Matias Corea’s book, Two Wheels South, opens with a touching tribute:
To you, Soledad.
You left us too early. I took you with me through every landscape so you could see the world through my eyes. I miss you, and at the same time I feel your presence. I know it was you who protected me when gravity betrayed me and threw me to the ground.
You’re with me every day.
The book chronicles a journey Corea took in 2016, when he rode his 1985 BMW R 80 G/S Paris-Dakar 20,000 miles from Brooklyn to Ushuaia, in Argentina. It was a trip that he and his close friend Joel had been talking about for nearly 18 years — but life, careers, and all else in between pushed it out. Then Corea lost his sister, Soledad, unexpectedly, in the summer of 2015 at the young age of 38.
Corea had just quit his job three months earlier and was overwhelmed with loss. “In that time, I came to understand that the notion that we have our entire lives to check off our bucket list was a fallacy,” he says in his book. “Why work at all if I couldn’t experience anything outside the borders of my routine?” Still unsure if Joel would join him, he decided that he would embark on a motorcycle trip to Ushuaia no matter what. “Then I called Joel out of the blue, ‘I’m leaving October 12. Are you in?’ He said yes.”
Corea was meticulous about preparation for both him and Joel. He chose two vintage BMW Airheads that would be easier to repair roadside than modern bikes, easily allowed swapping parts from one bike to the other, and increased the likelihood of finding parts in desolate places along the way. But nothing expands knowledge like experience — crossing a continent on a motorcycle quickly taught Corea what works, and what doesn’t.
Now he has another trip planned: a 22,000-mile journey from his native Barcelona to Cape Town in South Africa. He’s taken the hard-earned lessons from his first trip and built his vision of the ultimate adventure Airhead.
“After 20,000 miles in 168 days, you get a clear idea of what the bike is capable of and its limitations,” he says. “This build is based on everything I learned on that trip. By the end, I had mapped out everything I wanted to change to be able to tour the world with an Airhead.”
With too much reverence to modify his original G/S, Corea started with its close cousin: the 1983 BMW R 80 ST. The Brooklyn-based designer’s main focus was on making sensible upgrades and building a reliable and easy-to-work-on bike.
“Every element on the bike was vetted in regards to how easy it would be to repair or replace anywhere in Africa,” he says. “That mindset changed my perspective on what is a cool choice and what is a good choice.”
Corea went deep in his pursuit of perfection, starting with an engine capacity bump to 1,001cc. The heads went off to Moorespeed in Northampton, UK, to be ported, gas-flowed, and modified to run oversized inlet and exhaust valves. Corea then rebuilt the motor with high-compression Moorespeed pistons and an asymmetrical racing camshaft.
The crankshaft, rods, pistons, and flywheel assembly were all dynamically balanced to maximize performance and improve throttle response. Corea also installed 40-millimeter Bing carbs, then ditched the airbox and modified the intake to hold an open rally filter. The exhaust is from the classic BMW specialists Siebenrock.
“This engine now pulls 72 horsepower at the rear wheel and feels incredible between 5,500 and 7,000 rpm,” says Corea. (A stock R 80 ST makes about 50 horsepower at the crank.)
Improving the BMW’s handling called for not only suspension upgrades, but some chassis work too. Corea turned to master welder Esteban Pasquale, who welded 14 reinforcement plates into the frame. The subframe was pivoted forward and also reinforced with two diagonal supports and a built-in rear rack.
The front end was upgraded with a set of WP Suspension open-chamber forks, with a whopping 250 millimeters of travel. A 21-inch Excel rim was laced to a Talon hub with heavy-duty stainless steel spokes and matched to a single four-piston Brembo brake caliper. “I went with a single because a dual front disc makes the wheel considerably heavier, and it means twice as many components to worry about,” explains Corea.
In the rear, the boxer’s shaft drive swingarm was stretched by 100 millimeters and hooked up to a custom-built Wilbers shock. The final drive was overhauled with new bearings, and the rear drum brake was flipped vertically to protect the moving part from rocks. The OEM rear wheel hub was then drilled so that it could be laced to an 18-inch Excel rim.
Corea fitted Mitas E-07 dual sport tires at both ends, utilizing the new rear wheel’s offset to squeeze in a 130-wide rear. The center stand had to be modified to accommodate the taller suspension, and now has a foot lever to aid in lifting the bike.
For the fuel tank, Corea went straight to the crew that built the BMW Dakar bikes in the ’80s: HPN. He started with a 11.3-gallon nylon unit, and made sure that a clear strip was left behind when it was painted, to function as an analog fuel gauge.
“When you ride through more isolated areas,” he explains, “low-quality fuel is a given. That can create ‘pinging,’ which is dangerous for the motor. To circumvent the issue, the bike has a dual curve ignition system that can be switched from the dash to retard the timing.”
"When you ride through more isolated areas, low-quality fuel is a given. That can create ‘pinging,’ which is dangerous for the motor. To circumvent the issue, the bike has a dual curve ignition system that can be switched from the dash to retard the timing."
Up in the cockpit, Corea fit the original R 80 ST dials to an Acerbis fairing, and added a dual-port marine-grade USB hub, a hazard light switch, and the ignition curve switch. He also installed Magura handlebars on taller risers with Acerbis hand guards and BMW mirrors.
Out back is a modified HPN rear fender equipped with the BMW’s original taillight and turn signals. It’s flanked by a pair of sturdy Hepco Becker hard cases. Other upgrades include a Shorai lithium-ion battery, lowered foot pegs, and a pair of ultra-bright Baja Design S1 LED fog lights mounted to the front crash bars.
The stunning minimalist livery was executed by the same painter behind Walt Siegl’s bikes: Robbie Nigl at Peach Pit Motorcycle Painting. The “M” motif on the tank refers to “Myth Motor” — Corea’s new motorcycle brand.
“This is Myth 001,” he says, “and even though it’s a fully finished bike, it stands as a prototype in my mind.”
“After the Africa experience I will continue to make changes and improve the concept; there’s always something new to try. I want to offer only my best work for other adventure riders around the world.”
This “G/S” is a flawless blend of classic style, usability, and performance. And the fact that it’s poised to cross a literal continent later this year makes it all the more irresistible.