Open Menu
Open Menu

Open Diff: The repair path of least resistance

Published in

2000 BMW R1100R instrument panel. Photo by author.

In a perfect world, replacement parts for all our vehicles would remain available indefinitely. Ours, however, is not a perfect world.

Last summer, the analog clock on my 2000 BMW R1100R, positioned above and between the speedometer and tachometer, stopped working. Were the hands frozen in place, this would prove to be a minor annoyance, but instead, the hour and minute hands seem to have taken on a mind of their own, jerking, dancing and moving unpredictably when the bike is running. As the clock sits in the rider’s field of vision, the movement is distracting, if not downright dangerous. As any rider with a respectable amount of seat time will tell you, sudden and unpredictable movement at the edge of one’s field of vision generally triggers alarm bells.

It was so annoying that I parked Pandora 2/3 of the way through last year’s riding season, telling myself I’d get around to fixing it in the coming weeks. First, I priced the replacement part from BMW, which listed for around $250. Being the frugal (if not downright cheap) sort, I contacted several shops that specialize in instrument rebuilding, only to find that the cost of rebuilding the clock ranged from $185 (assuming the easiest repair) to over $300, a price I took to be the “we really don’t want to tackle this job” rate.

Going the used-part route was another alternative, but most examples list in the $150 range, or only about $100 less than a new part. As R1100R owners have come to realize, these clocks, which use nylon gears, have a finite lifespan, with eventual failure a near-certainty. Dropping in a used part, then, could buy years of service, or simply a few hours, too big a risk to take for the asking price.

A few weeks back, I bit the bullet, ordering a new replacement clock directly through my local BMW dealer. A day later, an email from the dealer confirmed why the cost of rebuilding the clock was higher than ordering a new replacement part: the clock was no longer available, even from BMW in Germany. No alternative replacement part was offered.

That put me back to square one. I could opt to send the clock out for rebuilding, but this was a potentially costly proposition that involved splitting open a crimped-shut, waterproof case to fix the internals. If all went as well as possible, the repair might come in under $200; if it didn’t, the cost to repair the clock could easily escalate, and outside of a warranty period on repairs, there was no guarantee this would be a permanent (or even long-term) solution.

VDO voltage gauge. Photo courtesy VDO.

The next option was to install a replacement clock or aftermarket gauge. Clock choices were limited, with none really matching the look of the other instruments. A voltmeter would be handy, and earlier BMW airheads included such instrumentation instead of the contemporary idiot light. Since the bike’s cylinder heads are oil-cooled, an oil temperature gauge, or oil pressure gauge, would also be useful, though both would involve tapping into a now-sealed system to install a sensor. As in medicine, the number one rule of motorcycle repair is “first, do no harm.”

Ultimately, I’ve decided to install an aftermarket voltmeter from VDO. The install is as close to plug-and-play as I’m likely to find, with no modification (I hope) to the bike’s instrument cluster, wiring harness, or oil lines needed. I’ll make pigtails to preserve the original spade connectors, so if a future owner wants to repair and reinstall the clock, he won’t need to reverse-engineer anything.

Also, the white-on-black gauge face and white needle is as close as I can come to the look of the original instrumentation, so the voltmeter won’t look out of place to a casual observer. Anyone familiar with BMW heritage will likely appreciate the nod to the past as well, or so stands my line of reasoning.

Despite BMW Motorrad’s reputation for stocking nearly every part for its past products, I’ve managed to find an exception to the rule. What would you have decided? Would you have shipped off the clock for repair, hoping for a cost-effective outcome? Would you have purchased a used example and hoped for the best? Would you have gone the alternate gauge route, as I ultimately opted for myself?