The iconic BMW Motorrad R80G/S Paris-Dakar. Before we get to the finished product, allow me to take you back to November of 2014 when this story started. I was on my way to the Grand Canyon for a solo motorcycle trip when I received an email response from Greg Hutchinson. A few days prior to leaving on my trip, I had posted on a few motorcycle forums looking for someone in California, Oregon, Nevada or Arizona that owned an R80G/S Paris-Dakar. Out of my own interest in BMW Motorcycles and the GS line that I’ve come to love so much, I wanted to learn more about the history of where the GS came from.
If you’ve never heard of or seen the R80G/S Paris-Dakar before, you’re likely to recognize the iconic BMW stripes and colors when you do. While similar to the other GS of the time, this iteration sported a larger tank and the stunning Paris-Dakar paint scheme. Even today, many years later, this color scheme is still replicated on helmets, shirts and modern day scramblers. As someone who loves BMW Motorcycles, this one in particular sits high on the list of most-desired for me.
In my quest to find a R80G/S-PD to see in person and take photos, several people pointed me in the direction of Greg Hutchinson. After reaching out and getting an email back, I figured out that his shop was less than 3 miles from where I live in the Bay Area. Greg agreed to let me stop by his shop the Sunday night that I returned from the Grand Canyon.
I walked into the shop to find a small room with a vintage R80G/S on a lift, a few other motorcycles packed in tight like sardines and an eclectic collection of BMW odds and ends. Hung on the walls were valve covers, exhaust headers, photos, posters and racks upon racks of nuts, bolts and everything else you might need for an airhead. Greg led me through the door to the adjoining room and turned on the light. I was amazed to see a much larger shop space with several lifts and a sea of airheads of all types.
It was clear to me that I was in the right place. Greg and I got talking and I let him know I was really interested in learning more about the R80G/S Paris-Dakar. He pointed to a frame that had just come back from powder coating. He said, “That’s the beginning of one right there”. Good timing – or meant to be – he had just started doing a complete restoration of a 1985 R80G/S Paris-Dakar for a client. Greg agreed to let me follow along the process to see what it takes to rebuild and restore an airhead classic.
For the next several months, I would join Greg after work for a few sessions a week, working on the motorcycle. Greg is a really smart guy. After hanging out with him a few times, I soon found out that this large garage full of 15 airheads was just his hobby; he has a day job, too. Greg reminds me a bit of myself.
Around the motorcycle he’s working on, he will have bins full of bolts, nuts and other parts. He said you can point to any part in a bin and he can tell you exactly where it goes on the motorcycle. He has rebuilt a massive number of airheads and can diagnose problems quicker than I can get a motorcycle started. Although Greg doesn’t advertise his shop much or what he does, people from all over seem to know to call him when they need help with their airhead. It’s fun to stop by the shop because there’s always a new bike inside getting worked on.
As the months went on, we made more and more progress on the restoration. When a part wasn’t quite right, or needed to be replaced, Greg would send it off to be refinished, or wait to get the part from Germany. I learned that BMW in Germany actually has a warehouse full of parts; you can even get things for motorcycles dating back to the 1930’s. Fortunately, Greg already has a lot of the things he needs in his shop (including several extra Paris-Dakar fuel tanks, which if bought new from BMW, will cost you a pretty penny).
The majority of the time throughout the whole process of restoration includes waiting for parts, working on the engine & wiring, and building up the frame. Once that’s done, putting everything else on is pretty easy. I remember the first day we fired up the engine. It was a great milestone to reach after having spent so much time around a frame and engine. It started to feel like a motorcycle.
Upon finally finishing the restoration, we were ready for road testing. Greg always does some shakedown rides on bikes he works on to make sure that everything is working correctly. Highway 84 up to Alice’s Restaurant is just about 20 minutes from Greg’s shop and it’s a beautiful ride, so we headed that direction. It’s a good-looking bike that looks even better when it’s riding. I followed Greg up some twisty roads until we made our way to Alice’s for dinner. It was a Friday night and the weather was perfect. After a quick dinner we headed down Skyline Blvd to get a little bit more riding in.
I’m proud to have had the opportunity to spend time on this project. What started out as a mission to see a GSPD in person turned into a great friendship and a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t have before. I always try and remember that while it’s fun to dream about motorcycles I wish I could have, or obsess over specifications and details, it’s really about the great people I meet in the motorcycle community and being able to ride with people who love it as much as I do.
Words and Photos by Nick Johnson
Special thank you to Greg Hutchinson