BMW history and facts
Had it not been for World War I, BMW motorcycles might never have existed.
Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) dates back to 1913, but back then the company produced aircraft engines. And as part of a late push to win the war in 1918, the German army ordered 2,000 BMW model IIIa aircraft engines.
A year later, the Treaty of Versailles set out the terms for peace, forbidding airplane manufacture by any Germany company. The strict terms of the treaty meant BMW had to rethink the nature of its entire business – and the result was a shift to motorcycle manufacture.
BMW’s expertise in aircraft engines did come in useful, however. In 1921 the company unveiled the M2 B15 ‘Boxer’ motorcycle which drew on technology used for an earlier aircraft.
In 1923, the legendary BMW designer Max Friz took motorcycle design and capability to the next level with the launch of the 486cc R 32, which reached a top speed of about 60mph.
BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle brand of BMW, continued its development of bigger and faster motorbikes and in 1928 it produced the 750cc R 62, with a top speed of 71mph.
The company’s ability to make fast bikes was soon evident on the racetrack. In 1929 Paul Köppen won the 500cc class at the prestigious Targa Florio road race in Sicily. BMW took first place in the race for the next two years too.
And if further proof of BMW’s speed capability was needed, in the same year Ernst Henne used a supercharged, 750cc ‘Kompressor’ on a closed stretch of Autobahn to set a new land-speed record of over 134mph.
The accolades continued to build over the years. Otto Ley won the Swedish 500cc Grand Prix on another ‘Kompressor’ and in 1939, Georg Meier won the Isle of Man Senior TT on a BMW.
However, the arrival of World War II saw BMW change direction and concentrate on military motorcycles and, once again, airplane manufacture.
In 1941, BMW introduced the R 75, which was designed for war use. With a 750cc engine, two seats and a sidecar, the bike could be fitted with a machine gun.
So impressed was the US Army with the R 75, captured German bikes were sent back to the US for Harley-Davidson to copy.
Initially banned from making motorcycles after the war, in 1948 BMW began manufacturing again.
Innovation in the post-war years included the introduction of the classic R 69 S in 1960. The fastest ‘Boxer’ available at the time, the bike was capable of a top speed of 109mph.
In 1969, to increase efficiency all motorcycle production was moved from Munich to Berlin and by 1973 BMW had produced over half a million motorcycles during its 50-year history. A year later, BMW offered five-speed gearboxes on production motorcycles for the first time.
Introduced in 1977, the R80/7 was significant as it was adopted by police forces across the country and became a very familiar – though, if over the speed limit, not always welcome – sight on UK roads.
In 1991 BMW exceeded the one million milestone in bikes produced and two years later the R1100RS sports tourer was introduced. It was powered by a fuel-injected, eight valve, twin-cylinder engine.
The company continued to develop its offerings to riders and in 1997 BMW introduced its first chopper/cruiser – the R1200C. The bike was immortalised on film when it was ridden by Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Fast forward to the late noughties, and in 2009 BMW launched the S1000RR sport bike. Designed to compete with the major Japanese bike manufacturers, the bike showcased BMW’s expertise in developing advanced traction control systems.
BMW continues to innovate to this day. Its present-day range includes cutting edge design in sports, tourer, roadster and adventure bikes. With its heritage range it incorporates classic shapes with modern tech. And when it comes to urban mobility, its fully electric CE 04 bike offers bags of energy but with zero emissions.