BMW motorcycle production started after WW1, as new regulations meant that the company, which was originally part of Rapp Motorenwerke, was unable to continue manufacturing aircraft engines. In 1921, BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) had started work on a flat-twin engine for use as a stand alone engine for industrial use, although several motorcycle manufacturers adapted it for bike use.
The first production BMW Motorrad motorcycle appeared in 1923. This bike was the 486cc R 32 with an across-the-frame mounted early version of its now legendary Boxer engine. The R 32 also featured shaft drive, a drive system used on all its bikes until the first chain drive BMW bike appeared. BMW Motorrad later experimented with an overhead cam supercharged 500cc version, which achieved a top speed figure of 173.8mph – an incredible figure considering it was 1937!
BMW Motorrad suffered badly during WWII. From the ashes, the few remaining engineers started producing BMW bikes based on pre-war technology. But it was enough for the company to grow once more and produce new models of varying capacities.
1970 gave rise to a complete redesign of chassis and the Boxer engine. Three new models appeared – the 500cc R 50, 600cc R 60/5 and 750cc R 70/5 – and all featured telescopic suspension, electric starters and revised valve system layout to reduce the width of the engine for increased ground clearance.
In 1980 BMW Motorrad caused a stir with the R 80 GS (Gelande/Strasse – off-road/road), the bike that kick-started today’s adventure bike genre. It was an immediate success – mainly through dominating the Dakar race series. Three years later, BMW Motorrad changed tack and introduced a water-cooled inline-four cylinder machine tagged K 100. This later spawned the triple-cylinder K 75 and other variants, all using a single-sided rear swing arm.
BMW Motorrad still produces Boxer-engine bikes although they are very modern in design using four-valve dohc heads and up-to-date chassis design. The same design ethos has seen the introduction of new four-cylinder K-series bikes; the incredible 1649cc straight-six-cylinder K 1600 GT/GTL; and today’s best four-cylinder superbike, the S 1000 RR.; not forgetting the huge range of parallel twins and single-cylinder machines in road and off-road format.
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BMW Motorrad UK – the UK arm of BMW Motorrad shows its model range in detail, plus the huge range of official accessories, from clothing to aftermarket exhausts and much more.