Classic and collectable bikes come with a history of their own and provide hours of entertainment to the motorcycling enthusiast, but buyers should be wary of shady deals, Patrick van Sleight warns.
by Patrick van Sleight
Owning a classic, collectable bike can provide hours of entertainment to the motorcycling enthusiast, but this dream often comes with pitfalls to blunt the owner's joy.
With new bike prices as high as they are these days, many experienced and prospective bikers alike are forced to look at the used-bike market. Even if you are a relatively wealthy biker, you might desire a second set of (cheapish) wheels to tinker with and polish the chrome. After all, your late model, plastic-wrapped hyper-missile is so boringly efficient and is taken care of by laptop-toting white coats.
Whatever your reason, if you are going to be buying an old machine, why not practice patience and look for something that demonstrates your personality and style in the same way that a new bike would. This might mean a hasty, modified screamer, a loud, customized head-turner, or a shiny, collectable piece of history.
Riaan Hendricks, a young film-maker from Cape Town on a tight budget, went for a collectable piece of history. He had cut his riding teeth on a 1980 Honda XL250 for a year. When it was time to upgrade, he wanted something with more power and long-distance comfort, individualistic with loads of character.
He came across a BMW R75/5 for the bargain price of R8 000, sold as part of an insolvent estate.
The R75 debuted in 1969 and was in production until 1973. It heralded a new chapter in BMW’s design history in terms of looks, technology and performance. The R75 was light, and showed good performance and fine handling equal to anything on offer at the time. It is still regarded as the first modern sporting bike from the company.
The bike and its variants were noted for their lighter frames, swinging arm suspension and electric-start; and is the series that started the dynasty of modern BMW boxers, also called flat-twins. It was also the first BMW motorcycles available in any colour other than black.
It was the fifth development of the BMW flat-twin, pushrod engine since the side-valve R32 in 1923, and is the one that established the trademark but curious, tall, brick-block appearance which was the look of the company’s flat-twins for the following 20 years. That was because the central engine block housed not only the crankshaft with the single camshaft underneath it, but also the air-filter, starter motor and electrical charging unit. Other versions at the time of the “series 5” development engine (with all sharing the same stroke of 70.6mm) included the 500cc R50/5 and 600cc R60/5, but they lived in the shadow of the R75/5.
As an indication of BMW’s serious sporting intent, the R75 was a solo bike, with no linkage for a sidecar – an option on all BMW bikes until then. It had a short-wheel base and the engine was tilted upwards slightly for more ground clearance.
The bike is sensitive to set-up, and with the wrong tyres or weak fork springs, is known to develop a pronounced weave at high speeds. With its cylinders protruding side-ways, lean-angles will always be compromised and, as with all flat-twins, it damages easily in case of a drop-over.
Shaft-drive makes gear-changes ponderous and slow in comparison to a chain-drive, but it means never to have to adjust a chain regularly, or replace a chain-and-sprocket set. The north-south orientation of the crankshaft and the shaft drive has a weird torque reaction, as if the bike wants to spin itself along an invisible line through its length. This can unsettle the bike through a fast mid-corner. But you get used to it quickly, and compensate for it unconsciously in your riding style.