Forged in iron and steeped in motor oil, the history of BMW motorcycles boils down to one thing - the quest for perfect rider's machine. From the early days of aero-engineering, through prosperity and hard times, BMW's commitment to excellence has never wavered. In fact, fully 50% of all the motorcycles we've ever manufactured still prowl the world's roads. And on each sits a rider who demands nothing less than the best. We should know, we've been building motorcycles for them for 80 years.
Welcome to the 1910s.
What would eventually become the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) began as two separate companies. Gustav Otto's Flugzenmaschinenfabrik (Airplane Factory) in Munich merged with Karl Rapp's Flugwerke Deutschland on March 7, 1916 to become the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Airplane Works). Initially specializing in the design and manufacture of airplane engines, the company would manufacture for Germany's fledgling air force, including the Baron von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron.
On July 21, 1917, under the leadership of Karl Rapp and Max Friz, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke is renamed the Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works). Their logo, representing an airplane propeller in the blue sky, would remain throughout the company's history. At 3,400 employees, BMW recruited Franz Joseph Popp from Daimler to become its managing director. The company's primary output was the V-12 airplane engine.
BMW, in the midst of an economic boom funded by the German air force, takes its 3,500 employees and goes public. Primarily focused on manufacturing for the Fokker DV II - arguably one of the best aircraft of the time - the future appears to be all blue skies for Rapp, Friz, Popp and company.
With the Treaty of Versailles (signed June 28th) ending WWI, Germany is now forbidden to manufacture airplanes. Max Friz, the head designer for BMW at the time, reluctantly looks to motorcycle and automobile engines to sustain the company's economic health. A sharp turn away from the six- and 12-cylinder airplane engines the company was making, Friz puts his aeroengineering knowledge to work, and within four weeks of being commissioned, has blueprints for what would become the famous "Boxer" engine.
Kurt Hanfland designs the "Kurier" engine, a tiny two-stroke, 148-cc motor. Eventually it is incorporated into a combination bicycle/motorcycle called the "Flink" (a word ironically meaning "speedy" - which the Flink was not). The heavyish bike with its underpowered engine requires vigorous pedaling to start. The Flink flunks and is never sold under the BMW name.
Max Friz and Martin Stolle collaborate on the M2B15 - the first "flat twin" or "Boxer" engine. Based on the British Douglas design, it is manufactured by BMW but used in the motorcycles of other brands like Corona, Heller, Helios and Scheid. In this same year BMW sells off the assets of the original Otto Flugzenmaschinenfabrik which continues its own manufacture of Flottweg motorcycles. BMW will buy the works back in 1937.
Rudolf Schleicher develops the first light-alloy cylinder head. It proves to be one of the essential improvements that leads to the second, and ultimately more successful, version of the Boxer engine. Meanwhile the M2B15 is only moderately successful as a motorcycle engine. Some speculate this is because BMW's heart is still in airplanes. Regardless, toward the end of this year, Max Friz pushes to improve on the "flat twin".
The R 32. It is Max Friz's reluctant (his heart is still in airplane engines) improvement on the earlier M2B15 engine designed with Martin Stolle that leads BMW to its first serious motorcycle. Using other design developments like Rudolph Schleicher's aluminum-alloy cylinders, Friz engineers a motorcycle with a 486-cc engine that at 8.5 bhp reaches a top speed of about 60 mph. Characterized by the transversely mounted M2B32 "flat twin" engine, a gearbox which forms a single unit with that engine and a driveshaft as opposed to a chain and sprocket drive, the R 32 becomes the foundation for all future machine designs until the introduction of the K-Series in 1983. It would also whet the appetite for racing motorcycles that would come along in a few years.
After only one year in the motorcycle business, BMW wins its first German racing championship, setting the groundwork for a history of trophy taking. Rudolph Schleicher is named chief designer, replacing Friz who returns to his first love, airplanes. Because he is a racer, Schleicher brings a passion to his designs. This passion would set the bar for excellence which BMW would continually strive to raise.
Schleicher's first original design, the R 37, is introduced this year. Very obviously a racing version of the R 32, it achieves a modest 11mph more than its predecessor but has twice the power (500 cc with 16 bhp @ 4000 rpm) and humorously, no speedometer. The R37 goes on to win 100 races in Germany. But it is an expensive machine to manufacture and only 152 are ever made. BMW's first single-cylinder bike, the R 39 makes its debut this year also. And while on the subject of speed, it should be noted that the R 32 is given a much-needed front brake this year as well.
3,000 R 32s have been sold by this time. Though more expensive than competitor models, the BMW name seems to warrant the expense in the public's eye. 1926 is a good year for racing, too, and Rudolph Schleicher wins the International Six Days Trial for BMW. It is Germany's first ever gold medal in the event. Perhaps out of jealousy, Grenville Bradshaw of England accuses BMW of copying the ABC engine. The claim cannot be backed up and is more or less ignored.
Another excellent year in racing for BMW. Paul Koppen earns his first of two (and three consecutive for BMW) wins at the Targa Florio in Sicily. BMW has by this point manufactured 25,000 motorcycles with its newest model, the R 47 selling 1,720 machines in 18 months. An extraordinary pace at the time. Cheaper than the R 23, the R 47 would replace it in production as well as replacing the R 37 and R 39.
BMW releases its first 750-cc motorcycle, the R 62. Designed as a touring machine (but with headlights costing extra!), the R 62 holds BMW's largest engine (the M5651). Reaching a top speed of 71mph, the R 62 is a gas-guzzler. BMW also begins to dabble more seriously in another industry that will prove successful for the company in the coming years - automobiles. By purchasing (and renaming) the Dixi-Werke in Eisenbach for 2.2 million reichsmarks, BMW officially entered the car making business.
Ernst Henne, riding a custom-built 750-cc BMW motorcycle clocks a land-speed world record of 134 mph. He will go on to best his own record six more times during the 1930s, earning BMW a reputation for speed as well as performance. By now BMW has grown from 2,630 to 3,860 employees in just one year and is manufacturing bikes using a pressed-steel "star" frame instead of the traditional tubular frame. Abroad, Wall Street crashes, sending an economic shockwave across the world.
Though having made a name for itself in racing, BMW temporarily retires from competition to attend to business needs - namely a national economic downturn. It manufactures its smallest bike, the 198-cc R 2. The R 2 is the first motorcycle to use a one-piece "tunnel" crankcase. Marketed as a commuter bike, the R 2 is a very successful model for BMW. They go on to sell 15,207 of them. Much of the success lies in German transportation law, which imposes no road tax or special license requirements for small motorized vehicles.
With the R2, BMW competes in the hotly contested market of tax-free 200cc motorcycles not requiring driving licenses.
Smaller motorcycles continue to thrive in a questionable world economic environment. In fact, it is so bad that the onslaught of the Great Depression forces 17,000 German companies to file bankruptcy. BMW is hit hard but manages to stay in business by developing more economy models like the R 4. Similar in principle to the R 2, it has a 398-cc single-cylinder overhead valve engine that can achieve 12 bhp of power at 3,500 rpm.
The R 4 continues to sell well attracting the attention of the growing Third Reich. BMW's 4,720 employees are commissioned by the German military to produce R 4s in the army's olive drab. Between 1932 and 1938 about 15,000 R 4s will be manufactured for military use. This arrangement helps BMW stay in business despite worldwide economic problems. So does the first automobile made entirely at a BMW facility - the 303 - which makes its first appearance this year as well.
The BMW radial engine 132, based on a development by Pratt and Whitney, comes into being in Munich. The aeroengine sector becomes independent and increasingly under the influence of party and military politics. Motorcycle and car production can still escape this influence at first.
BMW introduces the R 12, a motorcycle most notable as the first production model with hydraulically damped telescopic front forks. This advancement is a major leap forward in motorcycle manufacturing. At 745-cc the R 12 achieves 20 bhp at 3400 rpm but trades off on its power with its enormous weight of 408 lbs. Despite its bulk, the R 12 can reach a top speed of 75 mph. It is the most successful model in the interwar years, propelling BMW to 11,113 employees and 128 million reichmarks of business annually. This is the first year BMW produces more than 10,000 bikes in a single year.
Wiggerl Kraus brings BMW back into racing full throttle by riding the supercharged Kompressor competitively. The Kompressor goes on to win numerous races for BMW and Germany including the renowned Senior TT at the Isle of Man. It is a variation on Rudolph Schleicher's new R 5, itself considered by many to be the best bike of the 1930s. With the R 5, BMW returns to tubular frames and introduces rear-plunger suspension. Topping out at 87 mph, the R 7 is powered by a 500 cc twin camshaft-engine. Its styling defines a "classic beauty" that will last until the 1960s.
On November 28th, Ernst Henne again breaks the land-speed record, this time raising it to 173 mph and is named "The Fastest Man on Two Wheels." His record will stand for 14 more years. Also in racing, Englishmen Jock West rides a Kompressor at BMW's first visit to the Isle of Man Senior TT. Again BMW's reputation for power and performance garners the attention of the German military which orders 15,000 340 cc R 35 singles (an update of the earlier R 4). The R 35 is the last single to use the pressed-steel "star" frame. It generates 14 bhp of power at 4,500 rpm and a top speed of 62 mph.
BMW delivers its 100,000th motorcycle from the production line. By now the company has introduced rear suspension on all production bikes beginning with the R 61. BMW introduces a total of six new models this year including the last single before the war, the R 23. Other models of note in this year were the R 51 which was popular with traffic police and the R 66, the most powerful twin yet offered to the public (597 cc, 30 bhp at 5,300 rpm). The R 71 is also introduced this year and is the last ever of BMW's side-valve engines.
The beginning of WWII finds BMW employing 27,000 workers. Many at the company have been turned to aircraft manufacture, developing the 14-cylinder 810 radial engine that is fitted into the Focke-Wolf 190 fighter plane. In fact, BMW's entire corporate strategy has turned toward military applications as have its competitors. But motorcycles still figure largely into BMW's reputation and this year Georg "Shorsch" Meier becomes the first foreigner on a foreign machine (a Kompressor) to win the Isle of Man Senior TT. British teammate Jock West brings BMW a second-place finish in the same event.
The aeroengine 801 goes into series production. By the end of the war over 30,000 units of this 14-cylinder aeroengine are manufactured. With a streamlined coupe based on the 328 BMW wins the overall evaluation of the Mille Miglia which takes place this year as a lap race with the starting and finishing lines in Brescia.
BMW's primary motorcycle contribution to the war effort was the specially designed R 75. Equally efficient on- and off-road, it would spur numerous imitations. 18,000 R 75s were made based on Alex Von Falkenhausen's design. With its overhead 750 cc engine it could achieve 26 bhp at 4,000 rpm and had a drive mechanism for the sidecar wheel as well as hydraulically assisted brakes. The extra braking being necessary to stop its 925 lb girth. With an extra large gas tank, two seats and a sidecar, the R 75 was used for reconnaissance, communication and attack (when mounted with a machine gun). It is also the "stereotypical" WWII motorcycle as seen in many movies on the subject.
Motorcycle production is moved to Eisenach.
The BMW jet engine 003 goes into series production.
Motorcycle production is halted in Eisenach.
Just before the end of WWII, the German government ordered BMW director Kurt Dornarth to destroy the Munich production facilities. This order Dornarth promptly ignored. A year later, the occupying American military will make the same request. And again Dornarth will ignore it. Instead, BMW survives by manufacturing farm equipment, bicycles, utensils, pots and pans - supplies to help the now-impoverished German people.
The Eisenbach facility, which is surrendered to the Soviets, continues to carry out the production of Russian imitation twin motorcycles using BMW designs. These R 35s are branded EMW (Eisenbach Motoren Werke) and are marked with a logo similar to BMW's, but rendered in red and white. Forbidden by the Allies to manufacture their own motorcycles, BMW continues to stay in business by doing repair work on Allied military vehicles.
With the restrictions banning the manufacture of motorcycles relaxed by the International Control Commission, BMW begins to draft blueprints for what will eventually become the R 24. The designs are composed entirely from the spare parts left over from pre war motorcycle manufacturing. Not ready to roll out its own motorcycle yet, BMW keeps an adequate cash flow by making 22,000 bicycles in this year.
Using the R 23's running gear and powered by a modernized single cylinder, BMW officially begins motorcycle manufacture again with the R 24 - its first post war bike. Running on a 250 cc engine (the maximum size allowed by the supervising Control Commission), the R 24 is equipped with centrifugal ignition timing and ratchet-action pedal shifting for its 4-speed transmission. At the same time, BMW draws up the plans for its first foray into two-stroke motorcycles. It was a simpler design owing to the shortage of available materials at the time.
17,000 R 24s have been produced by this time and BMW is beginning to recover from the aftermath of WWII. It is in 1949 that BMW introduces the R 50/2 and R 51/2. These machines are criticized as the first evidence of compromise by the company. Referring back to Karl Popp's "only the best is good enough" philosophy, motorcycle enthusiasts are not pleased when they discover the rear main bearing had been moved into the crankcase instead of given its own housing. It now requires replacement every 10,000 miles. Adding to the disappointment, the centrifuge system's "thrower plates" are unable to handle the post-war, low-grade fuel, frequently clogging with unburnt particles and blocking oil flow.
BMW enters the new decade in top form. R 24 production is up to 17,000 units, and the new R 25 with plunging rear suspension is poised to replace the R 24. The R 23 has now become the most-produced motorcycle in BMW's history with an astonishing 47,700 machines having rolled off the factory floor. It is in this year, too, that BMW releases the R 51/2, its first twin (based on older designs) since the war. An updated version of the R 5, its 500 cc overhead-valve engine musters about the same power as its predecessor, achieving 24 bhp at 5,800 rpm.
The R 68, which comes to be known as the "100-mile racer," is the first German production bike to hit 100 mph. First presented at the International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition, it signals the return of BMW to the list of top manufacturers. The R 68 generates 35 bhp at 7,000 rpm, the greatest power and highest revs yet. BMW also introduces the R 51/3 this year. It is the first of the newly designed post war machines and the first ever BMW engine without any chains in the motor. Other innovations include Dynamo electrical generation, which produces an astonishing 160 watts (60 being the average at the time) and a "tunnel-casting" crankcase which would continue to be used until 1969. BMW is operating at full capacity with production jumping from 9,450 to 17,100 in a single year.
BMW answers the market demand for a sidecar outfitted motorcycle with the R 67. It is BMW's first 600-cc overhead-valve twin and the first machine over 500-cc made since the war. Twin leading shoe front brakes are introduced on this model and the bike will remain unchanged until 1954. BMW motorcycle production continues to grow and is now at 25,000 total units per year.
Utilizing a swinging arm rear suspension system and pivot forks with sprung struts, BMW begins development of the Rennesport (RS) Series. Front forks are improved with the introduction of two-way damping and front fork gaiters. BMW also updates the R 25 single with the R 25/3, its most successful bike to date. Topping out at 73 mph, the R 25/3 goes on to sell 47,000 units during its production run largely due to the improvements in the carburetion and engine, yielding a very efficient 98 miles per gallon fuel consumption. While BMW has now sold its 100,000th motorcycle since the war, demand for the heavier bikes is waning.
A year after initial development, the RS Series, specialized for competitive racing, makes its production debut. BMW begins to establish a reputation in sidecar racing this year as Wilhelm Noll and Friz Cron win the World Sidecar Championship. BMW will go on to dominate the World Sidecar Championship every year from 1955 until 1974.
BMW, hampered by the high cost of automobile production, breaks its connection with the Eisenbach facility, which becomes the Automobilwerke Eisenbach. In motorcycle manufacture, the R 50 (26 bhp at 5,800 rpm) with full-swinging-arm rear suspension and leading-link front forks replaces the R 51/3. The bike is criticized for looking dated and, combined with a growing slump in motorcycle sales, BMW begins to face economic uncertainty. The R 26, acclaimed for its comfort and style, is also released this year introducing Earles-Type forks to the BMW motorcycle catalog.
New models released by BMW meet with meager sales. Only 3,500 R 60s are purchased and only 1,300 of its more powerful cousin, the R 69, are sold. Feeling the economic decline, German companies begin to downsize. BMW lays off 600 employees, shrinking motorcycle production from 23,531 in 1955 to 15,500 in '56. With warehouse surplus for the bigger machines growing and the oil shortage caused by the Suez Crisis compounding matters, BMW shifts its focus to fuel-efficient machines.
Things go from bad to worse this year. Total motorcycle production at BMW drops yet again - from 15,000 to 5,429 this time. Rival manufacturers like Adler, DKW and Horex all scrap motorcycle production in general. BMW pulls back from designing new models, focusing instead on shipping the majority of its machines overseas to the United States or to England.
The financial bubble finally bursts for BMW. With its money reserves depleted, talk of mergers and buyouts begin to circulate. Though production is up slightly to 7,156 machines, the future of BMW is uncertain at best. No new models are released this year or the next.
Dismal sales (production is only at 8,412 machines for the year), surplus inventory and complete depletion of financial reserves leave BMW operating in the red. Competitor Daimler-Benz eyes BMW for a buyout and rumors begin to circulate. But Dr. Herbert Quandt, a banker of some repute and a motorcycle enthusiast himself, backs the troubled company. His confidence proves contagious and soon other investors fund BMW. MAN, a well-known heavy vehicles manufacturer, buys BMW's airplane division in Allach and covers other debts. While this signifies the final end of BMW's involvement in aeroengineering, the company does manage to remain in business.
This is the year of the R 69 S ("S" for "sport" model). Considered by many to be the "classic" BMW motorcycle, the R 69 S is the fastest Boxer to date, achieving a top speed of 109 mph at 42 bhp / 7,000 rpm. It uses a gear-driven cam and has bearings "everywhere". Also released this year is the R 27 single with its rubber-mounted engine to cut down on vibrations. It will be the last single until the F 650 Funduro, but it sells a healthy 15,000 units in its seven-year production period. The R 50 S is another notable release as it becomes BMW's highest revving 500 cc engine. However, its bark was worse than its bite and the R 50 S never catches on, with sales at only 1,634 machines after three years.
A big year for BMW, the R 69 S and competitive racing. After setting a new world 24-hour record of 95.6 mph wins at the Barcelona 24-Hour and Thruxton 500 Mile. The year concludes with more record breaking at Montlhery in the 24-hour (109.34 mph) and 12-hour (109.24 mph) respectively. It's no wonder the R 69 S's reputation earns BMW widespread acclaim. In this same year, BMW shifts from handmade cars to assembly line models with the release of the BMW 1500. Another "classic" in the BMW stable, the 1500 would pave the way for future BMW automobile fame, and sales in the automobile category begin to skyrocket.
Production on the Isetta grinds to a halt; BMW now only builds "proper" cars.
There isn't a lot of innovation happening in this year, but shareholders in the company are happy nonetheless. For the first time since WWII, BMW pays its stockholders a dividend based on a profitable year. BMW is back on the road.
The ground lost in motorcycle sports can now be recouped in car sports: the BMW 1800TI wins 27 out of the 28 races which it takes part.
BMWTriebwerksbau GmbH in Allach, founded in 1955, is sold.
Production on the single-cylinder models comes to a halt. The successful 02 series stimulates the car business.
BMW sells its 250,000th bike since WWII. And though the company itself is focusing more on the exploding automobile market (up 133%), motorcycle manufacturing continues to hold its own, if a little quietly (6,000 machines produced this year). No new models are released from 1961-1969, but special United States export versions of the R 60 and R 69 (called the R 60US and R 69US respectively) see BMW switch back to telescoping forks from the Earles-type fork. This change would set the standard for the Stroke 5 Series of 1969.
With the six-cylinder coupes of the E9 Series, BMW can again preen its sporting image.
Beginning with BMW moving its motorcycle manufacturing operations to the Spandau suburb of Berlin, 1969 finds the company rededicating its efforts in motorcycle innovation after nearly a decade of relative silence. The Stoke 5 Series has a more modern appearance, electric starters and car-like engineering. It is the first of the light weight production 750 cc engines since 1941 and marks the most dramatic change since the R 32 rolled out in 1923. The R 50/5, R 60/5 and R 75/5 are all released with telescoping front forks. However, the boxer engine is "flipped" with the camshaft now below the crankshaft and the pushrods banished to tubes on the side and below the engine. In 1969 BMW finally begins to offer color options though initially only in the conservative black, white and silver. Sidecar use is no longer authorized on BMW models as the company begins to look to the future.
No fewer than 12,287 motorcycles come off the lines in 1970. This is the largest production volume for 15 year-but still not sufficient for BMW to meet the enormous demand. Important changes take place in senior management: Eberhard von Kuenheim succeeds Gerhard Wilckes as Chairman of the Board of Management.
BMW opens its test track at Aschheim to the north of Munich. The motorcycle engineers thus acquire ideal conditions for the development of new models. The number of motorcycles on the roads in Germany reaches an all-time low, at 133,113.
Munich hosts the summer Olympics. BMW's new headquarters has just reached completion immediately adjoining the Olympic Park. Teething troubles have now been overcome in Berlin, and by year's end the monthly motorcycle production figure tops 2,000 for the first time.
In BMWs 50th Anniversary year its 500,000th motorcycle is produced. But times have changed and this is apparent by BMWs new R 90 S. A 900-cc 67 bhp racing monster is the company's largest and fastest bike ever, conquering the 50-year-standing 750 cc barrier. At a glance, the full cockpit fairing and smoked gray finish earn this machine its reputation as “Germany's sexiest superbike." 24,000 are produced in the next three years. The Stoke 6 series is also launched this year in 600, 700 and 900 cc guises with 55,000 sold. The Spandau facility is now working at full capacity, cranking out 25,000 motorcycles a year. And BMWs reputation only continues to grow with the recognition of the Maudes Trophy at the Isle of Man tournament that year.
The /6 Series goes into mass manufacturing and for the first time BMW offers five speed gearboxes on production motorcycles. The R 75/6 becomes the first production machine to utilize a single-disc front break. In true BMW form, Helmut Dahne rides his R 75 from Munich to the Isle of Man Production TT, finishes third and rides it back home.
Drilled discs are the innovation introduced to BMW motorcycles this year, greatly improving wet braking times. And an old motorcycle archetype, the kickstart, is finally eliminated as a standard component on production machines. Employee Rudiger Gutsch builds his own private enduro motorcycle this year. It is later used as the basis for developing the on-road/off-road BMW offering of 1980.
BMW upped the ante again designing the Stoke 7 1000-cc R 100/7. Its sporting sibling, the R 100 RS, is also launched. Like the R 100/7, it has a 1000-cc engine generating 70 bhp of power at 7,250 rpm for a top speed of 125 mph. It is the first production motorcycle to offer full fairing. This fairing design will stand largely unchanged until 1993. The R 100 RS is offered in a very untraditional smoked red. Despite an onslaught of four-cylinder competitors, BMW twins hold their own as Reg Pridmore wins the '76 AMA superbike title on his R 90 S.
The R80/7 attracts the attention of police forces worldwide as a brilliant compromise between the power of the 1000cc engines and the sweet ride of the 750s. To some, it is the best of all the Stroke Series models. Diminishing sales of the twin in the lucrative U.S. market (BMW fell from 6th to 11th in popularity) send a signal to BMW, and the company responds by beginning to look at other designs.
A trend-setter in luxury-touring motorcycles, the R 100 RT offers the rider a full touring-style fairing in 1978. While racing oriented motorcyclists balked at its bulkiness, long distance riders loved the machine for its comfort. It is offered in the popular smoked-red and some not-so-popular colors too: bottle green and a brown and cream combination. At the other end of the size spectrum is the R 45, BMW's smallest twin, which also makes its first appearance this year. A 473-cc engine with a power capacity of 27 bhp per 6,500 rpm, the R 45 is a hit with insurance companies and a dud with consumers who are hungry for power.
BMW wins the German Off-Road Championship and begins to build a reputation in the category. Meanwhile, British sales balloon by 61% despite poor sales figures in the U.S. The success of BMW in England is due largely to the police force there which has come to prefer BMW motorcycles. Fully 86 BMW dealerships have sprouted up in the U.K. to meet the increased demand.
Intended for use on the K-Series, which was under development at the time, single swinging arm suspension (or Monolever) first appeared on the R80G/S ('Gelandestrasse' or "Road and Street" motorcycle) twin. This much-anticipated light off-road machine ran an 800cc engine that could muster 50BHP of power at 6500rpm. Though it handled differently off-road than on, it performed admirably in test circuits. Offered in a white with an orange seat and blue with a black, other manufacturers would knock-off motorcycles that looked similar but didn't hold up in off-road situations. BMW also displayed the Futuro concept bike, and high-tech, almost Sci-Fi prediction of the motorcycles of the future.
The R80G/S, driven by Hubert Auriol, wins the grueling Paris-Dakar rally solidifying its reputation as a serious cross-country machine. It is the first of 4 Paris-Dakar victories for BMW. Though the demand for motorcycles is generally falling at this time, an earlier restructuring by BMW minimizes the strain put on the company and it continues to manufacture under stable conditions. At the end of the year, BMW announces its intention to produce water cooled four cylinder motorcycles. For many, this begs the obvious question, "What will happen to the twin?"
BMW sets aside substantial funds in a plan to double motorcycle production by 1985. Though the strategy proved over ambitious with only 37,104 of the intended 60,000 motorcycles actually being manufactured, the investment in infrastructure combined with rumors about the water-cooled fours creates a great deal of anticipation for the coming year. Simultaneously, and unwilling to abandon the boxer, BMW produces a pure road version of the R80G/S called an R80RT.
For the first time since 1923 BMW makes a drastic departure from the twin by introducing the K 100. It is the first of the water-cooled K-series machines and quickly earns the knickname "flying brick." Developed by Joseph Frizenwenger who took a longitudinally mounted in-line engine and turned it horizontally, the K 100 musters 90 bhp at 8,000 rpm and reaches a top speed of 132mph. It is the first production motorcycle with electric ignition and fuel injection. A racing version of the four-cylinder K 100, called the K 100 RS, is also rolled out. Not to be eclipsed by the new machine, the twin claims another Paris-Dakar victory under the skilled maneuvering of Hubert Auriol.
Hubert Auriol continues to rack up Paris-Dakar victories, this time accompanied by teammate Gaston Rakier. A touring version of the K Series is released (K 100 RT) and BMW announces plans to continue the manufacture of both 4-cylinder and flat-twin engines in a ratio of 60%-40% respectively. The year's new Boxers are all equipped with a lightweight clutch and lower-powered engine giving them a characteristic pleasant, smooth ride.
BMWs designs its only three-cylinder motorcycle to date, the K 75 C. Using 50% common parts with its older brother the K 100, it has excellent fuel economy (57 miles per gallon), more nimble handling and considerable power (75 bhp at 8,500 rpm) reaching a top speed of 124 mph.
The addition of a sports fairing and other minor modifications turns the K 75 C into the K 75 S - BMW's only three-cylinder sports motorcycle. Boxer innovation keeps pace with the re-launch of the limited edition R 100 RS now with monolever rear suspension and a 60 bhp engine. Though produced as a limited edition machine, it goes on to become very popular. BMW is now offering motorcycles in 48, 50, 60, 70 and 90BHP options.
The R 100 RT is re-launched this year with monolever rear suspension and a smaller 60 bhp engine (the original was 70 bhp). BMW's double-jointed single-sided swing arm Paralever system makes its debut this year. And again, BMW continues to produce for both the twins and K-Series by offering the 1000-cc K 100 LT luxury cruiser a 580 lb. behemoth generating 90 bhp at 8,000 rpm.
Known as the "biggest dirt bike in the world" and weighing in at a healthy 463 lbs., the R 100 G/S goes into production this year. Utilizing a stronger frame with longer forks, BMW touted the numerous modifications on this model by claiming you can "count the number of unchanged components on one hand." The R 80 G/S also goes into production with an optional Paris-Dakar version complete with larger fuel tank. Continuing to veer away from its traditional aesthetics, the new motorcycles were offered in classic black and also yellow. BMW is the first company to make machines with electronic/hydraulic ABS, considered motorcycling's safety aid of the decade.
Designed the year before, BMW puts the futuristic K1, their fastest road-going machine, into production. Overseen by the head of design at the time, Martin Probst, the avant-garde motorcycle comes complete with the first-ever digital engine electronics system. With a 1000 cc, four-cylinder engine it can generate a massive power output of 100 bhp at 8,000 rpm and is clocked at 143 mph. The K1 alienates some BMW traditionalists with its flashy bright red finish and yellow graphics, but it garners numerous headlines throughout the year flying in the face of the conventional perception of BMW.
A four-valve modified version of the K 100 RS is launched this year. It will go on to be named motorcycle of the year five years running. 35,000 K 100 RSs have been sold since its first production period in 1983. ABS is now standard on all K-Series machines, a trend not adopted by other manufacturers except on their high-end machines. BMW is producing motorcycles at a robust rate of 26,000 per year.
On March 18, 1991 the one millionth BMW motorcycle rolls off the factory production floor. It is a three-cylinder K 75 RT that is eventually donated to the Red Cross. Since it began producing motorcycles, BMW has now sold 230,000 singles, 634,000 twins and 136,000 multis. And of this army of machines, 50% are still reported to be on the road. Not content to rest on its laurels, BMW begins outfitting all its motorcycles with three-way catalytic converters. It is the first company to do so. And as a seeming tip of the hat to its heritage, BMW re-releases the R 100 R, last seen in 1976, complete with retro-styling. It turns out to be a popular decision, and 8,041 are sold by 1992.
BMW continues to produce machines to meet increasing demand. 25,761 R Series (twins) and 11,408 K-Series, including the new K 1100 LT are sold. This in a year when worldwide motorcycle sales are dropping. Despite initial fears of the boxers demise during the early K-Series years, the flat-twin continues to sell (and perform) well with 100,000 units sold since the first K-Series was released in 1983. This number is all the more impressive when considered against the roughly 600,000 twins that have been sold since the R 32 in 1923. In fact, BMW offers eight Boxer models in this year.
With the second generation ABS system introduced this year, a new generation Boxer appears as the R 1100 RS sports tourer. Powered by a fuel-injected, eight-valve, twin-cylinder engine (model name R 259) it achieves 90 bhp at 7250 rpm. The new twin is fitted with both Paralever rear suspension and the new Telelever front suspension. BMW also releases the K 1100 RS, which sports the new ABS II. In off-road, about 62,000 G/S and GS machines have been bought.
BMW's first production single in 30 years, designed the year before, is the F 650 Funduro. It is actually the result of a joint effort by the new European Union. BMW, along with Italian manufacturer Aprilia and Austrian brand Rotax, designs this 650-cc, four-valve single with power output measuring 48 bhp at 6,500 rpm. The R 1100 GS enduro is also rolled out this year featuring an ABS braking system which can be turned off during off-road use. In a departure from their current designs, BMW makes the R 850 R and the R 1100 R twins - unique as they are the first BMWs in years to have no form fairing.
Comprehensive fairing characterizes the R 1100 RT touring machine that is unofficially named the most weatherproof high-speed machine ever. Aside from including catalytic converters standard on all motorcycles, BMW initiates a retro-fitting program to upgrade older models. For the first time in its history, BMW produces over 50,000 motorcycles in one year. However, this is also the last year that the two-valve traditional Boxer is produced.
With the new year, the old two-valve Boxers and the three-cylinder K 75 Series are phased out of production. This signals the end of a 70-year period of German motorcycle history. Since 1923, 685,830 old Boxers have been sold with 467,900 of them having been produced in Berlin since 1969. But while they did away with the old, they also ushered in the new, introducing the company's most powerful motorcycle to date, the four-cylinder liquid-cooled K 1200 RS.
In response to a drop in demand for sporting machines, BMW markets its first-ever chopper/cruiser the R 1200 C. It is based on the stripped down "hogs," characterized by the substitution of lighter components and the elimination of unnecessary paraphernalia. Dr. Walter Hasselkus, the president of BMW since 1993 is considered the godfather of the R 1200 C and it is David Robb who brings the project to production. An instant icon, the machine is featured in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. In this same year, the R 1100 RS is voted the Motorcycle of the Year in the United States, Japan and Australia.
After a 12-year absence BMW returns to the Paris-Dakar Rally with F 650 competition motorcycles piloted by four-time Paris-Dakar winner Edi Orioli, 2nd place winner Oscara Gallaro, 5th place winner Jean Brucy and Ladies Cup Winner Andrea Meyer.
The millennium ends with BMW's strongest sales year in its entire history. More than 5,000 machines were sold in the first half of the year beating all of 1996's sales. By year's end a full 10,088 units rolled onto the roads. It was the first time in more than 18 years that BMW sold more than 1,000 units/month. Robust sales were credited largely to the popularity of the K 1200 LT and R 1200 C. In racing, Richard Sainct drives BMW to its 5th Dakar victory and an Optic 2000 championship on an F 650 RR.
Releasing a much-anticipated update of the GS Series, the R 1150 GS boosts power from 1085-cc to 1130-cc without compromising its 10.3:1 compression ratio. 50% of the power gain is attributed to an improved exhaust system. Also released this year is BMWs most powerful luxury-tourer, the 100 hp four-cylinder K 1200 LT. Rounding out the new millennium's offerings is BMW's most powerful motorcycle ever, the K 1200 RS with 130 horses and 86 lb-ft torque. All this attention to power pays off as Richard Sainct repeats his Paris-Dakar-Cairo victory again this year.
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