The BMW R80G/S created a new genre of motorcycling when it first appeared, and is considered an icon today. The ‘GS’ designation is still a staple of BMW’s range, but it’s evolved a lot since 1980—both technologically and visually. By 1987, the R100GS already had a very different vibe to its predecessor, and the modern GS machines carry almost none of the original’s DNA.
Robert Sabel of Roughchild Motorcycles in California wonders what a modern G/S would look like if that wasn’t the case. What if the R80G/S got better… but still looked the same? That was the inspiration behind his latest project—a bike he’s dubbed the ‘R100XE.’
Based in downtown LA, Robert leads a team of four that only works on BMWs, and specializes in classic airheads. Their client on this project was the CEO of a publicly traded tech company who has a deep love for the brand.
“He used to work in a motorcycle shop as a kid and lusted after a Singer-style BMW airhead,” explains Robert. “He currently owns the new R1250GS and an R100GS Paris Dakar. He’s experienced the woes of buying a used bike and difficulties of keeping it on the road. This bike had to be top shelf, safe and reliable, with room to stick his wife on the back.”
“The goal was a ‘continuation’ model of the R80G/S: What if BMW manufactured that bike today? He left all of the design decisions to me—even allowing me to choose the color.”
To the untrained eye, the R100XE looks like a lightly fettled R80G/S with a black paint job. But it’s actually one heck of a sleeper. For starters, it’s not an R80G/S at all… Robert and his team actually started with a 1993 BMW R100R—picked for its stronger motor, and newer mono-shock Paralever swingarm design.
Finding the parts to dress it up like an R80G/S wasn’t hard. Roughchild have been operating in LA for eleven years now, and they had all the necessary parts sitting on their shelves. So the fuel tank, headlight nacelle and front fender are all OEM R80G/S parts.
The subframe’s an R80G/S part too, but it’s been modified to suit the R100R’s main frame. Up top is a custom seat, made to look like the original, but slightly shorter. The rear fender consists of an Acerbis unit, blended with the stock rear fender to offer full coverage.
Roughchild also gave the boxer motor a kick in the pants. It’s been rebuilt and treated to a twin-spark conversion, with a Silent Hektik ignition system.
It’s also now sporting Mikuni VM34 carbs with Uni pod filters, and a brushed stainless steel exhaust from Staintune. There’s a custom sump guard mounted to the stock R100R oil pan, and a nifty lockbox hand-made to sit on top of the transmission.
Next, the BMW needed appropriate running gear. Up front are the forks and brakes from a 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200XE. The adjustable Showa forks were rebuilt to the same length as the factory R80G/S forks, and are held by a set of custom triple trees (from Cognito Moto) that also hold the headlight housing.
The Triumph’s Brembo radial calipers are hooked up to custom stainless brake lines, linked to a brass Y-piece connector. That connector actually comes from a 1966 Porsche 911, and includes a pressure-operated brake light switch. An R80G/S master cylinder does duty on the control side.
Out back is an Öhlins shock with an external reservoir. The wheels are a combination of BMW hubs, stainless steel spokes, and Akront rims in period correct G/S sizes; 21” in front, 17” out back. Aggressive Continental TKC80 tires offer the right balance of on- and off-road grip.
There’s nothing Roughchild didn’t update on this airhead. That classic headlight bucket houses a modern LED light up front, and a GPS speedo from Speedhut, with a custom face, up top. There are also ‘telltale’ LEDs from Kat Dash, Renthal handlebars, and Barkbuster Jet hand guards with integrated led turn signals.
The switches are OEM R80G/S items, rewired to work with Motogadget’s mo.unit blue—a Bluetooth-enabled control unit around which the whole bike is wired. It now runs with a Shorai Lithium-ion battery (stashed under the tank), and a keyless ignition.
Finishing touches include a license plate light and rear turn signals from Rizoma, burly off-road foot pegs and factory R80G/S mirrors. There’s also a Unit Garage canvas saddlebag, attached to a mounting system from KlickFix. And since practicality was high on the list, this G/S has a center stand and crash bars, too.
Robert opted to wrap his client’s build in Jeep’s terrific Rhino Gray color, with a bunch of parts redone in black. It turned out to be a good call, because his client actually has a Rhino Gray Jeep.
By drawing on experience, and mixing together the right parts in the right way, Robert and his crew have built a rugged, good looking and, most importantly, capable classic boxer. Simple and purposeful, the R100XE is a great ‘what if’—an exercise in alternative BMW history, if you will.