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Although it originally started life as an aircraft manufacturer, BMW turned its attention to motorbikes following the First World War – and generations of riders are glad they did.
Taking inspiration from existing motorcycles of the 1920’s, engineer Max Friz designed the flat-twin boxer which included all-new transverse cylinders and a gearbox connected directly to the engine. These changes solved some of the cooling issues common with other bikes, and proved so successful that they became integral to the boxer engine design which is still in production today.
1931 was the year that BMW brought out the R2, a single-cylinder shaft-driven 200cc motorcycle. The company added other single-cylinder BMW bikes to its series, like the 400cc R4 in the following year and, in 1936, the 300cc R3. The company continued to break ground by, in 1935, introducing the first production motorcycles boasting hydraulically dampened telescopic forks – the R12 and R17.
It was during the Second World War that BMW manufactured the R75 motorcycle. Particularly visually striking for its attached sidecar, which was motor-driven like the bike’s main body, the R75 also benefitted from a lockable differential, which helped to make it very capable off-road.
BMW played a small but crucial role in a historic milestone in 1959. It was in this year that John Penton beat, by a staggering 24 hour margin, the previous record for riding a motorcycle from New York to Los Angeles in the shortest time. And Penton did it all on a BMW R69!
By the 1960’s, BMW bikes had become popular worldwide. Later, by the 1970’s, the R90S and R100S, which was the world’s first full-fairing bike, became iconic classics that shaped the development of their sporty touring style that sets category standards to this day.
A 987cc, four-cylinder, water-cooled fuel injected engine, the K100, was introduced in 1983. This was part of what is known as the K series of BMW motorcycles – the particularly notable features of these vehicles included their simplified rear suspension.
Thirty years after the launch of the RT series, the handling and comfort of the R1150RT made it one of the most popular sports-tourers with BMW enthusiasts. However, the R1200GS, which was released in 2004, has been their biggest seller – contributing to BMW achieving new sales records for the last ten years.
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