From cruisers to dual sports and sport bikes to motocross, riders today have a panoply of motorcycle type and style choices, but before the 1970s, consumers had far fewer choices when it came to motorcycle type. It was design innovations from BMW Motorrad during this decade that gave birth to many of today’s ubiquitous bike types. From the go-anywhere adventure bike, race-inspired superbike, and fully-faired sport-tourer, we have BMW Motorrad to thank for the creative innovations around the air-cooled, flat twin, shaft driven “R” platform. Love 'em or hate 'em it was those bikes that set the trend for many to follow.
Before the introduction of the R90S in 1973, it had been 50 years since BMW released a motorcycle with an engine that displaced more than 750cc. But it was far more than a bigger bore that made the R90S revolutionary for its time. The S delivered 67 horsepower at 7,000 RPM with a top speed of 125 mph. While not the most powerful bike of the era, (that distinction belonged to Kawasaki’s Z1 at 82bhp) the R90S was a complete package of refined handling, comfort, and head-turning style. Featuring a unique fairing with an integrated instrument cluster, the S had a sporty stepped saddle and came regaled in a flashy smoked gray color scheme and later the iconic and very un-BMW Daytona Orange color option.
With factory hard luggage mounted the R90S was capable of long-distance, comfortable, high-speed touring while rivaling the handling characteristics of its Italian competitors, and performance of the Japanese contemporaries. Any doubts about the R90S’s sports capabilities were quashed when the bike went on to win the 1976 U.S. Superbike championship. Its reliable engine, smooth, comfortable handling, and high-end performance all came together for what was the best superbike money could buy.
It’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn't buy a fully-faired sport-touring bike. Before the release of the BMW R100RS in 1976, riders who wanted a fairing that would protect their entire body from wind and the elements had to seek out aftermarket solutions that delivered varying levels of success. But the R100RS was much more than a flat twin boxer with a plastic fairing bolted on. Its design and aesthetic were nothing short of revolutionary in ‘76. Wind tunnel designed and purpose-built, the RS looked like nothing else on the road and created a new genre of sport-touring motorcycles. Radical for its time, the R100RS offered further improvements upon the successes of the R90S, with an emphasis on luxurious long-haul touring and performance. Like the R90S before, the R100RS also had a top speed of 125mph but delivered more power at a claimed 70bhp at 7250rpm, with its larger 94mm bored cylinders.
Not without its shortcomings: American journalists complained about the Bike’s European-style low, short handlebars, and the stock windshield, which was notorious for sending a blast of wind into a rider's helmet, the R100RS was nonetheless groundbreaking in its style, functionality, and performance. All sport touring bikes of today from all manufacturers owe their heritage to the BMW R100RS of 1976.
1979 R 800G/S Prototype
The most important motorcycle that BMW Motorrad conceived and designed during the 1970’s would not in-fact be available to consumers until 1980 as what we know as the R80GS. While BMW had attempted the development of an enduro bike around the R engine earlier in the decade, it wasn't until the late 70’s that the GS was truly born. The R80GS prototype featured long, telescopic forks with 9.84 inches of travel, a lightweight tubular steel frame, and centrally mounted single telescopic swing arm with 7.9 inches of travel. Built around the R800cc motor, the GS prototype’s motor was bored to 90.8mm and it’s stroke length was shortened from 70.6mm to 61.5mm, significantly shortening width of the horizontally opposed boxer engine. What’s more, the entire package weighed only 313lbs.
Competing against the smaller two-stroke enduro machines of the time, the R80GS went on to win numerous off-road competitions before the turn of the decade. After further development of rear the single-sided swing arm or monolever as it became later known, the GS we know today was born. With the R800GS. BMW had yet again created a whole new genre of motorcycle, an off-road/on-road touring machine that invented the adventure riding segment which thirty years on, is still growing in popularity with riders around the globe.