Monotrack -- AutoWeek February 22, 1982
By Don Fuller
In a motorcycle market overrun by hordes of four-cylinder Japanese bikes swarming ashore on Pacific beaches, there are alternatives. One of them is BMW.
To many riders, BMWs are probably something of a mystery; it's likely not many have ridden one. BMWs are not motorcycles for Everyman. To own one--to want to own one--you must be someone apart from the crowd and in a particular, special way. Because a BMW is a particular, special motorcycle, with characteristics perhaps not understood or appreciated by Everyman.
An illustration: The R 65 LS. The BMW number stands for the displacement in tens of ccs; this is a 650. The basic BMW description has not changed for decades. Engines are opposed, air-cooled twins, valves operated by pushrods, and a shaft-drive. The engine design dates from the 20s as a concept.
In both appearance and sound it's unusual for a motorcycle these days, seemingly intended to be hung on the side of a zeppelin swinging its giant wooden prop--pokka, pokka, pokka, pokka. Mounted transversely, the engine causes the bike to swing left and right from torque reactions with throttle blips. Or get on and off the gas in gear and the rear end rises and falls; torque reaction from the shaft drive. Finally, it's not in any sense of the term quick.
With all the pokka, pokka from a 1920s zeppelin engine, left and right, up and down, and leisurely acceleration, what makes this motorcycle so particular, so special, is its surprising degree fo refinement, and in a way most riders weaned on multiple cylinders will not expect. Not refinement of awesome power or velvety smoothness. Fast? The R 65 LS must be the slowest 650 in the western hemisphere, runs about like a Japanese 450. Smooth? Not with pokka, pokka and a vibration period from 4,000-5,000 RPM. This refinement is in the way it works, handles, rides. It does what you decide, when you decide.
The secret is light weight, balance, a low center of gravity and detail development. It weighs a mere 408 pounds, at least 50 less than what is considered good for the displacement class. It feels even lighter. There are no tricks in the suspension--no air forks, no adjustable shocks--it just works. If your normal haunt is a bunch of slow corners connected by long straights, you may not like the BMWs lack of power. But if it's one long series of interconnected sweepers, back and forth in a two-wheel glide for mile after kilometer, it's BMW country.
The R 65 LS is the sport version of the regular R 65, with what our poll says is maybe the most beautiful styling on two wheels. It borders on the bizarre but in a well proportioned way, a combination of forms, pieces, even a paint scheme that really does make it look all one piece. Setting off the marvelous orange--orange--paint are white wheels which seem just right and are genuine trick stuff. The rim section is cast of hard alloy, then placed in another mold where the softer alloy spoke and center section is cast onto it. It's a one-piece casting with two different metal hardnesses, offering rigidity at the rim and elasticity in the center.
Up front is a small and unusual fairing that is claimed to reduce front-end lift by one-third. And the tail has wonderfully molded grab handles that frame the BMW propeller emblem perfectly. All in all, it looks marvelous.
Throughout, this is a quality piece of machinery. There is a Bosch halogen headlight, the double front discs are cross drilled, it rides on premium Continental tires, expensive bits abound and that orange paint is as thick as frosting on a cake.
This is not cheap cake. The suggested retail of $3,995 is roughly $1,000 or more over that of most Japanese 650s. That's a lot of bucks.
The BMW rider will not care. This is an alternative to the others, all right, but there is no alternative to the BMW.
I have a friend who has ridden a lot of motorcycles and likes BMWs--he is a particular, special rider. So I asked: Why this motorcycle? To him, he said, a bad motorcycle is worthless; a good motorcycle is worth whatever it costs. As simple as that. By that standard, the R 65 LS is a bargain. It's a very good--particular and special--motorcycle.