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.
Fri, 04 Jul 2014
BMW announced a new special edition version of the K1300S equipped with some upgraded parts and a unique paint job. The 2015 BMW K1300S Motorsport comes with a new Black Storm Metallic, Light White and Lupine Blue Metallic color scheme, with a bit of red striping for good measure. A band of black running across the top of the bike from nose to tank to tail is complemented by a tinted windscreen.
Thu, 03 Jul 2014
BMW has officially recalled the 2014 R1200RT in the U.S., after the company released a worldwide warning to customers about a potential defect with the rear suspension system. According to documents released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the piston rod on the R1200RT’s Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) rear shock absorber may break without warning. The problem was first discovered April 1 after a warranty claim was filed in France.
Fri, 06 Jun 2014
Michael Dunlop won his fourth race of the 2014 Isle of Man TT and 11th in his career, capping off this year’s event by taking the PokerStars Senior TT. It is the second-consecutive year that Dunlop has won four races in a single TT, this time capturing the Senior, Superbike, Superstock, and the second Supersport TT races. It took a while for Dunlop to get going.
Thu, 05 Jun 2014
BMW is issuing a warning to owners of the 2014 R1200RT with the Dynamic ESA option about a potential defect with the rear suspension. No formal recall has been announced at the moment; BMW is calling it a precautionary measure, though that may change in time or depending on the market. According to BMW, the piston rod of the rear spring strut could break.
Tue, 03 Jun 2014
Michael Dunlop won his second race in the 2014 Isle of Man TT and ninth in his career, taking the RL360 Superstock TT on a BMW S1000RR. Dunlop also won the Superbike TT earlier, giving BMW its first two wins on the Isle of Man since 1939. Meanwhile, Supersport TT 1 winner Gary Johnson was injured in a crash on the opening lap while running second behind Dunlop.
Mon, 02 Jun 2014
Michael Dunlop won a historic Dainese Superbike race to kick off the 2014 Isle of Man TT week. Riding the S1000RR, Dunlop secured BMW its first win on the Isle of Man since Georg Meier won on a Type 255 Kompressor in 1939. After catching early leader James Hillier of the Quattro Plant Kawasaki team on the opening lap, Dunlop continued to set an impressive first lap time of 17:11.107, which translates to a record average speed of 131.730 mph on the 37.73-mile Mountain Course.
Fri, 30 May 2014
Former Husqvarna President Kris Odwarka has been appointed the new vice president of BMW Motorrad USA, taking over from Hans Blesse who is leaving the position to head the BMW Group’s Canadian subsidiary. Odwarka (pictured on the left, above) will be in charge of BMW motorcycle sales and marketing in the U.S. starting on June 1.
Tue, 27 May 2014
BMW has initiated a recall on 2012-2014 C600 Sport and C650GT scooters because of a problem with their timing chain tensioners. As of this writing, recalls have been announced in Canada and Germany but not for the U.S., though we expect the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will announce a similar recall shortly.
Mon, 26 May 2014
BMW seems to be on a role lately with naked roadsters. All in the span of a year, BMW has revealed the S1000R, the R nineT. If recent spy photos offer a real indication, we also expect BMW to release a new R1200R using its new liquid-cooled boxer engine.
Tue, 20 May 2014
HeliBars, one of the leaders in replacement motorcycle handlebars and riser systems, is pleased to announce that installation labor of its innovative, patented products will be just $100–half price–during the Americade rally, in Lake George, New York from June 2nd to 6th. Americade attendees will have their new HeliBars installed and custom-tailored during the rally by factory certified HeliBars installer, Sportline Power Products, in nearby Queensbury. The shop will have on hand a wide selection of Heli comfort kits, headlined by the just-released Luxury Sport Touring Horizon handlebars for Honda Goldwings and F6Bs.