The quest for the "Ultimate Driving Machine" is the obvious main goal of BMW, and with it includes the BMW Motorcycle Division. For over 80 years, BMW has produced motorcycles, of which has given them the right to boast that 50% of every motorcycle BMW Motorcycles has ever produced over that 80 year history is still road worthy today.
Flugzenmaschinenfabrik, Gustav Otto's airplane factory and Flugwerke, which was founded by Karl Rapp, merged in 1916 to become Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Initially the main focus of production was only airplanes, but by July of 1917 the company was renamed as Bayerische Motoren Werke, or quite simply BMW. The logo that was created for Bayerische Motoren Werke, a plane propeller, is the logo that is still used today.
At first, BMW still only produced V-12 plane engines, which is already contrary to most other motorcycle manufacturers of their time who started off making bicycles and thanks to the German Air Force, and WWI, BMW boomed economically, and at the time had over 3,500 employees working full time.
By the end of the war, the Treaty of Versailles was signed and all German companies were banned from airplane manufacturing, so with nothing left to lose, BMW pointed its direction to motorcycles and automobiles. With the high level of aeronautical engineering in the blood and roots of BMW it only took a whopping 4 weeks to design the original Boxer engine, putting BMW right back on the top of manufacturing.
BMW's first motorcycle, or should I say moped, became a reality in 1920 with a slow and heavy, 148 cc motorcycle dubbed The Flink, but in 1921 BMW decides to sell Flugzenmaschinenfabrik, in which they decided to buy back in 1937.
By the end of 1922 BMW had developed the first alloy cylinder and by the end of the year had perfected the Flat Twin Engine, only to be able to release the first official BMW Motorcycle in 1923.
With the perfected flat twin Boxer engine completed and ready to go, the dawn of BMW Motorcycles began. This plays an important role in the future of BMW and its motorcycle division, as the flat twin also received a driveshaft rather than the usual sprocket and chain drive set-up seen in most motorcycles of the time and the flat twin was also used by BMW until 1996.
BMW won its first German Motorcycle championship in 1924 with Rudolph Schleicher as the racer. Rudolph Schleicher also replaced Fritz that same year, to design the Ultimate Riding (and racing) Motorcycles.
Thanks to Rudolph Schleicher, BMW released their first racing motorcycle in 1925, but it was not an instant success, as only 152 motorcycles were ever produced. 1925 also brought into light that BMW made their first single cylinder motorcycle that year, whereas most of their competitors started with single cylinders.
By this time in BMW's history, they had entered into their true racing element, with over 100 races under their belt, BMW goes on to win their first Gold in the 1926 International Six Days Trial. Out of spite, ABC motorcycles, accuses BMW of copying their engine, but that claim was neither backed up nor investigated any further than the accusation itself.
By 1927, BMW was well on its way as this particular year marked their 25,000th motorcycle, all within the first 7 years in the motorcycle manufacturing market, but BMW did not start producing cars until 1928, and had already made their first 750cc motorcycle which landed a world land speed record for the first time in BMW history at a speed of 134 miles per hour. BMW's number one source of income was still their motorcycle division, through the end of the 1920's.
BMW survived the Great Depression by producing smaller more economical motorcycles, which by the end of the depression, draws the attention of Hitler and the Third Reich. BMW produced more than 15,000 olive-drab motorcycles for the Nazi Regime, which helped BMW survive the world economic crisis throughout the beginning of the Second World War.
In 1935, thanks to the R-12, BMW makes over 10,000 motorcycles to help with its financial interwar profits, selling every one of the motorcycles they produced that year. Throughout the late 1930's and well into the 1940's BMW and their motorcycles, continued to beat their own World Land Speed Record a total of 8 times and by 1938 ,15 years after opening their doors, BMW sold their 100,000th motorcycle.
From 1944 to 1947, the BMW's Motorcycle manufacturing came to a complete halt and instead, BMW produced bicycles for the impoverished German people as well as a version of the BMW called the EMW, which was made during this time period as a Russian motorcycle rather than a true German BMW.
BMW also made the first German Motorcycle to hit the 100 mile per hour mark in 1951 and that bike was presented for the first time at the International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition. This motorcycle was the first ever BMW to feature a chainless tunnel cast crankcase which was used until 1969.
In the following year, 1952, BMW offered their first ever production sidecar motorcycle which featured a dual drum front brake hub for that extra stopping power needed for the new sidecar.
With the help of Friz Cron and Wilhelm Noll, BMW enters and dominates the World Side Car Championship over a period of 19 years, with consecutive wins every one of those years.
By 1969, BMW makes a surprising twist. With BMW's Stroke 5 series motorcycles, their most popular model of the time, BMW flips their flat twin over, and makes numerous upgrades and design changes. With the future of BMW's motorcycle division looking bright, their design changes prove to be a success and the engine continues to sit that way until the flat twin engine was dropped by BMW in 1996.
By 1971 with only 133,113 motorcycles on German roads, BMW opened their now famous Aschheim Test track in Munich, to work on the next generation of BMW Motorcycles.
Their 50th anniversary yields an unmistakable production number. In 1973, BMW produces its 500,000th motorcycle. The R 90 S., a 900 cc 67 horsepower motorcycle was chosen as BMW's 50th Anniversary bike and made an immediate hit selling 24,000 of those beautiful machines. This also marked BMWs first ever engine to exceed the 750 cc motorcycle barrier.
By 1975, BMW dropped the old fashioned and, in their minds, out dated, piece of equipment known as the kick start, and for the first time, BMW offered their Stroke 6 series with a vented, cross drilled disk brake in the front.
In 1980 BMW released an off-road motorcycle thanks to the increase of UK sales and the use of the 1000cc Stroke 7 series as a police motorcycle. During this time period the UK response to the BMW Motorcycle was so great that 100s of dealerships popped up almost overnight.
BMW released its only 3 cylinder, a 75 horsepower street bike with an amazing 57 miles per gallon fuel economy. This was their only 3 cylinder in which a year later they also offered a modified version as a sport bike, only to release their heaviest dirt bike in 1988. This dirt bike dubbed "Biggest Dirt Bike in the World" tipped the scales at 463 pounds and only produced a whopping 100 bulk horsepower.
BMW sold their one millionth motorcycle in 1981, which was a 3 cylinder, and that motorcycle was donated to the Red Cross.
In 1996, BMW dropped their oldest engine, the Boxer, as well as their 3 cylinder line. With more than a half million motorcycles with the famous Boxers engine mounted in them sold, BMW called it quits for this famous old engine.
BMW continues to strive for perfection in every motorcycle produced on its assembly lines.
Original Authors: Nicholas
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 06/06/2008