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.
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 "across the frame" version of the 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.
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 (31 cubic inches) overhead camshaft BMW 173.88 mph (279.83 km/h), setting a world record that stood for 14 years.
Construction was so good that during World War II Harley-Davidson copied the BMW engine and transmission—simply converting metric measurements to inches—and produced the shaft-drive 750 cc (46 cubic inches) 1942 Harley-Davidson XA.
The terms of Germany's surrender forbade BMW from manufacturing motorcycles. In 1946, when BMW received permission to restart motorcycle production from US authorities in Bavaria, BMW had to start from scratch.
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.
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 and 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 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, along with 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 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.
Thu, 13 Mar 2014
BMW has initiated a recall on several motorcycle and scooter models because of a problem with the side stand switches failing in wet conditions. The recall affects 4,453 vehicles from the 2013 model year including the C600 Sport and C650GT scooters, F700GS, F800GS, F800GS Adventure, F800GT, R1200R and R1200GS. According to documents released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, water may enter the side stand switch on affected vehicles from riding in wet conditions or even from vigorous washing.
Tue, 11 Mar 2014
Photo: Brian J. Nelson
Even though reigning AMA Pro Superbike champ Josh Herrin has left the series to try his hand in the Moto2 series, the Superbike field is still filled deep with talent heading into this weekend’s series opening round at Daytona. Here are just a few names to keep an eye on this weekend.
Tue, 11 Mar 2014
BMW continues to set new motorcycle sales records, with an 18.3% year-on-year growth helping the company set a new benchmark for sales in February. The German manufacturer reported sales of 8,098 motorcycles and scooters in February, an impressive 18.3% increase over the 6,847 units sold in the same month last year. The record February followed another record in January which saw a year-on-year increase of 12.9%.
Wed, 05 Mar 2014
In January news broke that Larry Pegram would be teaming up with Erik Buell Racing to race the 1190RX in AMA Superbike. At the time no official photos were revealed, but that’s all changed as Pegram posted these pictures of his completed 1190RX in full race livery on his Facebook page. These photos were captured during team testing in Florida, and the colors show off the all-American design motif.
Fri, 28 Feb 2014
BMW has appointed Karl Viktor Schaller as its new head of BMW Motorrad development. Schaller will replace Christian Landerl who headed motorcycle development since November 2008. Schaller studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Munich before becoming a scientific assistant at the research institute for gear wheels and gear manufacturing.
Wed, 26 Feb 2014
BMW has acquired a 3.2-acre parcel of land that includes the company’s original factory. Built in 1918, the historic site in the Milbertshofen district of Munich, Germany, housed BMW’s original aircraft engine production plant. The company says the land will become the new home for BMW Group Classic, a subsidiary that documents BMW’s past.
Sun, 23 Feb 2014
When he signed with the team, Eugene Laverty said he would give all he possibly could to bring Suzuki back to the top of the podium once again. Well, it sure didn’t take the Northern Irishman long to accomplish that goal, winning the very first race of the 2014 season at Australia’s Phillip Island course. The win was Laverty’s third in a row, including the final two races of the 2013 season when he raced for Aprilia.
Sat, 22 Feb 2014
With the 2014 World Superbike Championship now under way, the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) announced a change in the homologation procedure for new motorcycles entering the series. The new regulations requires a minimum of 125 units produced in order to begin the homologation process. By the end of the first year of participation, manufacturers must have produced 250 units.
Wed, 19 Feb 2014
WE'RE not saying MCN's verdicts lack variation but here's a few of the weekly paper's recent headlines on just-ridden bikes:
‘Simply brilliant’ On the Kawasaki Z1000, November 27, 2013
‘Brilliant’ On the BMW S1000R, December 4, 2013
‘We thought it might be good. It's not: it's bloody brilliant!’ On the BMW R nineT, January 29, 2014
‘Simply brilliant’ On the Yamaha MT-07, February 19, 2014
Tue, 18 Feb 2014
NORMALLY we wouldn’t get terribly excited about an electric moped but this as-yet-unreleased design comes from a new firm that’s already making waves in the car industry. Qoros might not be a name you’re familiar with. The firm has yet to start selling cars in Europe, although that will change soon.