Advice on buying a Pre 70's Airhead please.

Discussion in 'Airheads' started by Wardog327, Mar 6, 2018.

  1. Wardog327

    Wardog327 n00b

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    I've been looking to buy a vintage BMW R50, R60 for putting around the back road here in SE Ohio and have read, been told these bikes can be a headache with maintenance issues. I'm not afraid of doing your typical maintenance, adjusting valves etc. but wouldn't want to be consumed by it so looking for advice on what to watch/listen for when checking out one of these old Airheads. I've read up on the slingers etc. and wouldn't want to get to deep into the engine as I have plenty of projects now. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Guess I should say I've been riding and messing around with bikes for 45 yrs.

    Thanks
    #1
  2. groop

    groop So much to ponder

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    Why don't you seek out a bike that has had all of the major services recently completed? If this isn't going to be a high mileage pursuit, it will be some time before things like slingers come up again
    #2
  3. Wardog327

    Wardog327 n00b

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    Sometimes that's cost prohibitive with people asking 19K + and most times they don't have the records to back up claims.
    #3
  4. thetubespoke

    thetubespoke Been here awhile

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    I am curious to learn more about the /2s. They seem promising but I've spent little time around them. Almost everyone says the /5+ is superior. But, I am sure not in all ways.

    The frames are exceptionally strong, along with the earles front end. I have heard the post '60 R60/2s can have heads that warp badly from a different aluminium alloy. R50s are probably fine every year but will be very slow.

    I think pre '60 is slightly more desirable, I hear the best is the R69 (not the R69S). I think the biggest difference is that the /2s were made with primarily skilled labor. I think in the end this means more parts that are selected for the best match. So maintenance and build will be somewhat different if that is the case. I suspect each /2 is slightly different whereas the /5 on up will be more similar, parts will interchange better. Could be wrong and would be happy to be corrected if that's the case.

    The /2s do seem to have very little ground clearance. I mean, probably more than a sport bike but I think a good 2" less than the /5. That for me would likely get me into trouble with how I'd want to ride it (on trails and such).

    I do doubt that they are a maintenance nightmare. But I would only approach one with a dedicated garge and lots of tools, or a very competent but cheap mechanic to work on it with. And ideally someone who can fabricate or alter parts if needed.

    I'm guessing the R50 would have a cruising speed of about 50mph, R60 about 60. Again, correct me if I'm wrong. If you want to go on the highway I'm guessing the R69/R69S would be the only one with enough power to do it comfortably.
    #4
  5. GrahamM

    GrahamM Been here awhile

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    I had a R50 and could cruise at 60mph as long as the there no major head winds and I was on flat ground.

    I remember being able to put my bare hand on the valve cover at highway speed and being able to keep it there... nice smooth...

    At 18 when I bought it... I think it is the only reason I am still alive.... the other choice was a 900 Ninja or a Desmo 900 Ducati!
    #5
  6. Cletus Runswithscissorsguy

    Cletus Runswithscissorsguy hiding in plain sight

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    1. These bikes (if set up correctly) aren't a headache with maintenance issues. Trick is to let someone knowledgeable check it out for you.
    2. If the slinger hasn't been done, it's not a game changer-it's a bargaining chip.
    3. They're roller bearing motors, not much (if anything) goes wrong unless someone ran it out of oil.
    4. Ignition timing/magneto setup is paramount in these things. Otherwise they're tempermental and you think it has more issues than it actually does.

    But most importantly- In your back yard- these guys are great. http://www.vintagebmw.org/v7/

    /2's are fantastic machines. You should seriously consider one. Sometimes it takes a season to straighten one out, but it's worth the time and effort!
    #6
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  7. Pokie

    Pokie Just plain Pokie.

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    If you find one in your price range, buy it. They are a little low on performance but are really nice to ride. If you're not going to run on the freeways, an R50 or R60 would be just fine, even two up. Keep the engine oil clean but do expect at some point to have to clean the slingers. Yes, it's a big job but a lot of the job you can do yourself. The only thing I would tell you to watch out for is if the old owner tells you he put in new pistons and rings but didn't do the slingers, walk away.
    #7
  8. aptbldr

    aptbldr easy rider

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    Most all them there /2 motorcycles look the same to me, a virtual airhead intimate with early eighties machines.
    All those years at AirList-U did not cover much earlier than /5.
    Posted pics & info here had me paying attention to /2s in real life at Barber this year. Thank you.
    #8
  9. aptbldr

    aptbldr easy rider

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    Complex slinger maintenance is by design?
    Or, is it due to changes in oils?
    #9
  10. ctfz1

    ctfz1 been there

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    One of my buddies owned and happily rode one a lot in the 80s. (/2) I enjoyed a few rides on it with no desire to own one, but I was a "one bike" at the time.
    otoh
    I thoroughly enjoyed several old (vintage) bikes when older, 73 XL250 and 81 XV920RH the most enjoyable of them.

    My feeling is the /2s are expensive for their experience. A good R65 would tempt me more for your purpose, though /5 or 6 might be easier to come by in good shape.
    /2 would be a fun experience. Whether you would "love it forever" or "move on?" only time would tell.
    If your pocket is comfortable with /2 prices and possibilities ..
    One friend of a friend is enjoying an early 50s AJS.

    "Daisiy's Diaries" albeit a 1948 Triumph book (kindle ebook is what I have) is a good "look in" on the good and bad of old bike "adventure." A 60s BMW should be considerably more reliable,
    Recommended to all..
    #10
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  11. tlub

    tlub Long timer

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    Slinger cleaning requires crankshaft removal. That's complex. Change your oil early and often. I have 2 'slash 2s' (one is an R69US, one a 1955 R50, so neither is really a /2, but they are grouped as such). The R69US (or S) is the most desirable of the lot. Period. For good reasons. And the most expensive.
    It will cruise at 80 all day long. Just gets smoother above 65-70 or so.
    The R50 will cruise at 70-75 just fine, but not against a strong wind uphill. Tops speed is 83 or so, true, but it will run at full throttle and not complain. As will all of them. When I get mine back together I plan an SS1000 on it.
    All of them are old bikes, with the finickiness of old machinery. Just less than other bikes of that vintage, but way more than current bikes. If you have never had a pre-70, it is easy to go wrong. Even for folks that know them. Or like me, think they know them.
    I bought my first BMW, a 1966 R50/2, in 1974. They were just old black bikes then. I worked in an all-brands motorcycle repair shop and there was still a lot that took me by surprise.
    Consider a /5 or /6. There is no finer, and affordable, mid 70s bike than an R90/6. Almost like an R90S, but at about 1/3 the price. And they have bags of character. Put an S fairing on it and you may not know the difference.
    I also have a R75/5 as my daily runner; my wife has a R90/6 and son an R60/6 (in the process of becoming an R75). I would take any of them cross country, and have. They require about 1/3 the cost of the /2s and are definitely better bikes. No question about it. Plenty of character, but also plenty of capability. Any will run all day. I have done a SS1000 on the R75/5; my brother rode the R60/6 to Alaska and back before the Alcan was paved. And did a 1600 mile continuous run, from west of Glacier NP to Chicago.
    But the 1100GS I just bought is a far better bike than any of the above. It just is. And it is 22 years old.
    Think long and hard about getting a 50 or 60 year old machine to putt about, especially one you are not familiar with. It could make a new 1200GSA look inexpensive.
    #11
  12. Disston

    Disston ShadeTreeExpert

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    Back in the day slinger engines were the norm. An oil filter was added later and then the cartridge oil filter later still.

    The ball bearing crank is an advantage only if the oil is kept clean. On our plain bearing (also called Babbitt bearing) engines minor debris in the oil is absorbed in the plain bearing and causes no or at least little damage. It is why we advise you to replace the rod bearings anytime here have worked that far down in the engine (OK. Why I keep saying this). On the ball bearing crank setup if there is debris accumulated in the oil it grinds the metal balls and causes more debris.

    It's not as bad as I make it sound I think but the /2 guys are or should be obsessed with changing the oil.

    Back when I was a kid I remember you could buy used motor oil at the gas station. The station owner stored the used oil in large 55 gallon drums and if you were low on funds they would sell you some off the top after the oil had settled a few days. Nobody else has ever mentioned this. Maybe it was only at this one gas station I remember.

    I started riding Airheads in 1982 I think and most of my friends rode R69S's. My R90/6 would pull away in the straights but they caught up and passed me in the turns.

    I'd have to start with an R60 at least. Slow is just not my idea of riding a motorcycle. You mention 19K? Sounds like you are looking at R69S bikes?

    Listen to Pokie tho.
    #12
  13. danedg

    danedg Horizontally Opposed

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    Consider this
    [​IMG]
    #13
  14. Wardog327

    Wardog327 n00b

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    Thanks for all the replies, slingers can't be inspected by removing the oil pan can they?
    #14
  15. TwoShoes

    TwoShoes How Many Shoes?

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    Having the good fortune of owning and working on several airheads (R69s, R50/5, R60/6,R75/5, R90s, R100/7,R100GS), I can say that none are more enjoyable to putt along on backroads than the /2’s. Everything is just so smoothe, so simple and so harmonious on these bikes. 60 - 70 MPH is just right on the R69s and keeps a smile on your face all day long. Reliability is always a concern on these older bikes and they will all develop issues, but I don’t think a slash 2 is any worse than a slash 5 or 6. The slingers are not a small job however. If you have too many other projects to commit to slingers, then I would suggest a R50/5 is very close smile-factor wise with similar power characteristics with the ease of simply changing an oil filter, cheaper and better parts availability. I find with the more powerful bikes you wind up riding in the bike’s sweet spot which is less sedate than the smaller / older bikes and this takes away from that relaxed state of mind. The slower bikes are better at bringing you back to simpler times. My two cents
    #15
  16. TwoShoes

    TwoShoes How Many Shoes?

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    Correct. The only way to inspect them is to take ‘em out.
    #16
  17. bmwrench

    bmwrench Long timer

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    To elaborate a bit, the slingers are stamped steel items held to the crank with 6mm screws (IIRC). The look a bit like large washers, but the inside of the "washer" contains a trough. Centrifugal force causes sludge to be trapped in the groove and let oil pass through to the rod bearings. Eventually the groove fills with sludge. On an engine that has been neglected, this sludge can be like concrete. I've had to bead-blast them to get them clean enough to re-use them. It is a lot of work to get to them, and there is no way to clean them without removing the crank.
    #17
  18. airheadPete

    airheadPete Wherever they send me.

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    When I bought my /2, I was able to ride it up and down the street to prove it actually worked. (It wasn’t just a pile of boxes “project”)
    We had zero maintenance history on it though, so when it came home, the first thing on the list was the slingers.

    I’m very glad I did that, they were full, right up to the crank oil feed hole, and what was in there was as hard as concrete. It’s not a complicated or expensive job, but it is VERY involved. (I hope that distinction is clear.)
    If I had ignored them, I would have wrecked the crank in short order.

    So, short version: if you’re not absolutely sure they’ve been done on a particular candidate, you have to go there.

    That said, there is nothing like a /2 on a back country road on a sunny summer afternoon. It puts your head in a wonderful place. I’m really glad I got mine, (when they were “cheap”.)


    (You know, thinking out loud, nowadays you might be able to get an inexpensive flexible borescope that would allow you to take a peek at the slingers. Bud?)
    #18
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  19. Wardog327

    Wardog327 n00b

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    now there's an idea.
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  20. bmwrench

    bmwrench Long timer

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    I'll have the cylinders off a 69S soon. I'll take a look.
    #20