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, 28 Jan 2014
If you’ve been considering a new BMW motorcycle this year, then you must be eagerly awaiting the German manufacturer to release its 2014 prices. Now that your Christmas bills are paid off (at least, you would hope), you can start budgeting for your new Beemer, now that BMW Motorrad USA has released pricing information for the five newest models to its lineup, the R nineT, S1000R, R1200GS Adventure, K1600GTL Exclusive and R1200RT. Perhaps the most welcome news is the R nineT’s pricing at $14,900, making it just $800 more expensive than the R1200R‘s $14,100 price tag.
Tue, 28 Jan 2014
Quinn Redeker is one talented motorcycle rider. In this impressive video, watch as he wins a motorcycle skills competition aboard his motorcycle. And oh yeah, Redeker is a motorcycle cop.
Mon, 27 Jan 2014
Yes this is another car vs. motorcycle drag race. For this particular matchup we have the BMW S1000RR taking on the Lamborghini Aventador and Bugatti Veyron Vitesse.
Sat, 25 Jan 2014
The third instalment of the Indian action blockbuster Dhoom became the highest grossing Indian film of all time. More interesting than that are the laughable bike scenes, with Dhoom 3 featuring one chase scene between a K1300R and a S1000RR. In the first Dhoom film a Hayubasu magically transformed into 125cc bike for a train jump.
Mon, 20 Jan 2014
Larry Pegram and Erik Buell Racing will be partnering up in 2014 to race an EBR 1190RX in AMA Superbike. This will be Pegram’s third different OEM in as many years, as he rode a Yamaha last year, BMW before that and Ducati in 2011. Supporting Pegram will be his long-time title sponsor, Foremost Insurance Group, along with EBR sponsors AMSOIL and Hero MotoCorp.
Fri, 17 Jan 2014
The International Motorcycling Federation is considering modifying its homologation requirements for the World Superbike Championship following Bimota‘s somewhat surprising plans to re-enter the series. Under current regulations, manufacturers must produce a minimum number of motorcycles for it to be eligible to compete in the production-based WSBK championship. The official regulations currently require a minimum of 125 units produced for an initial homologation inspection, 500 units produced by June 30 of the current year, 1,000 units by the end of the current year and 2,000 units by the end of the following year.
Fri, 17 Jan 2014
I’m not usually much for celebrity postings, but consider this a rare exception. Why? Because Mila Jovovich.
Mon, 13 Jan 2014
BMW continues to set sales records, announcing the sale of 115,215 motorcycles in 2013. This marks the third consecutive year of record sales, following the 106,358 motorcycles in 2012 and 104,286 motorcycles sold in 2011. We already knew BMW was going to have a banner year last month, when the German manufacturer passed its 2012 figures in just 11 months.
Fri, 10 Jan 2014
German site MotorradOnline.de has published a spy photo of what appears to be a new liquid-cooled BMW R1200R prototype undergoing testing. The production model should arrive for the 2015 model year, with the official unveiling likely to take place at the Intermot show in Cologne in October. The spy photo shows the top of the test bike, with the engines, wheels and exhaust hidden behind a railing.
Wed, 08 Jan 2014
I’ve lost dozens of friends in bike racing over the years, and while each death was a shock and incredibly sad, I’ve always had some kind of internal coping mechanism that allowed me to carry on relatively unaffected. Maybe it’s because I was always extremely passionate and committed when taking part in my dangerous sport so was also prepared to pay the ultimate price should things go wrong. Rightly or wrongly I’ve taken comfort from the fact that these unfortunate racers have checked out while doing something they love.
I’ve also lost a few journalist friends in bike accidents over the years but for some reason these have hit me harder. The worst and possibly as it is the most recent is Kevin Ash who was killed last January while on a BMW launch in South Africa. Starting in 2001, over a period of ten years, I was in Kevin’s company on countless new bike launches in pretty much every corner of the world.
At times he was cocky and occasionally irritating but always entertaining with a wicked sense of humour. He was many things but no one can deny he was a brilliant journalist and his technical knowledge was second to none. I always appreciated his complete enthusiasm to all things biking as he would ride through any weather on a daily basis to jobs or airports and seemed to always be tinkering with winter projects (mainly Ducatis) at home.
I also admired how much work he got through as he had columns in more than one weekly publication plus all his launch and web work. He was a competent safe rider who was certainly quick enough to evaluate any new bike thrown his way. Kevin also drove a Porsche but then none of us are perfect!
I looked to Kevin as a wise Owl so not long after I started working with TWO/ Visordown, I asked him on an R1 launch in Australia he thought the motorcycle industry was currently in a good place. His reply was, ‘we’ve just been flown here business class, been taken by speed boat to our five star hotel under Sydney Harbour Bridge, Yamaha have wined and dined us and furnished us with expensive gifts each day, what do you think Niall? How times have changed.
On the subject on air travel he once told me, ‘when travelling business or first class it’s not about the pampering, comfy beds or fine dining, the important part is looking smug as you walk straight past all the people lining up at the cattle class check in! On more than one occasion I had food or drink spurt out when Kevin would deliver unexpected one line funnies at the dinner table.