Riding Harald Geiling's highly unique Beemer is a distinctly uncomfortable experience. My ears are ringing from the wind and the roaring eight-into-one exhaust, and my legs are being wedged apart by the width of the massive V-8 car engine. Every time I twist the throttle my arms are yanked uncomfortably straight by the vicious acceleration of a bike that produces almost 300 horsepower. But this mad machine is so entertaining I can't keep a smile off my face.
Perhaps only someone with the varied talents of 47-year-old Dr. Geiling, from Mainz, Germany, would even contemplate designing such a mixed-up motorcycle, let alone actually build the brute and put it on the road. As well as running Roadrunner Bikeshop, one of Germany's biggest Kawasaki dealerships, Geiling dabbles in building development and works two days a week as a dentist-hence the Dr. title in front of his name.
The crazy Doktor can't remember the precise moment he decided it would be a good idea to build a bike around a BMW car engine; he says it was some time after his girlfriend's father had damaged his car's engine, and Geiling had offered to find a replacement. Seeing a naked V-8 car engine fired his imagination, so he used the broken lump to design this two-wheeled creation before eventually buying and installing a running engine, which originally powered a '94-spec BMW 740i sedan.
Apart from being busy with three jobs, Geiling was in an ideal position to handle such a project. Not only is his dealership overflowing with bike spares, but it's also one of Germany's leading motorcycle frame repairers, so Geiling is used to rebuilding chassis of everything from scooters to alloy-framed sportbikes. In fact, his mighty special doesn't really have much of a frame-just custom-made tubular steel subframes bolted to the front and rear of the enormous, 3982cc liquid-cooled powerplant.
At the front, the subframe incorporates a large tubular crashbar, built to shield a radiator that originally came from a Volvo 340 auto. Two fans sit behind it, but the engine, open to the air instead of shrouded by car bodywork, runs so cool that they're not needed. The DOHC, 32-valve, 90-degree V-8 itself produces a claimed 286bhp at 5800 rpm in car duty, and is left internally standard. It's mounted with its crankshaft running down the length of the bike, and with its two big camshaft covers sticking up on either side.
"The theme of the bike is long, low and powerful, and it is certainly all those things," grins Geiling. "The engine was a perfect choice-it's as though it was designed for a motorcycle. But even so, the bike was a great deal of work. It took me four years, and I gave up counting how many hours I'd spent on it when the number got above 1000."
Some of those hours went into fashioning the fuel tank, which sits below the front of the similarly purpose-built seat. The modified 740i injection system is fed by a rather incongruous blue plastic pipe on the right side of the engine instead of via the car's large airbox. The original exhaust downpipes lead to a specially built eight-into-one system that ends in an unbaffled silencer from a Kawasaki ZXR1100.
One of the most complex engineering jobs was the transmission, which combines a modified standard clutch with a two-speed gearbox Geiling designed and built himself. Output is via the drive shaft from Kawasaki's Concours sport-tourer, then an 85mm-wide belt to the rear wheel. The 18-inch wheel is from a ZXR750. The rim was widened to 9 inches with two rings of aluminum so it can carry a suitably huge 240/40-section Metzeler Marathon tire.
Geiling's supply of Kawasaki parts came in handy for several of the bike's other components, including the front end's assembly of triple clamps, inverted fork tubes, disc brakes and six-piston Tokico calipers. All those came from a Mean Streak cruiser, as did the round, chrome headlight. The front wheel was originally from a ZX-7R and was widened to 4.5 inches before being fitted with Metzeler MEZ1 rubber. Rear shocks from two ZX-7Rs are mounted horizontally, operated by a swingarm that Geiling built around the unit from a ZZR1100. Tailpiece and footrests are from a ZX-9R.
Sorting the front end was fairly easy, Geiling says, though the trickiest part was deciding on steering geometry. It's now set with 30 degrees of rake after the bike proved too hard to steer with the fork at a shallower 32.5-degree angle. The giant weighs nearly 1100 pounds with fuel, and has a wheelbase of 88.6 inches, almost 28 inches longer than BMW's K1200R. "It also had too much weight on the left side due to the transmission," said Geiling, "so I added 10 pounds of lead to the frame, which makes it easier to ride."
That comment came as some encouragement as I prepared for my turn on the beast. As I watched the experienced Geiling riding his creation 'round in large circles, and then followed him for several miles, it didn't seem too difficult. Finally he pulled over on a road that should have been deserted, but which turned out to be opposite a building site from which a gang of chuckling workers were preparing to take photos with their mobile phones.
There might have been little traffic, but there was plenty of gravel ... I noted this while trying to recall Geiling's daunting instructions: "don't open the throttle when you pull away," and "leave plenty of room in front of you, because it's very heavy." He wasn't joking. As I clambered across the seat, wedged my legs either side of the engine and hauled the bike off its sidestand, it was clear that this was one seriously big-and intimidating-motorcycle.
The huge engine fired up with a guttural V-8 burble. Even the gentlest blip of the throttle sent the bike lurching sideways in traditional longitudinal-crankshaft fashion-only far more strongly than any Moto Guzzi. Then I was pulling in the wrist-fatiguing clutch, popping it into gear and keeping that throttle shut, all the while letting out the clutch-which sent the BMW lurching forward with what felt like unstoppable force.
After a few cautious slow-speed passes to get the hang of the controls, including the non-return shift lever, I was happily accelerating out onto the main road, then winding open the throttle to send this most improbable of BMWs surging forward. Fortunately, once I was into second there was no need to worry about shifting again. The bike cruised at about 60 mph feeling utterly smooth and a lot more relaxed than its rider, who was sitting bolt upright in the breeze with arms stretched out to the raised handlebars.
The big V-8 felt just like some mighty automatic as it purred along, then leapt forward with a mighty growl when with clear road ahead I dialed in some more speed. The motor's peak torque output is 300 lb.-ft.-double that of Triumph's Rocket III! Top speed would be well over 150 mph if you had the space and the nerve to try. Suffice it to say that the way the big BMW stormed forward with handlebar-bending urgency suggested it would have little problem pinning the needle of the 125-mph-max speedo borrowed from Kawasaki's 440 Ltd. cruiser.
For such a gigantic beast, the bike actually went around gentle curves surprisingly well, its chassis feeling reassuringly taut. But I wasn't pushing my luck, and didn't even ground the radiator protector bars, which stuck out considerably. Slower bends were more difficult because the bike's length and geometry meant turning the bars required very long arms. Fortunately I'm tall, as is Harald.
The brakes also worked reasonably well, though slowing with any real urgency also required serious use of the rear brake. The trickiest part of coming to a halt was hooking my left boot under the shift lever to find first. That rather awkward, non-return gear change also caused my one scary moment of the ride, when a false neutral sent the revs momentarily skyward-and the bike lurched to the right, its pilot suddenly vividly aware of all that size and weight.
It's a fun bike, this giant V-8. But somehow I can't imagine BMW mass-producing something like it. Geiling would build another, though, for anyone who can afford the approximately $90,000 price tag. Meanwhile he's already thinking about his next project, one based on a Mercedes CDI diesel engine. "That V-6 has more torque than this V-8, so I could make a bike with only one gear," he grins. "That really would be an interesting project."
Sure would. But given Dr. Geiling's other jobs, it won't be finished anytime soon. And that's ok with me.