The original BMW R80 G/S set the pattern for adventure bikes. Compared to the Japanese dual sports on the market then, the G/S was heavy-duty and high-powered. It was still an offroader, though, with the Paris-Dakar wins to back up its rugged aesthetic.
When the G/S debuted in 1980, plenty of riders saw its potential as a street machine as well. Still, designers realized they could change a few things here, a few things there, and optimize it for paved road usage while keeping the bike’s desirable features. Thus, in 1983, we got … the BMW R80ST. It never had the same following as the G/S, but the ST model did set down a solid pattern for designers to follow in the decades since.
Start with the basics
The R80ST, and the G/S before it, owed much of their success to solid mechanical systems BMW had refined through the 1970s. With the R80 series in the early 1980s, BMW updated its airheads to electronic ignition (no messing around with mechanical points). Nikasil-lined cylinders meant the engine could go longer between rebuilds. The R80 engine had modest output (around 50 horsepower and a little over 40 pound-feet of torque), but with two-valve heads, you couldn’t exactly expect supersport performance. The four-cylinder engines from the Japanese 750 class made far more power, but BMW’s flat twin engine had a great reputation for reliability, and its power curve worked for bad roads and dirt. The R80 series were designed for The Real World.
When introduced, some Beemerphiles hoped the ST would have a bit more jam than the G/S, as it was intended for street use, but BMW didn’t hot-rod the engine. There were minor differences, but they’re basically the same. Same Monolever shaft drive arrangement, same five-speed gearbox, same dry clutch.
The changes to the chassis were more obvious. The biggest difference was the front wheel; BMW replaced the G/S’s 21-inch wheel with a 19-incher. This made the ST a much better-handling machine on the street, while still retaining ability to handle some rough terrain. It also helped BMW lower the seat height to 33.3 inches.
The ST also had a different rear subframe. The G/S suspension was more offroad-oriented; the ST had softer forks and shock, offering more comfort but less travel. Both bikes borrowed design ideas from the R65 street bike, but the ST borrowed a lot more. Although there was only a single front brake disc, with single-piston caliper, and a drum brake in rear, the contemporary reports thought the stoppers were pretty decent.
Add it all up, and you had a very good all-round machine, weighing under 450 pounds when fueled up. Good handling, sensible engine, just what the people want, right?
Not so much. BMW’s airhead platform was showing its age, with more vibration and less power than 750-class Japanese bikes. BMW’s bikes have never been cheap, either, and the ST didn’t have the sleek styling of the GPZ/VFR/etc. lineups. The R80ST only lasted from 1983 to 1985; BMW dumped it from the lineup then, with just under 6,000 bikes built. That’s one of the lowest production runs of any BMW machine, ever.
Still, the idea itself was solid. By the late 1980s, the other OEMs started building ADV/street hybrids, and never stopped. The R80ST might have been a sales failure, but the Ducati Multistrada, the Triumph Street Scrambler, the BMW S1000XR and many other similar machines have copied this pattern.
What about this bike?
This is my personal BMW that I have owned for almost 9 years. Although Moto Borgotaro leans towards the Italian beauties, we also love BMW, in fact we are mildly obsessed with them. The R80ST is perhaps the best handling street motorcycle BMW ever produced, overshadowed by the R80G/S, the ST gives you a lightweight touring machine that can destroy most bikes on the tight twists and turns in the Alps, or canyons of highway 1.
Now resting in Italy for future visits down and around the Amalfi Coast, this will be a hard one for me to sell, it has the special sauce inside her, she is capable of 110mph+ all day long with luggage and passenger…
Doing 110 mph on an R80ST with passenger and luggage? Yikes! The bike does have a long list of upgrades, though, including PIAA accessory lamps, factory heated grips and suspension, 450-watt Enduralast charging system, Wilbers shock and fork springs, gel battery, and San Jose upper triple tree. The paint is original, though, and the leather seat has been stitched to look like a factory job, the machine comes with a complete toolkit—it’s not a cobbled-together bitsa bike.
There’s no price tag listed on the site, but no doubt this vintage Beemer will command a pretty penny. And, if you’re in North America, you’ve got to factor in the cost of a plane ticket to Milan, to pick up the machine (assuming you’ll even be allowed to fly there). But, what an opportunity for a fly-and-ride! Jet across the Atlantic, then scoot around Italy’s excellent roads, and all over Europe if you wish. Or around the world. If only a freelance motojourno’s budget could swing for it, I’d be tempted myself …