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.
Tue, 29 Sep 2015
BMW introduced two updated models of maxi-scooters C650 Sport and C 650 GT. In addition to the new suspension, traction control and other systems, the Bavarians introduced the "electronic assistant" Side View Assist. Both models received a new dashboard and several color options.
Sun, 11 Jan 2015
The first photos of a small-capacity naked bike developed by German and Indian BMW and TVS engineers were leaked to the Internet. The motorcycle got into the lenses of spy cameras during tests in Germany. It is expected that the novelty will be equipped with a 300 cc single-cylinder power plant.
Mon, 24 Nov 2014
The Italian division of BMW invited local custom workshops to work on a new R nineT roadster. Representatives of a young studio Officine Sbrannetti were the first to respond, proposing a project for the reincarnation of the legendary BMW RS54 Rennsport. R nineT was the seventh project of the company, which began its existence about two years ago.
Fri, 10 Oct 2014
From a BMW Motorrad USA press release:
BMW Motorrad USA has launched a National Parts website to help BMW riders shop online to find original BMW Motorcycle repair and maintenance parts. The website presents the complete catalog of original BMW parts and acts as a hub to direct riders to their closest on-line retailers to seamlessly complete their order. “The National Parts and Accessories website, with its 24/7 online access, is one of the many ways BMW Motorrad USA supports our rider family with tools that make it easy to keep their bikes authentic with original BMW parts,” comments Michael Hernandez, Manager, Parts and Accessories, BMW Motorrad USA. “It also reinforces our commitment to our dealer network by helping them connect with the growing number of riders shopping online.”
The BMW Motorrad USA National Parts and Accessories website raises online exposure for original BMW parts, accessories and riders’ equipment, making it easy for riders to find and buy.
Mon, 15 Sep 2014
Racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats requires more than a little good luck. Weather plays such an important role in the speed of the salt and whether the event is even held at all. This year, Valerie Thompson experienced the full spectrum of Bonneville racing.
Wed, 10 Sep 2014
Pirelli’s relationship with the World Superbike Championship started in 2004 and will carry on through 2018, as the Italian company will continue to supply tires for every class of the championship. What follows is the official Pirelli press release. Pirelli has been confirmed as the Official Tire Supplier for all classes of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship having won the tender organized by Dorna, promoter and organizer of the World Championship, in agreement with the FIM, the International Motorcycling Federation.
Wed, 10 Sep 2014
Author of five books and thousands of articles, Clement Salvadori’s newest tome takes its reader on 30 varying trips around the world. From kick-starting a 500cc Single at 17,200 feet in the Tibetan Himalayas to riding to Pamplona, Spain, in 1960 to run with the bulls, the 416-page book is an adventure-travel enthusiast’s dream. An excerpt from chapter one, Afghanistan 1973, reads: “While working at the American embassy in Rome I decided that after five years I did not want to continue my career as a diplomat.
Tue, 26 Aug 2014
More than 2,000 attendees visited America’s Car Museum for its 3rd annual Vintage Motorcycle Festival ‘The MEET’ last weekend in Tacoma, Washington, where over 300 motorcycles and scooters were showcased on the Haub Family Field at LeMay. The event drew pre-1981 motorcycles and scooters from the U.S. and Canada, including an antique motorcycle display, swap meet, cruise-in and a 78-mile roundtrip tour from ACM’s Anderson Plaza to Mt. Rainier.
Mon, 25 Aug 2014
Hero MotoCorp has hired former BMW designer Markus Braunsperger to lead the Indian company’s research and development division. Braunsperger once held a similar position with BMW in the early 2000s, developing models such as the K1200S before moving on to BMW’s automobile division where he helped design the 5, 6 and 7 series sedans as well as the X3, X5 and X7 SUVs. Braunsperger will head Hero’s new R&D center in Rajasthan, India, starting in October.
Fri, 22 Aug 2014
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have launched a new free online tool that should make it easier for consumers to inspect their vehicles’ safety recall histories. The new search tool, available at http://www.safercar.gov/vinlookup, allows people to look for recall campaigns by entering Vehicle Identification Numbers.