What Is the History of BMW Motorcycles in the USA?


BMW Motorrad began producing motorcycles on authorization from U.S. authorities in 1947. After difficulties in the 1950s, the company exported three successful motorcycle models to the United States in 1968. The success of these models led to greater market presence throughout the 1970s and to popularity by the 1980s.

While BMW's motorcycle operations began in 1921, it released its first motorcycle, the R32, in 1923. At the end of the second World War, the German company was expressly forbidden to build motorcycles. The United States relented on this issue in 1947, and production surpassed 17,000 units by 1950. Most of these motorcycles were designed for the German market, and very few made it to the United States until John Penton beat a motorcycle speed record riding a BMW R69 from New York to Los Angeles in 53 hours and 11 minutes in 1959.

The first modern, successful motorcycles BMW introduced to the American public were the R50US, the R60US and the R69US. These motorcycles featured telescoping front forks and a frame without sidecar lugs. Beginning in 1970 the company introduced a specialty product line for the U.S. market consisting of the R50/5, R60/5 and the R75/5. These motorcycles featured engine displacements of 500, 600 and 750 cubic centimeters, respectively. Notably, this line standardized the American-style telescopic forks while eliminating the earlier triangulated Earles fork system common to earlier models.