Right now, BMW doesn’t seem able to put a foot wrong as far as the bike world is concerened.
Be it a huge V6 tourer, an extreme sports bike, or an off-road mile muncher, the company appears to be flavour of the month.
And we think the plaudits are much deserved. At a time when other manufacturers seem to have battened down the hatches and are content to play it safe, or copy the competition, BMW is prepared to push the boundaries and design new, exciting bikes that create, rather than follow, trends.
But BMW wasn’t always quite so fêted. When I ﬁrst got into bikes about 20 years ago, I was ridiculed by my mates when I bought my BMW R100 RS.
At that time I had a Ducati 888 to mess about on, but I wanted an inexpensive and practical bike for work errands, and the
RS seemed a sensible proposition.
But boy did I have to suffer abuse. Those endless jokes about pipes and slippers. People telling me that it was a good job my bike had panniers. That way I’d always be able to carry with me a cardigan and pair of pyjamas.
My did I laugh!
Even ten years ago, there was still a stigma attached to riding a BMW. BMW riders had beards and were probably members of the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists, or whatever it was called.
A visit to your local Ducati or Aprilia dealer on a Saturday morning would see you rubbing shoulders with a merry band of media folk, investment bankers and property developers, with invitations to snort cocaine at a forthcoming party at a mate’s house.
By contrast, a visit to your local BMW dealer would involve you in conversations about congestion on the A303, recommended camping sites, and the merits of earplugs. Or so it seemed.
The bottom line is that BMW simply wasn’t cool. And, in truth, it probably still isn’t today, despite the increasing credibility of the Bavarian company’s output.
An S1000 RR may be a brilliant machine. So is the K1600 GT and the 1200 GS, but it’s probably true to say that BMWs are still bikes that are admired more than they are adored.
To me, this seems grossly unfair. But I come across it all the time.
You may be aware that, here at Motolegends, we have built up a collection over the years of some of the more iconic bikes from the sixties and seventies. We’ll always allow customers to come and look at them in the warehouse. Many have owned these bikes in the past, some still do, and others want to in the future.
When these visitors see our Italian bikes like the Guzzi Le Mans, the Laverda Jota or Ducati 900SS, they positively drool.
When they catch a glimpse of our British bikes like the Bonneville TT and the Hurricane X75, there’s sometimes a tear of nostalgia lingering in the corner of an eye.
And when they are confronted by classic Jap machinery like the Honda CB750, the Suzuki GT 750, or the Kawasaki Z1, they are transported back to their youth, and reminisce excitedly about their adventures before wives, mortgages and kids got in the way.
By contrast, our Paris Dakar 80GS, R90S, and R100RS rarely elicit anything more enlightening than the fact that a neighbour or relative once had one of those.
Perhaps it’s a German thing; I don’t know. Perhaps we are pre-conditioned to respect German products rather than love them. Or do we just ﬁnd it difﬁcult to love the Germans?
I suppose it’s the same with four wheeled machines. In most objectively certiﬁable ways a Porsche is usually a better car than its nearest Ferrari equivalent, yet the Italian marque elicits so much more passion and emotion than does its northern European competitor.
But whilst I can recognise the phenomenon – let’s call it a prejudice for that is what it is – I simply don’t share the lack of enthusiasm that bikers display towards the BMW marque.
As far as I’m concerned, BMW has always built brilliantly engineered and exciting motorcycles that deserve our affections.
Okay, they may not always be the most aesthetically appealing of machines, but BMW’s bikes have always been interesting and innovative.
Our R90S, for example, is a heck of a bike. Launched in 1973, it was good for a genuine 125mph. It could reach 60mph in under ﬁve seconds, and knock out a quarter mile in about 13 seconds.
It’s still a lovely bike to ride, forty years on. In truth, it’s got as much power and speed as you can use on today’s roads. It handles superbly, brakes pretty well, doesn’t rattle and doesn’t drop oil. I could ride it to the south of France and back, knowing that it would get there, would start every time, and would still put a smile on my face when we got to the twisties.
Try saying the same about a British bike of the era; a Norton Commando, or a Meriden era Triumph.
And such a trip on a forty year old Ducati is almost unimaginable. Japanese bikes have a great reputation for quality and reliability but, even so, I can’t think that I would willingly undertake such a journey on a forty year old Suzuki GT750, or a Yamaha TX 750.
Beautiful as some of these machines are, these days you’d want to keep them somewhere warm and dry, unleashing them on the road only for the occasional sunny Sunday morning excursion.
But you could still use an R90S as your daily ride; it really is that good.
I feel similarly passionate about our GS.
Ours is a 1985 Paris Dakar model but, let’s face it, in 1980 BMW basically invent- ed the dual purpose, off-road motorcycle.
And today pretty much all the adventure bikes that crowd the car park can trace their origins back to BMW’s original concept. The formula has changed very little. Wide bars, long travel suspension, knobbly tyres, large tank, high exhaust, shaft drive and so on.
And as with the R90S, our R80GS is a bike that you could still use in anger.
A crossing of the Sahara is well within its capabilities.
Truth be told, given the weight and the sophisticated technology involved in a modern adventure bike, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t prove a better bet than a current GS.
I could go on. And many people say that I do, so I will!
My day to day bike for going to meetings, and for trips into London, is still my trusty old R100RS, a bike that is now over thirty years old. But I love it. Its fairing makes it a terriﬁc tourer, but on an A road there’s still very little trafﬁc that can’t be despatched with a simple twist of the wrist.
It is this total faith in BMW’s engineering credentials that meant that when I decided to go down the café-racer, custom-bike path, my ﬁrst thought was to use a BMW as the starting point.
An old British bike would have been the obvious choice, but I felt I could end up with a heap of trouble. An old Honda or Kawasaki was an alternative, but the result would probably have been something too technically complex and nervous for my needs.
What I wanted was something simple and totally bullet-proof. Something that would start ﬁrst time and never let me down. Something with genuine retro appeal, good looks, a great soundtrack, and enough go to expose my teeth.
Lacking time, good taste, even the most basic mechanical skills, and patience, I turned to Kevin at Kevil’s Speed Shop.
He did me proud.
Our ﬁrst bike was a classic, stripped-down, back to basics, single-seat, café-racer.
It looks the business, goes like stink (well stinkish) and makes a noise like nothing else. (Well actually, it sounds a bit like an old Triumph twin with straight-through exhausts.)
Okay, so the brakes are still a bit dodgy, and if you’re not fortunate enough to have piles, the ride could provide the assistance you need. Other than that, it’s brilliant.
Indeed, so much did we like Kevin’s café-racer that we had him build our Great Escape tribute bike; the kind of bike that would perhaps have been used in the ﬁlm if McQueen had had any interest whatsoever in authenticity.
Like our other Kevil’s Speed Shop bike, our Great Escape bike is a real hooligan. It’s what our American friends would call a Bar Hopper, except I’m too old to go to bars. I prefer Charlie Boorman’s description: it’s a bike to go and fetch the Sunday papers on. Actually, we have the papers delivered, but you get my drift!
If I’m popping into Guildford or Godalming, or going over to Cranleigh, it’s my go-to bike. I was following a friend on it recently, and we were absolutely flying down the A281. My cheeks were vibrating, my eyes were watering, and my Irvin flying jacket was flapping behind me in the wind. But with no speedo, I couldn’t be sure of my speed. How fast were we going, I asked when we stopped. Eighty? Perhaps ninety? We rarely got above ﬁfty, my pal informed me.
Be that as it may, it sure felt fun.
Which brings me back to my central point. I simply love BMWs. They’re nearly always different and interesting. But they’re built for the long haul. And whether we’re talking about a new BMW or an old one, a BMW is a bike you always feel you want to ride rather than polish. And that for me is why they’re so special.
You might fall head-over-heels in love with an old British bike, but you know that one day she’s going to let you down. It’s easy to become infatuated with a sexy and curvaceous Italian beauty, but she’s not going to be easy to live with; you can bet on that. If you go Japanese, you risk having a relationship that, whilst rewarding, might be quite high maintenance!
A BMW is different. It might not always be love at ﬁrst sight, but with a BMW you can develop a deeper relationship. It’s a more meaningful kind of love that just gets stronger the more time you spend together.
I also happen to think that old BMWs are ineffably cool in a kind of understated, I don’t have to try too hard, sort of way.
Get yourself a classic Beemer and you’ll never regret it; you’ll have a friend you can rely on; a friend for life.
Which reminds me, does anybody know where I can ﬁnd an immaculate and original K1 or HP2 Enduro? Sureﬁre future classics in my book!
Thanks for reading.