I bought a vampire motorcycle!

Those of you with long memories may remember the movie, where a possessed Norton Commando periodically struck down anyone within range.  The BMW Funduro mentioned in the last Motorcycle story here developed similar tendencies.  I extolled its virtues as bike with decent power and good handling all for the price of a BSA Bantam.  But while I was using the bike, a number of design flaws haunted my daily commute, but the last one beat them all.

For those who don’t know, the Funduro was a BMW designed (and branded) motorcycle, built in Italy by Aprilia, using an Austrian Rotax engine.  They were made from 1994 to 2000, with a revision in 1996 that addressed the major fault discussed in this story.

The BMW Funduro, as bought

The previous owner of my 1994 Funduro had left it unused under a cover in his garden for a couple of years, so I always knew that it needed work to make it roadworthy.  As usual, I completely underestimated what would be involved in fixing a 20 odd year old bike with 30,000 miles on it.  Before it could be MOT’ed, it needed an old and knackered immobiliser removed, new chain and sprockets, fork seals and bushes, a complete rebuild of the rear suspension linkages, and steering head bearings.  The head bearings are a known problem on these bikes, apparently (if internet wisdom is to be believed), because BMW/ Aprilia didn’t use a heat resistant grease on them despite hot engine oil being carried in the top frame tube.  The grease then melts as the bike is used, draining away to leave dry head bearings.  And if that problem inspires confidence in the build quality of these bikes, then you will love what happened next!

The Funduro with a larger screen and lots of other nice new bits.

Not long after I started using the bike, it suddenly started running very badly when on my way home.  I struggled on for a quarter of a mile or so with the problem getting worse until it cut out.  The electrics had failed totally and I spent a quiet hour standing at the side of the road on a dark and very wet evening, cursing BMW/ Aprilia/ Rotax until the rescue service arrived to trailer me home.  This turned out to be another known design flaw.  Some designer with a warped sense of humour thought it would be fun to mount the regulator/ rectifier under the seat.  Now I would have thought that the large, finned casting around this component was a good hint that it should really have some sort of air cooling, but such minor considerations appear to have escaped the designer’s consciousness.  A short time later, and with the replacement regulator/ rectifier moved to the open air I rode on, and actually got enough miles under its wheels to get to like the Funduro, (I’ll never like that stupid name though).

One of many problems with this bike!  This is the toothed mechanism that operates the clutch.  You can see the stripped teeth on the lower part, and the black colour of the new part that shows that the hardening method used on it changed.  Surely this is recognition that the original specification was not up to the job?

Then one day as I pulled in the clutch, nothing happened.  The cable was fine, but the toothed rack and pinion mechanism that disengages the clutch plates had given way.  This is a known problem on these bikes (are you detecting a pattern yet?), and the replacement parts aren’t cheap.  Neither are they particularly simple to fit since the water pump is located in the same casing meaning that the engine coolant has to be drained, which on any relatively modern bike of course means removing loads of bodywork to get access.  Incidentally, and I haven’t suffered this one yet, the impellor shaft on the water pumps of these bikes give trouble, apparently because they are not hard enough; yet another design flaw.  Fixed yet again, the bike and I were just about getting on good terms again when the damned thing tried to kill me!

Picture the scene; Thursday evening in mid-November, and I’m heading home.  There were a few decently traffic free bits of dual carriageway where I didn’t have to filter between stationary traffic and got the bike above third gear which was a nice change from normal.  Then, at last, I got to turn off the main drag and got onto more interesting roads through Crawfordsburn village and on towards home.  At last all was right with the world.  Then, fortunately as I slowed for a dimple roundabout a quarter mile or so from home, there was a loud crunch.  The rear wheel immediately locked.  I pulled the clutch in as quickly as I could but it made no difference.  We slithered to a halt right in front of someone’s driveway.  A first glance showed the reasonably new and well lubed x ring chain was broken and locking up the rear wheel.  At 10mph this was scary, but the thought of what this would have been like at higher speed doesn’t bear thinking about.

The picture above shows two front sprockets for this bike.  The one on the left is new, and you can see the well defined, unworn teeth in the centre of it that fit it to the gearbox output shaft.  The wear on the one on the right should also be clear.  This allowed it to rattle around on the shaft, putting a lot of strain on the small circlip that holds it on, and eventually failed

I couldn’t move the bike like this, but had the tools at hand to take out the wheel to free things up.  It didn’t take long to find that the front sprocket was completely missing!  Guess what?  This is a known problem on these bikes.  On early bikes the front sprocket is held on with a rather tiny circlip, nothing else.  Over time as the splines on the gearbox shaft wear a little, there is a lot for this miniscule circlip to cope with, and it eventually fails (see the picture below).  BMW/ Aprilia/ Rotax obviously knew of this problem, because from some time in 1996 onwards, they changed the way the sprocket was held on from this rather rubbish circlip to a rather substantial, and much more conventional nut and tab washer (see picture).  You can recognise the earlier bikes easily since they have the front indicators built into the fairing.  On the later, revised bikes, the indicators are separate.  I wonder how many people were injured or killed before they made that change?  A quick look on E bay revealed that there is a decently sized trade going on in later model gearboxes to retrofit to these bikes.  I even bought one, but time was short back then, and I did not have time to do the complete engine rebuild that would have been required to fit it.  I needed transport urgently: preferably of a more reliable kind than this BMW had provided.

The circlip and the later nut and tab washer.  Which mechanism for fixing the front sprocket on would you prefer to trust your life to?

There are other problems on these BMW singles such as the rubbish paint on the engine that flakes off at the slightest provocation.  The bikes come with alloy wheels and stainless spokes as standard, but these good specification parts are marred by the quick to rust steel spoke nipples that are fitted as standard.  The ignition has a piece of red plastic covering the key slot that slides back as the key is inserted.  Apparently it is not unknown for these to break off and jam the lock leaving the hapless rider stranded.  If a large top box is used like the one in the picture of my bike, the rear frame is known to crack in a few places.  On some types of bike overloading a top box may cause the rear frame to bend during use, on this one the frame actually fractures!  Given the substantial cast aluminium rear carrier that is fitted to Funduro’s as standard, I would have thought they were designed to carry a load, but apparently this is not true in practice.  I’m sure that there are other problems too that I don’t know of yet, and frankly, I don’t want to.  It is a great pity that a potentially great bike is marred by such a number of both petty and major faults.  It wouldn’t have taken much to make it right from the design stage. If this were a car, I am sure it would have been recalled to fix some of these problems, but since most bikes get hobby only usage that substantially reduces the mileage they cover, the recall never happened.  Can you imagine the outcry that would occur if a car (of any age) suffered the kind and number of faults listed above within about 36,000 miles?  I’m getting rid of mine with full disclosure of the problems involved before anything else goes wrong.  Next time, I’ll buy a Honda.

Now here is the important lesson to take away from my experiences.  If you are thinking of buying one of these singles (and this includes the early version of the Aprilia Pegaso), bring a couple of Allen keys with you, remove the front sprocket cover, and if there isn’t a large nut and tab washer underneath, walk away.  Your life may depend on it!

Post Script:  Unfortunately even selling this bike specifically listed as for spares and repair only was not enough to end my troubles with it.  See the next motorcycle related post for all the gory details on this!!


  1. About 15 years ago, a good friend bought a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM on my recommendation. We did a thorough inspection of the bike, but missed the fact that the owner had stripped the threads on the countershaft bolt and *WELDED* the bolt and sprocket to the shaft to hide it. When my friend went to replace the chain and sprockets he discovered the "repair" and it cost as much as he had paid for the bike to fix it. Some people are pure evil.

  2. Two years ago I almost purchased a cheap BMW F650 Funduro that I found on Craigslist, with a seized engine. I didn't because I don't have enough garage space.

    1. Hi Kofla,

      Dodging that one is a good excuse for having a full garage!! ;-)


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