The slogan of the Airheads, a group of BMW motorcycle enthusiasts who are partial to air-cooled models, is “Simple By Choice”. It is a reminder that the choice of machine is a just that, a choice. Most owners can afford newer machines, and some have them, but on any given day, their preferred steed is a machine that is between 20 and 45 years old. Technically, the range goes back even further, but most often the gatherings begin in the /5 era.
A recent gathering proves the point. Experienced engineers abound in the crowd, and knowledge of the simple machines in attendance is encyclopedic. People opine on diode boards and compare front drum brakes to the first discs. However, the most fascinating conversations are centered around modifications made to make life with an old machine a little better. These bikes are regularly used and there were a few bikes in attendance with more than 200k on the odometer. Fairings are popular. After all, if you are going to rack up the miles touring, you need some weather protection. Well-worn seats are popular as well, as is duct tape.
Two areas of alteration are most dominant. The first is electrical. Many of these machines did not come with alternators that envisioned heated gear, auxiliary lighting, GPS, etc. As a result, many machines have had upgraded electrical systems which produce enough juice to power small buildings and sell the excess back to the grid. Others have exotic electron-sipping accessories. Many have lighting added front and rear to improve visibility. This is combined with reflective tape, in strategic locations and jackets and helmets as well. Safety is clearly important to the clan. Storage is the other dominant area. If you look closely, there are cleverly adapted pouches and pockets, and compartments that enhance carrying capacity, and supplement factory luggage. There are better locks for the notorious Krausers, and more modern cases adapted to older bikes. Tank bags and tail bags, and extended range tanks with bras.
Ironically, for all the upgrades and add-ons, none of the bikes have any engine modifications. None are hopped up, and most boast that the engines have never been opened despite 6-figure mileage. None have bigger carbs, and very few are not running the stock exhaust. I guess when you start out with a machine this good, you develop a devoted following. You also encourage them to ride them ridiculous numbers of miles. It is logical then, that when you get a group of them to stop riding long enough to get together, they can spend time on everything else…..