphalt.
The suspension is traditionally plush, soaking up the small annoying bumps but letting some of the big ones get through. As for the brakes…well…as expected, the front is strong and linear for the most part, and the rear drum is, um, a rear drum. It does the job but a shiny disc back there would definitely be much cooler.
Now I never really pushed the bike to the edge in terms of cornering, since I couldn’t help from thinking those big honkin’ cylinders would touch down, and friends often stop speaking to you if you wad up their Beemer. However, an impromptu lean test in a parking lot revealed that the pipes and the pegs touch much sooner. Over all, it tracks well through corners provided you maintain a steady throttle hand.
This particular bike has a black and red color scheme but for some reason came with white wheels. Nothing else on the bike is white so why paint them white? I’m afraid the world may never know. It is also unfortunately devoid of any chrome. I realize this conflicts a bit with the repli-racer image, but I still like shiny bits here and there.
Wow, what a tool kit! This wasn’t some cheesy stamped or cast affair. It was for-real precision ground tools that even included a tire pump stored on the frame.
Like most European bikes, the R65LS is not the most common machine in the want ads, especially in the upper Midwest, but some patience will pay off. An average example like the one in this article would be in the $1,500 to $2,000 range . If you are in the market and want an uncommon machine with easy riding reliability, good in-town traits, touring possibilities, and European flair, check this one out.