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Used Bike New Owner FAQ

So you just bought a used BMW K-Series Motorcycle...
A Work In Progress by Ted Verrill

Congratulations, you have just bought one of the finest motorcycles ever made. I put this together to help you with the big question, "so what now?"

There are a few things you should do immediately upon buying a bike, most notably add it to your insurance immediately before signing the title/bill of sale and handing over your cash. When you get it home, wash it. Believe it or not, the only way to really get to know a bike intimately is to spend an hour or two with a sponge and an old toothbrush really brightening it up (you'll also probably find lots of little things you missed before -- Doh!) Anyway, after you finish washing it, give it a firm maintenance foundation. What's that?

1. Maintenance Foundation

The BMW K-Series bikes are a joy to work on, and the regular maintenance items are quite easy to perform. With regular maintenance, they will last millions of miles. Make sure to check out the Internet BMW Riders tech section for K-Bikes, there is simply no better resource on the Internet for guidance on how to fix and maintain your K-bike.

When buying a used K Bike, it is important to establish a maintenance foundation. Fluids, lubes, hoses and filters not only degrade with miles, they degrade with time. In order to ensure that your bike is in top running condition right off the bat and to start to get to know your motorcycle as soon as possible, you will want to perform all of the regular maintenance items.  That way, you not only know that they have been done with the highest quality fluids and filters, you have a reliable place to start with your maintenance log. First I will list the recommended services, then items that might nbeed replacing, then finally I will list several tools and materials you should have if you plan on doing your own maintenance. If you are not planning on doing your own maintenance, have your dealer do it. If you are buying from a dealer, have him include a major services (with full spline lube) in the deal.

Engine Oil & Filter
  • BMW Oil Filter kit
    comes with crush washers and filter cover o-ring
  • 4 Quarts Oil
    NOTE on Oil: In 1998 and 1999 a new oil rating appeared, known as "SJ." This oil contains altered levels of the minerals that protect against wear, and new types of friction and wear reducers. BMW does NOT recommend this new type of oil be used in its motorcycles and (of course) recommends you buy oil directly from your dealer. The jury is still out on this with many riders choosing to ignore BMW. That said, while rediculously expensive, the BMW oil is apparently quite good. For more information, please see the very detailed Oil Analysis on the IBMWR pages.
Notes: BMW Engines take a long time to break in, and switching to synthetic before the engine has broken in can extend the time it takes the engine to break in. Usually people wait until at least 20,000 miles before switching from Din Oil to Synthetic. Among Dino oils, Castrol GTX has been highly recommended but any good oil will do.
Transmission Oil
  • 1 Quart Mobil-1 GL5-75/90 or Castrol SAF-XO GL5-75/90 Synthetic Gear Oil
  • 2 Crush Washers, 1 for fill plug, 1 for drain plug
  • Piece of cardboard
While any good synthetic gear oil will do, Mobil-1 consistently gets high recommendations. There is no break-in for the transmission and synthetic gear oil has immediate positive results. The cardboard is needed to keep the oil drain flow off the centerstand, I usually use the box the oil filter came in.
Final Drive Oil
  • 1 Quart BMW Dino Gear Oil/Mobil-1 or Castrol SAF-XO Synthetic Gear Oil
  • 2 Crush Washers, 1 for fill plug, 1 for drain plug
BMW apparently redesigned portions of the final drive, especially the spline material and seal design of the final drive in 1991. Some owners of pre-1991 bikes have reported synthetic oil getting past the final drive seal and entering the swingarm so the choice of going with synthetic is entirely up to the individual owner. On post-1991 bikes synthetic oil is recommended in the final drive. Because so little oil is used in the final drive (around a quarter of a quart), when using Dino it may make sense to change the final drive oil every time the engine oil is changed.
Fork Oil
  • 2 Quarts Fork Oil, 7.5 weight
  • Appropriate Crush Washers/rubber O-Rings (2 needed)
Fork oil is easy to drain, and a task to fill. Most BMW dealers will carry a "horse syringe with hose" type tool to make getting the oil through the small holes at the top of the forks an easy task. You choice of Fork oil, both the BMW and Bel-Ray are highly recommended. Many owners will very the weight of the fork oil to change the feel of the front end. The crush washers go from small aluminum for most of the 8-valve K-Bikes to small rubber o-rings for the K11's. Your local dealer will let you know which is correct for your bike.
  • 1 Gallon BMW Brand Coolant
  • 1 Gallon Distilled water
  • 1 Copper Coolant Crush Washer
Coolant (along with brake fluid) is a critical maintenance item often overlooked. While this procedure is not as easy as those above as it requires moving the tank back to access the Coolant fill, it is not difficult. Though is recommended every other year many do it annually. The BMW coolant is specifically made for the water pump seals and aluminum block of your K bike. While it is a bit more expensive, one gallon will last 2 changes. For the K75 the recommended mix is 40/60, though a lot of people just do 50/50 - check to see what is right for your bike.
Spark Plugs
  • Check with dealer for correct application for your bike
  • Anti-seize (copper-based is best)
  • Cheap wire gapper
  • Dielectric grease
Faulty plugs can lead to or contribute to poor running. Some BMW's, notably K75's, on rare occasions can flood the plugs so it is prudent to carry a spare set. Carefully gap them to your bike's spec, they are notoriously innacurate out of the box. Also use anti-sieze sparingly, just a tiny bit will do.
Brake Fluid
  • 1 Quart DOT-4 Brake Fluid (maybe 2...)
  • Fluid Bleeding device of choice
Brake fluid should be completely replaced at least once per year. This critical safety item is often overlooked and failure due to neglect can have catastrophic results. Castrol, Bel Ray and BMW all make excellent DOT 4 brake fluid.
Bleeding devices can range from a simple 3' length of 5/16 clear plastic tubing and a mayonnaise jar (2-person job) to an intricate and expensive vacuum bleeder (1 experienced person job. Speedbleeders are also very popular, but you'll still have to bleed the ABS system old school.
Fuel Filter
  • BMW Fuel Filter
The fuel filter is often the culprit with poor-running problems. Should you unfortunately come across extremely poor gas, or should water repeatedly get in the fuel tank, the filter can become prematurely clogged. I carry a spare in the tail cowl.
Air Filter
  • BMW Air Filter or K&N Air Filter
A neglected air filter can have the same effect as a clogged fuel filter. This maintenance item is also one of the more challenging as it requires great dexterity to correctly fit and seat the new filter. Many people have gone to the K&N filter. Although it is more expensive, the maintenance interval is doubled and some report an increase in performance.
Spline Lube
  • There are two available procedures, the complete "Clutch-Back Spline Lube" that lubes all splines, and the "Driveshaft Spline Lube" that lubes the splines at both ends of the driveshaft. Do the rear spline lube, it isn't hard and this is where neglect will often wreak havoc. Personally I would also do the clutch/engine splines as well for the peace of mind, but unless your bike is having problems downshifting smoothly or it simple has never been done you can probably put it off until you have time (it takes a good 5 hours, patience, and having a helper and a beer or two helps.)
  • You have a choice of lubes - Paul Glaves, K-Bike Guru extraordinairre recommends either a 50/50 HondaMoly60/Wurth 3000 mix or Guard Dog Products GD-525. Use the BMW currently Recommended lube at your own risk :)
Neglect of this one maintenance item can lead to very expensive failure of the final drive components. Having your dealer perform this procedure may sound expensive ($150 to $300 for many 8-valve K-bikes to $150 to $450 or more for some K1100's), but when compared to the price of chains and sprockets, is quite reasonable. The full procedure is best left to the dealer unless you can find someone to teach you how to do it. Combined wisdom from years of analysis has shown the current best lubricant to be a mix of HondaMoly60 and Wurth 3000 or Guard Dog GD525 - NOT EVER the BMW #2 General Lube Red Stuff. There are several tricks that make the job go easier. Check with your local BMW Club. While the recommended maintenance intervals vary from 20k or yearly for the early K-bikes to 40k or every four years for the K1100's, this is a critical maintenance item that can prevent costly repairs. On older bikes, have them go the extra mile in replacing the driveshaft boot if it is at all suspect (water intrusion into the driveshaft housing is a leading cause of premature wear and failure.) Lastly, if you open it up and find the final drive splies are toast, check out Bruno's Machining in Canada at - far less than the price of replacement!

Non-Maintenance Perishable Items

There are items on the bike that will perish over time, these should be closely checked and replaced if necessary.

Non-Maintenance Perishable Items
Crankcase Breather HoseBuy one and replace it - it is inexpensive ($10 at BeemerBoneyard.) This hose goes bad over time, developing cracks around the hose clamps. Because this is part of the closed air intake system its failure can lead to all kinds of things like poor idling, lean running condition, etc. It literally take 5 minutes to replace, just be careful the hose clamp ends do not interfere with or touch the wiring loom there else the wiring will chaff and might eventually fail.
Fuel Pump SurroundTake a small flashlight and carefully check the inside of the fuel tank for water and residue. The rubber collar that the fuel pump sits in will sometimes degrade and turn to a muddy consistency, especially if the bike has been sitting for a length of time (especially with ethanol gas.) If this goes bad it will clog fuel filters and eventually ruin the (expensive) pump. The collar is easy to replace and usually costs $50 to $75.
  • Brake Hoses - These can go bad over time, especially with poor brake fluid maintenance. Check for swelling and cracking, especially at the fittings.
  • Rotors - Check them carefully for any cracks or uneven wear. If there are ANY cracks the rotor must be replaced before riding - period.
  • Brake Master Cylinders& Resevoirs - Check the master cylinders carefully for leaks and check to make sure that the brake levers return after being squeezed smoothly with no resistance or notchiness. Fortunately there is a rebuild kit available. The resevoirs, especially on the 80's K-bikes, can grown chalky and opaque over time - this is usually also a sign the plastic is breaking down and cracks or leaks are soon to follow.
As you will probably be flushing and bleeding the brake system now is the time to replace any suspect hoses or flaky resevoirs. Replacing the master cylinders is expensive but easy, BMW sells rebuild kits that are quite reasonable but involve more work.
Coolant System
  • Coolant Sight Hose - These often grow opaque and brown over time - the part is only about $6 and since you are replacing the coolant now would be an excellent time to proactively replace it.
  • Main Coolant Hose - this is exposed to the elements and should be carefully checked for cracks, swelling and leaks. It is also cheap and easy to replace, especially when replacing the coolant.
  • Coolant Expansion Tank - this can often accumulate crud over time - peek inside with a flashlight and if needed clean it out.
BMW Coolant is not too much more than the generic yellow stuff you get at AutoZone, it is worth the extra few dollars. 1 Gallon should last two changes.
  • Ignition - these can get flakey over time but are simple to remove and clean, see the IBMWR tech pages.
  • The handlebar switches can also grow flaky over time, especially the red cut-off and green starter switches. Often a well-placed shot of WD-40 will work, replacement is not inexpensive but a good opportunity to upgrade to the Euro version with the switchable headlight.
Fork Seals
  • These tend to go bad over time and are not difficult but time consuming to replace. If you are replacing them, consider adding fork gators (the ones from /6 and /7 airheads) as they will considerably extend the life of new seals.
Alternator Drive "Monkey Nuts"
  • If you notice a destinct rattle at idle coming from the rear of the engine it is time to replace these. They tend to break down over time causing metal-to-metal contact in the alternator drive system. They are quite inexpensive to replace but do take time - most people check these during spline lubes. The part number is "12311464877", you might want to pick up the $10 Clutch Housing cup that holds them as well as when there is metal to metal contact the fins in this cup often chip and break.
  • Pull back the tank and closely examine all of the electrics, look for any flattened or frayed wires. Also check all zip-ties, the wiring can often chaff at these and cause faults, smoke, or worse. This is a common problem so check carefully!
  • Take the time to remove the bulbs and clean all the light sockets with contact cleaner then a little dielectric grease. Dirt and corrosion here can cause maddeningly intermittant faults. Most auto parts stores carry CRC Contact Cleaner and Permatex dielectric grease (get the big tube, you'll use it often.)
  • Take a close look at the tires - are there any flat spots, cracks or dry-rot? Check the date code on the sidewall - it should be a four-digit code signifying the month and date of the manufacture of the tire. For example, "3405" would be the 34th week of 2005. The four-digit code may or may not be precedede by two more letters - these are manufacturer-specific and can be ignored. If it is a 3-digit number your tire was manufactured before 2000 and should be replaced as it is at least 10 years old.

Recommended Tools, Parts & Spares

Recommended Tools, Parts & Spares
Clymers Manual for K Bikes
($30 to $40)
This manual, or the Haynes, is indispensable to anyone who maintains his or her own K Bike. This should be your first purchase. Available at most dealers or You can also find the (inferior IMO) Haynes manual in PDF format online.
BMW Tool Kit
This should have come with your bike. If it did not, you will either need to buy one or recreate one as it has almost all of the tools needed to do all the regular maintenance on your bike.
Critical for measuring fluids. Available at your local dealer or online.
Oil Filter Tool
($5 to $15)
BMW makes one for $15, though you can find one at the local K-Mart or Wal Mart that comes close enough. Take a filter with you to make sure you buy the right one.
Horse Syringe/Flavor Injector
Used for replacing fork oil and vailable at kitchen supply houses like Williams-Sonoma - you can also use a funnel with a length of 1/8" clear vinyl hose attached.
Needle-Nose Pliers
Needed to remove the circlips that anchor the tank and seat (you can use the pliers in the BMW toolkit but needle-nosers make it much easier.)
Oil Drain Pan ($6)Get the big one, but make sure it is no more than 5" high (clearance...) Wal/K Mart/Autozone sell one that is enclosed with a pour spout - makes it easy to ferry to your local gas station for recycling.
11mm Box-end Wrench
This is not in the toolkit and is needed for the brake bleeder valves.
Various Tubes of stuff You can find these at any most auto parts stores or West Marine, the Wurth 3000 and GD-525 you may have to order online.
  • Wurth 3000 or other suitable Grease
    Use this for lubing everything from centerstand pivots to the throttle assembly, but leave the spline lubing for the HondaMoly/Wurth 3000 mix or GD-525.
  • Blue Loctite ($3)
  • Anti-Sieze ($3)
  • CRC Contact Cleaner & Dielectric Grease
  • Copper-based Anti-seize
  • Big tub of LAVA Hand Cleaner
Various things to have on hand
  • Spare oil fill cap (BMW #11141460191 - $3)
    There will come a day when you'll need it and you will thank your lucky stars you have it.
  • Assorted Zip Ties ($3) Wal Mart
  • Clear plastic hobby/tackle box ($3)
    Used for holding a bunch of different crush washers and connectors, organized and in one place.
  • 4' Length of 16-guage wire - handy for things like ABS resets
Radio Shack Pocket Digital Multimeter
From checking bulbs and fuses to setting the TPS, this tool will easily pay for itself. Buy one and find some to teach you how to properly use it.

2. New Owner FAQ

  • Q: Why does my bike make a "whining" sound?
    A: The electric fuel pump in the fuel tank makes a whining noise, often more pronounced when the tank is empty. Don't worry, it is completely normal.
  • Q: Why does my bike sometimes smoke on startup?
    A: K-Bikes, the pre-1990 K75 in particular, will sometimes smoke when parked on the sidestand. A small amount of oil may seep past the rings into the combustion chamber. Again, completely normal and not harmful.
  • Q: Sometimes my bike backfires when I am throttling down.
    A: If this happens rarely it is completely normal and caused by the fuel shut-off setting of the fuel injection. If it happens with regularity, you may need to have your throttle position sensor adjusted.
  • Q:What is the proper way to start this bike anyway?
    A: Simply hit the start button, without moving the throttle at all. If it is cold out or the bike stumbles, open the choke (really a throttle enrichment) to the first position. On really cold days, open it all the way.
  • Q:My bike runs hot but the fan and thermostat are working fine.
    A: All K-Bikes run a bit hot, the K1100RS a particular culprit. There is an aftermarket fan switch a rider can use to make the fan come on sooner and keep the bike cooler. Fresh coolant will also help.
  • Q: I know I should probably carry some spares and a tire kit with me when I travel. What do you carry with you?
    A: I made it a habit to carry not only the essentials that any rider should have, but several spares as well. Here is a list of things you should consider (and yes, all of it will fit in your tail cowling :):
    • Always Carry
      BMW bulb kit, BMW Tire plug kit, BMW first aid kit, BMW tool roll, and a small stuff sack of various bits like spare crush washers, zip-ties, duct tape, electric contact cleaner pencil and blue loctite
    • Carry when touring
      Spare clutch cable, set of spark plugs, a spare fuel filter, single photocopied page hidden in tool roll with your driver's license, registration, insurance card, emergency contact phone numbers.
  • Q: So I have heard there are a few clubs I should consider joining?
    A: Clubs are a great source of information, resources and camaraderie (especially the local ones.) The two major national clubs are the BMW MOA and the BMW RA. Which to join? I would recommend spending some time on each's webpage. The MOA is far larger and has greater resources available to members, while the RA has more of a "smaller club" feeling. As for local clubs, make sure to join the local club in your area. That is where you will meet riders that will enthusiastically help you learn about your bike, show you the local roads, and just generally provide great camaraderie. Here is a page on the BMW MOA site that lists most local clubs.
  • Q: It looks like I can save some money buying things mail-order, my local dealer's prices do seem a bit high.
    A: Whether to buy mail-order or from your local dealer is an issue with critics on both sides. If you are not close to a local dealer or the price differences are significant you may want to use mainly mail-order. However (there is always a 'however' ;) the reasons for shopping at your local dealer far outweigh the cost savings from buying mail-order. Building a good relationship with and giving your business to your local dealer is critical for several reasons. This doesn't mean you have to go to your dealer for everything, but showing your face in his door occasionally and buying parts like filters and tires will do wonders.
    • Warranties. Should a part or product you buy fail, it is usually quite difficult to have a mail-order company quickly repair or replace it. At your local dealer, it is usually a matter of bringing it in on a Saturday morning. Further, a local dealer that knows you and wants to keep your business will be a lot more willing to go out of the way to make sure any BMW warranty work on your bike is quickly and thoroughly done.
    • Insurance Claims. A local dealer that knows you and values your business will go out of the way to take in a damaged bike, quickly complete a thorough estimate, then fight with the adjuster for you. Alternatively, you may find yourself at the end of the line at the service department and at the mercy of an ignorant adjuster who's sole incentive it to give you as little as possible.
    • "Extras". Your local dealer that values your business will often offer you extras like loaner bikes, service scheduling priority, special sales, tech and information clinics, and special events like bike unveilings.
  • More to come :)

3. Ownership Tips

Alright, so what things can I learn that others learned the hard way?

  • ID your bike and luggage.
    Have you seen those silver pencils sold at the hobby shops? Buy one and use it to write your name and phone number on the outside of the bag, on the inner lid of your hard cases (just below the lip that goes on the mounting rail where it will be protected from weather and road debris.) They sometimes fall off and you wouldn't believe how many people either fail to have any ID in them at all or have it on the inside where someone must break into the bag to get at it. Also, hide a photocopy of your important documents and a $10 bill in the bike (in one of the tool roll pockets works well) - include your drivers license, insurance information, emergency contact info, etc.
  • Start an Owner's Log
    Look up your bike's recommended service schedule and make a maintenance log on which to keep track of what you have done (and what will need doing ;-). Do NOT go by the one in the owner's manual, your local dealer should have one for you that is up to date. Also, keep notes of rides you have taken in a Ride Log - doesn't seem like much now but it will be like a photo album down the road. Keep these in a folder where you should also keep all your receipts as well. Here is a good example of one done online.
  • Install the Front Fender Extender ($18)
    Do it now, unless your bellypan is already destroyed.
  • Go by and Meet Your Local Dealer.
    A good relationship with your local dealer is critical. Start off on a good note by introducing yourself to the dealer and the parts people while stocking up on the filters and BMW-specific fluids and lubes you will need to provide a maintenance foundation. Have the wrench give the bike a quick once-over and thank him or her with a cold six-pack.
  • Join Your Local BMW Club
    Look online, or look for an application at your local dealer.

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