Icons & Innovators: BMW: Relentless Evolution

  • Daniel Pund

If BMW motorcycles were cars, they would be Porsche 911s. Both are high-end, high-priced forms of transportation that are made in Germany and powered by horizontally opposed engines, but the comparison alludes more directly to the stubbornness of their respective makers.

These days, no engineer setting out to create a great sports car would begin with a design that planted the engine and its weight behind the rear axle. Such an arrangement causes too many handling challenges. And yet, as the new 997 proves, this flawed configuration works brilliantly.

Likewise, unless you live near a BMW dealership, you do not encounter many shaft-drive, horizontally opposed, air-cooled, twin-cylinder motorcycles. Porsche has been noodling with rear-engine design for four decades or so, which seems like a long time until you consider that BMW’s first bike—the R32, which appeared in 1923—used a shaft drive and a horizontally opposed, air-cooled, twin-cylinder motor. And BMW’s newest two-wheeler, the R1200 R, sends its horizontally opposed, air-cooled power to the rear through a shaft.

BMW has, over the years, devised novel suspension concepts to counteract the shaft drive’s tendency to produce torque-induced poor handling. The company continually has modified the engines to reduce emissions and noise and to increase power. And it has raised the engine so its cam covers do not drag in turns.

Just as Porsche has experimented with front- and mid-engine arrangements, BMW has (and still does) build a variety of other engine types, including the inline-four that powers the K Series of sports and touring machines. Still, the heart of the brand has remained the same for more than 80 years. It has built sport bikes, touring bikes, adventure enduro bikes, and even cruisers using its original configuration. And all of those bikes have displayed styling that is both bizarre and instantly recognizable as BMW’s.

BMW Motorcycles, http://www.bmwmotorcycles.com/

Read Next Article >>
Photo by Scott Williamson/ www.photodesignstudios.com; Automobile courtesy Boulevard Motorcar Company
1948 Delahaye 135M Figoni et Falaschi Narval Cabriolet. The Delahaye Narval, the fantastic...
The new bike was put through its paces during a ride around California’s Salton Sea...
When the fourth-annual Austrian Alpine Rally set off from the starting line in Vienna on the...
Photo by UWE@FISCHER
The new “sport activity coupe,” as BMW calls it, drives with a nimbleness that defies its size…
Photo by Richard Prince
Chevy’s new supercar aims to redefine the American muscle car…
Darin Schnabel/RM Auctions
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLc are soaring at auction...
The nearly 1,000 cc motorcycles draw inspiration from Yamaha’s seven-figure MotoGP race bike…
In both design and performance, the new S-Class Coupes branch out from Mercedes’s historically...
The sedan is set to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A3…
Photo by Daylight Studio Snc
A century of quintessentially Italian carmaking and motorsports…