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Bike Review - Posted 11th July 2006
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1977 BMW R80/7 - No Charge?

A second instalment after only a month? It can only mean one thing; trouble. Martin Gelder and his seventies BMW R80/7 enter the red light district...

After buying the R80'7 and riding it home I had a list of things to do to bring the bike up to scratch. In true RealClassic fashion, I've ignored all of those, done some other stuff instead, and then just carried on riding it.

The touring screen blade has gone (easy job), along with it's associated bracketry (not an easy job). The latter involved disconnecting all the control cables so I took the opportunity to fit a set of standard bars that have been cluttering the shed for ten years and four house moves. I also discovered the world's most frayed but still working clutch cable. Eeek. Time for a call to Motorworks…

Fayed, but it was still working...

With the riding position sorted, it was time for a shake-down ride and what better destination that the Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory Park?

Two panniers full of clean socks and shortbread biscuits and a tent across the pillion seat caused the leaky rear shock to make its presence felt, particularly crossing back over the white lines and cats eyes after overtaking dawdling cars. Going out to overtake wasn't a problem but coming back in was causing a bit of a gentle wobble. The faster I went, the worse the wobble until at [censored] it took real effort to damp down. Clicking the steering damper round to "2" calmed things down, as did slowing down a bit; I hadn't realised how fast I'd been going until then.

Turning off the A5 and onto the A47 at Hinckley, I noticed the generator light was on permanently and glowing bright red. It normally flickers into life only if the tickover drops well below the 1000 rpm mark. The bike was still running fine so I optimistically decided there must be a fault with the light rather than the charging system. Yes, that'll be it.

I arrived at Mallory with the red light still on and navigated my way to the RealClassic stand via a succession of gate marshals, wrong directions and rutted paths. There was a line of pristine bikes on display, and Paul G80's Guzzi California as well. He made me a coffee so I refrained from picking at his bike's scabs. For a while.

Random R80s on

And anyway, I had my own bike's problems. ChazzyB - proud new owner of a similar vintage R100S - was alarmed at the number of tools I had thought it necessary to carry with me on what was supposed to be a motorcycle noted for its reliability. I explained that I'd just brought the toolkit I normally carried on the Morini, except for the one thing I probably needed the most; the multimeter.

Jiggle, rev, jiggle, rev..

The first suspect were the alternator brushes, as previous owner Graham W had warned me that he'd had to "repair" one of the brush leads with a crimp connector. It was all intact, though, and revving the engine while jiggling the wires had no effect on the generator light, which stayed resolutely on.

All the wires to the diode board above the alternator were in place and secure, so the next stop was the rat's nest of wires in the headlight. It is, of course, a Germanically efficient and colour coded rat's nest and I couldn't see anything obviously loose or misplaced.

A small crowd had formed now, their interest growing when I removed the petrol tank. Various passers-by had already come up with the "I had one of them that did that. It'll be the [insert random electrical component name] that's gone."

My suspicions were now on the corned-beef tin sized regulator, big enough to house several elves and a small power station. Staring at it provided no insight until Evguru asked if it was a solid state regulator, as a smart tap would often free-off stuck relays in the older type? A couple of hefty clouts later, a prod of the starter button and we had a running engine and a generator light that went out as the revs rose.

Lovely.

---- Interlude ----

Time to walk around the Festival of 1000 Bikes. Most of the folk passing the RealClassic stand seemed to already be subscribers, and many of them were there to take part in the festival in one way or another rather than as general visitors / spectators. There seemed to be a fair sprinkling of club stands and autojumblists and the track was busy all day.

Cling, gust, cling, gust..

Visitor numbers were probably kept down by the unpredictable weather, and the main objective on Sunday was to keep the RC gazebo in place against the raging wind. To me it seemed a great opportunity to see old bikes in action on the track; certainly more relevant than a classic race populated by recreated replicas with more modern parts than a BMW Mini.

Were you there? What do you think?

---- Back to the main feature ----

Firing the bike up to ride over to the campsite showed that the battery was feeling the effects of half an hour of keeping the coils powered up to get me to Mallory followed by a dozen or so engine starts while I was troubleshooting. So with the tent up I decided to go for a bit of a spin to charge the battery up. Five miles of Leicestershire lanes later and all was going well until the red light popped on again. Curses. Several of them.

I turned round and headed back sharpish, convinced I could feel the bike starting to stumble and miss as the battery was drained of its last few amp-hours. The tank came off again and tapping, slapping and then clouting the regulator quite hard had no effect.

Scrape, hammer, scrape, hammer..

The combined wisdom of Paul G80, KarlB, ChazzyB and myself decided to blame the old favourite "dirty contacts" and armed with a tin of borrowed contact cleaner I set about de-scaling, de-furring and de-barnacling the regulator and it's connectors. After about half an hour I began to worry that I was scraping away insulation material from underneath the regulator; time to put it all back together.

The engine groaned into life once more, and the red light went out as it should. Either it was properly fixed and good enough to get me home, or it wasn't really fixed at all but there was nothing more that could be done.

Scrape, hammer, scrape, hammer..

Time to retire to the bar, drink beer, confuse Jerry and eat a Kurdistani kebab.

The following morning, refreshed by the half-hourly chiming of the church clock that continued RIGHT THROUGH THE NIGHT, I loaded up the bike. The starter strained the engine over compression and the bike fired up. The revs were kept up while the bike warmed (apologies if you were in a tent nearby and trying to snatch some more sleep before the bells went off again) and off we set on the short ride to the RC stand.

Parked up again, I noticed that although the light was going off above tickover, it was coming back on very dimly at about 4,000 rpm. I was so worried by this new development that I failed to realise that I'd parked over an oil leak left from the day before. When I did notice the oil under the bike, it just added to my unease. Previously the BMW had dropped a spot or two when parked up after a ride. There was now a good half a cup of black oil underneath it. What next?

Cling, gust, cling, gust..

After a morning spent holding down the Gazebo and worrying about the journey home, I decided to make a run for it while there were still enough people about to give me a shove if the battery had finally run out of juice.

No need; the bike churned into life and we were off. With half an eye on the generator light, half an eye on the oil pressure light and half an eye on the lookout for signs to Leicester and the M1, it's a miracle I didn't end up in a hedge. I did discover, however, that it's impossible to pick out a dimly glowing light when bright sunshine is reflecting off the instrument binnacle.

I stopped to fill up with fuel 50 miles into the ride home, expecting to see a huge puddle of oil forming under the bike as I walked back to it after paying the cashier. But no; just the usual slimy forecourt tarmac. Better still, the bike spun over like a good 'un on the starter. For the first time the effect was more spin drier than tumble direr when I hit the button.

Another 50 miles and I was home. What had I been worrying about? And now my BMW has got a name. Singing to myself on the A14, it all became obvious:

Told you once
I won't tell you again
It's a bad way

Roxanne, You don't have to put on the red light
Roxanne…

Postscript: When I bought the bike Graham had warned me about the battery being a bit tired and not holding a charge. With hindsight, could it have been the failing charging system all along?

Words and Picture: Martin Gelder

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