The Condor A580: The Swiss Military’s BMW Bike Alternative

The G-Wagon isn’t the only off-road vehicle with military history. Motorcycles were commonly seen transporting messages and troops—usually over difficult terrain. Today, those going off-road on 2 wheels prefer dual sports or adventure bikes. BMW is a popular choice for the latter. But decades before the first BMW ADV, the Swiss military turned to Condor’s bikes. More specifically, the Condor A580.

A short history of Condor’s bikes

The name ‘Condor’ first appeared on a bike in 1901, Bonhams reports. Technically, though, the company that would become Condor-Werke-AG first started making bikes in 1893, BikeExif reports. At that point, motorcycles were still mostly just bicycles with motors.

Drab-green Condor A350, with rear luggage packs and mounted shotgun
Condor A350 | Rock Island Auction

As with Brough-Superior, Condor didn’t make its own bike engines, Motorcycle Classics reports. Instead, the Swiss company bought its engines from other suppliers, which, after WWII, even included Ducati, Cyber Motorcycle reports.

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The Ducati 350cc single-cylinder was used in the late 1970s in the Condor A350, Bikeurious reports. The engine’s compression was reduced, which lowered output from 25 to 17 hp. However, it meant the motorcycle was very reliable, and could still run on lower-octane fuel. Plus, the A350 used rubber engine mounts for added comfort, like the Norton Commando, Rider Magazine reports. All these features might explain why a few Condor A350 bikes were still in service until 2001.

Before the A350, though, Condor provided the Swiss military with another robust service bike: the A580.

The Condor A580: specs and its BMW bike connection

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The Condor A580 isn’t technically an adventure motorcycle. BMW was the first to produce such a bike in 1980, with the R 80 G/S. However, there is a BMW element within the A580.

Blue-gray 1953 Condor A580 motorcycle in a parking lot
1953 Condor A580 | Bring a Trailer

BMW’s flat-twin motorcycles were used extensively in WWII, and the Swiss military forces wanted something that could match their reliability. The 1947-1957 A580 was Condor’s attempt at making a rival to the German brand’s bikes.

Gray 1949 Condor A580 with sidecar in a grassy field
1949 Condor A580 with sidecar | Bring a Trailer

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Like the BMWs, the Condor A580 has an air-cooled flat-twin engine, a 20-hp 577cc one, Bring a Trailer reports. These bikes are heavy, especially when equipped with a sidecar. However, the two-cylinder engine made plenty of low-end torque. And, just like many of BMW’s motorcycles, the A580 has a low-maintenance shaft drive. Plus, like the later A350, the engine compression is lower than in the equivalent BMW, for similar reasons.

Throughout its production run, Condor did upgrade the A580 somewhat. For example, 1953 saw the addition of plunger rear suspension and telescopic front forks, Bonhams reports. The valve lifters were also changed to self-adjusting hydraulic ones. But from day 1, Condor gave its military bike something fairly unusual: an 8-speed transmission. Keep in mind, the 1956 BMW R60 had a 4-speed.

The shifter and low-high-range selector of the 1953 Condor A580
1953 Condor A580 transmission detail | Bring a Trailer

To be fair, there is an asterisk to the Condor A580’s transmission. Really, the bike has a 4-speed transmission with high and low ranges, BaT explains. It’s kind of like the transfer case on a modern 4WD vehicle. Top speed in low range was only about 31 mph, half the max speed in high range. But like Rokon’s bikes, the Condor A580 could do that speed even over rough terrain.

Pricing and availability

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Condor’s bikes were never made in large quantities, and they were never sold in the US. However, after military service, many did find their way into Swiss civilian hands, and occasionally pop up for sale in the US.

Black 1959 BMW R60 on the lawn
1959 BMW R60 | Bring a Trailer

For all its genuine capability, the Condor A580 is arguably a bit under-valued. A 1953 model recently sold on BaT for $6700. In contrast, a 1959 BMW R60 recently went for $10,500 on BaT.

BMW’s motorcycles may be a bit more stylish. But Condor’s bikes have the durability to keep up on pavement or dirt.

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