BMW R100 1.6 high ratio rocker

High Ratio Rocker Design

Here’s a sneak preview of the high ratio rockers I’ve been working on.

With the stock rocker shaft position and my tapered pushrods, 1.45 is the highest obtainable ratio before the pushrods clash with their tubes. So the shaft will need to be moved which means custom shaft and posts. Shooting for a ratio of around 1.6 which will give 14.2mm max valve lift with the Schleicher 340 cam.

At a ratio of 1.6, the valves clash so I might have to sink the exhaust valve a bit or go for 37mm exhaust valves.
Port flow would need to be optimised to suit otherwise there’ll be bugger-all gains.

Material will 4340 high tensile steel. Seriously tuf stuff so can get the weight down.

Why not a lumpier cam instead?

Yes, a cam change would be easier. But other high lift issues start to rear their heads.

Lift velocity is limited by the 22mm tappet diameter so to make things work, need to go for smaller base circle diameter, which means smaller shaft diameter and more deflection. Also, you can’t fit the higher lift cams with decent base circle and shaft diameter through the hole in the case.

A friend loaned me a 2 piece high lift roller cam by one of the well known airhead aftermarket suppliers from back in the day. The shaft diameter is way small so can fit in the hole. But flexed so much, it morphed into 2 pieces :uhoh

Soooo, to overcome the 22mm limitation and keep up area under the lift curve, people have used mushroom lifters and enlarged the case hole to get in a fat cam then fit a sleeve for the stock flange bearing.

In some cases, going for rocker ratio instead of cam lift has advantages for valve train dynamics which I don’t yet fully understand. One thing is that because velocity and acceleration are multiplied by the rocker ratio, ramp action is quicker and you get some more duration. However, this may or may not benefit your cause depending on the setup. It’s complex!

Besides, I just like designing stuff..


BMW airhead rocker geometry

BMW airhead rocker geometry

Finally getting to the meaty end of the salt racer build.

While the crank is off getting balanced with the new pistons and rods, I had a look at the rocker geometry.

With the high lift cam (about 12mm at the valve) and recessed valve seats the geometry did not look good. With valve fully closed, the rocker nose was close to the edge of the valve stem end and moved just past the valve stem centerline at full lift. Not the best. Ideally, the nose travel across the stem end should be equidistant about the valve stem certerline.

The only way I could think to adjust this was to adjust the thickness of the spacers under the rocker posts. The stock item is 3mm. Replacing it with a 1.5mm spacer got things right as shown in the pic but only for that rocker! All the others were a bit different but acceptable with the 1.5mm spacer.

A stock pushrod was transmogrified into an adjustable one so that I could determine the correct length for the pushrods. I was going to have a shot at making my own tapered aluminium ones but just don’t have the time so it’s off to the pushrod man to have some made in 4130.


Airhead salt racer rear suspension geometry

Here’s a quick rundown of the process I went through in sorting the rear suspension geometry of the salt racer.

First task was to calculate the shock specifications. I started manually calculating these with the help of a couple texts including Tony Foale’s tome on the subject: Motorcycling Handling and Chassis Design. Even though the salt racer’s geometry is relatively simple compared to modern sports bikes with all their tricky linkages, I soon gave up and bought Tony’s program: Motorcycling Analysis which is basically the book in program form – this made things very much easier with the luxury of being able to easily experiment.  Highly recommended.

I’m not going to describe the process in detail but after inputting the geometry of the airhead frame + oilhead swingarm, I arrived at the following specifications for the shock (which ended up being similar to the stock R1100RT shock):

Free length: 340 (fully extended)
Travel: 50mm
Spring rate: 190N/mm
Lower clevis to suit the R1100 swing arm.

I opted for Hyperpro and soon after, a very sexy looking piece of Dutch bling landed on the doorstep complete with damping adjust both ways and ride hide adjust.

The program was used to predict the behavior of the system and tweek certain parameters so that ideal suspension characteristics were obtained – in this case we were shooting for a total sag (bike + Rider) of between 25-30mm with a spring preload of no more than 15mm. Most the program parameters as defined in the program’s set up page below are locked in:  The oilhead swing arm dimensions cannot be changed, nor can the spring specifications. The only parameters that can be changed are the ‘X coord’ and Y coord (which locate the top fixed end of the shock) and the spring preload. At this point we are mainly interested in the X coord and preload. The X coord is the horizontal mounting position of the shock in relation to the swing arm pivot.  I took an educated guess at the back wheel load at 112kg with me as rider.

A few button presses revealed that a X coord of 35mm combined with a spring preload of 13mm gave a total sag of 28mm. You can see the 35mm of X coord in the scaled graphic:  the top end of the shock is just behind the swing arm pivot. A spring preload of 13mm is a little on the high side for this particular spring. I could have reduced the necessary spring preload to get the target sag by pushing the top of the shock futher behind the swingarm pivot e.g. X coord of 40 or 50mm but there were other reasons why this was not so practical including complicating the mounting arrangement to the frame. So a X coord of 35mm was settled upon.   Now the Y coord could be tweaked, but this was done on the bike with shock attached to swingarm – more of this later.

Here’s the setup page of Tony’s program showing all the vital suspension stats of the salt racer. BTW, this is only the rear suspension part of the program. You could go on to model the entire suspension behavior of a bike if you so wished.

Tony Foale motorcycle setup page


The following is one of the many graphs that Tony’s program spits out. It shows shock displacement V’s wheel movement. The point to note is that from a completely unloaded state, the sag under full load (rider plus bike) is 28mm (vertical black line). Remember, nobody has sat on a bike yet, we are using the program to predict what the suspension will do in order to best locate the fixing point for the top end of the shock to the frame.




Another interesting graph is the effective spring rate measured at the wheel or ‘wheel rate’ Notice that even though the spring has a linear rate, the effective wheel rate is progressive ranging from approx 12 – 18 N/mm. This is the reason that people shouldn’t blindly ‘upgrade’ their linear springs to progressive rate springs. The suspension geometry may already be designed to obtain a progressive effective rate at the wheel with a linear spring. This is particularly the case for modern bikes with complex suspension linkages.




So,  having pegged the X coord at 35mm aft of the swing arm pivot, next job was to work out the vertical co-ordinate from the ground of the shock mounting position to the frame (Y coord). With a shaft drive, what we want to happen is this: when the bike is fully loaded, the gearbox output shaft axis, drive shaft axis and center of the rear wheel are all on the same straight line.  This ensures that any mechanical inefficiencies from universal joints operating at angles are dialed out – particularly for the salt racer where I’m chasing every microhorse. In reality, of course, this straight line position will become the median about which the suspension moves.

The image below shows the bike in an unloaded state (bike supported by jack under oil pan). The top edge of the bar with the blue tape marks the position where the drive train is perfectly aligned. With the top of the shock unattached, the bike was jacked up so that the center of the wheel was approx 25-28 mm below the top top edge of the bar. With top of shock 35mm aft of the swing arm pivot (Y coord) we now had the mounting position of the shock to the frame. I then mocked up a temporary mounting arrangement to lock the shock into this position. So, theoretically, with rider aboard the suspension should sag by the predicted 25-28mm at which point the drive train becomes aligned…




Now to test our predictions! With shock  firmly fixed to the frame I hopped on board. The measured total sag was 21mm. Not bad! I didn’t expect it to be spot-on because the bike was not complete and therefore under it’s finished weight. But it’s in a workable ball-park, there is enough adjustment in the system – adjustable torque arm and ride height adjust on the shock –  to tweak from this point so the next step is to remove the temporary bracketry and properly build in the top of the shock.  To be continued….







calculating CR – a simpler way

Here’s a method that involves little math compared with the conventional method as described here

The following method involves bolting the head and cylinder together as an assembly on the bench using all-thread. Then carefully placing the piston in the cylinder at exactly where it would be if it were at top dead center (TDC) in an assembled motor. The  volume of the combustion chamber (Vtdc) can then be measured directly with the burrette. It’s then simply a matter of dividing this volume into the entire volume above the piston at bottom dead center (BDC) to determine the compression ratio as illustrated in the diagram below.



Step 1. Determine piston position at TDC: We do this using the scribed line on the feeler gauge that was used  in method 1 to determine the deck height ‘dh’ and repeated her:

To measure dh, clamp the cylinder to the block using tubes on the studs, turn the motor via the back wheel or an 8mm allen key on the alternator rotor bolt to until the piston is at TDC. Slide a squared off 0.1mm feeler gauge between the cylinder wall and piston so that it rests on the 1st compression ring. Use a very pointy scribe to mark the top of the cylinder – some prussian blue would be handy here. Make sure you slide the gauge in line with the horizontal axis of the gudgeon pin (ie at 3 and 9 o’clock looking directly at the piston) as this is where piston rock is at a minimum. If excising care, you can measure dh with this method to within +/- 0.1mm.


Bolt cylinder to case using tubes

Bolt cylinder to case using tubes

Scribe line with piston at TDC

Scribe line with piston at TDC



Step 2. Off to the bench: Move cylinder off the bike and onto the bench then carefully place the piston at TDC using the scribed line on the feeler gauge. Grease the rings a little first in order to make things water tight. Before bolting everything together, use a vernier caliper to take a checking measurement from the bottom of cylinder skirt to the bottom of the cylinder to give me a means of checking that the piston hadn’t moved position after bolting everything together and buggerising around.

Step 3. The bench top assembly: Bolt cylinder, gasket and head together using 10mm all-thread then use checking measurement at Step 2 to check that piston hadn’t moved during the bolt up.

Using scribed line to set piston to TDC

Using scribed line to set piston to TDC

Taking measurement to skirt bottom

Taking measurement to skirt bottom

Bolting it all together

Bolting it all together


Step 4.  Measuring the combustion chamber volume (Vtdc) with a burrette: If you examine a head you’ll, see that when the plug hole is vertical, a part of the outer periphery of the chamber is higher than the bottom of the plug hole and around a corner a bit like under the lip of a toilet bowl. So if you fill when the plug hole is vertical, a sizable air pocket will form at this higher peripheral part.

The way to get around this is to first fill to the bottom of the plug hole with the cylinder vertical on the bench. This allows the peripheral volume to completely fill. Then, tilt the assembly so that the plug hole is vertical and continue filling until the fluid level just reaches the bottom of the plug hole.

BTW: The burette is the cheaper acrylic type (100ml) and cost me $27.00. Graduations are 0.2ml. (The glass ones are over $100). Use water or metho with food colour or some other means of tinting.

Final filling with plug hole vertical

Final filling with plug hole vertical





So the final number for my particular R100 BMW airhead? Combustion chamber volume Vtdc = 66.7 cc’s (or ml).

Step 5. Calculating CR: All that remains is a fairly simple calculation. In the case of my particular R100 airhead: Stroke = 70.6mm and bore = 94.25mm (first oversize)


Not terribly high for a large valve early 80’s R100 that supposed to be 9.5… but that’s another story…


measuring compression ratio – method 1

Increasing the compression ratio of luftkopf #1 is long overdue. Aside from being one of the easiest ways of adding horses, the 336 cam wants it badly.

The valve pockets in the piston domes have been deepened to accommodate the higher lift of the cam and I have often wondered what difference this would make to the compression ratio. Not much I suspect but enough to turn my cuiousity into a vaguely unhealthy urge to measure it.

Also, having developed a sceptisim of ‘factory specifications’, if I’m to increase CR, I want confirmation of the starting point.

The result of the process as set out below was puzzling. I got a compression ratio for the bike of 8.2:1 when the bike is supposed to be 9.5:1 ! This translates to a whole 12cc’s of additional volume in the combustion chamber that shouldn’t be there! Certainly far more than could be explained by deepened piston pockets or valve recession due to a fresh valve and seat grind.

Everything has been checked: Pistons, gaskets, heads measured to check that they are indeed 9.5 items. I even went to the extent of using a completely different method of measuring CR in order to verify the first method. This second method showed close agreement with the first and can be found here.

So, my sceptisim of factory specifications is even more justified, but could BMW have duped us to such an extent! Please leave a comment you have had similar findings or can shed some light!

So here’s the first method that I used.  It’s a standard method which I tweeked a bit so that it suits airheads a little more:

Compression ratio is most easily described as the ratio of the volume above the piston when it is at bottom dead center (BDC) to the volume above the piston at top dead center (TDC).

This is illustrated in the following diagram:


The swept volume, Vs, is easily calculated but not so the complex volume Vtdc. This is worked out with a combination of mathematics and directly measuring a couple volumes with a burette and a suitable fluid.

After researching the various ways that people go about this, I came up with a variation which I think better suits the domed head of the airhead piston and is not too hard to carry out.

The pivital formula is Vtdc = Vg – Vph explained below:

compbustion chamber volume

a) Measuring Vcc

The combustion chamber volume, Vcc is measured directly with a burette. I used a square piece of clear acrylic (plexiglass) about 107mm x 107mm with a 7-8mm hole drilled about 20mm off one side as shown below. With a light smear of grease around the combustion chamber, the acrylic is pressed down firmly so that the grease is squished very thinly and creates a good seal.

The filling side of the head must be tilted up a few mm’s so that the chamber fills towards the hole without trapping any bubbles.

The burette is the cheaper acrylic type (100ml) and cost me $27.00. Graduations are 0.2ml. (The glass ones are over $100).

I used straight ATF because I had some on the shelf. But found it a little too viscous. It took some time for the film left on the sides of the emptied portion of burette to settle down to the bottom. After an hour, the level rose by 0.4ml… Other people have used spirits coloured with food dye.

Mind that fluid doesn’t leak past the valves – a light smear of grease around the valve peripheries would help.

Vcc was measured at 88.2ml (or cc’s) for both heads.





b) Measuring dh & gt

For deck height ‘dh’ I clamped the cylinder to the block using tubes on the studs, moved the piston to TDC and slid a squared off 0.1mm feeler gauge between the cylinder wall and piston so that it rested on the 1st compression ring. A carefully scribed line and vernier did the rest.

If you use this method, make sure you slide the gauge in line with the horizontal axis of the gudgeon pin (ie at 3 and 9 o’clock looking directly at the piston) as this is where piston rock is at a minimum. Also, prussian blue would have helped to make out the scribe line!

dh was measured as 6.8mm.

The gasket thickness ‘gt’ is measured at several locations with a micrometer or vernier caliper on the bore edge of a used, pre-squished gasket then averaged – I got 0.72mm

Now Vdh and Vgt can be calculated and added to Vcc to get Vg – see calcs below






2. Working out the piston head volume Vph

Measuring Vphr is done directly with the burette. A light smear of grease is put around the top compression ring and the piston driven up the cylinder until the piston top is perfectly flush with the top of the cylinder using an accurate straight edge.

At this point the piston head height ‘h’ (from 1st ring to dome top) can be measured in the same way as ‘dh’ above with a squared feeler gauge and scribed line. Thus h = 16.4mm was obtained.

The plexiglass plate is pressed down on its greasy bed with the hole side elevated by at least 5mm and the burette does its job Vphr was measured to be 42.0ml

(BTW: for those not familiar with the metric system, ml = cc)

All the raw data for calculations has now been collected.






3. Calculations
The calculations below reveal a compression ratio of……8.2 : 1 ?!

Here’s a spreadsheet calculator of the math: calculator (hit cancel if you get a login message)



dual plugged airhead

dual plugging – modifying the bean can

The engine speed at which maximum advance is reached is dictated by the weight of the conterweights and the stiffness of the small retaining springs. Being a 1981 model, my bike was fitted with the earliest of hall effect beancans. These seem to have heavier counterweights. As a consquence, the springs are slightly stiffer than the later versions.




modifying older counterweights

I began by attempting to lighten the old weights by drilling them. This was disastrous! The older weights are case-hardened and nigh on impossible to scratch, let alone drill (even with tungsten carbide bits). So, if you have one of these older beancans, don’t attempt to drill them lest you destroy the weights and lots of good tooling (note cracks in the image above – and that was the good one!). Instead, grind in the safe area indicated.

As I didn’t go with this method, it is unclear how far up the rev range the point of maximum advance will be pushed if the indicated area is removed. However, it would be fairly safe to say that removing indicated area would push max advance up ‘a few hundred RPM’. You would have to make your own measurements to confirm.


When removing material from counterweights, both older and newer, make sure this is done as a pair with both weights securely clamped together in perfect register. This ensures that the same amount of material is removed from the same area of each counterweight.


modifying newer counterweights

After demolishing the counterweights of my ‘older’ beancan, it was off to the wreckers where I found a damaged can that cantained a pair of newer (undamaged) counterweights as pictured above. These weights are lighter than the older ones so it followed that using them with the stiffer springs of the older can should push proceedings up the rev range by an amount.

In addition to this, on an intuitive whim, I ground the little knob off the top of each weight as shown above.

The measured result of these mods were to push the point of maximum advance up to around 3750 RPM.

If you don’t have the stiffer springs of the older can to use with newer weights then you are limited to the removal of material from the weights. The good news is that the newer weights are not case hardened and can be drilled which is what many folk have indeed done. So the common trick of drilling a 1/4″ is OK in this case.


setting the maximum advance

Remembering that with the second camp as described here, the timing at idle is set close to stock – maybe 1-2 degrees further retarded. Therefore, in order that maximum advance is retarded by 4-6 degrees to around 28 degrees, the range of the beancan needs to be restricted. The first method I used was to place a couple layers of  shrink tube over the tabs – this didn’t work very well as the tube slipped off after a while.

The other well known method is to bend each tab inwards by about 2mm. Use a vernier to make sure that you bend both the same amount. Then put everything together in the bike,  set idle timing to 4-5 degrees and use a strobe to check that the maximum timing is 28 degrees as you rev up the engine. Remember that 1 degree of crank angle shows up as about 2mm along the flywheel so at 28 degrees, the Z mark should be hovering around the bottom of the viewing port.



dual plugged airhead

dual plugging – timing



There are two main camps for the spark timing of a dual plugged airhead engine. Both seem in rough agreement that timing should be retarded to about 28 degrees at maximum advance compared to the stock BMW timing specification of 32 degrees. This retardation of the spark (compared to the stock setting) is necessary because – to put it simply- the two flame fronts from two spark plugs get everything happening more smartly.

The two camps may be roughly summarized as follows.
Camp 1

For those who don’t want to fiddle with the innards of the mysterious timing canister or ‘bean can’* or install an aftermarket electronic ignition that caters for dual plugging, there is little choice but to retard the timing at idle from the BMW spec by said 4-6 degrees – close to TDC. This does not change the shape of the timing curve that the stock bean can delivers, but shifts it in its entirety by the same fixed amount across the entire rev range and causes the maximum advanced to be reduced to around 28 degrees.

The ‘S’ mark on the fly wheel (or clutch carrier as the later, lightened items are called) is the stock timing mark at idle and is 6 degrees BTDC. The ‘OT’ mark represents TDC (zero degrees). So, to retard the stock timing by 4-6 degrees, people are timing their machines at idle so that the OT mark is at, or around the center of the timing viewing port.

The stock maximum advance of approx. 32-33 degrees (depending on the model year) is designated by the ‘Z’ mark on the flywheel and occurs at around 3000 RPM with the stock bean can. The retardation that is introduced at idle also shifts the point of maximum advance by 4-6 degrees to appox 27-29 degrees. In which case, you and your strobe may just see the ‘Z’ mark hanging around the very bottom of the viewing port at engine speeds of 3000 RPM and above.

A handy number to keep in mind is that one degree of crank angle corresponds to about 2mm along the periphery of the flywheel i.e. where the various timing marks are stamped.

* In this article ‘bean can’ refers to the timing canister found in >1981 airhead motors. i.e. when electronic ignition was introduced. Not to be confused with the bean can found in models immediately proceeding 1981 which contained points style ignition.

Camp 2

For those who are brave enough to mess about with the fiddly bits in the bean can, springs can be played with, bobwieght masses changed, and travels altered in order to change the shape of the original timing curve. An infinite array of curves can be achieved in this way.

There is rough consensus within this camp that in addition to retarding the maximum advance by 4-6 degrees, dual plugged engines enjoy curves that are stretched compared to the stock curve so that maximum advance occures at higher engine speeds than stock. Some say 3500 RPM is ok, some say 6000 RPM!

For this scenario, the timing at idle is generally set at around stock (the ‘S’ mark) and the range of advance that the bean can delivers is compressed by our 4-6 degrees in order that the timing at maximum advance is retarded by that same amount.


So is it worth it to modify the bean can? Only one way to find out…

I went about the business of modifying a bean can according to the vagaries of the 2nd camp as described above. Installed it in my bike and set the timing at idle to around stock. In this case, just a tad retarded on the stock figure at 5 degrees BTDC. With degree wheel and strobe, the curve of the modified can was mapped and graphed.

The two camps are represented below. The black curve is the stock spark timing. The red curve is camp 1. and the blue is camp 2 – my modified bean can.



dyno comparison of the two camps

Off to the dyno man I went to compare both camps. The dyno chart below is pretty ugly due to some tuning issues that were fixed up later, but what it clearly shows is that modifying the bean can – camp 2- improves performance almost over the entire rev range compared to using an un-modified with retarded advance – camp 1.

So, yes, it is definitely worth modifying the bean can or installing an aftermarket electronic ignition that provides an ignition curve that is designed for dual plugged airheads – Silent Hektik, Dignition, and Omega are some of the better known brands.