Front End Woes
Here’s a story that should be heard by anyone who owns a next-generation K-bike:
A riding buddy and fellow owner of a K1200GT recently had front-end-wandering symptoms. He took it to 2 different BMW dealers and complained about the issue. Both shops tested his bike, checked it over, and said there was nothing wrong. He even suggested to them that the ball joints were loose, and they assured him his bike was fine.
Being an automotive mechanic, and knowing that there definitely was something wrong, he brought his bike into his own shop and proceeded to do his own diagnosis. Well, what do you know: bad ball joints! Having all the tools at his disposal, he was fortunately able to replace the joints himself after much difficulty. The result after replacement and reassembly was restored handling and no front-end wander at all. Just like a brand new bike.
A few weeks after, he and I are in his shop mounting two new tires on my 06 KGT, and he suggested checking my front end while we had the wheel off. Clunk, Clunk! Oh, crap! 19000 miles and my front-end is gone, too! When I put new tires on and drove it up the street, my symptoms really showed up a lot more. The nice rounded profile of the new rubber exacerbates the issue to the point where it actually is quite noticeable. I can see where many folks want to blame the tires for the issue.
We decided to try to change my ball joints ourselves, as my mechanic friend was successful with his, so we should be all set. I ordered them, they arrived, and that weekend we started the project. Well, it seems that the designers of our beloved bikes saw fit to seal these ball joints in with some kind of super-duty loctite, and they are torqued into the wheel carrier with incredible force – about 220 ft/lbs. The engineering geniuses were obviously convinced these front-ends would never have to come apart. Try as we did, we could not break mine loose. Long story short, I ended up taking my wheel carrier and driving it 120 miles one-way to my closest dealer to have them take them out. They had to cut them out, and in doing so actually ruined the threads in my wheel carrier where the ball joints screw in, and having the wheel carrier re-machined by a shop turns out to be almost as expensive as a new carrier. All of this expense I had to pay out of my own pocket because I am out of warranty and am a second owner. I ended up ordering a new carrier, and had to wait for it to be shipped from Germany, I was without my ride for 4 weeks before we got it back together At present time, I am dealing with BMW headquarters to try and obtain a little “goodwill” help in paying for my $300.00 ball joints and my $1100.00 wheel carrier. So far, the rep assigned to my case has avoided talking to me, but I will not go down without a fight!
Now, here’s how to test your bike and here’s what to look for:
Take your bike out on a road that is smooth and straight – preferably new pavement – where you can maintain a steady 25 to 30 miles an hour without having to turn at all. Now, try and hold a straight line as you cruise down this ribbon of asphalt. Is everything real steady? I mean straight as an arrow? No slight rhythmic oscillations that you simply cannot stop, try as you may? Does it almost feel that your bike is so quick and nimble that even your subconscious movements must be making this bike turn slightly one way and the other, back and forth without any conscious effort on your part?
If you detect the symptom described above, take your bike out to a section of smooth straight interstate highway and get her up to speed. Do you notice that the slight rhythmic oscillations are now much faster, and when you try and control it, the wandering seems to only get worse? Feels like you are sort of riding in a 2-foot wide shallow rain gully, with your bike climbing slightly up one side and then quickly sliding to the other. Looking at the top of your windscreen, you can clearly see the side-side movement. Sort of feels like wind buffeting, but the difference is it is indeed very rhythmic….
Finally, bring you bike home and put it on the center stand. Have a buddy go to the back and push down on the luggage rack to lift the front wheel off the ground. Grab both sides of the wheel carrier partway up from the axle and push-pull front to back. Do you detect any movement? Perhaps even hear a clunking noise?
If so, and you are not under warranty, refinance your house so you can pay for the repair bill you are about to incur. If you are under warranty, don’t walk –RUN – to your friendly dealer and tell him your ball joints are shot. He most likely will look at you like you have three heads, because he probably will have never seen a bike with this issue. While I was at the dealer, there was a blue 07 K12GT on the floor they had taken in trade, so I had the service manager come over and perform the wheel carrier test on it with me. Guess what? Bad ball joints!
I have been riding for 40 years – not a newbie - and when I bought my 06 K12GT with 13,000 miles on it a year ago, I thought, as mentioned above, that the bike was just so agile and quick to turn that it must be a normal thing. So, I kept riding. Never gave it a second thought. Also thought the higher speed stuff was wind buffeting and just lived with it. My point is I bet there are a ton of these bikes out there with bad ball joints, and owners are not aware of what to look for and how to check for the problem – much like the two certified BMW shops that missed the diagnosis on my friend’s bike.
I have seen other threads here and on other sites where folks were thinking it was tires, oversized windscreens, or tail bags that were causing these symptoms. Well, we need to stop blaming the accessories and get acquainted with the real issue. BMW needs to know that this is a very real problem with these bikes. Check it out yourself, then visit with your dealer and insist that he see the truth that lies within!