BMW Motorcycle Totaled Without Crashing

Shiny side up with a wrench in the works.

Wrench stuck in bike
The wrench didn’t just fall out onto the ground, that would have been too easy. “The box end hit the ground and pushed the open end through the weld on the exhaust pipe, then through the engine case into the 1200’s transmission. My insurance company wrote it off,” Charles Buchanan explained.Charles Buchanan

I met Charles Buchanan at one of our Level 3 military classes last month. As we examined his tricked-out BMW R 1200 GS he said, "I bought this GS after my R 1200 RS was totaled." Then he paused and added, "It was pretty crazy. I know you hear a lot of stories, but I bet you've never heard anything like this."

Charles was right, I do hear a lot of stories about crashes, but the totaling of this RS didn’t involve a crash. He pulled out his cellphone and walked me through the demise of his beautiful and loved 2016 R 1200 RS.

R 1200 RS
The R 1200 RS in happier times near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Charles uses his bikes for fun and commuting.Buchanan Collection

It started on the I-95 freeway at 75 mph. “I must have run over a wrench, but at that time, I didn’t know it,” Charles said. “Apparently it flipped off my front tire and lodged between the engine and the exhaust, right at a weld.”

When exiting the freeway the wrench shook loose, contacted the pavement box end first, and entered the BMW’s engine cases like an armor-piercing lance. Destruction of the transmission was immediate and complete. Charles’ insurance company wrote the bike off as a total loss.

Bike pulled onto side of the road
Charles exited the freeway, still on his morning commute. “At about 20 mph, the wrench broke loose.”Charles Buchanan

Charles’s experience could probably never be duplicated in a scientific laboratory, but all of us on the uncontrolled streets can learn a lesson from this wrench thrown into the works—the transmission works. Charles does his best to keep a proper following distance so he can clearly see items in the road, but anyone who has commuted in heavy traffic knows how tough this can be sometimes. He is also very aware of quick countersteering bar pressure to snap the bike right or left, so practice that.

Craftsman 3/4 box-end wrench
The culprit: Craftsman 3/4 box-end wrench, the perfect definition for the term, “That sure throws a wrench in the works!”Charles Buchanan
Charles Buchanan
Charles Buchanan and the GS he bought after his RS was totaled.Buchanan Collection

Obviously we always try to avoid object in the road, but if you hit something or even suspect it, pull over as soon as safely possible for a quick inspection. Modern bikes have plastic coolant tanks, oil filters, and fragile bodywork that could all be susceptible to something as crazy as what brought this RS down. At YCRS, we do a quick pre-ride inspection, so add "searching for wrenches and other crazy-assed items" to your walk-around.

More next Tuesday!