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The R 42 and R 47 BMWs - the next generation


By the mid-1920s, BMW had established itself as a manufacturer of quality motorcycles. The R 32 was the touring motorcyclists' choice, while the sporting R 37 was the machine for the discerning and well-healed riders looking for power and performance. The world was moving fast and technology was progressing at speed. BMW had to keep pace and develop its motorcycles further.

R 42 production in 1927

The pursuit of power and reliability led to the introduction, at the Berlin Motor Show, in November 1926, of the R 42 - the successor to the R 32 - this time using a second-generation, side-valve motor; the M43a. The new motor was installed in the original frame that was slightly modified (with straight front tubes and a curved saddle support) to give better weight distribution and stability: an important factor with the increased power and when being used with a sidecar. Braking was improved also, with the addition of an expanding-shoe front brake and an outer shoe brake fitted on the driveshaft. By all accounts, lights were still optional!

The new motor produced 12 hp at 3,400 rpm - almost a 50 per cent increase on the 8.5 hp of its predecessor. BMW engineers had worked on the original M33a motor, and using lessons learnt in the racing R 37, produced a more efficient powerplant that gave excellent fuel consumption.

The side-valve motor used the 68 x 68 mm dimensions and had 4.9:1 compression but used a wedge-shaped combustion chamber to improve combustion efficiency. The heat was dissipated from the cast-iron cylinders by circumferential fins, and the head used a double-story, cast alloy, finned cover. This not only provided cooling but the twin layers provided extra protection to the head in the event of a fall.

A gear-driven camshaft, above the one-piece crank, drove the valves. The tappets were flat-faced and only as wide as the cam-lobe, thus reducing wear and saving weight. The aluminium pistons used three rings which had a relatively large clearance as the aluminium expanded more than the steel cylinders. This caused the engine to clatter when cold but run quietly at speed.

Rudolf Schleicher found a new, slotted-type piston in America; these slots diminished the heat transmission in the piston, reduced expansion and made it possible for greater engineering tolerances, giving quieter running with less of a tendency to seize when running hot.

The carburettor was a more user-friendly BMW 22mm two-valve that was easier to keep in tune than the three-valve on the sports R 37, and gave far greater performance than the R 32 with its simpler unit. The power was increased but the top speed of 95 km/h was about the same as the R 32, despite the fact that the R 42 was heavier.

Compared to its predecessor, the R 42's sales price of 1,510 Reichsmarks brought it well within reach of many German motorcycle enthusiasts, which helped the brand sell a staggering 6,500 of them between 1926 and 1928 - much more than the combined sales of the three previous models.

R 47 sports boxer

The R 37 was a limited production performance motorcycle aimed at the true sports enthusiast. It was, for the time, fast but fearfully expensive at 2,900 Reichsmarks. It did however prove that there was a market for such a highly focussed motorcycle, which is why work had started on the ohv sports version of the R 42.

The R 42 with its M43a motor, had been launched in 1926 and was always intended as the 'bread and butter' model. Work was, at the same time, progressing on a more sports oriented model, with a new, overhead valve motor. While the R 37 had been an exclusive motorcycle, its successor would be a more affordable (1,850 Reichsmarks) sports machine which was intended to sell profitably in greater numbers, although not as a volume seller.

The R 47 was released in 1927 and to keep development costs down, used the chassis from the side-valve R 42. The M51a overhead valve motor was what separated the two models. The motor produced 18 hp at 4,000 rpm and was capable of 110 km/h. The cylinders were cast iron and the new aluminium head was given a distinctive one-piece cover attached by a central fastener. Longitudinal fins cooled the head.

The carburettor and most of the internals were taken straight from the side-valve, M43a-powered R 42. The overhead valve configuration and an increase in compression to 5.8:1 gave the sports Boxer the added performance. This was the customer model, but for the track there was the SpM51 motor that produced 31 hp. This was a quantum leap in performance in a very short space of time for BMW, considering that it was only in 1923 that the R 32 was producing just 8.5 hp.

Like the R 42, the R 47 sports Boxer cost much less than the R 37 model it replaced and the sales reflected this. Whereas BMW only produced 152 R 37s between 1925 and 1926, there were 1,720 R 47 machines that rolled off the assembly lines between 1927 and 1928 - more than 11 times as many.

90 Years of BMW Motorrad

The R 52 to R 63 models - BMW's relentless development pace continues…

In the five years since the launch of the R 32, BMW had established itself as a manufacturer of quality touring motorcycles. They were well engineered, reliable and, on the racetrack, they were more than capable of finishing in the winner's circle. It was now time to consolidate this success with a more diverse model line-up.

A new range of motorcycles was required and would include Touring and Sports models using both overhead and side-valve configurations in 500cc and 750cc, giving riders even more choices.

A new M 57 500cc side-valve motor would power the R 52 touring machine that went on sale in 1928. This was the base model, if you like, and was effectively a replacement for the M 43-powered R 42 introduced in 1926. It would be the last 500cc machine BMW would produce until the R 5 in 1936.

This third-generation Boxer motor, however, would have a 78mm stroke, instead of the previous 68mm, which was to allow for the larger displacement of the 750cc models, while retaining a 68mm bore. In the 500cc M 57 the bore would be 63mm. This required a new design for the head. The design featured a shallower combustion chamber with larger valves, which was necessary to keep the overall engine width the same as on the R 42 and so not restrict lean angle.

The long-stroke engine, mounted in a new frame, produced 12 hp at 3,400 rpm and retained the BMW 22mm two-valve carburettor that had proven to be reliable. The M 57 proved itself ideal for the basic 500cc touring model. It produced adequate power and the long-stroke configuration delivered an excellent amount of torque, which was more than useful when using a sidecar. It was not the glamour machine of this new generation but it helped maintain BMW's relentless development pace. It was priced the same as the R 42 it replaced (1,510 Reichsmarks).

However, the motorcycle market was demanding more power and engine size was becoming a selling point - even back then - so 500cc was no longer the universal requirement. Upsizing was the name of the game, as would become apparent with the R 62, which was the first production 750cc BMW bike.

By enlarging the cylinders of the 500cc side-valve engine, BMW was able to offer a model in this 750cc class. The new R 62 was introduced in November 1928 at the London Motorcycle Show. Again, it was touring, rather than sports orientated and this larger-displacement side-valve motor would be the mainstay of the touring BMW motorcycles up to 1942.

The 'M56' engine was in fact very similar to the 500cc M57. The crankcase was strengthened and the one piece steel crank was redesigned for stability and made possible the use of one-piece con rods with roller bearings. The increase in capacity put more stress on the lubrication system, so it was re-designed with oil supplied to the bearings under pressure. This bike and the other tourers that would follow would be workhorses and many would be fitted with a sidecar, so this improvement in lubrication was vital, if BMW was to retain its reputation for strength and reliability.

New components included reinforced gearbox, larger brake drum in the front wheel and spiral-tooth bevel gears on the final drive. This was a tourer but ground clearance was still a design consideration. The finned double storey cover was retained for cooling and impact strength. The BMW 22mm two-valve carburettor from previous models was fitted and at 3,400 rpm the 18 hp output (50 per cent more than the R 52's 12 hp) could propel the R 62 to a top speed of 115 km/h, with significantly more torque than its 500cc stablemate.

More than 8,700 R 52 and R 62 models were produced between 1928 and 1929 - outselling any of the previous models - while the sporting derivatives that followed were also successful. The next logical step had been to fit the half-litre model (the R 57) with the engine from the R 47 overhead-valve sports model. With the same horsepower output as its predecessor, improvements to the chassis and suspension, and improved braking power, more than 1,000 R 57's were sold, despite the 20 per cent price premium against the R 52. Arguably though, it was competing against the larger-engined R 62, which had the added excitement of the 750cc engine but only cost around 10 per cent more than the smaller R 52.

For the 'petrol heads' of the day though, the R 63 was the bike to own, if you could afford it. This high-performance version of the R 62 was high-revving and high priced, at 2,100 Reichsmarks making it an expensive option, albeit less than the original R 32 that had gone on sale five years earlier.

The R 63 used aluminium pistons, rather than the standard cast iron items, and was dubbed the 'Golden Arrow' by the press, due to its notable performance figures. The R 63's OHV engine produced 24 horsepower - an impressive figure for the time - and although fuel consumption was higher than its predecessors (5.1 litres per 100 km) it was its blisteringly fast 120 km/h (75 mph) top speed that attracted the most attention, as it was the fastest production BMW of that time and certainly one of the quickest motorcycles on sale to the general public.

An impressive 1,800 units of the R 57 and R 63 OHV derivatives left the assembly lines from 1928 to 1930, by which time another two motorcycles had appeared in the line-up - the 'star-framed' R 11 and R 16 models.

90 Years in 90 Seconds

It's an almost impossible task to condense nine decades of BMW Motorrad history into just 90 seconds of film, but prepared to be inspired by this short movie that captures some of the most iconic machines of the last 90 years of the brand's important heritage.

From the early 'Rennsport' works racing motorcycles to the all-new R 1200 GS travel enduro that will soon be delivered to customers worldwide, the '90 Years in 90 Seconds' movie features many of the iconic bikes that have helped establish BMW Motorrad as one of the world's most illustrious and enduring motorcycle brands.

As the film counts up to 90 seconds, it shows archive footage stretching back over the decades, which will no doubt rekindle lost memories for many long-time fans of the marque. There are clips showing prototype boxer-twin enduros in racing trim - the forerunners to the production R 80 G/S that changed the motorcycling world when it was launched to universal acclaim in 1980. The brand's motorsport heritage is also clear to see when the fully-kitted out 'GS' desert racers leap onto the screen. On these bikes, Hubert Auriol and Belgian Gaston Rahier shared four Paris-Dakar Rally victories from 1981 to 1985.

Iconic touring and sports machines are also shown in action, including the 1976 R 100 RS, a Boxer-engined tourer with 125mph (200km/h) performance and the ability to compete with the Japanese invasion of the time. It was also the first mass-produced fully-faired machine onto the market, with more than 33,000 of them bought by customers worldwide.

Four-cylinder BMWs feature in the film too, such as the avant-garde styled, high-performance K1 of 1989 that was never originally planned for volume production, but found almost 7,000 aficionados to buy it. As the top model in the range at the time, with its aerodynamic body including both front-wheel and rear-end fairing, the K 1 was the first motorcycle in the world to feature a fully-controlled three-way catalytic converter. Its 16-valve four-cylinder power unit with digitally controlled electronic engine management offered ideal conditions for this superior technology.

But it's not just bikes that feature in this movie, as a classic BMW M1 'Supercar' from the late 1970s puts in an appearance. And a closer look at many of the riders reveals an insight into early BMW rider clothing and equipment that set new standards in the two-wheeled world when brought to the market. In fact, back in the 1970s, BMW was the only motorcycle manufacturer to develop rider gear as well as motorcycle helmets.

Many other historically important BMW bikes feature in the film that quickly speeds its way right up to the present day, with recent new market segments added to the model range, such as the C 600 series of maxi-scooters. Sporting icons also play their part in the film, such as stunt rider Chris Pfeiffer on the F 800 R and Superbike World Championship racer Marco Melandri on the S 1000 RR. Also, new-for-2013 models are included, such as the F 800 GT, HP4, and of course the all-new R 1200 GS which has been making headlines all over the globe as the starring machine in the One World. One R 1200 GS 'Ride of your Life' Tour.

Seemingly no sooner than it has begun, this 90-second whistle-stop tour through the archives of BMW Motorrad finishes with the simple tagline 'Unstoppable since 1923'. Who wouldn't agree with that?

Watch the film now at www.youtube.com/bmwmotorrad

90 Years of BMW Motorrad

Henne came first followed by the egg!

Motorcyclists and competitive sport go hand in hand. From a spectator's point of view, man and motorcycle against like-for-like competition makes for compelling viewing. Not just on the rigours of a circuit, but anywhere a motorcycle can be ridden. One such arena is the straight and long length of surface dedicated to achieving motorcycle land speed records - a subject that BMW Motorrad knows more about than most.

The history of outright motorcycle speed records is long and continuous, and has led to men and women becoming famous for their attempts as well as actually setting speed records. One such star that shone brighter than most is legendary German rider, racer, car driver and dedicated champion of motorcycling, Ernst Jakob Henne. Of the many motorcycle race wins and championship titles to his name, his fame reached its greatest height when he captured a staggering 76 land speed records between 1929-1937.

Henne's first step to greatness started at just 15 when he secured his motorcycle licence. At the age of 19, with a self-funded mechanic's apprenticeship gained, Henne was already a master technician and tactician, and such skills were rewarded with a working contract with BMW. And then, at 23 years of age, Henne seized upon a chance to enter a motorcycle race aboard a friend's machine and finished in third place. Henne's successful motorcycle racing career had started.

Finally, after protracted negotiations, Henne reached agreement with his BMW employers to enable him to chase land speed records on BMW Motorrad machinery. Some of his records were set while riding a supercharged 750cc (735cc) machine based on the BMW R 63. In 1929, and in the space of just seven hours on 19 September, Henne smashed eight world records. Unfortunately, only half were officially recognised, but Henne was not deterred...

Henne and his BMW Motorrad machinery went from strength to strength. He pioneered aerodynamics with tight-fitting clothing and a helmet shape that is still favoured by today's fanatical downhill speed-skiers. With assistance from a growing army of friends and technical experts in a bid to combat the growing global competition, Henne encompassed his machines in wind-cheating bodywork. The famous enclosed and very streamlined aircraft cockpit-style was painted white and gave rise to the tag "Henne and his egg", which sat nicely with his nickname of "The White Ghost" from competing in all-white garments.

Henne's relentless determination came to fruition on 28 November 1937, when he set a new World Landspeed Record on a closed German autobahn. Sat within the confines of his fully enclosed fairing, Henne completed the necessary two-way run on his 500cc supercharged BMW. The average speed was recorded as 173.6mph (279.5km/h). Such was the phenomenal speed for the time; it took another fourteen years before it was officially beaten.

After the 'fast one', Ernst Jakob Henne retired from chasing land speed records but never moved away from the thrill of speed and continued riding bikes. Before he passed away on 24th May 2005, Henne recorded one more milestone by reaching his 101st birthday. Ernst Jakob Henne: a gentleman, a legend and one of the fastest men to have lived.


1937: Ernst Henne and his 'eternal' world record of 173.7 mph (279.5 km/h)

Motorcycle land speed records are still being chased and broken today - again with BMW Motorrad machinery. One of the rising stars in this element is Valerie Thompson, a daring lady hailing from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. Her choice of machinery is the 193HP S 1000 RR.

Several years competing in America's popular drag strip scene, including the elite NHRA Pro stock series, fuelled Thompson's desire to chase bigger numbers. In 2011 Thompson got her first chance at land speed racing. There then followed a creditable 201.01mph (323.42km/h) run at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah during the annual BUB speed trial. It was this point in time the young 35-year-old was bitten by the high speed bug. With enough determination to tilt the earth's axis, a handful of friends and armed with a new RR, Valerie Thompson set three new national land speed records in 2012.

Valerie Thompson's personal best top speed of 209.5 mph (337.157 km/h) is claimed to be the fastest speed (measured true speed) achieved on a series production RR to date. This figure was captured on 2 June 2012 at the Mojave Air and Space Port airfield in California. In accordance with strict and enforced rules, the RR was standard apart from the final drive gearing ratio and approved racing-fuel.

So what is it about land speed racing that attracts enthusiasts to ride a bike with the throttle pinned fully open and the engine at the limit of its performance - for more than a few seconds? And how do you prepare yourself and an RR for such an event?

"I guess it is being able to connect the joy of riding a bike and riding it fast in complete safety," says Thompson. "And at the same time set about breaking records. Now the record has been set for a standard production machine, we are going to move into the modified bike class. BMW Motorrad USA is assisting us at Team Valerie Thompson Racing with technical advice. We have also taken delivery of a BMW Motorrad HP programmable ECU and HP-Akrapovič exhaust for the RR, and so now we have a solid footing that will help us to go and set new records.

"When it comes to riding the bike in an attempt to break a record there isn't time to think about anything else apart from technique. There's a series of checks to complete from a long mental list: am I shifting gears at the right time; at the right revs? Are my elbows tucked in enough? Are my knees sticking out too far? Is my crouch good enough? At the same you have to be aware and prepared to make slight changes in direction. Surface cambers or deviations can easily put the bike off line.

"The next important thought is where the end timing light or finish line is? These are important to know because once they are crossed there isn't always a long braking area and at the sorts of speeds you are running, distances are covered so quickly. You have to keep your wits about you and stay focussed. It helps if riding a machine like the RR - not only is it capable of high-speed figures reliably; it is also very, very stable."

More information about Team Valerie Thompson Racing and Valerie's exploits can be found at www.ValerieThompsonracing.com.

90 Years of BMW Motorrad

The R 5 - one of the great BMWs of the 1930s and beyond…

Continuation of chassis and engine design within the hallowed halls of BMW took on a new pace in the mid-to-late 1930s. Motorcycling was a rising tide of popularity. For this and affordability reasons, competition from other manufacturers and countries pushed BMW to revaluate its range of bikes and implement new and improved machines rather than simply revise existing models. The 1936 BMW R 5 and 1937 R 51 became two such benchmark machines.

The implementation of new technology wasn't aimed squarely at motorcycles themselves. BMW placed new ideas, funds and trust in advanced machinery to assist in manufacture i.e. tooling machines and construction processes. This was best seen with the introduction of the R 5 in 1936, where new design and manufacturing processes were heaped upon this newcomer.

BMW served up the R5 as an entirely new model and, design-wise, was a technically advanced, beautiful machine and powerful to boot - valid reasons why the R5 is considered by classic BMW riding fans as the very best of pre-war BMW Boxer motorcycles.

The R 5 appeared with a new frame. The German company had learnt that although the pressed steel, braced and riveted 'Star-concept' frame was originally cheap to produce and strong enough to support sidecar use, it was time consuming to assemble. But instead of returning to brazed frame joints it embraced fully the latest techniques in electric arc-welding. For this reason the R 5 frame was a return to tubular steel but with oval cross-section.

Although the R 5 featured the latest hydraulically-damped telescopic front fork, the rear was still a fixed-rigid assembly, using the tyres and seat mounting as the only form of suspension. Another benefit of the new R 5 frame design was the reduction in weight compared to previous models with pressed steel frame construction. The R 5 weighed in at a ready to ride 165kg.

As far as the engine goes, the R5 retained the 'classic' 494cc and 'square' 68 x 68mm bore/stroke dimensions but featured two chain-driven camshafts above the crankshaft resulting in shorter pushrods actuating the overhead valves and lifting the rpm ceiling. A healthy compression ratio of 6.7:1 and an Amal 5/423 carburettor complete with an 'ear-like' air filter for each cylinder led to a peak power output increase to 24HP at 5,500rpm. All the mechanicals including the new four-speed foot operated gearbox - an auxiliary manual gearchange was incorporated - were housed in an tunnel-type one-piece crankcase; a design that stood the test of time by being used for a further 45-plus years.

Quite simply, the R 5 was a sweet handling performer backed up with an engine that further delivered rider enjoyment. The 200mm drum rear brake wasn't the most effective unit available but it was a marked improvement on BMW's old and simple Cardan drive shaft brake. Top speed was a claimed 86mph (140km/h), which made this OHV 'sports' machine a true speedster even though it was only 'a 500'. The fact that it was priced at 1,550RM also helped it to achieve a production figure of 2,652 units in the years 1936-1937.

Continuous refinement of the R 5 engine continued and appeared elsewhere in BMW's model range with varying capacities. Much of the updates were direct feedback from BMW's racing programme with the 500 Kompressor racing model. A switch to spring supported vertical slider suspension proved its worth when the 500RS took the chequered many times throughout 1937, the most notable in the blue riband Grand Prix series. From this point it was always on the cards that eventually rear suspension of sorts would see the light of day on road-going machinery.

Given that long-term success appeared to be on the cards, R 5 production was cut short. But it was replaced by a machine of perhaps greater standing that would see a long and industrious build life - and quite possibly safeguard the future of BMW following WWII.

The mists of time must have shifted to and forth since 1938, the introductory year of the R 51 and the replacement for R 5. Many people argue the R 51 was the first road-going machine to feature a full sprung chassis but others will argue the R 61 was. If it was, then it was only by a few months. But the truth is BMW rolled out a series of new machines in 1938 including the R 66 and R 71, and all featured sprung chassis with hydraulically damped telescopic forks and spring supported vertical slider suspension, more commonly known as 'plunger' rear suspension.

Unusually, BMW was not the first to feature rear suspension. Early competition models had leaf spring-style suspension and the 1912/13 Pope had a pair of rear spring plungers. The BMW system did not have a pivoting swingarm as is known today but retained the fixed rear frame. Actual movement of the rear axle including the Cardan shaft box and drum brake was accomplished with it moving up and down two vertical posts (removable for service work) mounted to the back of the fixed rear frame. Springs positioned on the posts, either side (top and bottom) of the rear axle shaft controlled the rate and distance in which the rear axle could move up and down on the two fixed posts. A simple design in itself but one that could be fine tuned with different spring rates, as was often done to tune the rear suspension to deal with the variation in racing arena surfaces on and off road.

T. Reid with his private R 51 SS that he ran in the 1939 Senior TT race

One area the road-biased R 51 achieved fame came with police forces. Thanks to the R 51's fully suspended chassis it was able to cover a variety of road surfaces at a healthy pace. The perfect chassis of the R 51 also proved to be an exemplary starting point for racing machines and the factory produced a run of R 51 SS racing units and a limited edition Rennsport R 51 RS.

The future looked bright for BMW. Sales of R 51 exceeded 3,700 units within two years and the next generation of technically brilliant BMW motorcycles were on the horizon. But so was an event in history that would put paid to BMW's immediate plans for the future. R 51 production was halted due to the outbreak of WWII and the next large capacity model, R 51/2, did not appear until 1950.

March 28, 2013