1982 BMW R65 LS Review

Since I haven't found enough information about my new bike to satisfy myself, I figure it's time I contributed some. Thus, I present my clearly well-reasoned and fully un-biased review of a 1982 BMW R65 LS. (It's ok to laugh now.)


The BMW R65 and R45 were models that originated in the German market, as lower-cost, lower-power alternatives to the increasingly larger displacement bikes BMW was producing. In fact, the R45 (as I understand it) was specifically introduced to comply with a German learner-law. The R65 was probably intended primarily as a lower-cost beginner bike for those who had their full motorcycle licenses.

The R65 LS was a slight modification of the R65, and included sportier styling, different cast wheels, and dual front disc brakes. The LS model also has black exhaust pipes, instead of chrome like the regular R65. In fact, the LS has no chrome on it at all. The shiniest bits on the bike are the hose-clamps that hold on some of the tubing, or the fork tubes.

However, the LS model didn't change many of the vital statistics of the R65. The engine, suspension, and frame are the same as the regular R65. This means that getting parts for these vital components will be relatively easy -- unfortunately, some parts on the LS model (particularly the bodywork and wheels) are specific to only the R65 LS, unlike almost every other reasonably modern BMW bike.

First Impressions

Having successfully passed the MSF Motorcycle Safety Course at The Evergreen Safety Council only a few days previously, my eye fell upon a particular orangey-red R65 LS at Cascade BMW, in Kirkland. I had been browsing their website for more than a month, looking at used bikes thinking, "Damn, there's no way I can afford one of those!" Suddenly, however, I looked at the LS page again, and I knew. That was the bike. Something in me had changed, and that slightly pokey-looking motorcycle glowing on my screen (the image on the left here) was IT.

Within a few days, I managed to find time to head out to the dealership (a half-hour drive across some of the worst traffic areas in the country). I drove my trusty Civic out to Kirkland, and started looking over various bikes. I knew what I wanted, of course, but I wanted to at least glance at other things while I was there. Eventually I got down to it, and scoured the indoor and outdoor lots for the R65 LS. Finally, I had to call over to a salesman, and get them to bring it out from the garage, where it had been hiding.

The first ride was very tenative on my part, since I was still very new to motorcycling. I got the three-minute tour of the bike from the salesman, primarily covering where all the controls were. With that and some minor paperwork out of the way, I took off on my first-ever testride.

Although the first testride is something of a blur now, I recall thinking that this bike had plenty of power, and wasn't "scary" to ride as I had feared it might be. I seemed to generally fit on the bike, and it didn't have any obvious problems.

I went back for several more testrides before I finally made my decision, and handed them a check for US$3000. A day later (I had forgotten to start up my insurance, and I wasn't about to take my first ride on a busy freeway with no insurance), I had the bike sitting behind my apartment building, and I was feeling fabulous!


Now that I've had a chance to break myself in, so to speak, I've discovered that I don't quite fit on the bike like I thought. The seating position has me leaning further forward than I would like, and the distance between the pegs and seat is a bit too short for me. This is a highly personal thing, however, and obviously no one will have exactly the same reaction to the seating position as me.

I have absolutely no problem putting both feet on the ground, but I'm fairly tall, at 6' 1" without shoes on. I've heard many reports that this makes an excellent women's or short man's bike, due to the short seat height. Since I can't speak as a short person, let me say that tall people shouldn't shy from this bike, either!


In my riding, I tend to spend most of my time on city streets, usually keeping my speed below 40 MPH. I also encounter more than my fair share of ugly potholes, seams in the pavement, and debris in the road. I haven't had any major problems (unless you count the 4" nail in the tire, but I didn't notice that until I parked, so it wasn't a major problem) due to this, but it sure does make the bike handle strangely sometimes. (See the Update at the bottom of this page.)

My primary complaint is about the "flexy" feeling I get when going around corners. I can feel the frame flexing a little bit, and can also feel the tires wandering slightly from where they should ideally be. This is a very disconcering feeling, and has kept me taking corners at a sane speed (which is good, all things told). I've read, via the IBMWR and Airheads websites, that the handling of this bike can be greatly improved by the replacement of the rear shocks. I'm inclined to believe this is true, especially given that my shocks are the original equipment, and probably have 40,000 miles on them. I will be trying this some time soon, and will post here what difference it makes, if any.

Other handling concerns (that other people seem to have) don't really bother me. For instance, although I'm aware of the rear end jacking up and down as I accelerate and decelerate, it doesn't bother me. Although the brake dive is very noticable (when compared to one of the Telelever bikes), I haven't yet run into problems because of it, and don't expect that I will.


I've been very impressed with this engine. Although it's "only" a 650cc engine, it has more power than I need, and delivers it very evenly and predictably. Starting is remarkably easy, even on near-freezing days -- just turn the choke to the full-on position, hit the starter and give a tiny bit of gas. Going from the full-on to half-on position of the choke does cause problems sometimes (notably when the RPMs are below about 2500), it's generally not a big problem.

The choking problem that I'm seeing appears to be related to one of the chokes inside one of the carbs, and at a guess, something is sticking open or closed, so that one of the cylinders fails to fire for a few seconds (and the bike really shakes when that happens). However, if I hold the throttle open a bit, the problem doesn't happen. So, I have my "temporary work-around" in place, and I'm fairly happy.

So far, in the 700 or so miles I've put on, I haven't seen any oil consumption. I will be changing the oil soon, when I adjust the valves and clean/adjust the carbs.

A note about the exaust system on this bike: it's supposed to be black. That was in the BMW spec, and it's how the bike came from the factory. I understand that I'm very lucky my pipes haven't yet rusted into dust, though -- they're apparently quite prone to rusting. I'm not sure what I'll do if that happens, since I don't think I can afford the BMW replacements, at either $500 or $700 (depending on who I've asked).

Transmission and Clutch

BMW is notorious for making notchy, hard to shift transmissions. My bike sticks right to that line.

On my first ride, taking the bike home, I had to run from Kirkland to just north of Downtown Seattle, in the state of Washington. Our traffic was recently determined to be third worst in the US. Fortunately for me, I was taking this ride on a Sunday, so it wasn't that bad.

Unfortunately for me, the transmission bit me several times during the trip. Getting up to speed was fine but for fifth gear -- I hit a false neutral, and went back down to fourth. I tried this several times, and finally got to fifth. By about that time, it was time to slow down for the I-405 to SR 520 interchange.

This involves slowing down to at least 35 MPH (or slower, if you're completely new to a bike, like I was). At this point, I was still used to the Honda Nighthawk 250 I had ridden in the MSF course, and it required very firm, almost kicking, pressure on the shift lever to go between second and first gear, in either direction. So, that's what I did on the BMW. Unfortunately, this caused me to shift just past many gears -- just like I did slowing down for this interchange. I shifted from fifth to fourth, and found that I was in a false neutral. The interchange was approaching quickly enough that I tried just shifting down to third, since that was likely what I'd take the exit in. No good. I was in another false neutral. I tried again, a little bit lighter on the action this time, and was rewarded with an actual gear. Unfortunately again, this was second gear, so I decelerated rather more than I intended to heading into the exit.

I was lucky through all of this that I didn't have any tricky traffic to deal with, or I would have been overwhelmed. I survived the trip, though, and have since learned the finer points of shifting (but at the time, I was almost certain that my transmission was about to drop on the ground and leave a stream of chewed gears behind me).

Even now, about three months on, I hit false neutrals if I'm not careful. Especially shifting up to fifth gear, I'll hit a false neutral four out of five times (and usually just shift up twice to make sure). I don't know if this is because I have an especially worn gearbox, or if this is just the way it's supposed to be. I gather that it's supposed to be a problem, though.


The front brakes on this bike are quite good (but not up to modern standards), being twin ventilated discs with high-quality Brembo calipers. I have every confidence in my ability to stop quickly on this bike. Although I'm not sure it'll do any stoppies (the opposite of a wheelie), I think that's fine with me.

The rear brake, on the other hand, is anemic and requires plenty of foot-power to operate. I'm fairly certain that my rear brake is in need of adjustment, but that doesn't affect the brake's ability to stop once the shoes engage the drum. The real issue is that it's a drum brake instead of a disc. Still, in spite of this, I've managed to lock the rear tire up and nearly spill the bike on a rainy day (cage driver tried to turn left right in front of me).

Note in the picture that the white-painted wheel is rather brownish. This is due to dust from the disc brake, which doesn't plague the rear wheel anywhere near as much. And this leads me into...

Bodywork and Frame

The major differences between an R65 LS and a regular R65 are these:

The picture on the right shows most of these features fairly well.

There isn't anything intrinsically good or bad about any of the styling differences, but they are almost entirely style differences. With the exception of the front brakes (and possibly the tail-pod), an R65 LS is functionally identical to a regular R65.

The little fairing, for instance, does nothing but make the bike look like a deformed Star Wars stormtrooper. Although BMW claims that it reduces front-end lift by 30% when compared to a regular R65, I doubt that has any real-world effect on the handling or fuel economy of the bike. It certainly doesn't keep wind off the rider (unless you duck down so that your face is mostly covered by the instrument pod). However, I guess it "looks good," and that's what's important.

The little tail-pod is actually quite useful, since it more than doubles the amount of on-bike storage you have. In addition to the useful tool tray under the seat (just over the battery), you get double again the space in the tail-pod, which is enough for me to keep a bungee net, a Kryptonite cable lock, and a little charger for the battery.

The special white wheels are only a stylistic difference until something happens to them. Unfortunately, this style of wheel is entirely unique to the R65 LS, of which only about 6,500 were sold worldwide. Within a few weeks of getting my bike, I had a flat, and feared that the wheel was damaged; when I looked into getting it replaced with a BMW replacement, the bill was about US$550, not including labor or taxes. Fortunately for me, the wheel was fine, but it was a rude awakening.

As far as the frame goes, it's mostly seen in comparison to other BMW bikes. It has a shorter wheelbase than the larger bikes, at 1400 mm versus the R80 and R100's 1465 mm in the same vintage. The practical upshot of this is that the bike's steering feels quicker and more responsive; this makes it a more maneuverable bike.

The R45, R65 and R65 LS also have a shorter piston travel, or stroke, than the bigger bikes, at 61.5 mm versus 71.6 mm. This means that BMW could make the cylinders physically shorter, making them stick out to the sides less. This, in turn, means that you can lean the bike over further with less fear of touching the cylinders down at extreme angles. I'm told that the pegs and exhaust pipes hit the ground in hard cornering before the cylinder heads do.

The practical upshot of these two facts is that the R65 LS is an extremely nimble motorcycle (for a BMW), and is a preferred bike for taking on winding roads, in situations where a big, heavy, long bike fares worse. Of course, "heavy" is a relative term -- the R65 LS weighs in at a bit over 450 lbs (207 kg) wet weight.


My overall impression of this bike, and the situation in which I acquired it is this: "I'd do it all again." I really like this motorcycle, partially because it's a motorcycle, partially because it's a BMW, and partially just because. ;) It wasn't as expensive as most BMW bikes, and I don't feel I've been cheated of any of the experience.

If I had to fix anything about the bike it would have to be either the handling or the seating position. Since I can probably do something about the handling (by fitting new rear shocks), I probably will. I guess I'll just live with the riding position for now.

Update - New Shocks

On Feb 11, 2000, I put new Koni rear shocks on the bike, and I must say, the difference is very noticable. Bumps that used to make me wince are now quite manageable, although riding on I-5 (concrete slab for part of the way) is still uncomfortable. I first tried rebound setting #2, which was an improvement over the stock shocks. I later tried number 3, since 2 didn't seem to be doing all it should, and the improvement was quite nice.

The shocks didn't reduce the wobbly feeling I was getting in turns, but I've realized that the feeling is probably due to having different tires on front and back -- the Dunlops on the rear are apparently prone to "falling" into corners as you lean, which the Metzelers up front don't do. I think it's the differeng lean characteristics of the two tires that's causing the disjointed feeling. However, since both of these tires are almost new, and have lots of tread left, they'll be staying until one or the other wears out.

Created by Ian Johnston. Questions? Please mail me.

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