Frequently Asked Questions About Cruisers

Pokie Parmidge, December 2002

Updated, May 2006

Aestheics Engine Stuff Shocks
Brakes Clutch Stuff Falling Off
Wheels and Tires Transmission Stuff Rough Running
Funny Noises Gas Tank Frame
Electrical Stuff Service  



The chrome on my '98 R1200c is peeling and bubbling, isn't this kind of unusual?

Mostly found on the early models ('97 and '98): peeling and bubbling chrome. According to BMW, the parts affected were not properly prepped before plating, leaving foreign substances on the metal between the part and the chrome plating. This problem was not limited to any single chrome part. Generally, parts were replaced on warranty, usually without question. BMW wanted to put the problem right, not all the dealers were quite so agreeable.

I saw a new Cruiser in my dealer's showroom that had rust pocks on the chrome. What gives? Have they been storing the bikes outside?

Rust was a problem on a lump of bikes of 1998 vintage. Seems a large group of crated bikes were stored in a damp area, possibly outside on a dock or ship exposed to sea air. These bikes were sold to individuals after the affected parts were replaced by the dealers. Parts replaced were, again, chrome plated parts like wheels, shocks, fork caps and the like.

One of my header pipes is turning blue, is this natural?

No, bluing of our pipes is not natural. Different from other models of BMW our exhaust systems are double walled, chrome plated stainless steel. The double wall reduces the chances of exhaust pipe discoloration and in most cases stops it completely. Places where the pipes are expected to discolor are where they attach to the heads, where they attach to the mufflers and in the area surrounding the O2 sensor. The length of discoloration where the pipes contact the heads should be very short (one inch maximum or barely clearing the attaching clamp). Discolored header pipes usually indicate cracked, split or broken inner pipes (claimable under warranty) or an overheating condition (not claimable under warranty). Pipes of our sort that discolor because of overheating usually indicate the bike has idled or been revved stationary for long periods of time, has timing problems or badly adjusted valves (see my Valve Adjusting article).

Why is my right header turning gold while the left header is staying silver?

Your right header is turning gold or straw because of the natural heat transmission of a hot "uncoated" inner pipe. The reason the left pipe isn't turning straw as well is because it gets coated each time you start it up after leaving it on the side stand. I'm sure you have noticed that sometimes when you start your bike the left side blows blue smoke. While the bike was parked on the side stand (a bit of oil slips past the ring oiling holes causing blue smoke on start-up). This blue smoke leaves a coating on the inside of the pipe, insulating it just enough to not transmit sufficient heat to discolor the outside pipe. If the pipe turns more than straw (brown, blue or purple), this is an indication of a cracked or damaged inner pipe (claimable under warranty). Like above, though, discoloration because of overheating is not claimable under warranty. Pipes of our sort that discolor because of overheating usually indicate the bike has idled or been revved stationary for long periods of time, has timing problems or badly adjusted valves (see my Valve Adjusting article).


One of my brake pads is wearing more than the others, what's causing this?

One pad wearing more than the others is an irritating problem, but not uncommon. If it's on the front, one piston or one set of pistons is generally moving easier than the others. On the other hand, you could say that one piston or set of pistons is sticking. The easiest way to check for this is to remove the caliper and check the piston movement. Sometimes all it takes to cure this problem is to push the pistons in and out a couple of times, maybe even turn them. If you find one that is really sticky, it may take a trip to the dealer to have it corrected. Another thing to try (if you are experiencing this problem) is changing your brake fluid. The fluid in your calipers may have broken down or become contaminated, causing the pistons to stick.

If your problem is on the rear brake, check to be sure the axles of your floating caliper are clean and allowing the caliper to move without restriction.

My brakes are really squeaky, how can I cure this?

To a degree, you have to accept the fact that disc brakes are going to be noisier than drums, plain and simple. But if they seem excessively noisy, there are two common causes: #1-foreign particles (dust and dirt) and #2-light brake usage.

Foreign Particles:

Because disc brakes are open to the world, your worst enemy is dust and dirt. Any forign particles like dirt or dust are going to cause your brakes to get squeaky. The best way to deal with these forign particles is cleaning the pads and discs. Sometimes soap and water is enough, other times it may require an inquiry at the local auto store for some spray type pad and disc brake cleaner. If after cleaning your results are still the same, this means your pads may be glazed (See Light Usage).

Light Usage:

City or stop-and-go traffic will often glaze your pads and cause some undesirable squeaking or squealing when you apply your brakes. To cure this problem, find a nice quiet piece of road with little or no traffic and get up to about 50 miles per hour. Then stop very quickly using only the offending brake. Be careful not to grab the brake, you want to give a nice progressive, firm squeeze. Stop in the shortest distance that you safely can. Repeat this three to six times and then try braking normally. Often this will cure the noise problem.

Wheels and Tires:

While cleaning my bike I found a broken spoke. Do I need to have my wheels checked by the dealer or can I just put in a new spoke?

BMW says it is quite acceptable to renew as many as four spokes in any one spot without any worry of damaging the rims. If you find you have a broken spoke, the only really hard part about fitting a new spoke is removing the little set screw in the nipple (which will require a 2.5mm hex key). The nipple is located in the hub (unlike regular wheels which have the nipples in the rim). Once the set screw has been loosened or removed, you will need a T-40 Torx key or Torx socket to turn the nipple. Another wonderful thing about our wheels, the tires don't have to come off to change a spoke.

My front tire is wearing funny, do I have a bad tire?

It's very rare for a bad tire to get out of the factory, that's not to say it never happens but it is rare. If you feel your tire has a problem, ask the opinion of a professional.

What is more likely, is that you are seeing your tire responding to your braking and riding habits. It is not unusual for a front tire to "chip" or "cup." This chipping or cupping is caused by the front brake. You won't see this kind of tire wear on the rear tire because of the balance of power and braking, where as the front tire only has braking. If you are a very heavy user of the front brake, the chipping or cupping will become pronounced very early in your tires life.

In the process of braking (when the weight transfers to your front wheel), it is possible to get 75-80% of your braking power from your front wheel. The thing to practice is using your brakes evenly. This will give you the best tire wear.

Another wear pattern that's not unusual, is for one side of the tire to wear more than the other. The most wear (here in the USA) will occur on the left side of the tire. This is because a bulk of our roads are "crowned" or higher in the middle. The reason for crowning the roads is to aid run-off of water which is the leading cause of road damage and hydroplaning.

Is it okay to plug my tire if I get a flat?

Yes, it's okay to plug your tire after removing the nail or whatever has caused your flat. In fact that's why BMW put the flat repair kit with your tools. What isn't acceptable is leaving your tire plugged. Plugging a tire should only be done to get you out of trouble and to a dealership. The dealer should determine wheather the tire is still usable. If your tire is still usable, the dealer will patch the inside of the tire and rebalance the wheel. Left unchecked, a plugged tire could have a catastrophic failure in the least desirable situation. The price of a new tire is more than worth the life of a loved one or worse.

Funny Noises:

When I first turn on my key, there's this funny whirring sound, what is it?

When the key is first turned on, there will be a short whirring sound. This is the fuel pump priming the injection system. If the tank is out of gas, the sound gets quite loud as there is no gas being pumped and no gas surrounding the pump to dampen the sound. The whirring sound can also get quite loud when the tank is full, this usually indicates the fuel filter is getting clogged. Remember, the mesh in our filters is so fine, water will instantly plug them. If you need to change your filter, check out my article on Fuel filter change.

Sometimes when I start to ride my bike, there is this strange sound, kind of like I just ran over a piece of metal on the road. Is there something wrong with my bike?

Most likely there is nothing wrong with your bike. The metallic "chink-chink," "clank-clank" or a kind of "ching-ching" sound when you first start rolling is only heard on bikes with ABS. This is the ABS system going through its self-test. This test occurs at 7mph and may occur more than once while riding (stop and go situations).

When I first start my engine, it makes a strange knocking sound, is my crankshaft about to fall out?

Definitely not. The rattle, rattle, rattle or racka, racka, racka sound coming from the engine on start-up is the cam chain flopping about until the cam chain tensioners oil up.

When my bike is idling, I hear this funny clicking sound but I'm sure it's not the valves. Do you have any idea what the noise is?

This clicking sound may very well be escaping spark from your high tension (spark plug) leads. As time goes by or in rainy weather, leaking spark will start to cause the engine to to miss or run poorly. The only real cure is to replace the H/T lead or leads. If you determine it's the plug cap that is at fault, slip a piece of "shrink wrap" over the cap and shrink it on. This fix will last some time without worry. If it's the H/T lead that is at fault, electrical tape may offer you a temporary fix.

When ever I apply the front brake, there is a buzzing sound. What the heck is that noise?

The noise that has gotton your attention is the holes in the discs going past the brake pads. The noise will only occur while the brake is applied and usually when the disc and pads are warmed up.

Every time I hit a bump, I get this clink or rattle from the front end. Any idea what the noise could be?

This noise could be a few things;

First off, our bikes have floating discs. While they do fit rather snugly, it's not that uncommon for them to make noise on bumps.

Another thing that makes that kind of noise up front is "aftermarket" brake pads. When the pads aren't made to BMWs strict tolerences, they will tend to move around more than the stock items. While the aftermarket pads will often stop as well and last as long as the stock ones, the noise may drive you to distraction.

The front, lower shock mount has also been known to make a "click" on bumps. The cure for this is a fairly easy one. While supporting the motorcycle under the engine (in an upright position) remove the front, lower shock attachment bolt. Lubricate both the bolt and the lower shock eye with a good all-purpose grease and re-assemble. A little dab of grease will quiet things right down. Don't forget to tighten the bolt when you are done! For torque specs see my Torque specs page.

Electrical Stuff:

I'm only getting one flashing ABS light when I turn on my ignition. Has the ABS stopped working?

Chances are the ABS is working just fine. Check to see if the brake light is not working either. This is usually indicates a blown or damaged fuse.

My dealer told me that the ABS lights flash together until I start to ride, what does this mean?

This is normal until the system goes through its self-test at 7mph.

This morning after starting my bike, I noticed the ABS lights were both flashing alternately. Is there something wrong with my brakes?

This indicates there is a fault in the system and should be checked. But, this also indicates a low battery. If your battery is fairly new (two years old or less), and your ABS lights flash alternately anyway, try riding the bike briskly (high engine RPM) for a few miles, stop, shut down the ignition and do a re-start. Depending on the temperature and battery condition, the problem will likely correct itself. Our stock batteries only last about three years before needing to be replaced. Old batteries will still start and operate the bike just fine for about another two to three years but you will have to put up with the ABS lights flashing all the time as the lowered battery capacity will not give the ABS the 14.3 volts it needs. To check your battery, see my Battery page.

My turn signals flash erratically, sometimes slow then sometimes fast. What is causing this strange problem?

Generally, this indicates a problem with the flasher unit and can be corrected under warranty. If your bike is no longer under warranty, I suggest you just put up with the erratic flashing.

Another thing that can cause erratic flashing of the turn signals is unsuppressed or leaking high tension leads (spark plug cables).

How long should my battery last?

You can expect your stock BMW battery to last about three years. The stock battery will last longer in a bike that doesn't have ABS, simply because the ABS requires the battery to put out 14.3 volts to do it's self test. If your bike doesn't have ABS or if you are willing to put up with the ABS lights always flashing all the time, your battery will last four to five years after which the battery will start having trouble turning your starter.

When my bike is idling, I hear this funny clicking sound but I'm sure it's not the valves. Do you have any idea what the noise is?

This clicking sound may very well be escaping spark from your high tension (spark plug) leads. As time goes by or in rainy weather, leaking spark will start to cause the engine to start to miss or run poorly. The only real cure is to replace the H/T lead or leads. If you determine it's the plug cap that is at fault, slip a piece of "shrink wrap" over the cap and shrink it on. This fix will last some time without worry. If it's the H/T lead that is at fault, electrical tape may offer you a temporary fix.

My owners manual says the low fuel warning light is amber. While riding today, my low fuel light came on but it was green! What's the deal with that?

I can't tell you why BMW says the low fuel light is amber but the book is wrong. I have yet to see a low fuel light on a BMW Cruiser that is any other color than green.

Engine Stuff:

When I started my bike after work, it turned out a huge cloud of blue smoke! Is there something wrong with my engine?

If your bike bellows blue smoke for only a minute or so, this is very common in horizontally opposed engines and nothing to worry about. Generally it occurs on the "side stand side" or "down side" cylinder. After the bike has been shut down and set on the side stand, the well-lubricated internal engine parts will drip oil into the cylinder behind the piston. Some of this oil will find it's way past the lubrication holes of the piston at the ring grooves and into the combustion chamber. It doesn't take very long to burn up those few drops of oil and the only damage it causes is to your pride.

I think my bike uses too much oil, how much should it be using? How much oil usage is too much?

Everybody worries about how much oil their bike uses at some point or another. BMW states that it is not uncommon for new engines to use as much as one quart of oil in a thousand miles. I personally have never seen this much usage but BMW says it sometimes happens. If you want your new BMW to use little oil and run smoothly, regularly use all of its RPM range. Around town use only first and second gear and never shift into top gear unless you are going at least 70mph. Never lug a new engine or the rings will likely never seat, causing oil usage and poor performance for the remainder of its life. What's lugging? Running an engine in too tall a gear for the road speed. Remember, your engine management computer has a rev limiter that won't allow you to over-rev your engine. When using all of your RPM range during break-in, you should consider your engine fairly well bedded-in at about ten thousand miles.

What the heck does the BMW repair manual mean by "angle torque?"

Angle torque is used to give a stud or bolt an end-use length or tension. Generally, the stud or bolt is prepared by proper lubrication then torqued to some minor amount (eg. 6 foot pounds) then brought up to finish tightness by pulling the wrench through how ever many degrees stated (eg. 32 degrees). The degrees may be stated in one part, two parts or more to bring the object up to tension as determined by the designing engineer.

I hate to say this but as owners (not trained mechanics) this is an area where we need to leave it to the professionals. If the part of your bike in question has already been angle torqued and you or another shop tries to do it again, the object will either break or strip out. If there is any question as to weather angle torquing has be carried out on your motorcycle, ask your dealer. If no one knows, don't take any chances just refer to my Torque Chart and leave it at that.


How can I adjust my clutch?

The only part of your clutch you can adjust is the angle of the lever on the handlebar. Your clutch adjusts itself, kind of like your brakes do. Each time your clutch slave cylinder goes out, fluid fills the space behind it. As your clutch wears, less fluid is returned to the master cylinder, thereby keeping the "adjustment" the same.

I just can't seem to let my clutch out smoothly anymore, what the heck am I doing wrong?

Chances are you are doing nothing wrong but there are a few places you can look for a problem. First off, is your lever moving smoothly (maybe some local lubrication is in order)? When is the last time you had the clutch fluid changed? The fluid at the master cylinder may look okay but what about down at the slave cylinder? If the fluid down at the slave cylinder is fouled or contaminated, sticking may result. If you find the fluid at the slave cylinder is fouled, you may consider removing and cleaning the slave cylinder. Lastly, the clutch disc itself may be having trouble sliding on its splines (not a cheap or easy fix). If you have already tried the easy stuff, maybe it's time to see your dealer.

Transmission Stuff:

When I try to put my bike into first gear while stopped, it won't go in. Does my transmission have a problem?

Likely your transmission is just fine. But if you are worried, what does it hurt to ask the mechanic about it! This is a very common trait on all BMWs. The transmissions are quite heavily built and use a pretty simple design. This simple design works very well while moving but leaves a little to be desired while standing stationary. There is a simple and effective way to deal with this idiosyncrasy. To shift into first gear (actually any gear you like) while stopped, simply squeeze the clutch and press on the shift lever. If you don't feel the lever shift into gear, continue holding pressure on the shift lever while easing out the clutch. Once the shafts in the transmission start to turn, the dogs will line up with their holes and the transmission will slip into gear.

While riding, the shifter sometimes won't return and I can't shift gears. What's wrong?

It's probably just a sticky or dirty shift linkage. This is a fairly common problem on the newer BMWs. Generally the cure is to spray some lubricant like WD-40 onto the external joints of the shifting mechanism. If your bike is exposed to a lot of wet riding and you don't clean it very often, then disassembly, cleaning and greasing may be necessary.

After the transmission has warmed up, it stops shifting. I've cleaned and lubricated all the external joints and it still sticks after warming up, what am I doing wrong?

Chances are you are doing nothing wrong. There was a problem on earlier bikes where the shift bushing in the transmission was made too tight for the conditions. When the transmission warmed up, the metal of the shaft and bushing would expand and bind up. The repair is to replace the bushing.

Gas Tank:

I don't like to stop for gas, is it okay to fill the tank right up into the neck of the filler?

No! When filling your gas tank, the bike is sitting on its side stand and the filler is at its highest point. Only fill to the bottom of the pipe extending into the tank. If you continue to fill up into the neck, you risk raw gas feeding down the tank breather into the charcoal canister. Raw gas in the charcoal canister is a bad thing. The system is not designed to deal with raw gas, only vapor. Once the charcoal canister is contaminated with raw gas, it will have to be replaced or removed. Either case your bike will run badly until it's dealt with.

I've looked all over on my bike, where the heck is the fuel pump?

The fuel pump in our bikes is located inside the gas tank along with the fuel filter. The fuel pump also needs to be in the fuel as the fuel cools the pump. If you have run out of gas, leaving the fuel pump continuously running with the tank empty can overheat it and cause it to fail.

Sometimes after filling my gas tank, fuel seems to stream out of the tank cap. Does my tank cap need replacing?

Probably not. If you manage to spill a few drops of fuel on the sealing lip of your fuel cap, it will likely hide under the cap until you are under way. Once under way, it will seem to spew out like you left the cap open. Even a few drops of gas can go a very long way.

When I park my bike, there are fuel drips under it when I come back out. Where on earth are they coming from?

Probably coming from the breather or overflow tubes. Drips of fuel under your parked bike are often a sign that the rubber hoses running through the tank to its breather either need trimming or replacing. As the hoses age, they start to fit their barbs looser. This allows raw gas to enter the sides and run down the tube to the ground.

This condition may also occur if you overfill your gastank. Only fill your tank to the bottom of the filler neck. If you continue to "force feed" your tank, the fuel will expand and feed into the tanks breather. Once the charcoal filter has filled up, the raw gas will stream out onto the ground. Ruining the filter and making a big, flammable mess under your bike.

How much trouble is it to change a fuel filter and where is it located?

Changing a Fuel Filter is not one of my favorite jobs as it's inside the gas tank. In order to change the filter, the tank has to come off and be completely drained (See my Tank Off article). Along with the fuel filter you may also need to buy new cover "O" rings (both, as they bloat in the gas and are almost impossible to re-use), a couple of hose clamps and possibly even some new hoses.


My Cruiser gives a very rough ride, are the shocks adjustable and how do I adjust them?

If you have an early Cruiser ('97 or '98) you can get a softer ride by installing the later "Comfort" shock or install a pair of the after-market ones. The front spring rate is not adjustable, whereas the rear one is. To find the best place to adjust the spring pre-load, I suggest setting the shock to the middle setting then adjust it down until it bottoms out on moderate bumps, then adjust it back up one click. If you are a fairly heavy person or ride a lot of two-up, Adjust it to the top setting and keep coming down until you again start bottoming out, then bump it up one click. The whole idea here is to have the spring pre-load set as low as possible to give as smooth a ride as possible. See my Adjusting Shocks article.

Stuff Falling Off:

The other day my backrest fell off, what's the deal with that?

Again, on the earlier bikes, there was a problem with the nut plate that held the backrest on. The plate would fracture across the holes and if you were lucky enough to see or feel it come off, you wouldn't lose your backrest. These bikes were tested for this problem at the dealership when they came in for service. The way to test the backrests was kind of funny: while in the upright position, the mechanic would whack the backrest with the heel of his or her fist. If the backrest didn't fall off, it was considered to be okay.

After a long ride over my favorite twisty road, I discovered my chrome side panel was missing. How could it fall off?

This is not a real common problem but it does happen from time to time. Usually the cause is one of two things; either the tool kit wasn't secured properly (putting pressure on the back of the cover) or the rubber grommets that hold the cover have rotted away. To keep an eye on the condition of the rubber grommets, it's a good idea to remove the covers and inspect the grommets every time you service the bike. Lubricate the little pins with Vaseline before refitting the covers.

I have lost two of those darned black plastic covers on my front swing arm, what's causing them to fall off?

Basically it's air pressure that makes them "pop" off. When the air inside the swing arm pivot expands from the heat of the engine, the expanding air has nowhere to go, so it just simply pushes off one of the caps. The cure is an easy one, simply drill a small hole (at the bottom) in one or both of the caps and you will likely never lose another.

Rough Running:

This morning when I tried to start my bike, as soon as I started to crank the starter I heard a "pop" and now the bike runs real bad. What happened?

The popping sound was probably one of the intake tubes being blown partially off. This will also now be accompanied by a sucking sound while the bike is running. The fix is simple: refit the tube and snug-up the clamp.

My bike idles kind of slow and dies at stop lights, how can I raise the idle?

A slow idle is cured by adding a "Fast Idle Plug" (sometimes referred to as a relay or chip). The plug is pretty cheap to buy but isn't real easy to put in as the gas tank has to come off (see Tank Off article). Once the plug is in place (there's a socket for it in the black plastic box under the Motronics unit), the battery needs to be disconnected and the ignition turned on and off several times (while the battery is disconnected). This is to ensure there is no memory left in the computer so that when it reboots, it will recognize the new map.

My bike seems to run poorly. I've tried to find an air leak but all seems fine. What could the problem be?

The problem is likely liquid in the air box. The engine breather dumps moisture and oil-ladened air into the air box as part of the emissions system. This system works quite well but when the vapor becomes droplets on the walls of the air box, the system is unable to deal with the liquid. This liquid will then pool up in the bottom of the air box and cause the bike to start and run poorly. This liquid can be removed by opening the drain in the bottom of the air box and letting it flow out. When you remove the plug in the bottom of the air box, make sure the bike and exhaust system is cool or the oil/water mix will make a mess of hot pipes. Please see my article on Draining Your Air Box.

Another thing you could check is to see if the little rubber vacuum caps on your intakes are rotted or missing. If the caps are rotted or missing, you could very well have an air leak. The caps in question can be found on the bottom of your intake tubes by the head. Slip each one off (one on each intake tube) and inspect for cracks, loose fit or if they are present. New caps are cheap, you may consider keeping a couple in your tool box.

The Frame:

I got a note in the mail from BMW saying I have to have some frame and fork work done. Is my bike not safe to ride?

Likely, your bike is perfectly safe to ride (as safe as any other time, that is). BMW is worried that with time (through electrolysis) the steering stem bolt may fail. This recall is only on the plated frame models with serial numbers ZA60000 through ZA63341. The steering yoke is removed, the frame drilled and tapped, an insert fitted to the frame and everything put back together with a new stem bolt and spacer. It sounds like a big job but with BMW's ingenious tooling, a couple of hours work and you're back on the road. Please see my article The Fork Stem Recall.

One of the threaded fasteners in my frame stripped out and I've got another that just turns, do I need to buy a new frame?

No, you don't have to buy a new frame. First thing to do is to understand what they are and how to care for them. These threaded inserts are put into the frame very much like a "Pop Rivet." The insert is assembled onto a threaded arbor, pushed into the hole in the frame, then squished to stop it from falling out. Good idea or bad idea, you decide. One that is stripped or just turning can be drilled out and a new one put in at your dealer. To keep these inserts healthy and solid in the frame, loosen your rear fender before messing with the bolts holding your grab rail or saddle bag mounts. By loosening the rear fender, the little rack will be allowed to move around just enough to remove any contact on the bolts allowing them to move without trouble.


I'm not going to be close to my dealer when my bike is due for service. What should I do about it's service? I don't want to void my warranty.

Likely, you won't void your warranty. Your dealer isn't going to be all that concerned about how many miles you missed your service by, only that it got done. Keeping you and your motorcycle happy is your dealer's biggest concern. If you are a long way away from home when your bike comes due for its service and for some reason the "out of town" dealer can't take your bike, just change your bike's oil and filter yourself and keep enjoying your ride.

How will my dealer know that I had my service done somewhere else?

Your dealer will know the service has been done by the entry in your service log book. If you forgot to take your service log book with you on your trip, take your receipt to your dealer and he will make the necessary notes in your log book.

I need to stop riding my Cruiser for the winter. Should I do anything special for it?

You bet! If you are going to leave your Cruiser dormant for more than just a few weeks, you should consider Winterizing it.

My Cruiser has been in storage over the winter, what should I do to get it ready for summer?

If you prepped your bike for storage, it will be simple to prep it for summer. Check out my article Hey, Wake up you!


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Copyright 2009 Pokie Parmidge