The history of BMW Motorrad is actually the story of the evolution of the motorcycle in general. Giant leaps of innovation are clear to see about every dozen years, but the BMW innovation throughout keeps moving the two-wheel world forward at warp speed.
For a non-bikes guy like me and perhaps you, the names and styles are all a bit perplexing. We have labelled all the main bike photos to help make it all a bit clearer. The pre-war bikes in particular are hard to distinguish at first without the labels.
So which is your favorite? We’d pick the 1935 R12 with its densely-packed center engine compartment and streamlined, ultra-low height and narrow framework.
1923 BMW Motorrad R 32
BMW’s chief engineer Max Friz develops a boxer engine with two transverse-mounted cylinders. This principle of design proved to be an inspired response to the challenge of feeding both cylinders with an equal amount of cooling air. A feature of the brand’s first model (the BMW R 32), it became an identity-defining thread running through the history of BMW Motorrad engine technology.
The aluminum cylinder head / overhead valve design – without parallel in the motorcycle world – doubles the power output of the BMW R 37. The first single-cylinder model, the BMW R 39, also features this technology.
The first kick-starter crank is presented on the BMW R 57 to enable easier starting.
Supercharger technology paves the way for BMW motorcycles to set their first world speed records.
Twin carburetor technology is presented on the BMW R 16.
The soldered tubular frame is replaced by a pressed-steel construction, which gives the BMW R 12 and BMW R 17 a heavy appearance. References to the “German school” of motorcycle design abound.
1935 BMW Motorrad R 12
In the BMW R 12 and BMW R 17 the hydraulically damped telescopic fork first tested in race competition replaces the previously standard cantilever spring.
1936 BMW Motorrad R 5
The rear-wheel suspension system already employed successfully in off-road racing enters series production – and promptly takes traction and ride comfort to a new level.
1948 BMW Motorrad R 24
The engine from the BMW R 5 incorporates various new features in the BMW R 51/2, such as a single oil circuit for both cylinders, slanted carburettors and finned valve covers. The BMW R 25 is given a welded tubular frame, consigning the bolted tubular frame of the first post-war models to history.
1951 BMW Motorrad R 51/3
A new three-shaft transmission and a driveshaft with front universal joint take care of power transfer. The launch of the BMW R 50 and BMW R 69 brings with it the premiere of the full swing-arm suspension. The telescopic fork and straight-line suspension are replaced by an Earles-type front fork and dual rear swing arm, which take ride comfort to unprecedented levels. The driveshaft is now integrated into the swing arm.
1960 BMW Motorrad R 69 S
The BMW R 69 S marks the changeover from a sprung saddle-type seat to a bench seat, which increases comfort levels significantly. The single-cylinder BMW R 27 provides far greater comfort thanks to “silent block” rubber bushes, which substantially reduce driveline vibration.
1969 BMW Motorrad R 75/5
The BMW R 75/5 is equipped with constant-vacuum carburettors for improved response and refinement as well as an electric engine starter. The debut of the /5 series sees BMW introduce a completely new design for the boxer engine, which holds sway until 1993. Identifying features include camshafts and push rods located below the crankshaft and cylinders. The telescopic fork also makes a comeback in updated form. Another new feature is the double-loop tubular frame.
1973 BMW Motorrad R 90 S
The BMW R 90 – the world’s first volume-produced motorcycle with a handlebar-mounted fairing – is launched. This represents a milestone in the history of aerodynamic development. Wind tunnel research is applied even more systematically in the development of the BMW R 100 RS. This model is the world’s first production motorcycle with a full fairing.
The BMW R 80 G/S lays the foundations for the touring enduro segment and reveals the world’s first single swing-arm construction.
This brings the advantages of lower weight and more responsive rear suspension, and makes it easier to change the wheel.
1976 BMW Motorrad R 100 RS