To date, I’ve owned three motorcycles. Each new motorcycle ushers in a whole new level of technology. My first bike, a 2001 Vulcan 750, was an extremely simple motorcycle. It was carbureted at its core with minimal adjustability. The second bike, a 2003 V-Strom, added fuel injection, which solved many of the problems inherent with carbureted motorcycles, particularly in wildly changing elevations. My current bike, a GS 1250, really is a computer on wheels.
I was extremely hands off with my first bike. When something happened I’d take it to the dealer to get fixed. After purchasing the V-Strom I was riding a LOT more and the dealer became more expensive (thanks valve adjustments!) As I got further from home, I wanted to understand how the bike was working should a breakdown happen on the road. I found it necessary to invest in the discipline of learning to maintain one’s motorcycle. I enjoyed getting to know the V-Strom’s intricacies like changing oil, the air filter, poking at the valves, and bleeding brakes.
Many of these repairs on the GS require interfacing with the GS’s on board computer. I couldn’t just find documentation on the web like I did for the V-Strom. Fortunately, some enterprising South Africans developed the GS 911. The GS 911 allows the hobbyist to interact with the computer on the motorcycle to perform these functions. This device gives me the ability / “right to repair” my own motorcycle and not be locked into BMW’s dealer network.
The GS 911 connects to the OBD (onboard diagnostics) port on the right side of my 2019 GS. The port is just below the red power connector on the right.
Note: Older BMWs have a round OBD port, which is not compatible with this version of the GS 911. Make sure you purchase the adapter to convert between the two-port styles.
Warning: Not all GS 911 functions are available over Wi-Fi. For best performance, connect to your computer via the included USB cable. I spent more than a few minutes banging my head against the wall to find out I couldn’t reset the service indicator over Wi-Fi.
The software to run the GS 911 requires Windows. For Mac users that means installing Windows directly on the mac (with some hard disk mojo) or running Windows virtually. Boot Camp runs Windows on the Mac hardware directly. You’ll need to purchase a license for Windows (or use one you already own that’s not in use anymore). You create a partition for Windows and install Windows to that partition.
My strong preference is to run Windows Virtually. I use VMware Fusion, which runs Windows inside of Mac OS. Both aren’t for the faint of heart, but I find VMware Fusion to be more flexible as I can run Windows and Mac OS simultaneously on one computer. You’ll need to install VMware Fusion on the Mac first and install Windows into a virtual computer within VMware. I recommend Windows 7 as it requires less computing power than Windows 10. Both versions of Windows will work equally well. VirtualBox is a free alternative and Parallels is another commercial alternative. My vote still goes to VMware Fusion.
If you go the virtual route, make sure your Mac is well resourced. I would recommend 16 GB of physical memory in the Mac for best performance.
As a side note, I never thought I’d be using VMware in my motorcycling career. VMware is great to test out the latest version of nerdy stuff like Linux, but I didn’t think I’d see the day where VMware was required to change the oil in my motorcycle!
If VMware is configured correctly, you should see Windows running on top of Mac OS as in the screenshot below.
VMware or Bootcamp?
Once the cover is off the OBD port, connect the GS 911 to the motorcycle and the computer. Once the GS 911 is connected to the computer, VMware will prompt whether to connect the GS 911 to Windows or the Mac. Since there are two distinct operating systems running on your on physical computer, VMware needs to know which operating system to connect the GS 911. Make sure to choose Windows so that the GS 911 software can see the GS 911 hardware.
Always pull diagnostics!
When connecting the GS 911 to the motorcycle, make sure that the ignition is set to on. To reset the service indicator, the motorcycle’s engine doesn’t need to be running. However, the bike does need to be powered. If the bike is not powered, the GS 911 will return the following error:
The first operation you should run is an Autoscan. This confirms that the GS 911 is communicating with the motorcycle successfully and pulls any fault codes (problems) known with the bike. Take a quick scan to look for fault codes like the ones in the screenshot above. Fault codes are beneficial in diagnosing problems with the motorcycle. You can Google specific fault codes to learn quite a bit about what’s going on with the motorcycle.
Note: Shortly before writing this blog, my motorcycle had an engine fault due to fault code 3A1062. With a little bit of research and open communication with the dealer, I found out that this was a software glitch that did not affect the motorcycle’s performance. They fixed it under warranty with a software update to the bike, but it reduced the uncertainty I was feelign that something was physically wrong with my motorcycle. GS 911 came in handy.
I recommend at each service interval saving the auto scan output on your Mac. That way, you can refer back to it should you need the records in the future. I’d enable shared folders so that you can save the autoscan output to your Mac’s drive rather than to the virtual machine.
Alert: Be very careful when clearing error codes. Once cleared, anyone else looking at your bike will not have the history to diagnose a future problem. If you do clear the error codes, know that you may be deleting valuable troubleshooting information.
Resetting the service indicator
At this point, we’ve confirmed that the GS 911 correctly talk to the motorcycle (over USB and not Wi-Fi). We’ve pulled diagnostics from the bike and have noted anything that looks noteworthy.
From here, resetting the service indicator is extremely straightforward. In the left-hand column, click the engine type of your motorcycle. For example, the GS I ride is the R 1250 GS, so I’d choose the R Series menu option. I’d then click on R1250GS. Next, click on special functions.
Finally, choose custom date/mileage. I choose to be intentional about when I do service, so I want to make sure I enter specific mileages and dates to perform services.
BMW recommends doing “something” at 600 miles, 6000 miles, and every 6000 miles after that. These include fluid changes, valve adjustments, spark plugs, etc.
BMW recommends that brake fluid changes happen one year from the date of sale and every two years after that. I find it easier to enter in specific dates and mileages, so I know I’m keeping on track with my maintenance.
Once you’ve saved the new values to the computer, restart the motorcycle, and the reset service indicator should be gone as in the screenshot below!
One more note…
Your virtual machine can do more than just run the GS 911 software. For just over $100, you can get access to the BMW service manual for your bike. That service manual is a Windows program that can also run inside of the existing virtual machine. Pictured on the right is a page out of the manual that gave all of the specs for how to adjust the handlebars for more comfort.
Setting up a virtual machine on your Mac isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it the cheapest venture. VMware Fusion, GS 911, and the BMW service manual go a long way in building out a toolkit to ensure your motorcycle lives a long, happy life in your garage!
ProTip: I needed a bit more help once I got into the bike’s internals. Jim Bade’s videos (http://www.jvbproductions.com/) are a great resource for the curious to get started learning more about their bike!