For a company with a rather severe and efficient, but also staid, image, BMW Motorrad has produced, over the 100 years of its existence, its fair share of innovative and even ground-breaking designs. This is even more remarkable when you consider that the vast majority of its production has been powered by one type of engine, the famous boxer-twin engine that was fitted to the very first BMW and continues to be used in the very latest R 1300 GS. BMW motorcycles have been used in every motorcycling endeavor, from Grand Prix racing, record-breaking, desert rally raids and round-the-world adventures. It is a story of constant evolution of a basic design concept, with a few chapters of revolution for good measure, with an emphasis on quality throughout its history.
10 BMW R32
Model Year: 1923
When aero engine manufacturer BMW was banned from its core business after the German defeat in World War One, the company turned to general engineering in order to survive. One product was a flat-twin cylinder engine, built for the Victoria Motorcycle company, and it is this engine, turned through 90° so that the cylinders now stuck out on each side of the motorcycle to aid cooling, that was used in BMW’s first motorcycle – and BMW’s first road vehicle of any type – the R32. The 494cc engine produced 8.5 horsepower and gave a top speed of 59mph and the model established a style that would last until the Second World War and beyond. A drive shaft took power to the rear wheel, a system that BMW used exclusively until the chain drive F650 of 1994.
- The first BMW motorcycle, using an engine that BMW had built for another German motorcycle manufacturer
9 BMW Type 255 Kompressor
Model Year: 1926
Racing has always been an important engineering and promotional tool and BMW was certainly not ignorant of its importance. To boost performance of the 492cc boxer twin engine, a supercharger was bolted on, raising the power output to 60 horsepower and giving a top speed of 140mph. A Type 255 set the first ever over-100mph lap in a major sporting event, the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix, ridden by Georg Meier, who also recorded the first victory by a non-British rider in the 1939 Isle of Man Senior TT race. Rare and extremely collectible, a Type 255 model was sold for $480,000 at auction in 2013.
- Supercharging was used extensively pre-Second World War, to boost engine power outputs without the need for building a whole new engine
8 BMW R69
Model Year: 1955
After returning to aero engine production during the Second World War, alongside motorcycle production for the military, BMW was once again prevented from manufacturing cars or motorbikes after the end of the war. By 1948, however, this ban was lifted and BMW continued with pre-war designs. By 1955, the company had recovered sufficiently to start work on a new model. The R69 was the result, and it helped lift BMW out of the post-war slump and set the scene for increasing success in the years and decades to come. Powered by a 549cc version of the boxer twin engine driving the rear wheel via shaft, the R69 was a staid-looking motorcycle but extremely well-made, fast and reliable. It was still a warmed-over pre-war model, with the hardtail rear converted to plunger suspension, while telescopic forks were fitted at the front.
- The R69 was the first all-new design after the war and put BMW back on track to profitability and future success
7 BMW R90S
Model Year: 1973
By the early 1970s, the Japanese were showing where the future of sports motorcycles was heading and BMW needed to do something to fight back. The result was the R90S which, although expensive (three times the price of a Triumph Bonneville), was fast, with a claimed top speed of 125mph. Each one was hand-built and then hand-painted, most notably (and very un-BMW) in lurid orange and also smoked black. The engine was 898cc and produced 67 horsepower, while the chassis was more than capable of handling the power, so much so that Reg Pridmore won the first AMA Superbike championship on board an R90S in 1976, the same year the bike also won the Daytona Superbike race and the Isle of Man Production TT race. Rightly a legendary model.
- The R90 S was the first ‘performance’ BMW motorcycle, designed with a view to matching the Japanese sports bikes that were so successful
6 BMW R100RS
Model Year: 1976
It’s the mid-1970s and the Japanese had all-but taken over motorcycling, with a long series of essentially similar designs, featuring inline four-cylinder engines in the top models. BMW had to fight back, and it chose a completely different path, fitting the top of the range R100 model with a full aerodynamic fairing, the first production motorcycle in the world to be so equipped, making it the first sports touring motorcycle along the way. The boxer twin was in its seventh generation and gave a 120mph top speed, the rider protected from the wind blast by the fairing. Beautifully made and finished, this is the bike that defined the touring bike template for decades to come.
- Fairings had been available as after-market fittings since the 1960s, but no manufacturer had yet released a motorcycle with a fairing straight from the factory until the BMW R100 RS
5 BMW R80 G/S – 1980
Without this bike motorcycling would be a very different place today. In the late 1970s, BMW was looking for the next big thing and two young designers had the idea of creating the motorcycle equivalent of the Range Rover, with both on- and off-road ability, good comfort, quality and a powerful engine. The resulting R80 G/S (Gelande/Straße, or off-road/road) was a seminal moment in motorcycling and, to prove the concept, BMW took it to the Paris-Dakar rally, taking overall honors for four years between 1981 and 1985. If at first riders didn’t really know what to make of it, it soon started attracting attention and the GS line continues to this day as the definitive adventure bike, now with a 1250cc engine and 136 horsepower, not to mention insanely complex electronics. But it all started with the R80 G/S.
- The R80 G/S was not the first dual-purpose motorcycle, but it was the first that had the comfort to be ridden all day and was the first true ‘adventure’ bike
4 BMW K100
Model Year: 1983
BMW realized that its boxer twin engine was getting a bit long in the tooth, not being able to match the power outputs of the Japanese four-cylinder engines that were almost universal at the time, not to mention the risk of falling foul of U.S. emissions regulations, and set about designing a replacement engine. The solution was radical: an inline four-cylinder engine, mounted longitudinally and laying flat on its side, enabling the BMW signature shaft drive to continue to be used with a minimum of power-sapping bevel gears. The new engine was offered in a completely new line of models, from the naked K100, through to the K100LT luxury sports touring model. It was a brave attempt but lasted for only ten years before being dropped, the faithful old boxer engine refusing to die, and it is still with us today, albeit in vastly improved form.
- The inspiration for the K100’s engine came from a Peugeot automobile engine, that was canted over at a steep angle, proving that a lay-down engine could work
3 BMW K1
Model year: 1988
The model where the aerodynamic fairing and four-cylinder engine came together in a bid to create a model that would be fast from relatively little power – at the time, there were fears that European legislation would limit power outputs, so the key to maintaining a good top speed was through efficient air penetration. The result was a 150mph top speed from ‘only’ 100 horsepower. It looked like nothing else on the road and, even if it wasn’t terribly effective as a sports bike, having too long a wheelbase and being too heavy, as a sports touring bike it excelled, being long-legged, stable, comfortable and safe: it was the first production bike to be fitted with ABS. In one fell swoop, BMW shed its reputation for building staid and boring bikes.
- In order to keep weight gain to a minimum, the glass fiber that the fairings were built from was made as thin as possible, which meant it often cracked around the mounting points
2 BMW F650
Model Year: 1993
The vast majority of BMWs had all been powered by the boxer twin engine, the notable exceptions being the single-cylinder R27 of the 1960s and the 1983 K100. However, they all were equipped with shaft drive. Then, in 1993, BMW unveiled the F650 range, powered by a 652cc Rotax single cylinder engine. More importantly, the F650 was the first BMW to feature chain drive to the rear wheel. The F650 was jointly designed by BMW and Aprilia – the Pegaso 650 was Aprilia’s version – and BMW had two versions, a street model called the F650 ST Strada and a dual-purpose version called the Funduro, which would later morph into the F650 GS, to capitalize on the increasing popularity of the boxer twin G/S models that had been introduced in 1980.
- The first chain-drive BMW ever, the engine was built by Rotax and shared with the Aprilia Pegaso 650
1 BMW S 1000 RR
Model Year: 2009
BMW shocked the world when it announced it would be building a 1,000cc sports bike to challenge the dominance of the Japanese and Italian manufacturers in the class. Despite no experience of designing such a bike, when it was unveiled the S 1000 RR was a sensation, garnering incredibly positive reviews from the media, significant for being the first production motorcycle with traction control and a quick shifter. In 2009, it was built in sufficient numbers to homologate it for World Superbike racing – 1,000 units – and, from 2010, it went into full-scale production. If the S1000RR hasn’t had the racing success envisioned by BMW, it has proved to be hugely successful in terms of sales.
- The S1000RR was the best-equipped sports bike when it was released, with riding modes, traction control and optional quick-shift gearbox
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