BMW Motorrad History


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BMW’s motorcycle history began in 1921 when BMW commenced manufacturing engines for other companies. The motorcycle subsidiary now operates under the BMW Motorrad division. BMW introduced the first motorcycle under its name, the R32, in 1923.


BMW's revolutionary engine and transmission unit in an R 32.

1938 BMW R 35

BMW began as an aircraft engine manufacturer before World War I. With the Armistice, the Treaty of Versailles banned any German air force and thus need for aero engines, so the company turned first to making air brakes, agricultural machinery, toolboxes and office furniture. Dissatisfied with that, it eventually turned to manufacturing motorcycles. After the MB215 engine and the two stroke “Flink”, 1923 saw the arrival of a complete motorcycle under the BMW name, the R 32.

Max Friz, BMW’s chief designer, turned to motorcycle and car engines. Within four weeks, he had copied the now-legendary opposing flat twin cylinder engine which we know today as the boxer engine. This product was the second revolutionary product that Friz copied that firmly placed BMW AG in a profitable position.

The first boxer engine was the fore-and-aft M2B15, based on a British Douglas design. It was manufactured by BMW in 1921–1922 but mostly used in other brands of motorcycles, notably Victoria of Nuremberg. The M2B15 proved to be moderately successful and BMW used it in its own Helios motorcycle. BMW also developed and manufactured a small 2-stroke motorcycle called the Flink for a short time.

In 1923 the first “across the frame” version of the boxer engine was designed. Friz designed the 1923 R 32 with a 486 cc engine with 8.5 hp (6.3 kW) and a top speed of 95–100 km/h (60 mph). The engine and gear box formed a bolt-up single unit. At a time when many motorcycle manufacturers used a total-loss oiling systems, the new BMW engine featured a recirculating wet-sump oiling system. However, it was not a “high-pressure oil” system based on shell bearings and tight clearances that we are familiar with, but a drip feed to roller bearings. This system was used by BMW until 1969. The wet-sump system was not overly common on motorcycles until the 1970s and the arrival of Japanese motorcycles. Until then, many manufacturers had used dry sump, with an external oil-tank made of sheet metal.

The R 32 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 per the earlier British ABC. Other motorcycle manufacturers aligned the cylinders with the frame, one cylinder facing towards the front wheel and the other towards the back wheel. For example, Harley Davidson introduced the Model W, a flat twin oriented fore and aft design, in 1919 and built them until 1923.

The R32 also incorporated a shaft drive. BMW continued to use shaft drives in all of its motorcycles until the introduction of the F 650 in 1994. The F 650 series, and later the F 800 series when introduced in 2006, featured either a chain drive or a belt drive system, both of which were a radical departure from BMW tradition.

By this time the benefits of overhead cams were known; higher revs could be obtained before the onset of valve float. However, the basic boxer design did not lend itself to overhead cams. To obtain the benefits of overhead cams without overly increasing the engine width, BMW incorporated a system that was so advanced for its racing bikes that it resurrected it many decades later in the R 1100 RS oilhead. The system was two cams in the head operating rocker arms via short push rods.

In 1937, Ernst Henne rode a supercharged 500 cc overhead cam BMW 173.88 mph (279.83 km/h), setting a world record that stood for 14 years due to the intervention of World War II. Ernst Henne died at the age of 101 in 2005.

During World War II, the BMW motorcycle copies of the Zündapp KS750 performed exceptionally well in the harsh environment of the North African deserts. At the beginning of the war, the German army needed as many vehicles as it could get of all types. Although motorcycles of every style performed acceptably well in Europe, in the desert the protruding cylinders of the flat-twin engine and shaft drive performed better than vertical and V-twin engines, which overheated in the hot air, and chain-drives, which were damaged by desert sand.

Also during World War II, the U.S. Army asked Harley-Davidson, Indian, Delco, and Crossley[citation needed] to produce a motorcycle similar to BMW’s side-valve R71. So Harley copied the BMW engine and transmission — simply converting metric measurements to inches — and produced the shaft-drive 750 cc 1942 Harley-Davidson XA.


Tank roundel with Serif typeface

The first postwar West German BMW, an original condition 1948 250cc BMW R 24

1952 500cc BMW R51/3

The end of World War II found BMW in ruins. Its plant outside of Munich was destroyed by Allied bombing. The Eisenach facility was not. It was not dismantled by the Soviets as reparations and sent it back to the Soviet Union where it was reassembled in Irbit to make IMZ-Ural motorcycles as is commonly alleged. The IMZ plant was supplied to the Soviets by BMW under licence prior to the commencement of the Great Patriotic War. After the war the terms of Germany’s surrender forbade BMW from manufacturing motorcycles. Most of BMW’s brightest engineers were taken to the US and the Soviet Union to continue their work on jet engines which BMW produced during the war.

When the ban on the production of motorcycles was lifted in Allied controlled Western Germany, 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 create new plans. The first post-war BMW motorcycle in Western Germany, a 250 cc R 24, was produced in 1948. The R 24 was based on the pre-war R 23, and was the only postwar West German BMW with no rear suspension. In 1949, BMW produced 9,200 units and by 1950 production surpassed 17,000 units.

The situation was very different in Soviet-controlled Eastern Germany where the Eisenach plant was producing R35 and a handful of R 75 motorcycles for reparations. Eventually this plant became EMW (Eisenacher Motoren Werke).

This resulted in two separate BMW companies existing between 1945 and 1952. One in Western controlled Germany (later the German Federal Republic) and the other in Soviet controlled Germany (later the German Democratic Republic).

In 1952, BMW introduced its first postwar sporting motorcycle, the R 68. Only 1,453 R 68s were made, making it the rarest postwar BMW motorcycle. It has a 594 cc single cam engine with 8.0:1 compression ratio and larger valves, together producing 35 hp (26 kW). The carburettor venturi throat sizes were 26 mm.

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. However, by the late 50’s, BMW exported 85% of its boxer twin powered motorcycles to the United States. At that time, Butler & Smith, Inc. was the exclusive U.S. importer of BMW.

On June 8, 1959, John Penton rode a BMW R 69 from New York to Los Angeles in 53 hours and 11 minutes, setting a record. The previous record of 77 hours and 53 minutes was set by Earl Robinson on a 45 cubic inch (740 cc) Harley-Davidson.


1967 BMW R60/2 with 6.5 US gallon (26 liter) tank and large dual saddle

1964 BMW R27

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 R 27. 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 R 50/2, R 60/2, and R69S marked the end of sidecar-capable BMWs. Of this era, the R 69 S remains the most desirable example of the dubbed “/2” (“slash-two”) series because of significantly greater engine power than other models, amongst other features unique to this design.

In 1970 BMW introduced an entirely revamped product line of 500 cc, 600 cc and 750 cc displacement models, the R 50/5, R 60/5 and R 75/5 respectively. The engines were a complete redesign from the older models, producing more power and including electric starting (although the kick-starting feature was still included). 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 substantial improvements to the electrical system and frame geometry. These models were the R 60/6, R 75/6 and the R 90/6. In 1975 the kick starter was finally eliminated and a supersport model, the BMW R 90 S, was introduced. The R 90 S immediately earned the well deserved title of the best supersport machine available. Today these rare models command high prices in the collector marketplace. Many aficionados of BMW motorcycles view the /5 through /7 lineup as the epitome of classic BMW engineering, though all Airhead models produced through 1995 were roughly similar in terms of owner-friendly maintenance and repair. In addition to “/” or “slash” models, other Airhead models such as the G/S (later, GS) and ST also have dedicated followings within BMW circles while others favor certain earlier models like /5 “toasters.” Each has its merits which owners will freely debate with enthusiasm. Later BMW model types such as K-bikes (1983 on) and oilheads (1993 on) included technical innovations that made them more complicated though many owners still elect to service them personally.

1994 BMW R 100 RT

In 1977 the product line moved on to the “/7” models. The R 80/7 was added to the line. The R 90 (898 cc) models, “/6” and R 90 S models had their displacement increased to 1,000 cc; replaced by the R 100/7 and the R 100 S, respectively. These were the first liter size (1,000 cc) machines produced by BMW. 1977 was a banner year with the introduction of the first BMW production motorcycle featuring a full fairing, the R 100 RS. This sleek model, designed through wind-tunnel testing, produced 70 hp (51 kW) and had a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph).[3] In 1978, the R 100 RT was introduced into the lineup for the 1979 model year, as the first “full-dress” tourer, designed to compete in this market with the forthcoming Honda Goldwing.

In 1979 the R 60 was replaced with the 650 cc R 65, 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 R 65 LS, a “sportier” model with a one-fourth fairing, double front disc brakes, stiffer suspension and different carburettors that added 5 hp (4 kW). Not available in the US, was a tuned-down (short stroke) version, the 450

R 45 that shared everything with the R 65, but was intended to beat displacement-related licensing taxes in Europe.


1986 BMW K 100 RS

1993 BMW K 1100 RS with aftermarket Hagon rear shock

BMW R 1150 RT

In early 1983, BMW introduced a 1000 cc, in-line four-cylinder, water-cooled engine to the European market, the K 100. It was assumed that this new engine would not only be the basis for a new models, but would replace the aging boxer flat twin engine. However, demand for the boxer did not wane with the introduction of this new engine and associated models. And the demand of the new engine models was much less than BMW anticipated. Therefore, BMW continued to produce boxer models.

In 1985 BMW produced a 750 cc, three-cylinder version of the new four-cylinder water cooled engine. The 750 cc was counterbalanced, and therefore smoother. The R100RT, boxer powered sport touring bike with a monolever rear suspension was reintroduced in 1987. BMW introduced rear suspension on the K bikes, a double-joined, single-sided swingarm.

In 1986, BMW introduced the world’s first electrically adjustable windshield on the K 100 LT. First thought to be an oddity, it has proven to be an important addition to touring motorcycles, is used on numerous BMW models, and has been copied for use on motorcycles by Honda, Moto Guzzi, Kawasaki, and Yamaha, and even on some high-end scooters.

In 1988 BMW introduced ABS on its motorcycles — a first in the motorcycle industry. ABS became standard on all BMW K models. In 1993 ABS was first introduced on BMW’s boxer line on the R 1100 RS. It has since spread across nearly all of BMW’s shaft-driven motorcycles and even some of its Rotax powered motorcycles.

In 1989, BMW introduced its version of a full-fairing sport bike, the K1. It was based upon the K 100 engine, 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 newer 4-valve oilhead which were first introduced in 1993.

During this period, BMW introduced a number of motorcycles including:

  • R Series (airheads) – R 65 GS, R 80 GS, R 100 GS,
  • R Series (oilheads) – R 850 R/GS/C, R 1100 R/RS/RT/GS/S, R 1150 R/RS/RT/GS/S, R 1200 C
  • F Series – F 650 Funduro, F 650 ST Strada, F 650 GS, F 650 GS Dakar, F 650 CS Scarver
  • K Series – K1, K 100, K 100 RS, K 100 RT, K 75, K 75 C, K 75 S, K 75 RT, K 1100 RS, K 1100 LT, K 1200 RS, K 1200 LT, K 1200 GT.

Notably, the BMW R 1200 C, produced from 1997 to 2004, was BMW Motorcycles first entry into the Cruiser market.


K series

On 25 September 2004, BMW globally launched a radically redesigned K Series motorcycle, the K 1200 S, containing an all new in-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine featuring 123 kW (165 hp). The K 1200 S was primarily designed as a Super Sport motorcycle, albeit larger and heavier than the closest Japanese competitors. Shortly after the launch of the K 1200 S, problems were discovered with the new power plant leading to a recall until the beginning of 2005 when corrective changes were put in place. Recently, a K 1200 S set a land speed record for production bikes in its class at the Bonneville Salt Flats, exceeding 174 mph (280 km/h).

In the years after the launch of K 1200 S, BMW has also launched the K 1200 R naked roadster, and the K 1200 GT 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 K 1200 R Sport, a semi-faired sport touring version of the K 1200 R.

R series

Two BMW R 1200 GS

Two BMW R 1200 GS

BMW R 1200 C, Cruiser model

BMW R 1200 C, Cruiser model

In 2004, bikes with the opposed-twin cylinder “boxer” engine were also revamped. The new boxer displacement is just under 1200 cc, and is affectionately referred to a “hexhead” because of the shape of the cylinder cover. The motor itself is more powerful, and all of the motorcycles that use it are lighter.

The first motorcycle to be launched with this updated engine was the R 1200 GS dual-purpose motorcycle. The R 1200 RT tourer and R 1200 ST sports tourer followed shortly behind. BMW then introduced the 175 kg 105 kW (141 hp) HP2 Enduro, and the 223 kg 100 hp (75 kW) R 1200 GS Adventure, each specifically targeting the off-road and adventure-touring motorcycle segment, respectively. In 2007 the HP2 Enduro was joined by the road-biased HP2 Megamoto fitted with smaller alloy wheels and street tyres.

In 2006, BMW launched the R 1200 S, which is rated at 90 kW (121 hp) at 8,250 rpm. April 2007, BMW announced its return to competitive road racing, entering a factory team with a “Sport Boxer” version of the R 1200 S to four 24-hour endurance races. A street version of the R 1200 S Sport Boxer is expected in 2008, rated at 144 hp (107 kW), and weighing 195 kg fully fuelled.

F series

F 800 S

F 800 S

BMW has also paid attention to the F Series in 2006. It lowered the price on the existing F 650 GS and F 650 GS Dakar, and eliminated the F 650 CS to make room in the lineup for the all-new F 800 Series. These new motorcycles are powered by a brand new parallel twin engine that is built by Rotax, a Bombardier subsidiary, and feature a belt drive system that is very similar to the belt drive found on the now defunct F 650 CS. Initially, BMW launched two models of the new F 800 Series, the F 800 S sport bike and the F 800 ST sport tourer; these were followed by an F 800 GS dual-purpose motorcycle.

G series

In October 2006 BMW announced the G series of offroad style motorcycles co-developed with Aprilia, part of the Piaggio group. These are equipped with an uprated single cylinder water cooled 650 cc fuel injected engine producing 53 hp (40 kW), similar to the one fitted to the F 650 GS, and are equipped with chain drive. There are three models in the series each focused on a slightly different market:

  • G 650 Xchallenge hard enduro featuring 21″ front and 18″ rear spoked wheels
  • G 650 Xcountry scrambler / adventure sports featuring 19″ front and 17″ rear spoked wheels
  • G 650 Xmoto street moto / supermoto featuring 17″ cast alloy wheels

The bikes are all produced for BMW by Aprilia in their North Italian Scorzè Plant.

S series

The BMW S1000RR is a super bike manufactured by BMW Motorrad to contend in the 2009 Superbike World Championship. It was introduced in Munich on 16 April, 2008 for the 2009 model year and is powered by a 1,000 cc (61 cu in) inline-4 engine.

BMW will only produce 1000 production models in 2009 to satisfy World Superbike homologation requirements. It will feature traction control and is targeted to have a dry weight (motorcycle) of 190 kg (419 lb) and produce 190 bhp (142 kW). The S1000RR is unlikely to be in dealerships until early 2010. While BMW has yet to set the price for the production bike, it is aiming to keep it competitive with Japanese super bikes.

On 26 June 2008, Spanish rider Ruben Xaus signed to ride the bike for the factory BMW Motorrad team.

Husqvarna acquisition

In July 2007 it was announced that BMW had signed a contract to acquire the Husqvarna motorcycle brand, including its production facilities and staff, from Italian manufacturer MV Agusta.


~ by scharfcshutze on January 30, 2009.

2 Responses to “BMW Motorrad History”

  1. woww..nice story, but less story in covering G/S model…

  2. yes….so pity
    but ill search n write bout it uncle bimo,hihihi
    but K-series first….hohoho

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