With the sheer variety of motorcycle types available today, it’s often easy to forget that some are fairly-recent creations. The adventure bike category, for example, didn’t exist until BMW launched the 1981 R80 G/S. Others, though, evolved from older designs, such as how UJMs fostered standards. And BMW has some familiarity with this as well. That’s because, in an attempt to change its image with the BMW R90S, it helped create the sport-touring motorcycle segment.
The BMW R90S added ‘sport’ to the brand’s touring motorcycle image
Back in the 1970s, BMW’s motorcycle division faced an image problem, MCN explains. While the German company had a sterling reputation for building comfortable touring bikes, consumers considered them to be staid, sluggish, and outdated, Cycle World and Motorcyclist report. And that wasn’t helped by the Honda CB750, which created huge waves in the motorcycle industry with its reliability and performance, Silodrome reports.
Enter Bob Lutz, who would later be a chairman at GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and at the time was a BMW VP. He wanted the company to build a flagship bike like the CB750, the Norton Commando, and other contemporary superbikes. However, the bike had to handle better than the CB750, be just as reliable, and have a stylish design, RideApart reports. So, BMW enlisted the help of Hans Muth, who would later design the Suzuki Katana, CW reports.
The result was the 1974-1976 BMW R90S. Mechanically, it’s based on the earlier R75/5, MotorcycleClassics reports. However, it has a larger 898cc air-cooled flat-twin engine with upgraded carburetors and a different exhaust. It makes 67 hp and 56 lb-ft, sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed transmission.
While that doesn’t sound impressive today, it gives the BMW R90S a 124-mph top speed and a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, Silodrome reports. And it helped the bike win the very first AMA Superbike race in 1976, Hagerty reports. Plus, it genuinely did handle better than the CB750, RideApart reports.
The R90S was also the first BMW with twin front discs, MCN reports. And, most crucially, it came with a wind-shielding fairing, and offered factory hard-sided bags and a dual seat, CW reports. All these things—wind protection, luggage space, performance—add up to a sport-touring motorcycle, CW explains.
What’s it like riding the BMW R90S today?
As a classic motorcycle, the BMW R90S isn’t as sharp or as fast as its modern equivalents, Motorcyclist reports. Its transmission isn’t quite as refined as its engine, and its brakes are best-described as wooden, CW reports. Plus, as a shaft-driven bike, poor throttle control can cause rear suspension ‘jacking.’ And its supplementary clock has a tendency to drain the battery, Hagerty reports.
However, part of the reason why classic BMW motorcycles are so popular today is their everyday rideability, and the R90S is no different. The air-cooled shaft-driven engine is easy to repair and run, Hagerty reports. While the vintage sport-touring motorcycle isn’t quick, it still covers ground easily, CW reports. And the riding position is genuinely all-day comfortable, as is the ride. Plus, with a 441-lb curb weight, the BMW R90S is fairly light, MCN reports.
Pricing and buyer’s guide
As with many other classic BMW bikes, R90S values are on the rise. Though even when they were new, they weren’t cheap.
Back in 1975, a BMW R90S cost the modern equivalent of $14k, Autoweek reports. And while they didn’t handle quite as well, the bike’s Japanese rivals were noticeably cheaper. Today, the average R90S hovers in the $8000-$12,000 range on Bring a Trailer. And a pristine example can go for as much as $16k, Hagerty reports.
The later BMW R90S models are the most desirable, due to several upgrades. In 1975 the company strengthened some of the engine components and drilled the front rotors to improve wet-condition braking, MCN reports. The transmission was also strengthened, Motorcyclist reports. And in 1976 the bike got new brake calipers and new swingarms. Many owners have also welded in front fork cross-pieces and screwed down the standard steering dampers for additional high-speed stability and handling, ClassicBikeHub reports.
Still, this is one vintage sport-touring motorcycle that can still tackle modern roads.
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