Ten Motorcycle Technologies Pioneered by BMW – Part 1

BMW R80G/S. 

We had published an article earlier titled “Ten Technological Improvements That Made the Motorcycle Great”. But did you know that many of those technologies were pioneered by BMW?

That’s right. BMW has pushed the technological boundaries for motorcycles for a long time, but the company has always been low-key about its achievements, leading people to believe that those advancements were brought on by other manufacturers instead. Most, if not all, of BMW’s innovations for the motorcycle were adopted industry-wide.

Without further ado, here are the Ten Motorcycle Technologies Pioneered by BMW, in chronological order:-

1. R32 (1923)

BMW ventured into building motorcycle engines and in 1921, built a flat-twin (Boxer) which was famously used in Helios motorcycles, among others. BMW merged with the Helios manufacturer afterwards in 1922, thereby inheriting the Helios motorcycles.

The merger led to the BMW R32 in 1923. Unveiled at the Berlin Motor Show, it marked the beginning of BMW’s now famous drive concept of an air-cooled, four-stroke Boxer engine with a manual gearbox mated directly behind and a shaft final drive.

While the R32 didn’t break technological grounds, its Boxer engine became the ancestor of all BMW Boxer engines.

2. R12 (1935)

As we mentioned in the earlier article, it was the BMW R12 that introduced the hydraulically damped front forks to the masses. The Scott motorcycle manufacturer had pioneered telescopic forks prior to the R12, but its forks consisted of just springs. The hydraulic fluid/oil in the R12’s forks was used to damp the springs’ oscillations. Needless to say, BMW’s solution became the basis of all modern-day forks.

3. R90S (1973)

Motorcycle owners in the 70s could only watch with envy as racers blasted around against the wind, while tucked behind their fairings. If you wanted a fairing, you needed to buy one.

That was until BMW introduced the R90S. Wunderbar. It had a factory headlamp-mounted fairing. The R90S also went on to win many AMA Superbike championships, cementing BMW’s name as a performance motorcycle maker.

Another interesting fact: The R90S was designed by Hans Muth, the same man who later designed the groundbreaking Suzuki Katana.

4. R100RS (1977)

Racebikes aerodynamics had moved forward quickly within four years. Motorcycles are now fully-faired and again, it was BMW who pioneered the technology for road bikes on the R100RS. Hans Muth lent a hand too, using a wind-tunnel this time. However, unlike the R90S, the fairing on the R100RS was solidly mounted to the bike. The R100RS also had a fully faired sister variant, called the R 100 RT sport-tourer, which was the ancestor of the R 1200 RT.

5. R80G/S (1980)

Riders leading up to the 70s had a dilemma.

You wanted to go touring so you buy, say, an R 100 RT, on which you could mount your panniers. But the camping grounds is only accessible via an off-road path, so you then thought you should have brought your dirtbike, but it could not carry panniers, there is no wind protection, had a small fuel tank and a seat that was as comfortable as a blanket thrown over a piece of plywood.

BMW knew there was a vacuum in this middle ground. The answer was the R80G/S (for Gelände/Straße – or Off-road/Road). The R80G/S not only revolutionised the adventure and touring markets, but it single-handedly started the adventure-tourer segment.

BMW also entered the bike in the world’s toughest race, the Paris-Dakar Rally and won in 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1985 (engine enlarged to 1000cc). In fact, it is safe to say that BMW also launched the power struggle in the Paris-Dakar Rally when other manufacturers started fielding multi-cylinder and large capacity bikes thereafter.

Apart from having the distinction of giving birth to the adventure-tourer, the R 80 G/S was the first production motorcycle to be equipped with a single-sided swingarm.

Surely this idea sounds familiar to you: The R80G/S was the ancestor of the R 1200 GS (and all adventure-tourers).


These are the first five motorcycles showcasing technologies by BMW- five more in Part 2 of this article.

Image sources: BMW Motorrad; Wikipedia

No comments yet! You be the first to comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *