BMW Motorcycle History

February 24, 2008
By Motorcycle USA Staff

2010 BMW S1000RR
BMW takes on the superbike market with its all new S1000RR.

Known for its luxury and design innovation, BMW Motorrad is a historic motorcycle marque. Formed in 1916, BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) began producing truck and aircraft engines for Germany during WWI. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles banned aircraft engine manufacture, so BMW set its sights on the motorcycle. BMW Motorrad, as the two-wheeled division of BMW came to be known (motorrad is German for motorcycle), traces its origins to the R32 motorcycle produced in 1923.

Designed by engineer Max Friz, the R32 exhibits two traits shared by many Beemers to this day – a shaftdrive and the iconic Boxer powerplant. Although producing other engine configurations, the horizontally-opposed Flat Twin, referred to as the Boxer, continues to be BMW’s trademark powerplant.

Premiering at the Berlin Automobile Show, the R32 enjoyed success, selling more than 3000 units in the three-year production run. The Boxer-powered R series continued to develop, growing in displacement and performance. Significant events in the R model include rider Ernst Henne capturing the motorcycle speed record twice for BMW, first in 1929 going 216km/h (134 mph) on a R37 and 279.5km/h (173.6 mph) in 1937 aboard a R5.

BMW R75 WW2 Sidecar
BMW R75 WW2 Sidecar

The Second World War saw BMW produce motorbikes for the battlefield with the Boxer-powered R75 and sidecar. After the war, production ceased until 1948, upon which the marque recovered to its current position as a luxury motorcycle brand.

Design innovation

BMW styling is distinctive (like the Boxer motor), with often sharp angular lines. But the German firm distinguishes itself with design innovation, too. BMW safety development includes the early adoption of ABS, standard on many models and optional an almost all. The proprietary duolever and paralever suspension systems are more examples of BMW’s unique take on the motorcycle. Another interesting recent BMW design is the C1, a two-wheeled vehicle with enclosed cockpit and rollbar surrounding a seatbelted, helmetless rider.

R Series

2008 BMW R1200GS Adventure
2008 BMW R1200GS Adventure

Still the focal point of the BMW Motorrad lineup, the R series now displaces 1170cc. The R1200 platform comes in a number of versions. The most popular is the GS. In fact, the GS is BMW’s best selling motorcycle of all-time, with more than 100,000 units sold. Called an Enduro model by BMW, the GS is an off-road capable street bike. The S model is a sporty version, as is the naked R roadster. An RT Boxer comes kitted as a comfortable touring model. For the Boxer aficionado demanding top performance there is the HP2 series, high-spec R models utilizing top-shelf components and sometimes souped up motors.

K series

The K series was created in 1983 and is defined by its longitudinal Inline-Four engine. Long dubbed the K1200, for 2009 the K Series bumped displacement up to 1293cc for the new moniker of K1300. Like the R Series, the Ks are divvied up by application. The K1300S is a faired sportbike, the K1300R a naked roadster with a distinctive front end, while the K1300GT is a “Gran Tourismo” touring platform.

In 2009 BMW adds another Inline-Four to its lineup, the S1000RR superbike. Purpose-built to tussle with the Japanese Inline-Four literbikes, the new Beemer will compete in the 2009 World Superbike Championship with Ruben Xaus and Troy Corser at the controls.

2009 BMW F800R
2009 BMW F800R

F Series

Introduced in 2007, the F series BMW features a Parallel Twin powerplant. Displacing 798cc the F motor powers a sporty S and touring ST version and a naked R version (due out in the 2009 model year). The new motor is also sourced by the Enduro F800GS, a smaller version of its popular cousin, which figures to be a hot seller for the Bavarian firm.

G Series

2009 BMW G650GS
2009 BMW G650GS

Although long an off-road competitor in such races as the Paris Dakar Rally, BMW is making a concerted push into the off-road market. The single-cylinder G650GS (formerly dubbed F650GS) returns as a dirt-capable streetbike for 2009. Other G650 models are the X series, powered by the same 652cc Single: The Xcountry scrambler, Xmoto supermotard and the enduro Xchallenge.

In 2007 BMW acquired Husqvarna (the Swedish turned Italian marque) from MV Agusta. Yet it appears BMW will continue developing its own off-road designs alongside the dirt-renowned Husky. The most unexpected BMW dirt machine is the G450X, a purpose-built enduro/motocross racer. Powered by a 449cc DOHC Single, the new 450 will be campaigned in the 2009 World Enduro Championship by seasoned riders, Juha Salminen and David Knight.