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BMW K 1200 RS with Hannigan Classic sidecar

Now here's something you don't see too often. As a matter of fact, I have one of only three K 1200 RS-based sidecar rigs I personally know about.

I bought my 1998 K 1200 RS in June 2010; it had 58,000 miles on it at the time. The guy selling it didn't really WANT to sell it, but he'd recently taken a job in China & had about 2 weeks to sell all his stuff - including this decent-condition K bike. I admit I lowballed his offer by a couple grand; much to my surprise he accepted the offer.

I rode the bike for only 2,000 miles before having the sidecar put on it.

The decision to "hack" my RS came about largely because of a smokin' deal I got on a used Hannigan Classic sidecar; a friend of one of my brothers had inherited a Harley-Davidson-based sidecar rig and he had zero interest in driving a sidecar rig. He tried valiantly to sell the sidecar through H-D resources (websites, etc.) but had no luck. Apparently the H-D crowd wasn't too interested in it since it was Hannigan, not H-D. No matter, because one day my brother called and said, "Hey, are you still looking for a sidecar?" I expected it to be a beat up rat trap once I heard the story, so imagine my surprise (and joy) when I found out it was a 2006(ish) perfect condition Hannian Classic with all the bells & whistles, including Electronic Camber Control (ECC) and a brake on the sidecar wheel.

At the time, my other bike was a 1995 R 1100 GS. After purchasing the sidecar, I put it next to the GS. Then I put it next to the RS. Then the GS again. It just didn't look right with the GS - the bike was way too tall for the sidecar. It did look right next to the RS. Decision made. Good thing, too, because only 6 months later, I'd sold the R 1100 GS & replaced it with the 1200 GS I still ride.

What came on it when I bought it w/58k on it

  • Corbin seat; seat lock is fiddly/wonky & pops out if you're not careful
  • Wilbers shocks; front p/n 630, rear p/n 641 w/external preload adjuster & external compression reservoir
  • New clutch at 52k in 2008; all new trans & rear main seals
  • upgraded fork seals
  • heated (but very worn) grips
  • Odyssey AGM battery
  • PIAA 1400 driving lights
  • Hella Twin Supertone horns (118dB)
  • upgraded/updated & relayed horn & headlight wiring
  • left side hard case doesn't lock; several stripped screws on the case mount (stripped screws later replaced)
  • right side hard case has the mounting arms broken off (repaired by my friend Jim von Baden)
  • rider footpegs are very worn
  • shifter has significant "slop" in it - may need replaced
  • weird "dashboard" between the clipons that made it hard to get the key in the ignition & obscured the view of the idiot lights - I removed this 5 minutes after getting the bike home
  • tires (Metzeler Z6 Interact) on at approx. 56k
The photo on the main motorcycle page is of me with the pre-sidecar RS.

Here's a photo of the other side of the bike, the side where the sidecar is now.

This is a photo of the sidecar before it was connected to the bike.

The sidecar installation/connection work was done by Claude Stanley & his intrepid crew at Freedom Sidecars in Middleburg, PA. Even though I had most of the mounting bits, they were for a Harley; Claude had to get some parts from Hannigan, but he also had to simply just make a bunch of parts for my rig himself. In addition to the standard install - connecting the sidecar, electronics and hydraulics for the brakes - I had Claude to a "rake reduction" modification, which alters the relationship between the front wheel and the front of the bike, making it a bit easier to steer.

Here's what the rig looks like from the front now.

After/since the sidecar installation, the following has been done/changed/altered/updated. George at Beemers Über Alles has done much of this work.

  • Shocks rebuilt by Ted Porter's Beemer Shop (November 2011, 64,000 miles) to take into account both my size AND the addition of the sidecar. While Claude's crew did a great setup job on the rig, they couldn't overcome the inadequate shocks. This modification, more than anything else, has made this rig a joy to drive. I thought about switching to Öhlins, but decided rebuilding the Wilbers would be more economically sound, since they were already the top-of-the-line shocks anyway.

    I'd love to say this was a pain-free experience, but it took far longer than expected (or estimated) to get this work done due to miscommunication between TPBS & Wilbers. However, once I got the shocks back on the rig, oh my goodness was I happy. The work itself was impeccable and the shocks are awesome.

  • Sidecar rigs being what they are, motorcycle tires don't last long on the rear wheel especially. George figured out that we could install a car tire on the stock RS rear rim (17 x 5 inches, 180/55 is the spec). He wedged a 190/40 sports car tire in there, using the wheel spacer from a K 1200 LT to get a couple of millimeters of extra clearance from the swingarm.

    While this was a good solution, it wasn't ideal. The sports car tire had great grip and the performance was just awesome, the ride comfort was quite literally a pain in the ass. The low profile of the tire transmitted every bump and jolt straight up through my spine. It also screwed up the speedometer/odometer so I never knew (really) how fast or how far I was going. I solved this problem somewhat by affixing a Garmin Zumo 550 GPS to the bike and relying on that. The sports car tire also further degraded my fuel efficiency, which had already taken a giant hit from bolting on a 300-pound sidecar.

    George figured out one day that the rear wheel from an R 1200 CLC would fit on my final drive. It had only 4 bolts instead of 5, but the 5th bolt on the stock RS wheel is in the middle, so it's OK without it. It took many months to find an acceptable (condition and price) CLC wheel on eBay, but I finally persevered in April 2013. The CLC wheel fits a 165/65 R 15 tire made by Federal - it's the same tire that people put on their vintage Volkswagen Beetles.

    With the CLC wheel & 15" tire, the performance isn't quite as taut as it was with the 17" sports car tire, but the ride is so much more comfortable that I can't complain. The speedo/odo are now exactly correct, and my mileage improved as well. I was able to sell the stock RS wheel to offset about 2/3 the cost of this modification.

  • I put on a footpeg lowering kit, including a shift lever extension and brake pedal extension. This helped clean up the slop in the shift level as well as making the bike a bit more comfortable to ride.
  • After the sidecar went on, it became basically impossible to do routine fluid changes (engine oil, transmission & final drive oil) without detaching the sidecar. When George had the rig apart while the shocks were being rebuilt, he made some strategic cuts in the body panels to enable me to do these bits of routine maintenance on my own.
  • Even though the mounting of the sidecar was incredibly stable - perhaps even overbuilt a bit - Claude left the stock stand assembly on the bike. I got tired of looking at the non-functional (and no longer necessary) kick stand/center stand assembly hanging off the bottom of the bike. George found a guy (called Karl) to make me a custom mounting plate that replaced the stand assembly and, in addition to cleaning up the looks of the bike, improved the side-to-side rigidity of the overall rig.
  • I installed a Givi rear rack on the bike, which enabled George to install the following item.
  • Auxiliary fuel tank! My friend Don Catterton, when it came time for him to do an Iron Butt Rally (11 days, 11,000 miles!), decided to put an aux fuel tank on his GS Adventure. After he retired from the rally circuit, he gave the tank to our friend Mike Tippett. Later on, Mike sold his GS and gave me a bunch of leftover parts he had lying around - including this 3.5 gallon aux fuel tank.

    You may remember that I mentioned attaching a sidecar to this bike really dug into its fuel efficiency. Without the sidecar on it, the RS easily got 40+ mpg. With the sidecar on it, and the 17" sports car tire, that dropped to 20-22 mpg. Switching to the CLC wheel and 15" car tire upped that to 26-28, 30 mpg if I'm easy on the throttle.

    In June 2012, I wanted to take a trip to Colorado to attend the RA Rally; the plan, though it didn't come to fruition, was to continue on to the Grand Canyon and have a good old-fashioned road trip vacation. I knew once I got out west, gas stations would get farther apart, and with the way the rig was set up at the time, that 5.5 gallon fuel tank was only getting me 100-120 miles. Not enough for me to feel safe crossing Kansas or Texas. The aux tank put me a lot closer to 200 miles per fill-up, and that made me feel a lot more comfortable.

    It's a gravity-feed setup, so all I have to do is wait until my "you have 1 gallon of gas left" light comes on, reach back, flip the lever that opens up the fuel line, and wait about 15 minutes for the aux tank to drain. It's also very important to remember to flip the lever closed again, otherwise when I fill up the main tank and then the aux tank, the aux tank tries to drain into the main tank, spilling gasoline all over the ground and making a huge mess.

    The aux tank probably gets more comments and questions than anything else on the rig - unless my daughter is with me. Then, of course, everybody pays attention to her.

  • Throttle cable from a K 1200 GT to account for the extra height of the clip-ons due to the risers I installed. Greatly eased the use of the throttle. We eventually followed this up with the stock riser setup from a K 1200 GT and modified (lightly) my barbacks to fit those. The seating position for the driver is now more upright and there's a little more leverage to make steering the rig easier.
  • George replaced the rear brake master cylinder with one from a K 1300 R, which is a naked sports bike. This master cylinder is larger than the stock one, and it allows me to better control the rear brake on both the bike and the sidecar. The way Claude set it up, the sidecar brake is plumbed into the bike's rear brake; George made it so I can control both with a lot of ease.
At this point, the rig is really set up to point-and-shoot. I can cruise at 80 mph all day long, limited only by my back, knees and bladder. I've had it as fast as 110 mph and it's rock solid.

This winter (2013/14), it will be getting a new clutch with upgraded and heavy-duty parts to better handle the extra weight of the sidecar. The current clutch is only 5 years/16,000 miles old, but it sticks & slips, which make it clear that the sidecar has done some damage. (PS 2018 update: A new clutch did indeed fix the problem, but somebody lied. Either the previous owner lied to me or the shop that did his clutch at 52k lied to him. They absolutely did not replace the rear main seal, and it leaking is what killed the clutch for me - not anything like poor clutch technique on my part. Still glad we installed the heavier-duty clutch parts, though, because clutch performance definitely improved.)