The 'Muskox' - BMW R100GS

The Muskox in storage

Ready to go

I bought the Muskox on December 16th, 1994 at Marty's BMW in Torrance California. I paid $9,000 cash for it which included $750 worth of accessories. The accessories I chose were the larger bash plate, the plastic hand guards, a BMW tank bag, and a Thor adventure jacket. I later purchased a set of BMW bags which I still have but chose to leave at home for this trip as I went with a set of Nelson-Rigg Adventure Dry Saddlebags instead. The bike itself is 100% original apart from a K&N air filter. Three days after I bought it in 94 and with the 600 mile first service done by Martys I set off on a trip through Central America. Funnily enough even though the Muskox was the first new motorcycle I ever owned I rode it pretty hard as something in me wanted to see if they were as good as everyone said they were. Two and a half months and 13,000 miles later I returned to Martys in Los Angeles for a trip completion service and some warranty work. The rear sub-frame had snapped so was replaced under warranty. The rear shock absorber was lunch so I paid the difference between it and a premium unit and upgraded, another warranty claim. Apart from that The Muskox had held its own on the trip and lived up to all expectations.

The Muskox in Atlin

The Muskox at the Artcic Circle with two of my brothers and an R100GS PD and a Triumph Tiger

Since then the Muskox has taken me between Los Angeles and Ontario, Canada, twice, up the West Coast of the States to British Columbia, Canada, and on to the Yukon and Alaska. I used it as my main transportation for many years, winters included, until I bought a four wheeled vehicle for the first time in Vancouver. From that point on the Muskox was on and off the road depending on timing and finances. In 2009 I got hold of an R1200GSA which for all intents relegated the Muskox to storage. In 2017 I came to the conclusion there wasn't much point in having two adventure bikes so I sold the 1200 and bought a Moto Guzzi Griso. I would pull the Muskox out of retirement and use it for the gnarly stuff and the Griso for some good old fashioned fun on the road.

R1200GSA in the Rockies

The Griso on Gabriola

With the Muskox out of retirement I decided to retrace that first trip back in 94, only this time I would take my son along for the ride. I pulled it out of the bunky and to be honest did the bare minimum to get me heading south. I decided I wasn't going to replace anything major on it but instead take it for a 10,000 mile shakedown and deal with what happened as it happened. What I did do before setting out was to replace the spark plugs and battery, change the engine, transmission and final drive oils, have the rear seat bracket welded, rebuilt the carbs and bought a new set of tires to take with me. The tires on the bike were virtually unused (but 10 years old, I know, don't shoot me) so I wanted to give them a day on the road to see how they behaved, any worrying signs and I would replace them. Turns out they behaved very well.

Let the games commence

Been awhile

Elephants in the carbs

Welding job on seat bracket

The Muskox heading south at Siskiyou Summit in Northern California. The highest spot on I5

I set off on December 13th, 2017, almost 23 years to the day that I'd last set off on this trip and I needed to get from Gabriola Island, B.C., to Cancun, Mexico, in ten days to pick up my son at the airport. I took I5 through Washington State, Oregon and into California before cutting west into Arizona. The riding was all highway and pretty rapid by 94 standards. Leaving Los Angeles I encountered my first problem, the bike would stutter above 4,000rpm in top gear. My first instinct was either fuel starvation or the ignition. As I rode I worked the problem in my head and that night researched it on the internet and the next morning ripped the front cover off to look for problems but everything 'looked' fine. The Muskox fired up no problem and as I couldn't see anything obviously wrong and I had to get to Cancun I rode on. The problem persisted for the first half of the day then cured itself as the day wore on and a fresh tank of gas worked it's way through the carbs. I put it down to bad gas coming out of LA.

Is it the wiring?

Is it the diode board?

Maybe the voltage regulator?

Or how about the alternator?

BMW parts list - alternator

One of 'Snowbum's' very detailed and helpful web pages

BMW parts list - diode board

As I traveled south into Mexico a new problem presented itself. The bike was running fine yet after each stop the starter turned a bit slower than the last time. Some kind of electrical issue was manifesting itself, could it be the diode board, the alternator, the voltage regulator, or wiring? I decided it couldn't be the battery as I'd just spent $170 on a new one. My first full day in Mexico was eleven hours of non stop rain, very heavy at times so I factored that in and hoped that as things dried out maybe the bike would magically cure itself again like it had before. Normally I would have done the prudent thing and stopped to troubleshoot....but the clock was ticking and I had to get to the airport in Cancun so my stopgap solution was to buy a battery charger in Villahermosa and peel the battery out of the Muskox each night and charge it up in the hotel room while I researched cures on the internet. It is at this point that I have to thank all those Airhead riders out there that have shared their mechanical and electrical expertise on the web as without them I would have been lost at this point. Don't get me wrong, mechanically I can kind of hold my own, but electrically, well that's another story. One site I kept going back to on a regular basis was: put together by Robert (Bob) Fleischer,  aka 'Snowbum.' It was amazing how much I learned on the road by perusing his pages, he's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know about BMW airhead motorcycles and if he ever reads this blog I'd just like to say, "Thank you Mr. Fleischer!"

But back to the blog, fact is this electrical issue needed sorting as I was starting to have serious doubts about ripping through Guatemala and Belize with my son in tow on his Christmas school break. Trouble is we had a tight schedule, very tight. I'd managed to do some troubleshooting on the bike in Merida before Cole's arrival, tested the alternator for open circuit, whipped the diode board out and checked each diode, checked the voltage regulator and each time came up blank, but even if I had found something the problem was it was Christmas Eve and Christmas day so nothing was open, so off we went with nothing changed. The charging/alternator/diode board/battery/wiring issue worsened and by the time we reached Palenque the bike would hardly turn over. I rattled my brain, of all the things I hadn't checked was the battery, I'd assumed it was good because it was only two weeks old. As it turned out there was an AutoZone across the road from the hotel so I whipped the battery out for them to test and guess what? It had a dead cell. A dead cell! Even though I was some hacked off with the battery I was even more hacked off with myself, what a moron I'd been! Lesson learned. Luckily for me they had a new LTH battery on the shelf so in it went and off we went to Guatemala.

Testing old battery - dead cell = toast (Outdo battery - Made in China, sold in Canada)

New battery on short charge in hotel room

Slick product, 6 premeasured individual reservoirs (LTH battery - Made in Mexico, sold in Mexico)

The Muskox at rest at the half way point in Antigua Guatemala

At the furthest point from home the Muskox was running sweet but there were signs of discontent. Oil was weeping from the engine oil pressure switch and the pushrod seals and on another note the neutral switch had failed. The Muskox has never burned oil so I put the low engine oil on the dipstick down to these discharges. It wasn't huge amounts but enough to keep an eye on and I bought a litre of oil to replenish the engine and carry with me. Electrically things were peachy now, ever since the new battery install the Muskox was firing on cue and charging healthily, and to think of all the time I'd previously wasted troubleshooting when all along a simple single dead cell was the culprit. Moral of the story = just because something's new doesn't guarantee bliss.

After dropping Cole off at the Cancun airport for his return flight to Canada I tripped over to Merida for a couple days rest and to check the bike over. I tried tracking down an engine oil switch but delivery times were excessive and I didn't want to tackle a neutral switch replacement on the road because it was a little more involved. I didn't bother with an oil change either as by this time I was topping the Muskox up daily so new oil was working its way through the engine. I also held off on changing the tires....again. I'd caught a small nail in the rear in Belize that lead to a slow leak but left it in. The safe thing to do would have been to change them but they were doing a hell of a job and they handled really well. The front was still in good shape, it was just the rear that was a little suspect and as I was riding mostly highway heading north with a lighter load I decided to milk them a little while longer and see if I could make the border.

New hooves for The Muskox

Shinko 705s

10 year old tires held up for 8,000 miles - until this, cracks at every other tread block and sidewall

I finally changed the rubber in Kingman, Arizona. I had planned on doing it in Tuscon after discovering cracks had developed in the rear tire but it didn't work out there so I tripped up to Kingman. The cracks were in a perfect pattern, every other tread block and extended into the sidewall and were only on one side, kind of bizarre but I was extremely grateful they had got me this far. For the change I visited Mother Road Harley Davidson who helped me out without a call ahead. They were amazing and I'd highly recommend them. You can check them out here:

Not my idea of a picnic

Roadside tranny oil change

Oil from weeping engine oil pressure switch

From Arizona it was time to haul ass and so I did. As I headed into northern California the weather turned dark. I started the day just north of Sacramento with drizzle which turned to rain and by the time I approached the Siskiyou Summit close to the Oregon border I was riding through a full on blizzard. I was wet and frozen but the Muskox kept going strong. I made it over the passes and that night stayed at a Motel 6 in Sprinfield Oregon. The next day it rained hard all day before I stopped in Kelso, Washington. Things were going well for the time of year and the Muskox was still pulling strong and the new tires were behaving gracefully. The next day things went sideways as the Muskox died by the side of the road not far north of Kelso. I was up to speed, around 70mph, when the engine cut, fired, cut, fired, then cut all together so I whipped the clutch in and coasted to the side of the highway. As I was a couple hundred yards south of a rest stop I pushed the Muskox to a picnic site there and did some quick troubleshooting. The problem was definitely electrical and I suspected the alternator but wasn't a hundred percent. Without the means to do a roadside repair I called AAA who sent a motorcycle sympathetic driver to help me out. Together we loaded the bike onto the flatbed and he whipped me back to my previous nights stop, the Motel 6 in Kelso. That evening I whipped the front cover off the bike and tested the alternator with a penny between the slip rings and sure enough I had an open circuit, it was shot. I whipped the battery out and trickle charged it overnight and the next morning I disconnected the headlight, reinstalled the battery and headed north hoping for the best. We made it to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in British Columbia and while I was waiting on the ferry I whipped the battery out for a quick trickle charge by the terminal building. On the other side the Muskox fired up without incident and I caught the second ferry to Gabriola and that evening I arrived home, rode through the French doors into the basement and parked the Muskox, a 450km run. Man did it feel good to be home!

What was supposed to be the last day

Back at Motel 6

Home sweet home

The 10,000 mile shakedown was revealing. Overall the Muskox performed like a thoroughbred and the problems I'd encountered were to be expected considering the lack of preparation and age. The engine needed to be 'resealed' which I'll do this summer while the Griso is on the road. To reseal it I'll replace the engine oil pressure switch, the neutral switch, the pushrod seals and engine and cylinder head gaskets. I'm not sure whether I'll replace the main seals or not, to be determined, and I'll rebuild the carbs. On the electrical side I'll replace the alternator, brushes and springs, and probably a couple of the wiring harnesses (alternator to diode board, diode board to battery), the diode board mounting nuts, and I might replace the diode board itself and keep the old one as a spare. The shaft drive has around 70,000 miles on it which is getting up there a bit but shows no sign of failure so I'll leave it for the time being. Apart from that I'll give the bike a thorough going over including the usual fluid changes, valve and carb adjustments, grease bearings, indulge in a massive cleaning, and possibly repaint the tank in time for the fall roaming season, end of story.

The Muskox at play - loves to roam

The Muskox's favourite habitat

In conclusion I'd just like to share with you my riding philosophy, one that has endured with me for 45 years. I realize there will be many who don't agree with my 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude,' but that is a personal choice. In a perfect world my preparation would have been much different and suspect parts would have been replaced at the get go, but as we all know we don't live in a perfect world. When finances are limited I crunch numbers, make calculations and prioritize. The main goal of the trip was to spend time with my son which meant flying him to Cancun and spending the extra money on our trip together, so purchases that perhaps I should have made I didn't. All motorcycles are the same from a mechanical standpoint and all motorcycles will fail eventually in some manner no matter how much money is spent on them, but if the bones are in good shape at the beginning then the odds of success are increased. I research a lot on the internet and whenever a story surfaces about a certain issue, final drive, diode board, alternator etc, there's always at least one rider in the group that never leaves home without a spare. That's great, but for me I don't want to carry all those parts (especially a spare shaft drive) or spend money on something I may not use. I carry tools for sure, but I believe in placing my faith in my initial preparation and the machine getting me there and back. If for some reason it doesn't then I'll deal with the problem when it surfaces. Parts can usually be found pretty quick online and they can be sent to wherever you're stranded and more often then not there's a local or two that will go out of their way to help you on your way, it's human nature for us to want to help, normally that is. And besides that a part of me enjoys the whole breakdown experience in a perverse kind of way, don't get me wrong I don't want to breakdown for it can really mess things up, but to me if it happens its part of the adventure, it's part of creating a scenario where we have to interact with total strangers to find a solution. I love that experience, swapping stories while working towards a common goal. The tow truck driver who picked me up on the last day was ex-military and we swapped stories all the way back to the Motel 6, he was an awesome guy who I'd met for the only reason that I'd broken down. Or when I was in Alaska and my rear tire expired and I was stuck at the Border City Lodge for a week waiting on a new one. I'd gotten to know the owners real well and in return for room and board I pumped gas and recarpeted the stairs and second floor hallway. They were salt of the earth people and I'd had a blast and what a memory. Let's face it, even with the greatest of preparation and good intentions things can go wrong or accidents can happen, new parts can fail like my battery after six days on the road, manufacturers defects can bubble up or it might be just a case of plain bad luck. Thankfully there are no guarantees on the road because in my mind the point is to have an adventure, to wake in the morning and ask yourself, 'I wonder what's going to happen today.' Isn't that what fires one of the greatest feelings yearned by many of us, the feeling of anticipation? I know it does for me, so I roll the dice and ride and deal with the shit if and when it comes my way.

Heading south

Thanks for coming along and if you ride, have fun, if you don't, what are you waiting for!

All the best.