BMW, Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works – however you want to say it, is Germany's storied motorcycle manufacturer since 1923 (five years before the Munich-based manufacturer built its first car). Now going on 100 years later, BMW's line-up still includes a complete range of bikes using its original 180-degree twin boxer engine architecture ("boxer," since the horizontally opposed pistons in the flat twin move in and out from the crankshaft in unison like the fists of a boxer warming up). The most famous of those boxers powers the GS line, for Gelande and Strasse (land and street) adventure bikes, which co-starred in the travel adventure movies Long Way Down and Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.
In addition to the GSs, there are also excellent sport-touring RTs and R-model roadsters also powered by boxers, as well as an all-new 2021 R18 cruiser powered by BMW's biggest ever boxer twin – a pair of 901 cc cylinders add up to 1802 cc.
Beginning in 2011, BMW began producing K1600GT and K1600GTL touring/sport-touring machines, powered by one of motorcycling's few six-cylinder engines. Exceedingly smooth and powerful, that inline-six was also used in the category defying K1600B "bagger" beginning with the 2018 model year.
For most of its history, BMW seemed content to build motorcycles for, ahem, mature riders, but beginning in 2009 it blew that stodgy stereotype into the weeds with the introduction of the S1000RR, a 999 cc sportbike built to win the world's premier production racing championship, World Superbike. The Germans never quite achieved that goal, but did win the 2010 Superstock championship; the closer-to-stock S1000RR won all but one race in the process. More importantly, in its very first year the S1000RR topped Motorcyle.com’s annual literbike shootout.
Int the last decade, BMW's only gone from strength to strength, continuing to build a broad range of motorcycles for all people and occasions, including a pair of entry-level models produced in collaboration with Indian manufacturer TVS: The G310R and G310GS are powered by 313 cc single-cylinder engines, and both sell for less than $6,000. In 2021, the Germans struck again, introducing a pair of low-priced bikes powered by an all-new 895 cc parallel twin – the F900 R roadster and F900 XR adventure bike.
Here are a few of our current favorite BMW models.
The smallest of BMW's adventure bikes still has plenty of power and performance to take you on all kinds of, ah, adventures, even if it's better suited to ones a bit closer to home. It's a great little bike (literally, only 380 pounds gassed up) for those looking to get started or maybe just looking to simplify and downsize. For 2021, it's now Euro 5-compliant and outfitted with new LED lighting, adjustable levers, and an anti-hopping clutch.
Hearkening seriously back to BMW's original 1923 boxer in its black/silver paint, exposed driveshaft, and low-slung chrome exhausts, the new R18 is a completely clean-sheet modern design packing a huge, 1802 cc boxer twin controlled by modern electronics under a low seat barely 27 inches from the boulevard. In addition to Rain, its other two ride modes are Rock and Roll. There really are few finer motorcycles for sharing that larger-than-life attitude on two wheels.
You got your cruisers and your baggers (which are cruisers with bags): Both are big business in the USA, and BMW is nobody's fool. Hence, the K1600 B bagger, a blacked-out and lowered special version of the original K1600 GT, powered, very unbaggerly, by BMW's ridiculously smooth and powerful inline-six engine instead of the typical big V-twin. Feel free to cruise casually around town, or light out for parts unknown and let the 132-horsepower (at the rear wheel) engine eat. It's a bagger and a high-performance sport-tourer in one.
BMW's GS adventure bikes get all the love and most of the sales, but the RS sportbikes are the most direct descendants of the very first R32 boxer of 1923. Newly redesigned for 2020, the R1250 RS brings everything BMW's learned in nearly 100 years to bear in this latest, 1254 cc, 136-horsepower version of its signature horizontally opposed boxer twin. Check "Select Package," and you'll get electronic suspension adjustable via the full-color TFT display, lean-sensitive antilock brakes and traction control, cruise control, heated grips, quickshifter... locking hard saddlebags, heated seats, and too many options to keep track of are also available to make the RS suitable for everything from commuting to transcontinental traveling. Possibly the most highly evolved motorcycle in existence.