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Bike Review - Posted 28th July 2014
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1978 BMW R80/7

Derek Reynolds recalls his time (and 210,000 miles) with a not-so baby Boxer. Classic courier, terrific tourer, slightly soulless?

Ever since my early twenties I had wondered what a BMW flat twin would be like. The Earles-forked models looked aged, but that was largely down to my own ignorance. One endearing image of one was a chap coming the other way along a fast Buckinghamshire B-road in the drizzling rain. He swept by in a purr of exhaust, tucked in and superbly smooth. Maybe one day.

1978 BMW R80/7

Later I'd read the reports of how the smaller Boxers were very nice but lacked the oomph. Then after a succession of Honda CX500s, a pal said he was getting rid of his R80. Would I like it? Cosmetically scruffy, but it sounded OK. It was an R80/7, almost black, but on close inspection a very dark metallic brown. I tidied it up, fitted a screen and some secondhand panniers that were not the fat bulbous sort, and hacked it back onto the despatch circuit. It had done 90,000 miles when I bought it and it cost me 1000.

1978 BMW R80/7

6000 miles later on the M40 it dropped a valve. That was when I learned 'they are inclined to do that, sir.' Oh, really? Well, it wasn't the disaster that it could have been: a head clean up and new seats, rings and valves and we were off again. After that, the R80 was the most reliable of despatch bikes I have ridden, but not the most pleasurable. In truth, in terms of time off-the-road for repairs it was the best of the lot. It went well enough, handled well enough, stopped just about well enough, and when it got knocked over, suffered the least amount of damage (strange how some people seemed to like to park their cars and vans on motorbikes). Of all the bikes I rode on the DR circuit this was the only one on which I never got a 'tug'. Was it because plod rode them?

Some spares were expensive, but I found that the flat-topped Bing carbs could be fitted with diaphragms from a Stromberg - the size IIRC was 125, and available from most motorist discount stores for less than a couple of quid as opposed to 9.30 from BMW. Same rubber, same thickness, just the same. The locking petrol cap performed a trick of seizing which was solved through drilling through from above and using a dowel to unlock the offender, and the little drain pipe that goes through the tank from the sunken surround needs to be carefully rodded to clear detritus. Failure to do this will lead to rainwater in the fuel.

1978 BMW R80/7
Vincent Stuff on Now...

After experiencing clutch slip, I bought a Borg & Beck replacement. Changing the clutch was possible without removing the engine from the frame. You took the gearbox out instead. To do that required the footrest assembly to be removed and the battery, but not a problem otherwise. Sadly, the B&B let me down just 6000 miles later with a complete loss of drive. I thought it had jumped out of gear at first, though that was unlikely, and found all gears selectable - but no drive. Upon dismantling I found all the rivets holding the friction material to the plates had sheared. Upon mentioning this to a colleague who had worked in heavy haulage, he asked me if it was a Borg & Beck plate. Yes says I. 'They do that on the lorries too.' Forget the replacement, but it wasn't B&B. Got a refund out of that too!

Replacing the contact points with a Piranha unit saved much hassle. That was one of the better improvements to the bike, along with some nice secondhand BMW leg shields and under-cylinder flaps to keep the worst of the rain off my size tens. That worked - but only after I fashioned a pair of car mudflaps and clipped them to the legshields. They had an unfortunate ability to channel rainwater straight onto the shin above the cylinders.

1978 BMW R80/7

On tyres the R80 seemed to feel best on Continentals for some reason. Tried Michelin, Pirelli, and Metzeler, but the Contis felt best. Fuel consumption (I am Mr Miser) wasn't brilliant, I could get around 53mpg as a rule, but put in some fast motorway work and it would drop to the very low 40s. Strange that the Guzzi V50 Mk3 which followed the Boxer proved to be more economical at higher speeds. Combustion chamber design maybe, and the Guzzi was much lighter.

After quitting despatching for the umpteenth time, I stripped the BMW's engine from the frame and gave the frame a paint and the engine and gearbox a polish, set it all back together and toured France. It never missed a beat. Then after it sat in the lean-to for six months mostly unused, I placed an ad to sell it. By then the R80 had 211,000 on the clock, and one wag thought it only good for scrapping and some spares. Thank you sir, I said (sort of). Then along came an ex- AA recovery man who saw its potential and he paid me 1000.

1978 BMW R80/7

A year later, I was reminiscing and contacted him to see if he would sell the Boxer back to me. He told me he had just sold it - and was regretting it himself. In the time he had owned the Boxer and used it regularly, he never had to take the tools to it at all.

So the R80/7 was a nice bike, but 'nice' doesn't always satisfy the soul. For that, I needed a V-twin. But that's another story!


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