21" Front Wheel Conversion
There’s no arguing that the BMW GS range of motorcycles is one of the best ever conceived. Who doesn’t love a model of bike that’s designed to take you anywhere and get you there in comfort? Since the first GS rolled out the factory door in 1980 the boys and girls in Munich have been refining every aspect of the machine, the engine and what it delivers as a riding experience.
The current 2016 R1200GS/A is the most advanced GS offering yet. It’s been hailed as a game-changer and continues to collect rave reviews from riders and the media alike.
Room For Improvement.
Is it the best bike possible? Yeah, I know it’s a loaded question. As riders, we all demand different levels of performance from our bikes. For many riders the current 2016 GS provides just the right level of awesome right out of the box. That said, for riders like myself who love getting dirty on their GS’s, there are a few key upgrades that are worth looking into.
In early 2016 Lisa and I picked up the keys to two new BMW bikes, an R1200GSA LC and an F800GS for Lisa. There’s no denying that these new machines are vastly more tech orientated, powerful and are smoother than our trusty old bikes. But, let me tell you, tech will only get you so far.
A Real-World Difference.
After 13-years of riding around the world, we had personalized and upgraded our original bikes up the wazoo. The new bikes needed to be made 2RTW ready. Key the A-Team music, light the blowtorch, dim the lights and get ready, it’s upgrade time.
Over the course of several weeks, Lisa and I took a long hard look at our original bikes and assessed which modifications had truly made a real-world difference. What was worth repeating on the new bikes? The Woody’s Wheel Works 21” front wheel conversion on my R1150GSA was near the top of the list. An online scan of who had converted an R1200GSA LC to a 21” front rim, revealed scant results.
GoalsTalking with Woody and Chris over at Woody’s Wheels Works, we set some parameters. In creating a new front wheel system, we needed to understand exactly what we were looking to achieve. The new front wheel needed to be:
- Provided better steering in off-road conditions
- Provided better off-road grip
- Provided better handling in the sand
- Versatile and World Wide Repairable
- Improved off-road braking
Why 21” Up Front?
I’ve been asked countless times over the ears why I use a 21” rim on my GS’s. What are the benefits? Well, look at any serious off-road bike and it’s sporting a 21” rim up front. Why? Physics that’s why!
Whether I’m riding my bike fully loaded or without bags and riding more aggressively, I want more front end grip in the dirt. I want more stability and more predictable steering in soft terrain like mud and sand. A 21” front wheel provides these sought after attributes.
Riding rocky or technical terrain get’s easier. A 21” front wheel will roll over holes that a 19” wheel would roll in to. Deflate your tire pressure for the sand and any tires contact patch will get longer (not wider). Think of a longer tire contact patch like a caterpillar track on a bulldozer. In sand, the longer the tire contact patch becomes, the more resistance is created between the tire and the sand itself. This in turn provides improved front end steering. The difference in performance I’d describe as the difference between sliding about on ice in your socks (19” front) or skimming across the ice with skates (21” rim). Yep the difference in control and stability, in my experience, is that substantial.
It’s easy to focus on the handling alone, but another often over looked benefit of a larger wheel up front is better off-road braking. A larger tire contact point also means more resistance between the tire and terrain. More resistance equates to better braking characteristics.
What Makes A Great Wheel Set?
There are a few options when it comes to 21” wheel hoops. On my old R1150 we’d used a hoop from a BMW HP2.
Before this build started, I’d sat down with Woody’s and made a wish list of components; the Excel Takasago A60’s had been at the top of my rim/hoop list, with the outstanding Takasago Excel Signature Series rims running a very close second. The A60’s dimensions don’t meet the spec as a full-dirt rim, they only come as 1.6″x21″ and that’s pretty narrow. After some deliberation, we decided a wider rim would offer a better dirt and road compromise, while handling the weight of the bike and luggage a little better
We’re planning on continuing to use Continentals TKC80’s and need to fit 90-90/21 front rubber and 15-70/17 on the rear. The Takasago Excel Signature Series Rim’s are some of the finest available and have proven to be a great choice.
Looking to create a lighter and stronger wheel set, the next decision was which hub to use. Sure, we could have re-used the OEM BMW hubs, but, like I just said, we were looking for lighter and stronger. At the end of the day, there was only one real choice. Made 6061 billet aluminium and weighing 3 pounds lighter (almost 1.5 kilograms) than the stock front hub, the Woody’s Superlite Hubs, were chosen for the front and rear wheels.
Woody’s laced the rims to the hubs with American high grade 175 x 6-7guage, and Woody’s own Superlace pattern to form the strongest and lightest wheels available.
I was looking for a complete tire/rim solution. With the spec and details for the 21” locked in, we looked at the options for the rear. The stock BMW OEM 2016 R1200GS LC dimensions are a super-wide 170-60/17. Nice for the road but not a great attribute for dirt riding. There are currently very few tire options to fit that size. From experience, I know 150-70/17 sized tires will more than accommodate my bike, it’s power/bhp and the load I carry. The decision was made, that’s what I wanted on my new steed.
The Finished Wheel Set.What we received from Woody’s Wheels just a few weeks after our first conversations was nothing short of stunning.
The Results and benefits.The idea of this review was to ‘try’ to appear impartial, but too be honest that’s crap, I’m not, I can’t be!
After using, abusing and riding this wheel set for months now, up, down and across whatever off-road Baja can offer, I’d have to be a lobotomised monkey to be impartial. The ride and improvement in handling and predictability are as obvious as the wheels are stunning to look at.
Riding off-road, the front end is more planted and running a Continental TKC80 on the front at 19psi, sand washes and beach riding in Baja have become a breeze. Although many experienced riders will confirm that in the sand all your control comes from the throttle and the rear end, on a heavy and often fully loaded adventure bike, having reliable and consistent front end traction and control is worth it’s weight in gold. How much would you pay, to cut your ‘sand-riding bike drop rate’ by 50-80%? That’s what this investment means. More control, better handling and an increase in rider confidence. The more confident you feel, the more you relax and enjoy the ride. The less stressed or tired you feel, the fewer errors you’ll make and the less you’ll drop your bike. The logic is undeniable!
Riding benefits aside, there are other pluses to this conversion. Whether you travel in the USA or want to ride farther afield, front 90-90/21 and rear 150-70/17 tires are far more readily available, than BMW’s stock R1200GS LC tire sizes. Personally, I want to spend my time riding, instead of trawling web sites and stockist to find tires that will fit. Hey, but that’s just me!
As far as inflation is concerned I’ve gone for a tube on the front and a sealed Woody’s tubeless conversion on the rear. There’s method in my madness. Although I love the ease of just plugging a whole in a tire, I know that if I’m unlucky enough to damage the extremely tough Takasago rim, a front tube will allow me to carry on riding. At least until I can get it straightened. We ride in some pretty remote places of the world, so for Lisa and I these are real considerations. Besides, I can still pop a tube in the rear if the sidewall is sliced.
Considerations.Full disclosure; there are a few considerations to take into account when deciding if this upgrade is the right one for you.
The 21” size raises the front by 3/4 “ or 19mm, this in turn increase the bikes trail and due to the laws of physics decrease the bikes on-road steering speed.
That said and having now used a 21” on my GS’s for almost a decade, I can tell you that the decrease in on-road steering speed is so insignificant as to be laughable. The bottom line is the positive gains far, far exceed any minor negatives.
I decided that I’d wanted to keep my bikes OEM geometry, which meant raising the rear ever so slightly. I’d planned on replacing the OEM rear suspension anyway, so installed the Touratech Extreme shock. Other than being able to service and rebuild the Touratech suspension unit, the ‘extreme’ model also allows me to decrease the fixed static length of the shock by up to 2mm or increase the length by up to 8mm. After a few practise runs, I found the magic number to be 6mm. The bike feels fantastic.
The lower front fender is also going to be a consideration. The larger rim decreases the clearance between the tire and the stock fender. My solution has been to simply remove the fender. I’d expected to see an increase in stone-chip damage to my engine cover from more debris thrown up in the front suspension etc. To my surprise but delight, I’ve seen neither. I’m sure a tech-head can analyse why I’m not seeing either of these issue but to be honest I don’t need to understand the reasons to appreciate that they’re problems I’m not having. If your keen to keep your lower fender Wunderlich offer an alternative, although you may want to make sure your not eating or drinking when you check out their store. I almost choked when I saw their price. Hey, you’ve been warned.
The Water Cooled R1200GS/A front brake lines loop under the lower front fork brace. Because of the decrease in clearance, I installed a new front brake hose and used a simple t-joint to separate the lines, which in turn run to the left and right brake callipers. Galfer USA were a pleasure to work with and after emailing them the dimensions I needed, they cut me a new hose and shipped it ready to install.
My GSA comes with 5 ride modes.
- Enduro Pro
Comments: I’m fairly pragmatic when it comes to upgrading my ride; will altering or upgrading a component provide me a significant riding improvement. If the answer is yes, then I’d be an idiot not to consider it. This is easily one of the best upgrades you can make to your GS if you ride in the dirt. I’d go so far as to say essential. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!
|▲ Outstanding Whoody's craftmanship||▼ Premium priced upgrade|
|▲ Improved off-road performance & control|| ▼ Fractionally slower on-road steering (negligable)
|▲ Wheel rolls over holes instead of 'into' them.|
|▲ Stronger rims compared to BMW OEM|
|▲ Lighter than stock BMW OEM Wheel|
|▲ Spoke lace pattern can be repaired world-wide|
|▲ Choice of tube and tubeles product|
Whoody's Wheel Works Rating
Speed of Service: ★★★★★
Level of Professionalism: ★★★★★
Install Ease: ★★★★★
For information availability and pricing visit: woodyswheelworks.com