BMW began as an airplane engine manufacturer in 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
they eventually turned to manufacturing motorcycles. 1923 saw the arrival of a
complete motorcycle under the BMW name, the R32. BMW is a major manufacturer
of regular commercial, leisure and emergency services motorcycles. It is also
a major player in the sporting and luxury ends of the automotive market place.
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1916 to 1945
In 1916, two companies, Gustav Otto's Flugmaschinenfabrik (Airplane Factory) and Karl Rapp's Flugwerke Deutschland, merged to form the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Airplane Works). Initially this company designed and manufactured aircraft engines. The Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was renamed the Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works, BMW) in 1917 by Karl Rapp and Max
Friz. Its new logo grew out of the older Rapp logo but used Bavaria's blue and white colors. After 1929 the logo was associated with a spinning propeller as a marketing
tool. The roundel is still used today on all BMW motorcycles and automobiles. A former Daimler employee, Joseph Popp became BMW's managing director. Aircraft engines, especially a V-12 model, were BMW's primary output.
In addition to building the engines, BMW manufactured the Fokker
D.VII, one of the top German aircraft of WWI. Max Friz, BMW's chief designer, turned to motorcycle and automobile engines. Within four weeks, he had designed the now-legendary opposing flat twin cylinder engine which we know today as the "boxer" engine.
BMW's revolutionary engine and transmission unit in an R32.
1928 side-valve BMW R62
1938 BMW R35
Harley-Davidson's BMW copy, the XA.The first "boxer" (or opposed twin) 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.
With the development of its first light alloy cylinder head, a much more significant "across the frame" version of the boxer engine was designed. In 1923 the R32, appeared. Using the new aluminium alloy cylinders, Friz designed 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 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 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 through 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 Hene 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 WWII. Ernst Hene died at the age of 100 in 2005.
During World War II, BMW motorcycles 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 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
1945 to 1960
The end of World War II found BMW in ruins. Its plant outside of Munich was destroyed by allied bombing. It is commonly alleged that an entire assembly line in the Eisenach facility was dismantled by the Soviets as reparations and sent it back to the Soviet Union where it was reassembled in Irbit to make Ural motorcycles. However 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 Russia 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. Company engineers had to use surviving prewar motorcycles to create new plans. The first post-war BMW motorcycle in Western Germany, a 250 cc R24, was produced in 1948. The R24 was based on the prewar R23, and was the only postwar BMW with no rear suspension. In 1949, BMW produced 9,200 units and by 1950 production surpassed 17,000 units.
The situation was somewhat different in Soviet-controlled Eastern Germany where the Eisenach plant was producing R35 and a handful of R75 motorcycles for reparations. Eventually this plant became EMW (Eisenacher Motoren Werke).
1954 R68: BMW's first 100 mph motorcycleIn 1952, BMW introduced its first postwar sporting motorcycle, the R68. Only 1,453 R68s 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. The carburetor 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 R69 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)
1960 to 1982
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 R27. 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 R50/2, R60/2, and R69S marked the end of sidecar-capable BMWs.
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. 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 R60/6, R75/6 and the R90/6. In 1975 the kick starter was finally eliminated and a supersport model, the BMW R90S, was introduced. The R90S 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 their merits which owners will freely debate with enthusiasm. Later BMW model types such as K-bikes (1984 on) and Oilheads (1993 on) included technical innovations that made them more complicated though many owners still elect to service them personally.
1973 R75/5 in factory Granada red paint.
1994 BMW R100RTIn 1977 the product line moved on to the "/7" models. The R80/7 was added to the line. The R90 (898 cc) models, "/6" and R90S models had their displacement increased to 1000 cc; replaced by the R100/7 and the R100S, 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 R100RS. This sleek model, designed through wind-tunnel testing, produced 70 hp (51 kW) and had a top speed of 200 km/h (124
mph). In 1978, the R100RT 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 R60 was replaced with the 650 cc R65. This time with its own frame design and a variant in 1982 the R65LS to include an entry level models to the lineup.
1983 to 2003
In early 1983, BMW introduced a 1000 cc, in-line four-cylinder, water-cooled engine to the European market, the K100. In 1984, those models were introduced to the U.S. market. 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 1988 BMW introduced ABS on its motorcycles – a first in the motorcycle industry. ABS became standard on all BMW K models. In 1989, BMW introduced its version of a full-fairing sport bike, the K1. It was based upon the K100 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) - R65GS, R80GS, R100GS,
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, K100, K100RS, K100RT, K75, K75C, K75S, K75RT, K 1100 RS, K 1100 LT, K 1200 RS, K 1200 LT, K 1200 GT.
2004 to present
Each of the last few years (2004, 2005, 2006) appear to be banner years for BMW. 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 kilowatts (167
bhp). 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 miles per hour (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 sports 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 sports touring version of the K 1200 R.
2007 R 1200 RT available in Biarritz blue
Two BMW R 1200 GSs
BMW R 1200 C, Cruiser modelIn 2004, bikes with the opposed-twin cylinder "boxer" engine were also revamped. The new boxer displacement is just under 1200cc, 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 hp HP2 Enduro, and the 223 kg 100 hp 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 (122 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, and weighing 195 kg fully
F 800 SBMW 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 motorcycles. These new F 800 Series motorcycles are powered by a brand new parallel twin engine that is built by Rotax (a Bombardier subsidiary), and 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 sports tourer, but statements have been made that point to an upcoming F 800R naked roadster and an F 800 GS dual-purpose
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 650cc fuel injected engine producing 53BHP, 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 Scorzč Plant.