Believe it or not, BMW motorbikes came before BMW cars, and the company actually started out as an aircraft engine manufacturer. BMW switched to motorbike engines in 1918, and in 1920 it produced its first engine, a two-stroke 148cc motor called the Kurier. The brand started to make a name for itself in 1923, when legendary BMW designer Max Friz drew up plans for a new kind of motorcycle – what was to become the 486cc R32, a bike capable of reaching 60mph.
The growing motorbike racing scene spurred further production from BMW, and in 1929 it was a BMW 750cc that set a new land speed record of 134mph. Then, despite the demands of WWII on German production facilities, BMW produced the R75, a bike with two seats and a side car. This iconic bike was frequently seen in war films, and was even sent to Harley Davidson to copy after it made a favourable impression on US personnel in Germany.
BMW’s motorcycle business flourished, and was selling over 23,000 bikes a year by 1955. In 1960, the fastest Boxer available at the time was produced, capable of almost 110mph. In 1973, as BMW celebrated 50 years, the 500,000th BMW rolled off the production line, with the new R90 900cc model brought out to celebrate.
As it entered the 21st century, BMW continued to face its Japanese competition head on. The S1000RR superbike introduced in 2009 represented a shift into new territory, and the K1600 series of 2011 became the first six-cylinder BMW. As well as achieving new levels of performance, BMW has used its electronics expertise to develop advanced traction control, boosting its bikes’ safety credentials.