The BMW R1100RT is an Under-Appreciated Bargain Touring Bike

In many parts of the world motorcycles are still the main form of transportation. There are countless small displacement and inexpensive motorcycles that the majority of the population use for everything from basic transportation to delivering food and other necessities. But motorcycles in America have almost always been seen as a frivolous hobby with high costs of entry.

As a result, small displacement entry-level motorcycles in the United States are more expensive than a lot of bigger and ultimately better bikes due to demand driven by new riders. On top of that, the safety gear that everybody should absolutely be buying could easily cost a couple thousand dollars itself. That means if you are comfortable with riding a bigger bike, its possible to buy a relatively modern motorcycle with surprising amounts of technology and comfort for even less money than all of your riding gear combined. 

We picked this 1996 BMW R1100RT with 30,000 miles for just $2400. My boots, helmet, gloves, jacket, and pants come in around $1600, and there are still R1100s to be had on Marketplace for around that price.

What is the R1100 RT?

The BMW “RT” trim is a German acronym that translates to “Travel Tourer” and has been available since the 1977 R100 RT. It has historically been a package that offers an upright seating position with good wind protection and a big enough engine to cover a lot of ground quickly and comfortably. It became one of the most popular touring motorcycles in the world alongside the Honda Goldwing. But with BMW being BMW, they positioned the RT as a more nimble and fun to ride machine. And it very much is.  

The beginning of the “modern era” of BMW RT’s as we know them started in 1996 with the R1100RT. It was the first of the “oilhead” boxer engines which BMW is still using in some form almost 30 years later. It was a 1085cc oil cooled boxer twin that made 90 horsepower and 69 lb-ft of torque using the same Bosch Motronic fuel injection system as their cars.  This first generation of oilheads is notoriously robust with plenty of examples logging well over 100,000 miles. 

It may not be a high revving Japanese four-cylinder or the monstrous flat-six that you’d find in the Goldwing, but the BMW boxer engine is characterful in its own right. Its opposing cylinders rock the bike side-to-side if you rev it at a stoplight. It has gobs of torque just off idle that builds with a deep growl of intake noise right up until it starts to run out of steam 1,000 RPM short if its 8,000 RPM redline. It’s mid-range power is easily accessible and effortlessly smooth. It’s perfect for cruising down the highway at 70 miles per hour. 

On top of fuel injection borrowed from their road cars, the R1100RT has an electronically adjustable windscreen that shares its parts with the power adjustable seats in BMW’s E36 3-series. It also came standard with important things like ABS and digital gauges with a gear indictor. Front ABS paired with BMW’s Telelever front suspension means you can haul on its brakes as hard as you need without any fear of locking up and losing control. That type of technology can be the difference between life and death for an inexperienced rider in a panic situation. And the dual four-piston Brembos do a fine, but not great, job at hauling down such a big bike as long as they’ve been properly taken care of. 

What’s The Catch? 

As with any old machine there are a few common things that consistently wear down or go bad. On the RT, it’s the brake lines and reservoirs. A whole new braided kit will run you about $500 in parts and another $500 in labor if you don’t want to install them yourself. They improve the safety of the bike significantly and are a must-buy if any bike is still riding around on original hardware. But at this point, most of them have already been fully replaced by previous owners.

Looks may be subjective and generally un-important to many people, but there’s no arguing the 90’s gave us some of the most bulbous and egg-like automotive and motorcycle designs to date. If you didn’t know better you’d have to assume the designer of the third-generation “bubble” Ford Taurus also penned the R1100RT in his free time. If you spend time on the RT around other motorcyclists you start to feel like a parent with an ugly baby. Nobody will straight-up tell you they think it’s ugly, but its looks are always a topic of discussion.

It’s also a heavy bike even by today’s standards. Weighing somewhere around 620 pounds wet means it’s still within 5 pounds of a brand new 2024 R1250RT. So if you’re a new rider or not comfortable on a heavier bike the weight will take a bit of getting used to. Thankfully its relatively low 30” seat height and low center of gravity make it feel more approachable at low speeds.

Is the R1100 RT Worth It?

The short answer is a very easy yes. While the R1100 may be lacking modern luxuries like cruise control and adjustable suspension, it covers miles better than any new motorcycle you can buy for even three times our purchase price. Like so many other machines BMW makes, the R1100RT was engineered to be used. The solidity of its controls and its overall build quality are still top notch even in 2024. Its fuel injected engine is reliable, easy to maintain and relatively cheap to service.

As any vehicle ages, other things go wrong over time. But the RT community is full of helpful people with hundreds of thousands of miles in experience that they’re willing to share. The R1100RT might have a face only a frugal owner could love, but it has a riding experience that anybody can enjoy. 

Leave a Comment