Red Smoke Revival: Bringing an Airhead Heirloom Back to Life

Discussion in 'Airheads' started by Mikepotter86, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    It had been over two years since my father died, and his 1981 R100 RT had been sitting idle in the garage for the better part of five years, when we finally had the conversation. To me, the bike had always represented Dad, whether on a long trip in his younger days, or shorter rides with my mother to a dinner date – some of his best times were on that bike. We all knew that we couldn’t sell it. It was a symbol of the one thing he did for himself; he always put us ahead of himself in every other part of his life. So, over the holidays this year when I finally broached the subject, the family all agreed that if I had the interest, the time, and the money, it was time to bring the bike back to life. I loaded up the RT in the back of my pickup and drove the 500+ miles from Ann Arbor back to Northern Virginia.
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    All loaded up and ready to leave Michigan


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    Dad and I with my first airhead just a few days before his death.


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    With damage from a low speed tip-over the summer before he died and possibly another undisclosed incident, oil dripping from somewhere, a leaky master cylinder, and who knows what else, it is now a mere shadow of the stalwart touring machine I used to sneak out to the garage to sit on as a kid. Even beneath the wear and tear and a decade of neglect, it is still this bike that I will forever associate with the sport of motorcycling.
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    <o:p>Left side photo showing damage on the fairing lower.</o:p>
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    Diverting my attention from a new GS or any other two-wheeled temptation, I&#8217;ve committed myself to bringing Dad&#8217;s RT back to life this year and to riding it the way it deserves to be ridden. However, without the time, money, garage space, or mechanical competencies required for a full restoration, this project will be more of a refurbishment; a revival. My ultimate goal is to put the bike back in service, maybe ride to some rallies; but, most importantly, I hope to take her home for the 4<SUP>th</SUP> of July and take Mom &#8220;up north&#8221; to meet up with the rest of the family for our annual independence day lake trip.
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    Mom is a great pillion, she rode with Dad often. She rides with me whenever she visits.

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    The revival effort really got started at the first BMWBMW tech day of the year, kindly hosted by Morton&#8217;s BMW. With the help of my recently-converted BMW enthusiast friend/neighbor/coworker, I loaded the RT into the back of my truck and headed down 95 with high hopes that she&#8217;d be a runner. Although I own another airhead, my mechanical expertise is limited, so I was grateful to begin the project in the company of so many BMW motorcycle experts. Although I was already aware of many mechanical and cosmetic repairs that would be needed, the first step of the project was to see if the bike would start, change the fluids, document the leaks, and put together a parts list, which started growing before the bike made it to the lift. As we wheeled the bike off the truck and inside the shop, Morton&#8217;s tech expert and airhead, Stuart, suggested the first major repair for this list, noting the extremely stiff steering was likely due to worn out steering head bearings and dried up grease. <o:p></o:p>
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    I had plenty of help unloading, and many watchful eyes thanks to the BMW Biker Club of Metropolitan Washington (BMWBMW)

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    Wes, the editor of the club newsletter, and friend, checks out the new project after helping roll her in.

    With doubts about the resiliency of a 3+ year old battery that Dad almost certainly bought at a tractor store, we dropped the recently charged unit into the bike first thing to find that it was dead. The charge it showed and held for 24 hours earlier in the week was gone. Fortunately, Morton&#8217;s parts counter was open for tech day with the appropriate Westco battery in stock, which I purchased and quickly installed. I knew that we were getting somewhere when the analog clock at the base of windshield began ticking.
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    Out with the old crusty tractor battery
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    In with the new Westco gel battery.


    As I turned the key, the instruments lit up just as I remembered them. I turned the petcocks to fill the carbs for the first time in years, we sat and waited for a leak. Soon, gasoline started pouring out of the right side overflow. Before I could react, Stuart jumped in, turning off the fuel valve and dumping the float bowl. I flicked the floats back and forth; they actuated easily. Upon replacing the bowl, I opened the petcock and, again, we waited. Not a drop.
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    Stuart demonstrates how a stuck float can cause a gasoline overflow.


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    Next was the moment we&#8217;d all been waiting for. I checked the oil level and verified that the oil looked clean enough to attempt a start. All systems go: fuel on, 12v showing on the voltmeter, two clicks on the choke, clutch in&#8230; and she roared to life as though we had just stopped for lunch on an afternoon ride.
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    Instruments with the bike at idle. Yes, that is just 27k on the clock.

    I instantly found myself reminiscing about my father&#8217;s annual espousal on the many virtues of German engineering, which immediately followed the bike&#8217;s first start after a long Michigan winter. I fought to control my excitement as smoke from the bike filled the Morton&#8217;s shopreminding myself that plenty of opportunities for disaster still loomed. After about one minute of warming up and another minute of Stuart tinkering with the carbs, the bike was running as cleanly and smoothly as I could remember it ever running.
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    Video of the bike running after first tech day:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=bkQsdLY6g74

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    I let the bike warm up and then set about changing the oil, a procedure I was familiar with from my R 75/5. With more advice from Stuart and some other club members, I added to my to-do list of the mechanical repairs needed to put the bike back in service. In addition to minor items, like a valve adjustment, greasing the splines, etc., which I could chalk up to routine maintenance, a few major repairs went on the lengthening to-do list. The steering head bearing replacement, swapping out the corroded front master cylinder and brake lines, and leaky push rod seals all stood between the shop floor and the open road.

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    I get schooled on master cylinders
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    I count myself as lucky for such a short to-do list &#8211; and hopefully it will stay that way. For me, the tasks are still quite daunting. In my 3 years of owning an airhead, I have encountered none of these issues, making each a little more nerve-racking. I know I have a long road ahead of me before the bike is rally-ready this summer, but I am already drafting up parts lists, estimating my costs, and planning my next several efforts to bring my airhead heirloom back to life.

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    Loading up and heading home from a sucessful tech day. Being the last one there means a lot less help loading.




    Note: This is the first part of what I hope will become a 3-6 part series. The next installment will cover my first major repair efforts, most likely the replacement of the master cylinder and brake lines. Wish me luck.

    Additional photos can be found at the link below.
    http://s380.beta.photobucket.com/user/Mikepotter86/library/Motorcycle%20Photos/Red%20Smoke%20Revival




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    #1
  2. sdpc2

    sdpc2 Just another Rally Rat

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    I'm sure that you will find as much assistance as you could possibly need here and from other airheads from your area (as long as you aren't asking for $$$ :lol3). We are suckers for these kinds of stories...

    all the best to you, and keep us informed on your quest.

    Scott C
    #2
  3. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    Thanks, Scott. I will try to keep this as updated as possible. The forum has already been a great help in this effort!
    #3
  4. Plaka

    Plaka Brevis illi vita est

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    What a nice looking bike! Some nice additions too, like the ride off stand, brown sidestand and somebodies fork brace.

    I would put a pushrod seal drift on your short list. After you do your valve adjustment/ head bolt torque, use the drift to tighten your push rod seals. if they aren't hardened too badly, that may solve the leaking and spare you buying a bunch of gaskets to replace them.

    The haynes manual has a drawing to make a tool. I would buy one. They are not expensive and come nicely hardened.

    I would also pull the exhaust nuts, clean them and refresh the anti-seize. In an oft neglected item and if the nuts freeze up you will be very unhappy.

    Best of luck with it---a terrific project with memories to go along.
    #4
  5. pbarmy

    pbarmy Long timer

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    Great post,cant wait for more!:clap
    #5
  6. Cogswell

    Cogswell Spudly Adventurer

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    Enjoyed the story and history behind the bike. Looks like a good solid foundation for a refresh and rally machine. I'm in for the ongoing project. :freaky


    Mike
    #6
  7. Paul_Rochdale

    Paul_Rochdale Been here awhile

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    "I would also pull the exhaust nuts",

    Whoa there, steady on. Unless you NEED to remove your exhaust, leave these well alone. You've got months and years ahead of you to concern yourself with exhaust nuts. Read up about them first (there's lots on here) as any haste WILL result in a lot of hassle and expense. It's not rocket science but when the time comes when you have to undo them, it's essential go about it properly.

    Sorry for butting in - nice looking bike BTW.
    #7
  8. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the support! At this point I am optimistic about the pushrod seal leak. I have run the bike 3 times since starting it originally, and each time the leak seems to have diminished.

    I feel very fortunate that the bike has so many great accessories. The ride off stand is great, now that the bike is running, but it sure was a PITA when the bike wasn't running.

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    The bike came with all the goodies. I will do an installment on accessories, some which require repair and installation, after I finish the brakes and steering.
    #8
  9. More_Miles

    More_Miles über-n00b

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    Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one! Hey, Paul said butt! I had to! :lol3 Low hanging fruit and all that. Yes, secretly I'm still 12 and have never grown up.

    I'd split the difference myself. If it were my bike, I'd try to back them off. If they come easily then slap some anti-sieze on them and you are golden. If they don't want to budge, or start but then then get stiff, I wouldn't bother. Just note that at some point if/when you want to remove the exhaust nuts, you'll have to do some work. I do this to mine every spring for my season prep. Cheap insurance at twice the price.

    On the topic of weeping seals, unless you are planning a whole engine project, I'd leave them. Of course, that presupposes that they are weeping, not actively dripping, piddling or gushing oil! Just keep an eye on the oil level. It will make a mess, but at least you won't have to worry about rust! :deal

    By the way, I'm not an expert, nor do I play one on TV...:lol3
    #9
  10. 100RT

    100RT Long timer

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    I advise soaking the exhaust nuts around the front and rear with some type of penetrating oil and do it for several days before I would attempt to unscrew them. If after that they are hard to turn cut them off.

    I would not tap on the push rod cover ring. It is welded on and you will only drive the cover out of the cylinder. The 70's bikes are different.

    Take your time and do things right. Obviously you treasure your fathers bike, that is what we all would want from from a son!

    That is a good bike and will provide many miles and hours of enjoyment.

    I have an 81 R100RT also!
    #10
  11. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    It will be a long time before I even think of removing the exhaust!
    #11
  12. jackd

    jackd Long timer

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    This is the man to listen to.
    #12
  13. ErikDK

    ErikDK Been here awhile

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    Why don't you want us to be able to read the text?

    White on light gray background is called camouflage.
    #13
  14. Paul_Rochdale

    Paul_Rochdale Been here awhile

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    But why? Out of curiousity? They will be almost certainly be seized so he's got months or years to read up about it and think of how he's going to get around it. It's ESSENTIAL he get's the correct spanner from somewhere like Motorworks. Even if it's seized and the 'nuts' have to be chiselled off, the spanner will be useful later. Of my two Boxers, I've cut the nuts of one of them. But only because I had to remove the exhaust.

    What is essential is that once removed and cleaned up, the alloy cylinder head threads are greased with Copaslip and the nuts undone, cleaned up, re-greased and replaced once a year. He'll never have problems in the future.

    I saw the term 'ride-off stand' . In my life I've never sat astride a bike on it's CENTRE-STAND and ridden off. I saw it done during my Police Motorcycle School training and it resulted in an almighty bollocking. Take the bike off it's centre stand and onto it's side stand, sit astride it and bring it to it's upright position then retract the side stand. Standards please!!
    #14
  15. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    My background is dark gray, and this seemed easier than the light gray font that was standard.

    Is anyone else having problems? I can change it to a different color scheme.
    #15
  16. More_Miles

    More_Miles über-n00b

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    Here's my thinking. Either the exhaust nuts are seized or they aren't. If they are, as long as you are gentle (i.e. not ham fisted, get a bigger cheater bar, etc) then no harm, no foul. And you KNOW they are seized and can plan on dealing with it accordingly in due time. If they aren't seized, you can get them lubed up and put back right as rain, and you KNOW they aren't seized. Then there is the third alternative, they aren't seized today, but in a couple years when he gets around to trying to remove them, they HAVE seized. An ounce of prevention and all that.

    Additionally, perhaps I'm suffering from A.S.S.U.M.E (makes an ASS out of U and ME) but I wouldn't think of trying to loosen these finned nuts without the proper wrench. It was the first, and so far only special tool I bought for my airhead. I don't count the alternator removal tool since I made that one.
    #16
  17. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    Am I misundertanding the function of the Reynolds Ride-Off Stand? Ever try to get a bike off one of these stands on a incline like the one in my garage?

    http://w6rec.com/duane/bmw/reynolds/reynolds9.jpg
    #17
  18. Plaka

    Plaka Brevis illi vita est

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    When not running the bike I block the ride-off stand with my toe and move the bike forward with with the grab handle.

    I don't care for the ride-off. I puts both wheels on the ground which is less stable than having the rear wheel up. Also makes it impossible to turn the rear wheel. I can get a piece of 3/4 plywood under the ride-off stand and still lift the bike, but no more. That lets me turn the rear wheel kinda. Still working on solutions.

    I refitted a stock stand to my '83 RS and found out why the ride-off was there. BMW screwed up the geometry and putting the bike on the stand is VERY difficult. With saddle tanks it's a flat out No Way Jose. I got it up once, near ruptured something and then put the ride-off stand back on.
    #18
  19. 100RT

    100RT Long timer

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    I have no experience with the stock 81 center stand. Mine came with the ride off and I really like it. I do slide a piece of 2x4 under each leg when I want to rotate for cleaning or change tires.

    The ride off is really nice when I am fully packed for a camping rally and I can climb on with out busting my balls trying to lift it to center.
    Turned 64 today, prolly has a lot to do with that!
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    #19
  20. Mikepotter86

    Mikepotter86 Been here awhile

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    That's a beauty! Something to aspire to.
    #20