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BMW R 1200 CL(C)

To eliminate any confusion, let me tell you why I call this bike a CL(C). When BMW puts C after R 1200, they mean Cruiser; the R 1200 C (aka "the James Bond bike") was BMW's stripped-down, feet-forward cruiser-style motorcycle built from 1997 to 2004. CL means Cruiser Luxury; it was a full dress touring model (or "bagger") made for just two model years, 2003 and 2004. The CLC was the "upgraded" version of the CL, with a radio, CD player and some extra chrome bits.

I call mine a CL(C) because one of the first things I did to it was to remove the radio and CD player. They worked just fine, but if and when I want to listen to music while I'm riding, I want it in my helmet, not blaring out of speakers in the fairing. Also, since the radio was designed in the early 2000s, the CD player can't handle discs with MP3s on it and the radio doesn't have an auxiliary input for a smartphone or MP3 player - so really, what's the point? One CD at a time? Very 20th century.

The C and CL have a dedicated, almost obsessive following known as Chromeheads, a play on the terms used to describe BMW opposed-twin engines - Airheads, Oilheads, Hexheads, Camheads and Wetheads are the other "head" designations. For many (I daresay most) other BMW riders, the Chromehead bikes had a bad reputation based on their meager power output (about 60 horsepower) and unusual styling. The CL suffers the most from the former perception, the C from the latter.

My CL(C) is a 2004 model that I picked up in December 2015. It weighs nearly 700 pounds with a full tank of gas and its front tire is a 150/80 - bigger by a smidge than the rear tire on my 2005 R 1200 GS, which sports a 150/70. It had just 17,407 miles on the odometer when I got it and was in nearly perfect shape. There are a few scuffs here and there, a couple of scrapes and the chrome on the fork tube caps is pitted. (Pitting or peeling chrome is a common complaint among C/CL riders).

I'll be perfectly honest and say that I never really intended to buy a CL and I am not yet convinced I'll be hanging on to it. What I really want is an Indian Chieftain, but those cost about $25,000. Not only do I not have anything closely resembling that knid of money, but I'm not entirely sure I'll truly enjoy riding a big bagger. I've ridden a Chieftain on a couple of occasions and I like it, but riding it on a short demo ride is nothing like living with a bike day to day for commuting or touring. My reasoning, flawed though it may be, is that if I can live with (and even like) the CL(C) for, oh, 10,000 miles or so, then maybe I have a shot at really enjoying a Chieftain. Furthermore, the Chieftain handles better than the CL(C) by a mile, which is another reason I think that if I like this one, I'll love that one.

Other than just riding the piss out of the CL(C), I wanted to do a few things to it straightaway that would not only make it more suited to my riding style, but would also improve its resale value for the future.

  • Oil change at 17,800 miles - the oil came out black but otherwise OK. I installed my typical Mobil1 M1-102 filter, which I used on all my Oilheads and use on my Hexhead and Flying Brick (the K 1200 RS). This is a high quality filter and way better than the Fram filter that came out of the bike. I used Castrol 20W50 semi-synthetic motor oil, which was the oil weight originally specified by BMW for this engine.
  • Repair the backrest. It is very common to see a CL with one or more of the five attachment points for the backrest snapped off. The backrest is connected to the lid of the trunk and sticks up above the trunk lid, making it an attractive grab handle for passengers mounting or dismounting the rear seat. Huge mistake, as the weight and stress of grabbing or leaning on the backrest can easily cause the mounts to break. Three of mine were broken, causing the backrest to flap in the wind; of the two unbroken mounting points, one was on its way to breaking. This was quickly and easily fixed with the application of JB Weld, a near-magical two-part expoxy that sets in a few hours and hardens in 24. In addition to repairing the broken mount points, I also reinforced the other two unbroken ones.
  • Remove the radio, CD player and antenna. First of all, I think the antenna looks goofy, so that had to go. The CD player ate up about 15-20 percent of the right side case. The head unit for the radio stuck out like a sore thumb from the handlebar, hovering uselessly above the tank. I say uselessly because the radio itself wasn't loud enough to be heard at highway speeds over the road/wind noise and through my helmet and ear plugs. Removing the CD player was easy - two screws an three wiring harness connections. Removing the antenna required the removal of the side case, but was otherwise straightforward. Removing the head unit was a bit of a pain, as the inner covers of the fairing had to come off and it was tough to track down the connector at the other end of the wires.

    This is the right side case with the CD player removed. You can see that the rearward bracket still sticks down into the case, but there's a lot more usable space with the CD player gone. Of the three wiring connectors, the one with its end the furthers to the right - the antenna connector - is gone, with a rubber plug in its place to maintain the watertight nature of the case. The other two connectors are just zip-tied up out of the way.
  • Installation of the wiring harness for my GPS - I'm using a Garmin zumo 590LM now (fantastic unit, by the way), and I didn't want to mount it to the handlebar with a u-bolt to avoid scratching up the chrome handlebar (thinking about resale value here). With the radio off, I removed the head unit from the mounting plate, drilled holes in the plate and now have a nice, central location for my GPS and one other RAM-mount compatible device.

    This doesn't show the wiring harness, but you can see how I mounted the GPS unit on the plate normally used by the radio head unit. I've got two holes drilled for future installation of another diamond RAM plate for mounting other devices.
  • Upgrading the headlights. My friend/boss George Mangicaro (who does most of the difficult stuff for me when it comes to motorcycles) had the idea of upgrading the low beam lamps to HIDs. He had the kit and did the work; we weren't able to use his preferred ballasts simply because there wasn't enough room under the fairing panels to mount them. The light output is up about a million times from the stock H4 lamps (just kidding) and it's a nice, white light. The high beams remain unaffected, but they are now more useful as flash-to-pass lights than actual illuminate-the-road lights.

    This is the left side low-beam headlight assembly from inside the fairing. It's a tighter fit than it looks like it is in this photo.

    This is the ballast for the HID bulb - pretty compact overall, especially compared to older HID units. The shiny box is the ballast; the smaller black box that's tucked up and harder to see is the exciter.

  • Intallation of wiring so I can run a heated jacket liner; it's not really necessary at temps above 40, as with proper layering the fairing provides plenty of wind protection for the upper body. When riding in temps below 50, I get cold but I don't get uncomfortable. The heated seat - yeah, I said heated seat is a nice touch, and BMW's standard heated grips help too. I do anticipate riding at temperatures below 40 degrees F, though, so the ability to run heated gear is important. This was an easy, direct-to-the-battery installation.

    This clip-on thermostat/controller for my heated jacket liner is just slid onto the fairing lower; it's primarily held in place by the fuel tank, which prevents it from sliding off. A small piece of double-sided tape is under it to keep it from moving at all.


    This is a GS-911 Wifi hooked up to the CL(C). It is easy to get to - and conveniently located under the left chrome side panel. (Don't forget to lube your grommets before pressing this panel back into place.) Because the CL(C) is an older BMW, there's not a lot of useful information to be had through the diagnostic interface, but you can read engine and ABS fault codes and test and reset some important functions related to engine and ABS management.

    Here's the heart of the systems - the Bosch Motronic computer at top right and, right next to it, the ABS/servo unit. At lower left is the battery.

    In addition to the chome that rusts, pits or flakes (which you can see in the photo of the headlight under the fairing, above), another problem BMWs of this generation tend to have is deterioration of the sleeves around wiring harnesses, especially those exposed to sunlight. The cluster of wires going to the right-side handlebar controls was particularly bad on this bike, so I replaced it with this flexible covering. It's plastic and works kind of like the coil in a spiral-bound notebook. You don't want to use anything made of hard plastic, as that creates chafing points that can pinch your wires and wear through them, causing all sorts of problems. This is softer plastic and moves well with the wiring.

In the future, I don't plan on doing too much to this bike. I will be swapping out the heel-and-toe shifter for a standard C (toe only) shifter; I wear a size 14 boot and my left leg doesn't always point exactly straight due to my crash and subsequent reconstructive surgeries in 1999/2000. As a result, the heel part of the heel-and-toe shifter is inconveniently located and gets in my way.

When I get to 20,000 miles, I'll start the CL(C) on my patented (not!) 5/10k maintenance schedule. At 10,000 mile intervals, the bike will get all fluids changed/flushed - engine oil (and filter), transmission oil, final drive oil, brake fluid (including the ABS/servo assist module) and clutch fluid. At the 5,000-mile interval between 10s, it will get fresh engine oil and a new oil filter. I know this is less than BMW's 6,000-mile service interval, but 5-10-15-20 is a lot easier to remember than 6-12-18-24. While I'm not a pro mechanic, I have a lot of experience with this generation of bikes and have had a lot of success with my 5/10 method. I'll be putting in a K&N air filter at 20,000 miles and that should last the life of the bike. A fuel filter will go in then as well, and I'll make myself a note to change it every 20,000 miles.