This post is about my experience with my 2004 BMW r1150r Rockster (with ABS) and the decision to remove the ABS Servo unit. I've owned the bike for a year and a bit - I've ridden just over 16,000 miles. I bought it used and have ridden many long days and multiple day rides focusing on sporty touring and good sweeper and twisty roads.
This post is not about the actual process or steps used to do the removal. There is plenty (a plethora in fact) of great material on how to do the removal. I will list some of the things I found the most valuable below.
BMW Knows Best?
A dozen years ago-ish BMW decided that their brakes would be WAY better with a power assisted servo unit. Yes, I said power brakes....on a motorcycle.
- This servo is used to give their bikes ABS (anti lock brakes) which is a good enough idea.
- You get linked brakes (both activate) which means the bike is nice and settled under braking.
- Lot of power via the servo means you can slam a shit ton of braking over and over without any hand fatigue.
- They are heavy (13 pounds).
- They are slow (no matter what the dealer said/says, there is a slight delay when pulling the lever and if you release and reapply it's even more noticeable).
- The are GRABBY at slow/parking lot speeds. Trying to get a light feather to slide up to the stop or in traffic just doesn't work. They GRAB suddenly...not good.
- There is a servo whine that is on the whole time the lever is pulled...so sitting with the brakes on, the servo just sits there squealing away.
- Super expensive to replace ($2200+ labor).
- They don't work when the bike is off! F-ing A guys. When moving the bike around you have the grab the lever so hard you think you're going to bend something. Sheesh BMW....really?
- Bleeding the brakes requires getting in to the servo unit because you have two sets of hose (to the servo and from the servo). This means basic maint is done by removing the gas tank! How on earth did they build a bike that makes doing the valve adjustment SO EASY makes this SO HARD?!?!?
- To remove the ABS Brain from the servo you need a TAMPER PROOF TORX wrench!. Fricking-A. 4 frickin bolts and I am running to two auto parts stores to find a tool that I'll never ever use again! F-U BMW!
I did a bunch of research about these brakes and possible solutions. What I found is that the servo/ABS unit can be removed and the bike can operate just fine as a "standard" braked bike. I have listed my sources in the Resources section below. God bless the internet.
All I can say is that the bike feels MUCH better! It did take me one ride to re-learn riding a bike without linked brakes. Your front does not dive due to telelever, but the rear does jack up if you haul down the bike with just the front brake. A dab of rear and flat level composure as you've grown to expect from your BMW returns.
Smooth slight adjustments are back! I am a featherer brake modulator kind of rider. I like having every little input from my fingers to have an effect. Slightly more/less/etc. The bike does this now - the delay and grabbyness is gone.
I did have to change the lever setting from 2 to 4 to get it grabbing where I want it. I think it's something to do with the design of the lever (different from my other bikes) but am getting used to how it operates as a "normal" brake lever.
UPDATE: I've now have almost 21,000 miles and just returned from a five day ride to Eastern Oregon and back including a lot of fantastic corners. The bike is SO MUCH better than it was before. I can brake later and longer and as you'd expect with superior feel and modulation.
The bike is less top heavy which maybe just suits me. I feel like I'm not fighting against the bike as much as I used to. I've not done a hard-core road yet, but have taken it up the road to a local twisty section. Transitions side to side feel good, confidence on corner entry (knowing I can brake smoothly if needed) really improves the overall experience.
The bike feels more composed over bumps under braking and corner entry. The ABS system didn't deal well with bumps (and I've heard gravel also) and at times you'd get this NO BRAKES delay that was no fun. Now the bike just obeys what you tell it.
While I can hear the chorus of "ABS saved me this one time..." and other stories and am not here to say ABS is bad as a technology, I can say that my Rockster is now much more a bike I enjoy riding because it just feels like I'm more connected to it and the experience overall. Along with that, I can now do more regular maintenance which will ensure fewer problems and an ability to fix any that come along.
Here are some links/info that I found useful.
REMOVE GAS TANK / OIL COOLERS
ABS ECTOMY VIDEO
The grand poo-ba of BMW repair. I learned a lot and he's just so honest...
NOTE: I will say that my advice is to NOT cut the wire bundle as he does. I much prefer pulling the brain off the servo unit and plugging it back in (see next item in the list)
ABS ECTOMY TEXT/PHOTOS
This is a write up with amazing photos which I found very helpful (other posts without photos were harder for me to follow). I have ordered a Y Junction piece (the white piece with the bleeder on top) because while my brakes do connect though the old connector it just hangs free which is not confidence inspiring.
ABS Electronic Re-use (so you get lights and speedo)
Covered in the above post, but good to read nonetheless. Great way to go (pulling the plug, brain and re-connecting)
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