Over the years, BMW have produced various motorbikes, but if not for the Treaty of Versaille they may not have started. Up until 1919, BMW had produced aircraft engines, yet they were forced to stop because of the German air force ban. BMW diversified by turning towards motorbike production and the first model was the R32. We’re looking into the history of the R32 and how it started off the BMW bike line.
BMW created the flat-twin M2B15 engine in 1919 and it was initially meant to be a portable industrial engine. Instead, it was transferred to Victoria and Helios motorbikes, with the latter being built by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. This was merged with BMW and General Director Franz Josef Popp asked Design Director Max Friz to look over the Helios.
After inspecting the machine, Friz condemned the design and it was decided the Helios would be remade. The new design was called the BMW R32 and production began in 1923. The R32 possessed a 486 cc M2B33 engine that gave it a top speed of 59 mph. To stop there being any cooling issues, Fritz made sure the cylinder heads of the R32’s engine projected towards the front wheel and back wheel. The R32 stood out from other motorbikes because it featured a recirculating wet sump oiling system while others used a total-loss oiling system.
Ergonomics played a large role in the design, with the R32 having a large, padded seat and distinct handlebars. The shape of the bars helped to provide a comfortable riding experience.
The R32 debuted at the 1923 Paris Motorcycle Salon and gained a lot of attention. It acted as the foundation of all future boxer-powered BMW motorbikes. Other manufacturers like Douglas and Harley-Davidson followed BMW’s lead in orienting cylinder heads to face towards the back wheel and front wheel. BMW had adopted this from the British ABC motorbike. The R32 also used shaft drive and this was incorporated into every other model until 1994’s chain driven F650.
The R32 is arguably the most important BMW motorbike because it was the original and set the tone for everything that came after.
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