BMW Motorcycle History
BMW’s motorcycle history began in 1921 when the company commenced manufacturing engines for other companies. Motorcycle manufacturing now operates under the BMW Motorrad brand. BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG) introduced the first motorcycle under its name, the R32, in 1923 to 1925.
BMW began in 1916 as a reorganization of Rapp Motorenwerke, an aircraft engine manufacturer that began production before World War I. With the Armistice, the Treaty of Versailles banned the German air force and the manufacture of aircraft in Germany, so the company turned to making air brakes, industrial engines, agricultural machinery, toolboxes and office furniture and then to motorcycles and cars.
In 1921, BMW began manufacture of its M2B15 flat-twin engine. Designed by Max Friz for use as a portable industrial engine, the M2B15 was largely used by motorcycle manufacturers, notably Victoria of Nuremberg, and Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in their Helios motorcycle.Friz was also working on car engines.
BMW merged with Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in 1922, inheriting from them the Helios motorcycle and a small two-stroke motorized bicycle called the Flink. In 1923, BMW’s first in line crank with two horizontally opposed air cooled cylinders boxer engine was designed by Friz. The R32 had a 486 cc (29.7 cubic inches) engine with 8.5 hp (6.3 kW) and a top speed of 95 to 100 km/h (59 to 62 mph). The engine and gearbox formed a bolt-up single unit. At a time when many motorcycle manufacturers used total-loss oiling systems, the new BMW engine featured a recirculating wet sump oiling system with a drip feed to roller bearings. This system was used by BMW until 1969, when they adopted the “high-pressure oil” system based on shell bearings and tight clearances, still in use today.
The R32 became the foundation for all future boxer-powered BMW motorcycles. BMW oriented the boxer engine with the cylinder heads projecting out on each side for cooling as did the earlier British ABC. Other motorcycle manufacturers, including Douglas and Harley-Davidson, aligned the cylinders with the frame, one cylinder facing towards the front wheel and the other towards the back wheel. The R32 also incorporated shaft drive. BMW has continued to use shaft drive on its motorcycles and did not produce a chain driven model until the introduction of the F650 in 1994.
BMW R2, a 200cc single-cylinder BMW motorcycle. The first single-cylinder BMW was the 1925 R39. In 1925, BMW introduced the R39, a 250 cc single-cylinder motorcycle. It was not successful and was discontinued in 1927. In 1931, BMW introduced the single-cylinder shaft-driven R2, which, as a 200 cc motorcycle, could be operated in Germany without a motorcycle licence at that time. The R2 headed a series of single-cylinder BMW motorcycles, including the 400 cc R4 in 1932 and the 300 cc R3 in 1936.
The BMW R12 and R17, both introduced in 1935, were the first production motorcycles with hydraulically damped telescopic forks.
- In 1937, Ernst Henne rode a supercharged 500 cc overhead camshaft BMW 173.88 mph (279.83 km/h), setting a world record that stood for 14 years.
- In 1938, R71 Air cooled, 746cc, Boxer, side valve was introduced with a licence going to Russia where they were built in Russia and Ukraine as the M72 and later in China as the Chiang Jang.
During World War II the Wehrmacht needed as many vehicles as it could get of all types and many other German companies were asked to build motorcycles. The R75 performed particularly well in the harsh operating environment of the North African Campaign. Motorcycles of every style had performed acceptably well in Europe but, in the desert, the protruding cylinders of the flat-twin engine performed better than other configurations which overheated in the sun. Shaft drives also performed better than chain-drives which were damaged by desert grit.
The U.S. Army took note of these advantages and asked Harley-Davidson, Indian and Delco to produce a motorcycle similar to the side-valve BMW R71. Harley-Davidson copied the BMW engine and transmission—simply converting metric measurements to inches—and produced the shaft-drive 750 cc 1942 Harley-Davidson XA.
The end of World War II found BMW in ruins. Its plant outside of Munich was destroyed by Allied bombing. The Eisenach facility, while badly damaged, was not totally destroyed, and tooling and machinery had been stored safely nearby. Contrary to popular accounts, the facility was not dismantled by the Soviets as reparations and sent to the Soviet Union to be reassembled in Irbit to make IMZ-Ural motorcycles; the IMZ plant was supplied to the Soviets by BMW under license before the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. After the war, most of BMW’s engineers were taken to the US or the Soviet Union to continue the work they had done on jet engines with BMW during the war.
The terms of Germany’s surrender forbade BMW from manufacturing motorcycles. In 1947, when BMW received permission to restart motorcycle production from US authorities in Bavaria, BMW had to start from scratch. There were no plans, blueprints, or schematic drawings because they were all in Eisenach. Company engineers had to use surviving pre-war motorcycles to copy the bikes. The first post-war BMW motorcycle in Western Germany, a 250 cc R24, was produced in 1948. The R24 was reverse-engineered from the pre-war R23 with some improvements over the R23,and was the only postwar West German BMW without rear suspension. In 1949, BMW produced 9,200 units and by 1950 production surpassed 17,000 units.
BMW boxer twins manufactured from 1950 to 1956 included the 500 cc models R51/2 and 24 hp (18 kW) R51/3, the 600 cc models 26 hp (19 kW) R67, 28 hp (21 kW) R67/2, and R67/3, and the sporting 35 hp (26 kW) 600 cc model R68. All these models came with plunger rear suspensions, telescopic front forks, and chromed, exposed drive shafts. Except for the R68, all these twins came with “bell-bottom” front fenders and front stands.
The situation was very different in Soviet-controlled Eastern Germany where BMW’s sole motorcycle plant in Eisenach was producing R35 and a handful of R75 motorcycles for reparations. This resulted in one BMW motorcycle plant existing in Eisenach between 1945 and 1948 and two motorcycle companies existing between 1948 and 1952. One was a BMW in Munich in Western Germany (later the German Federal Republic) and the other in Soviet controlled Eisenach, Eastern Germany (later the German Democratic Republic), both using the BMW name. Eventually in 1952. after the Soviets ceded control of the plant to the East German Government, and following a trademark lawsuit, this plant was renamed EMW (Eisenacher Motoren Werke).
Instead of BMW’s blue-and-white roundel, EMW used a very similar red-and-white roundel as its logo. No motorcycles made in East Germany after World War II were manufactured under the authority of BMW in Munich as there was no need for an occupying power to gain such authority. BMW R35 motorcycles were produced in Eisenach until 1952, when they became EMW.
As the 1950s progressed, motorcycle sales plummeted. In 1957, three of BMW’s major German competitors went out of business. In 1954, BMW produced 30,000 motorcycles. By 1957, that number was less than 5,500.
In 1955, BMW began introducing a new range of motorcycles with Earles forks and enclosed drive shafts. These were the 26 hp (19 kW) 500 cc R50, the 30 hp (22 kW) 600 cc R60, and the 35 hp (26 kW) sporting 600 cc R69.
On June 8, 1959, John Penton rode a BMW R69 from New York to Los Angeles in 53 hours and 11 minutes, slashing over 24 hours from the previous record of 77 hours and 53 minutes set by Earl Robinson on a 45 cubic inch (740 cc) Harley-Davidson.
Although U.S. sales of BMW motorcycles were strong, BMW was in financial trouble. Through the combination of selling off its aircraft engine division and obtaining financing with the help of Herbert Quandt, BMW was able to survive. The turnaround was thanks in part to the increasing success of BMW’s automotive division. Since the beginnings of its motorcycle manufacturing, BMW periodically introduced single-cylinder models. In 1967, BMW offered the last of these, the R27. Most of BMW’s offerings were still designed to be used with sidecars. By this time sidecars were no longer a consideration of most riders; people were interested in sportier motorcycles.
The 26 hp (19 kW) R50/2, 30 hp (22 kW) R60/2, and 42 hp (31 kW) R69S marked the end of sidecar-capable BMWs. Of this era, the R69S remains the most desirable example of the dubbed “/2” (“slash-two”) series because of significantly greater engine power than other models, among other features unique to this design.
For the 1968 and 1969 model years only, BMW exported into the United States three “US” models. These were the R50US, the R60US, and the R69US. On these motorcycles, there were no sidecar lugs attached to the frame and the front forks were telescopic forks, which were later used worldwide on the slash-5 series of 1970 through 1973. Earles-fork models were sold simultaneously in the United States as buyers had their choice of front suspensions.
In 1970, BMW introduced an entirely revamped product line of 500 cc, 600 cc and 750 cc displacement models, the R50/5, R60/5 and R75/5 respectively which came with the “US” telescopic forks noted above. The engines were a complete redesign. The roller and ball-bearings in the bottom end had been replaced by shell-type journal bearings similar to those used in modern car engines. The camshaft, which had been at the top of the engine, was placed under the crankshaft, giving better ground clearance under the cylinders while retaining the low centre of gravity of the flat-twin layout.
The new engine had an electric starter, although the traditional gearbox-mounted kick starter was retained. The styling of the first models included chrome-plated side panels and a restyled tank. The /5 series was given a longer rear swingarm, resulting in a longer wheelbase. This improved the handling and allowed a larger battery to be installed.
The /5 models were the first to be built at BMW’s new motorcycle factory in Spandau, West Berlin. Motorcycle production had been relocated from the Milbertshofen factory in Munich to this factory, which had been built on the site earlier occupied by a Siemens aircraft engine factory.
The /5 models were short-lived, however, being replaced by another new product line in 1974. In that year the 500 cc model was deleted from the lineup and an even bigger 900 cc model was introduced, as was a five-speed gearbox, and improvements to the electrical system and frame geometry. These models were the R60/6, R75/6 and the R90/6. In 1973 a supersport model, the BMW R90S, was introduced. In 1975, the kick starter was finally eliminated.
In 1977, the product line moved on to the “/7” models. The R80/7 was added to the line. The R90 (898 cc) models, “/6” and R90S models were replaced by updated versions with a new 1,000 cc; engine, the R100/7, the R100S and the new super sport model the R100RS with a full fairing. This sleek model, designed through wind-tunnel testing, produced 70 hp (51 kW) and had a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). The R100RS had a shorter rear end ratio to overcome the higher wind resistance of the full fairing.
Many period motorcycle tests in Germany (Das Motorrad) indicated it was actually slightly slower than the R100S with only 65 hp. In 1978, the R100RT was introduced into the lineup for the 1979 model year, as BMW’s first “full-dress” tourer. The RS and RT fairings were very similar in appearance; however, the RS fairing was essentially a lightweight streamlining/protective shell and windscreen with no other functions, while the RT shell was heavier and had two “glove box” lockable compartments, ventilation louvres and an adjustable windscreen. The RT fairing was widely used for police motorcycles, with radio equipment in the fairing compartments.
In 1979, the R60 was replaced with the 650 cc R65, an entry-level motorcycle with 48 hp (36 kW) that had its very own frame design. Due to its smaller size and better geometrics, front and rear 18-inch (460 mm) wheels and a very light flywheel, was an incredibly well-handling bike that could easily keep up and even run away from its larger brothers when in proper hands on sinuous roads. BMW added a variant in 1982: the R65LS, a “sportier” model with a one-fourth fairing, double front disc brakes, stiffer suspension and different carburettors that added 5 hp (4 kW).
In early 1983, BMW introduced a 987 cc, in-line four-cylinder, water-cooled fuel injected engine to the European market, the K100. The K series comes with a simplified and distinctive rear suspension, a single-sided swingarm. (In 1985 the traditionally powered boxer R80RT touring bike received this monolever rear suspension system and in 1987 the R100RT received it).
- In 1985, BMW introduced a 750 cc three-cylinder version, this one smoothed with another first, a counterbalance shaft.
- In 1986, BMW introduced an electrically adjustable windshield on the K100LT. In 1988, BMW introduced ABS on its motorcycles. ABS became standard on all BMW K models.
- In 1993 ABS was first introduced on BMW’s boxer line on the R1100RS. It has since become available as an option on the rest of BMW’s motorcycle range.
- In 1989, BMW introduced its version of a full-fairing sport bike, the K1. It was based upon the K100 engine, but now with four valves per cylinder. Output was near 100 hp (75 kW).
In 1995, BMW ceased production of airhead 2-valve engines and moved its boxer-engined line completely over to the 4-valve oilhead system first introduced in 1993. During this period, BMW introduced a number of motorcycles including: R Series (airheads) – R65GS, R80GS, R100GS, and the R100gspd, which was marketed to celebrate the winning of the famous Paris to Dakar cross country race by a modified GS airhead BMW. This model is highly coveted by BMW collectors and long distance ‘around the world’ travelers because of its reliability and ease of maintenance and repair.
- R Series (oilheads) – R850R/GS/C, R1100S/RS/RT/R/GS/S, R1150R/RS/RT/GS/S, R1200C
- F Series – F650 Funduro, F650ST Strada, F650GS, F650GS Dakar, F650CS Scarver
- K Series – K1, K100, K100RS, K100RT, K75, K75C, K75S, K75RT, K1100RS, K1100LT, K1200RS, K1200LT, K1200GT.
The R1200C, produced from 1997 to 2004, was BMW Motorcycle’s only entry into the Cruiser market. At the other end of the model lineup, the C1, produced from 2000 to 2002, was an enclosed scooter, the only scooter to be offered for sale by BMW.
K series. On 25 September 2004, BMW globally launched a radically redesigned K Series motorcycle, the K1200S, containing an all new in-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine featuring 123 kW (165 hp). The K1200S was primarily designed as a Super Sport motorcycle, albeit larger and heavier than the closest Japanese competitors. Shortly after the launch of the K1200S, problems were discovered with the new power plant leading to a recall until the beginning of 2005, when corrective changes were put in place.
In the years after the launch of K1200S, BMW has also launched the K1200R naked roadster, and the K1200GT sport tourer, which started to appear in dealer showrooms in spring (March–June) 2006. All three new K-series motorcycles are based on the new in-line four-cylinder engine, with slightly varying degrees of power. In 2007, BMW added the K1200R Sport, a semi-faired sport touring version of the K1200R.
In October 2008, BMW launched three new 1,300 cc K-series models: the K1300R, K1300S and K1300GT. The K1300 models feature an increase in engine capacity of 136 cc, an increase in power to 175 hp (130 kW), newly styled fairings and a new exhaust system.
In 2011, BMW launched two six-cylinder, 1,600 cc, K1600GT and K1600GTL motorcycles, the former intended as a sport-tourer and the latter as a luxury touring model. The engine produces 160 hp (120 kW) and 129 lb·ft (175 N·m). They also offer adaptive headlights, traction control, ABS, tire pressure monitors, and a variety of sound systems.