BY JANAKI JITCHOTVISUT
Last year was BMW Motorrad's best year for sales in the company's venerable history. BMW bikes aren't about being the fastest or the most stylish (although they can be both those things). They're about good balance, fantastic handling, and rider comfort--so all you want to do is get on one, ride away, and never look back. Here are the 25 best ever made.
Years Produced: 1935-1942
Notable Features/achievements: Telescopic front forks, in 1935, single or twin carburetor option
Complex Says: Telescopic front forks are old news now. But back in 1935, BMW's introduction of the R12 placed it ahead of the motorcycle manufacturing curve.
Years Produced: 1955-1960
Notable Features/achievements: In 1959, set the U.S. transcontinental motorcycle record of 52 hours and 11 minutes, one of the world's first adjustable rear suspensions
Complex Says: Many German motorcycle manufacturers were going under in these fragile post-war years. The R69 helped get overseas racers, primarily in the U.S., interested in BMW.
Years Produced: 1969-1973
Notable Features/achievements: First BMW bike to feature modern styling since WWII, great midrange acceleration, electric starter
Complex Says: BMW motorcycles finally gained the entire package over the production run of the R75/5. Not only did they have fantastic handling, but they could attain excellent quarter-mile times--and you could look good riding them, too.
Years Produced: 1987-1996
Notable Features/achievements: BMW's first-ever adventure tourer
Complex Says: The R80G/S was no mere dual-sport bike. Instead, BMW aimed this bike squarely at riders looking to truly go cross-country--or cross-continent, for that matter. This was BMW's creation of a motorcycling niche that the company still largely owns--worldwide--to this day. The R80G/S has often been imitated, but never duplicated.
Years Produced: 1993-2001
Notable Features/achievements: The beginning of BMW's chain-driven F-series
Complex Says: Up until this point, all BMW bikes had been produced in-house, and they were shaft-driven. The F650 was neither of those things. Instead, it was produced in conjunction with Italian motorcycle manufacturer Aprilia, which also produced its own version, called the Pegaso. Both the F650 and the Pegaso were powered by engines created by Austrian manufacturer Rotax. The single-cylinder F650 was quick, had adroit enough handling to surpass its Japanese sport bike competition, and that showed BMW was willing to break with its staid, traditional stance when necessary.
Years Produced: 1987-1996
Notable Features/achievements: Introduction of revolutionary Paralever suspension
Complex Says: While it was too big for true off-roading enthusiasts, the R100GS earned Motorcyclist magazine's distinction as the finest bike BMW had yet produced. The 1990 Paris-Dakar special edition featured upgrades, such as an expanded 9.25-gallon fuel capacity and an oil cooler, as standard items.
Years Produced: 1993-2001
Notable Features/achievements: Introduction of updated Oil head engine, ABS, revolutionary Telelever front suspension
Complex Says: The R1100RS handily scooped up accolades from the motorcycling press and consumers alike. The bike was praised for its amazing balance, handling, and power. This sport-tourer only weighed 520 pounds--which also didn't hurt.
Years Produced: 2000-present
Notable Features/achievements: Chain-driven rather than shaft-driven, optional switchable ABS
Complex Says: BMW took what it learned from the original F650 engine, which had been developed by Rotax, and designed the F650GS engine itself. The fuel tank is located under the seat, resulting in a much lower centre of gravity, which is extremely conducive to its off-roading potential.
Years Produced: 1986-1995
Notable Features/achievements: BMW's lightweight 750cc 3-cylinder engine, smaller fairing than the preceding K75C, stiffer suspension, rear disc brake
Complex Says: Many riders preferred the light, nimble handling of the K75 series bikes over their four-cylinder K100 siblings in BMW's line-up. The K75S was the apotheosis of the K75 line, weighing 32 pounds less than the K100RS, and sporting an upgraded suspension and impressively wide torque curve.
Years Produced: 2001-2005
Notable Features/achievements: Linked brakes, ABS
Complex Says: Many BMW traditionalists consider this to be the finest sport-touring motorcycle that BMW has ever made--to this day. As ever, it offered good balance, handling, storage capacity, comfort, and build quality--but also featured added stopping power.
5. HP2 Enduro
Years Produced: 2005-2008
Notable Features/achievements: Lightweight everything, progressive braking
Complex Says: Before BMW introduced the HP2 Sport, it introduced the HP2 Enduro for off-roading pursuits. Saying it's based on the R1200GS may make you think it's bulky. It's not--it's stripped down, lean, and sufficiently mean for your next foray to--and in--the Baja 500.
Years Produced: 2007-present
Notable Features/achievements: Handles like an oversized dirt bike, but can run normal roads as well
Complex Says: Bigger GS models might offer slightly more comfort--but they're also heavier, and less suited to off-road riding. The F800GS is truly at home both on- and off-road, especially if you fit it with the factory-available Enduro skid plate.
Years Produced: 1923-1926
Notable Features/achievements: Introduction of BMW's trademark shaft-drive system, recirculating oil system, dual-slide carburetor unit, magneto
Complex Says: Long before the Nissan Skyline GT-R made the designation “R32” a household phrase among gear heads, BMW's R32 motorcycle started many of BMW's motorcycling traditions. Most things you think of as BMW traits were featured--all at once--on this bike. It could even be fitted with a sidecar--an important option at the time.
Years Produced: 1985
Notable Features/achievements: Low price compared to other touring motorcycles in the U.S.
Complex Says: This wasn't the R80RT that BMW sold from 1982 to 1984. This was an updated version that took lessons learned from the Flying Bricks and applied them to this Boxer-engined bike. The combination of low price and styling that was between a straight-up sportbike and a gigantic tourer greatly appealed to bike magazines and customers alike.
Years Produced: 1973-1976
Notable Features/achievements: First AMA Superbike national champion, Dell'Orto slide carburetors, front disc brakes, five-speed gearbox
Complex Says: The R90S continued the growth spurt started by the R75/5, in terms of bringing the full package to the people. It's been hailed as BMW's first-ever superbike. The stock bikini fairing on the front and the gorgeous paint scheme, dubbed “Smoke,” didn't hurt.
Years Produced: 1976-1984
Notable Features/achievements: First-ever sport-touring bike, aerodynamic fairing reduced wind resistance and front wheel lift
Complex Says: A cross between a sportbike and a tourer, this bike served an important niche. Sales figures don't lie. The R100RS was BMW's best-selling model ever, until the advent of the K100RS in 1983. This happened despite the fact that this bike was the highest-priced BMW ever: $4,595.
Years Produced: 1983-1989
Notable Features/achievements: BMW's first new engine design in 60 years, nicknamed “the Flying Brick,” won Motorcycle of the Year awards across Europe and the U.S.
Complex Says: The K series bikes were hefty, weighing between 540 and 600 pounds wet--but still lighter than their Japanese touring bike competition. Their purposeful design attracted customers in droves, all over the world.
Years Produced: 1988-1993
Notable Features/achievements: Most unique-looking bike BMW has ever produced
Complex Says: The K1 was primarily an exercise in using a wind tunnel to create the most aerodynamically efficient sport bike that BMW could. The result looked like no other sport bike. Performance-wise, it lagged behind some of its Japanese competition. But its sheer artistry and land-based rocket ship design has earned it a place in our hearts.
Years Produced: 2005-present
Notable Features/achievements: Major advances over the R1150RT, including increased power and decreased weight--and cruise control
Complex Says: Where the R1150RT featured a more traditional aesthetic, the R1200RT design looked a bit like Optimus Prime. Which is great if you like Transformers, but may be offensive if you're a traditionalist
Years Produced: 1926-1939
Notable Features/achievements: Supercharged race bikes, in 1926, won the 1939 Isle of Man TT
Complex Says: BMW hadn't perfected its handling yet. Norton had the best-handling race bikes of the time. So BMW decided to beat Norton on sheer power alone by using superchargers. This pushed BMW race bikes up to nearly 140mph on straights--a real feat for the time period.
8. R1100S Boxer Cup Replica
Years Produced: 2002-2004
Notable Features/achievements: Tri-colour paint scheme, Laser exhaust came stock on the 2004 version
Complex Says: A racier-looking version of the R1100S, the Boxer Cup Replica offered superior handling for twisty roads and tracks in a nice, exclusive package. Adding aftermarket Laser cans was a popular mod among owners, so their addition as stock parts for '04 was a smart bonus.
Years Produced: 2011-present
Notable Features/achievements: Named best in class by many industry publications
Complex Says: BMW knows that not everyone wants or needs the ability to go off-road. The K1600GT offers performance, comfort, and style for the luxury touring rider segment. BMW also claims it's the slimmest six-cylinder engine currently available.
4. HP2 Sport
Years Produced: 2008-present
Notable Features/achievements: Quick shifter, which allows gear changes without engaging the clutch
Complex Says: One doesn't usually class any bikes BMW makes with Japanese or Italian sport bikes. The HP2 Sport's aggressive stance isn't just about looks. It's about power. It may make you rethink the idea that “BMW” and “sport bike” are mutually exclusive terms outside the race track.
Years Produced: 2004-present
Notable Features/achievements: The most popular motorcycle that BMW has ever produced, with most units sold
Complex Says: We wouldn't say that TV alone can sell your bike if it's no good. But having Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman (he's big in the U.K., we swear) exclusively ride R1200GS bikes for their TV series Long Way Down can't hurt. Alton Brown and his entire crew rode R1200GS bikes for the second season of Feasting On Asphalt in the U.S.
Years Produced: 2009-present
Notable Features/achievements: Won several best of 2010 awards
Complex Says: The S1000RR was made to compete in the Superbike World Championship, and a limited number were sold to the public for homologation purposes. While it hasn't been a world-beater yet, riders have achieved up to third place (Troy Corser twice in 2010, and Leon Haslam twice in 2011) in individual WSBK rounds--which isn't bad.