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Haynes’ World: Project Rockster is under way!

Haynes World our cars and motorbikes

Haynes' World is a regular feature that takes a look at what the staff at Haynes are doing with their cars, bikes and other vehicles. This time, Martynn Randall gives a BMW R1150R Rockster some TLC.

BMW R1150R Rockster

Autumn is here, and as any motorcyclist will tell you, it’s time for a ‘winter project’. This is intended to provide an alternative to huddling around the TV on cold nights, waiting for the latest episode of ‘Strictly Bake-off Island’ or similar nonsense.

Choosing the correct project is important. Instead of a complete restoration, a project should have a reasonably good chance of completion without too much effort or expense, and allow you to end up with something that you either actually want to ride or can sell easily.

It’s all too easy to bite off more than you can chew, lose enthusiasm and generate an ‘unfinished’ project. This will almost certainly result in a major financial loss, as well as loss of self-esteem. 

The financial costs involved are not to be underestimated. The initial purchase price has to be modest enough to allow for some potentially expensive bits. For example, caliper rebuild kits are £80 each - three needed. A pair of tyres and a new battery? £300. Full gasket set? £150, Seat reupholstered? £100, Rocker cover bolt set? £88.

The point is it’s really easy to spend £1000 on a project that (according to the previous owner) "Only needs a little TLC".

It really is a little soul-destroying to spend the winter renovating your project, only to find that you could have bought the same bike, completely up together, for only a little more – ask me how I know.

After the R100RS, I really didn’t have any enthusiasm (or cash) for another long-term full restoration, but I did want something interesting to play with in the garage that would be fun/useful come the spring. So I settled on a bike that I’ve quietly fancied for some years: a BMW R1150R Rockster.

BMW R1150R Rockster

These were manufactured for a few years at the beginning of the century and were a mix of parts from the standard R1150R and the GS model. Fortunately, Haynes sells two manuals for use with the Rockster:

A Clymer Manual, which also covers some of the firm's range of R motorcycles and...

A Haynes Owners workshop manual for R850, 1100 and 1150 4-valve twins.

How Telelever suspension works

An interesting feature on these BMW’s is the use of a ‘Telelever’ front fork/suspension system. Instead of traditional telescopic forks, with integral springs/dampers, Telelever suspension has telescopic fork tubes, but they're supported by a wishbone (Telelever) bolted to the top of the engine. The movement of the wishbone is controlled by a normal-locking shock absorber. There are no springs or dampers in the fork tubes.

What’s the point of this? Well, the idea is to separate the braking forces from the suspension system. Normally on a bike, when squeezing the front brake lever the resulting weight transfer causes the forks to compress (dive). This fork dive can use up the suspension travel and firm up the fork action. On a bumpy approach to a corner, the front suspension can indeed feel like it’s solid, with the resulting loss of stability and grip.

With the Telelever system, the brakes have almost no effect on the suspension. You can brake harder for longer. The stability of the bike is excellent, yet it’s still really responsive to enthusiastic riding. Telelever bikes take a little getting used to, but riding a ‘normal’ bike afterwards feels scary!

BMW Rockster motorbike

This particular example has very low mileage, as verified by the MoT history website, but it’s been left outside or in a damp shed for quite some time. There’s plenty of corrosion evident, along with semi-seized brakes, leaking forks, seized cables, etc.

I started stripping the forks, then decided to remove the Telelever wishbone to give the engine a good clean, then removed the battery tray for a coat of paint, then discovered the broken instrument cluster mounting, so took that off too… you can see where this is going.

I'll end up with just a pile of bits if I’m not careful. I’m determined not to separate the engine and frame, because then I might as well do a full restoration, but there may not be many bits still fitted soon! Costs are already mounting, so much so that the respray on the wish list may not get done.

Some bikes look better slightly tatty, and I think this may be one. Besides, if it’s not pristine and polished, it might just get used a bit more.