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BMW Motorcycles Story

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Mike Fishwick View Drop Down
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    Posted: 20 Oct 2013 at 12:48pm


Book Review by  Mike Fishwick

This is not an entirely new book, being a development of Roy Bacon’s original ‘BMW Twins and Singles’ (Osprey 1982) with two new chapters covering the K-Series, Funduro, and 4-valve twins, so  covering all models, and ending the BMW motorcycle story just prior to the launch of the R1200C.

Devotees of BMW history will note some fundamental differences between this book and the company-approved version by Horst Monnich (see December 1997 Journal) in terms of the formation of BMW and particularly its relationship with Karl Rapp’s Rapp Motorenwerke and Gustav Otto’s BFW company.  The absorption of BMW during 1922 by Knorr Bremse is not included, while BMW are given the credit – if that is the correct word – for producing the Flink and Helios motorcycles; Max Friz would turn in his grave!

Ancient details aside, this very detailed book gives a good background to the company and its products through two disastrous wars, the bankruptcy of 1959, and the years of steady development, which in the original book ended in 1981 with a range of models deemed to follow the ethics of Max Friz by combining ‘Fine engineering, good quality, and (being) built for use.  There seemed no reason why the same format should not continue for many years.’  Well, it certainly continued, and even if some of Max Friz’s ethics have been cast aside in the ruthless quest for market share it can still be argued that BMW continue to make the best all-round motorcycles available. 

Although this book covers the entire story of BMW, it is for the most part concerned with the period after 1969, when established BMW owners reeled in shock and horror at the then-new ‘Five’ series models.  The era before 1945 is confined to the first chapter, while the second provides a very readable background to the BMW legend. 

As well as providing detailed histories of the production models, separate chapters cover the BMW successes in fields as diverse as speed record-breaking, the International Six-Days Trial, the Paris-Dakar Rally, road racing (in solo and sidecar classes), and the wartime R75.   If the R75, with its driven sidecar wheel and differential lock, gearbox with reverse and high/low range, and coupled brakes was only a minor episode in the BMW story, it was of greater significance to the Russians, who used it as the basis of their larger post-war motorcycles; this is dealt with in another chapter, along with the other derivative models built by the Japanese, French, Italians, and even Harley-Davidson.

The endurance run on the banked circuit at Montlhery, where in 1961 an R69S averaged 109.34 mph, so taking the 24-hour record from Velocette, is well covered, as is the 1973 Maudes Trophy award, where a pair of R75/5 models continuously lapped the Isle of Man TT circuit, covering over sixteen thousand miles in a wet and windy week.  

The more modern twins are well covered, from the development of the ‘Five’ series of 1969 into the fully-faired R100RS of 1976, followed by the massive redesign of 1981 and the advent of the Monolever range in 1984, to the R100R and GS Paralever models.   The current models, such as the R259 series of R850/1100 twins, the F650 and K-Series are all described in some detail up to the R1100RT, F650ST, and K1200RS models.  The only current model not included is the R1200C.

The standard of the many monochrome illustrations is excellent, and will doubtless become the standard used for restoration in future years, aided by the detailed specification and model recognition lists in the back of the book.  As is inevitable, there are some obvious howlers, such as the comment that the R65 fork was common to all 1981 models except the R80GS, the R45/65 swinging arm was lengthened in 1981, or that the R80ST was ‘recoded’ as the R80 for 1984.  The various years’ basic colour options are listed, but unfortunately not their BMW names (eg: ‘Silver’ is given, rather than the correct Polaris Graphite) or colour codes, both of which would be extremely useful for the future.

As the title implies, this is the story of BMW’s motorcycles, rather than (as in Horst Monnich’s book) the Company itself; it would, perhaps, have been even better if there had been more mention of the people behind the machines, and in certain cases a little critical analysis of the machines themselves.  It is difficult, however, to satisfy all tastes in 224 pages, but in this revised edition Roy Bacon has come very close.  As one of the few books to cover the entire BMW motorcycle this should certainly be on the bookshelf of every BMW enthusiast, offering all-round information with good detail and illustrations.  It is well worth buying, even if you already have the earlier version.


(BMW Motorcycles by Roy Bacon.  Niton Publishing  £14.95  ISBN 1-85579-027-0)

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