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1986 BMW R80RT
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In the USA, distances can be great. Roger Slater collected his latest acquisition and rode it home. It rained...

Last November I bought a 1986 BMW R80RT, sight unseen except for photos from a gentleman in Kentucky. The deal was that I would fly down there the first week in May when the weather will be most pleasant to ride it back to Spokane.

You have all most likely all seen the recent news of the record-setting bad weather that stretched all the way from south Texas up to the Dakotas and as far east as New England. The weather comprised of violent thunderstorms and seemingly endless torrential rain, particularly down the country's heartland commonly known as Tornado Alley. One town in Kansas was completely wiped off the map by a huge tornado at the same time that I reached Hannibal, Missouri not so very far to the east.

So much for my fine weather expectations.

I left Spokane for Columbus, Ohio on Sunday the 29th April. Rented a car for the most pleasant drive south to the Blue Grass, horse breading area of Kentucky. The nearest I could dump the car was 60 miles west of my destination of Morehead was Lexington's Blue Grass airport, where I was most kindly met by the bike's seller, Fred White.

1986 BMW R80RT 1986 BMW R80RT

The Monday afternoon of arrival in Morehead was spent socialising with Fred and his charming family as we got into loading the BMW with my GPS and radar detector, plus doing service checks including changing the engine oil.

Tuesday morning we finished off the loading, and I was on the road heading west by 11am to Lexington and Louisville which was involved with the huge horse racing events that week which were attended by Queen Elizabeth. The temperature was an oppressive 92 with humidity to match.

The first night I got through Lexington and Louisville to the charming little town of Paoli, Indiana on Rt 150, where I called it a day at a little mom and pop motel. It was so hot that all I wanted to do was soak in a cold bath.

The following day started out fine, but I ran into rain about fifty miles east of St Louis. I chose to run north on the scenic west bank of the Mississippi to Hannibal, MO, of Mark Twain fame. It rained all the way, but in a way that was more pleasant than the heat of the previous day. However the rain continued without a break each day through SW Illinois, Kansas City, and Iowa until Saturday in South Dakota, when the forecast was for dangerous weather all the way from Texas to my little overnight town of Platte on North Dakota Rt 44.

Concerned about the weather warnings on this most charming, but remote, scenic route, I chose to change to survival mode, and made a bolt 50 miles north from Platte to I-90.

BMW R80 stuff on

Upon reaching the highway, the roads were dry with a very powerful east wind that had me sailing west in grand style. After about an hour it started to get very black ahead. It started to rain, then very heavy with thunder and lightning. I was having some difficulty seeing, so slowed and determined to get off at the very next exit. Tacking along in this mess of thunder and lightning, miles from anywhere, totally exposed, the motor suddenly died. I coasted onto the shoulder and decided to check the fuses. I was stood on the left side of the bike when a gust and a torrent of water from a passing 40 tonner lifted the bike off the sidestand and proceeded to toss it over to the right. I grabbed the left bar and seat, just managed to stop it going over. I then sat on the bike in order to keep it upright.

After about 15 minutes the rain was easing off a bit. I touched the starter and got the right cylinder to fire, then the left picked up so I hightailed it out of there, hopefully to the very first exit.

The rain had other ideas. The skies opened so that it was like riding under a waterfall. I could not see, so was forced down to second gear and fifteen mph. Squinting around the right of the lower screen edge, I managed to follow the white line just a few feet in front and on the right of me. I was desperate for an off ramp, any off ramp. I found myself talking to the bike; 'keep going, don't stop now...'

A set of headlights right behind me was a bit disturbing. After a few minutes of this nightmare the white line did veer off down an off ramp, at which point the engine quit again but I rolled to a stop in a line of similarly stranded traffic.

Sitting on the bike, reviewing my most limited options, I felt a hand on my left shoulder. No, it was not the hand of the Great Almighty as I at first believed, it belonged to a lady who was completely soaked through and who was shouting for me to come sit it out in her pick-up. She was the one following me as she could not see a thing except my tail lamp. She had a box trailer on the back, so she asked if we could lift the bike in, which would be difficult with no ramp.

As the rain started to ease off to a simple downpour, she jumped out again and went to talk to the driver of another Chevy truck-trailer in front of us. Out got a couple of cowboys, complete with big black hats that are permanently attached to their heads in some strange fashion. Their trailer had a drop-down ramp and they would be pleased to load the bike in and to take me the 60 miles to Rapid City.

The most kind lady smiled and took off. I failed to even get her name.

Unfortunately, all that rain shrank Roger's photos.

Blake Batcheider and his partner dropped me off at their place of business in Rapid City and placed the BM in their workshop with some WD40 to spray over the ignition system. The bike started with a huge cloud of steam from the exhausts, so I made my way to the nearest motel.

The following day the weather was definitely improving, but still had lingering light showers and a strong wind, so I decided to stay a second night. I decided that I could spend the Sunday morning getting into the waterlogged electrics on the bike, which did look as if it had been dredged out of a river..

I found that the HT coil had a hairline crack in the insulation, which of course was the cause of the water getting in. Walked to a nearby Wal-Mart and found a tube of silicon sealer goop, which I applied all over the coil and plug leads. The bike now ran perfectly, and I enjoyed an afternoon ride around the neighbourhood.

Monday morning was a fine day which soon found me sat outside the Sturgis BMW dealer to have them fit a new coil, plug leads and plugs. They had no coil in stock, so I motored on, hoping that the weather forecast of clear skies and 80 degrees would be correct. I had a splendid 390 mile haul to Big Timber, Montana, where I stopped overnight at the excellent Grand Hotel, which is a splendidly modernised edifice built in the 1800s; what a grand find.

The weather on Tuesday was again very fine, so I decided to cover a leisurely 270 miles to Missoula with a few scenic loops thrown in.

It was still only 2pm as I rolled into Missoula, so I decided to make the final 200 miles through the mountains to home. I set the BM on 5000 revs and let it fly. And we flew over the passes of the Rockies, through the Silver Valley of Idaho, arriving home at 5.30 in the evening.

I thought everything in America was big....

The total mileage for the trip was almost exactly as the GPS predicted at 2148 miles, plus another 60 in the trailer. Fuel consumption, which I habitually check at every tank fill, varied from a high of 51.3 to a low of 36mpg. The latter I am confident was a case of the pump in question on a reservation being set to deliver 'short' gallons. I experienced the same thing some years ago in an identical situation.

Wind has a dramatic effect on fuel, and I suspect that the big barn-door fairing with the after-market oversize screen is the culprit. The Mobile 1 synthetic we filled before setting out did not drop any measurable amount. The new rear Dunlop lost about a third of its central tread, and is now somewhat brick shaped. I will replace it next time with an Avon or a Bridgestone BT 45. These are built with harder rubber compound in the centre of the tread to somewhat alleviate the wear pattern problem.

The failed coil is the early grey coloured item that was replaced for a new improved version by BMW in the late Eighties, as they all failed sooner or later due to cracking of the porcelain body.

The other issue I have to attend to is the steering head bearings. These have been over-tightened at some stage which has produced an indent in the dead centre position. This causes a slow roll in the steering at low speeds.

I intend to experiment with the screen size, as it is too high for me and may be the cause of much buffeting as one comes up behind the big trucks.

You can't beat a photo of an old rusty tractor on a hill.

The low US gearing of 5 to 1 overall is not a problem on the byways and hills, but it is a bit low for my personal taste on the freeways, particularly out west with the wide-open traffic-free nature.

Other than these minor points of attention, I found the bike to be most delightful. It is a pleasantly smooth bike compared to the R100, it is so sweet at a steady 5000 revs or 75mph. Incidentally, the GPS showed the speedo reads 3mph fast at all speeds, so the slightly higher 4.7 to 1 rear drive ratio I am preparing will rectify that situation with no requirement for speedo drive gear changing.

Despite the terrible weather it was a most enjoyable trip. The intended tourist roads and attractions I had to abort due to the weather will still be there to explore on another trip.

As is so often the case with these type of journeys, it is the wonderful people that one meets on the road who make it special. Wherever I was, I found a smile and the most generous, helpful folks one could ever hope to meet. I often wonder if this is more apparent when riding a motorbike compared to driving a car? I believe it is, but the natural friendliness of rural Americans will always show through.


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