Aug 6, 2009

My Top Ten Bike List #7: BMW R 80GS Paris-Dakar Special

If any vehicle ever "proved" that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," I think the 1980 BMW R 80GS Dakar is the evidence. To me, everything about this motorcycle screams "ride me somewhere nobody else can go!" I'm not exaggerating when I say that this bike is my standard for motorcycle style and beauty. Yeah, I said it, "beauty." I love the wayt this bike looks. If I could ever afford one, I might swear off owning any other motorcycle ever again. To my eye, no street-legal poroduction bike even comes close to being cooler than the R80 G/S Paris-Dakar Special.

The incredibly basic air-cooled, twin-cylinder horizontally opposed Boxer four-stroke is the epitome of "basic." The motor is a pushrod-lifted, 2-valves-per-cylinder, moderate-compression (9.3:1), fuel-insentive, kick and electric-start 55hp picture of simplicity. BMW bent over backwards to make this motorcycle field-servicable and the field they intended it for can be any place you find yourself stranded.

This 355 pound (160kg) bike is suspended by a pair of Maico forks with 10.6" (270mm) of travel and canted Bielstein shocks providing 6.7" (170mm) of rear wheel movement. The frame provided nearly 10" of ground clearance, which meant a seat height of almost 34" ( a problem for shrimps like me). The small front disk and rear drum brakes are pretty pedestrian by today's super-disk standards, but they worked; wet and dry.

One of my personal heroes, Gaston Rahier, won Paris-Dakar in '84 and '85 on a BMW-prepared version of this bike and the company sold an autograph model called the "Paris-Dakar Special" for several years afterwards. The 80G/S is my favorite of the lot. Part of my bias is that the 80G/S is the only "enduro" BMW ever made that is close enough to the ground to allow me to swing a stubby leg over the seat and reach the ground afterwards.

You could say that it's unrealistic for me to call this a favorite, since I've ownly ridden the bike once in my life and that was a ride that was about as far from a serious dual-purpose test as anyone can imagine. Hell, it didn't even have a full 8.8 gallon fuel tank, so I didn't have the whole "experience" of trying to hoist the real weight of this bike even on my city ride.

I can't argue with or help you there. I have loved the way this bike looks and the way it works since the day I saw a California neighbor pull into his driveway with a pair of used Paris-Dakar Specials strapped to the back of his pickup. With more than a little envy, I will never forget his having found the two 80's for sale in the California desert for exactly the same price ($1600) that I had paid for my crappy used Kawasaki KLR600 that same week. After a year of farkeling my KLR, it wasn't even a fraction as tough, useful, or cool looking as his regularly desert-abused BMWs.

Many of the specs for the Paris-Dakar Special are here:

Specs are nice, but this bike simply felt competent from the moment I rode it out of my neighbor's driveway and headed down PCH toward Laguna. If I hadn't been married with children, I might have kept going to Mexico and never returned. My neighbor could have consoled himself over the loss by confiscating my KLR. Sucker.

Here's the rest of my 10 Favorites list:

  1. 1988 Honda NT650 Hawk
  2. All versions of the Montesa Cota trials bike
  3. All models of the Honda Transalp XL600V
  4. Yamaha's SRX Series (250, 400, & 600cc)
  5. 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM
  6. 1977 Yamaha IT175D

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