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‘The air-cooled boxer is here to stay’

Published: 01 October 2015

Updated: 29 September 2015

BMW boss says the much-loved Boxer engine will live on until at least 2021 despite tough new emissions laws

BMW’s head of motorcycle development has promised the air-cooled boxer engine will still be used to at least 2021 despite ever-tightening emissions regulations that have already been the death knell for many other air-cooled engines.

New Euro4 emissions regulations in 2017 and later Euro5 laws in 2020 are much stricter than the outgoing Euro3, and manufacturers are having to do a lot of work to ensure new and existing bikes will be able to pass both in exhaust emissions and noise. The great benefit of this is that we’re set to witness a tide of new bikes over the next two years as firms revise their ranges to suit. The bad news is that some characterful older models could face the axe, and air-cooled bikes with large diameter pistons, especially those in large capacity V-twin and boxer twins are under particular pressure.

But Karl Viktor Schaller, the head new motorcycle development at BMW’s headquarters in Munich, has promised the air-cooled BMW boxer engine will remain on the company’s plan through to at least 2021.

Speaking exclusively to MCN at the firm’s Munich headquarters, he said: “We know air-cooled engines are at the core of BMW for many people and we have them planned in the model range for a long time to come. The hydrocarbon emissions of large bore engines is the problem we have to solve. This creates particular problems and it’s not just air-cooled engines.

“The same problem is there for
Harley-Davidson, Ducati and KTM. If you have big pistons you need to work on turbulence systems at low RPM. This will have to be controlled by some new technology in the engine but this isn’t rocket science.

“Catalysts will need to have some extra precious metals such as
platinum and palladium, they may need to be a little bigger and maybe a little more expensive and after that there are technologies like twin spark and surface treatments to engine internal components but all of this can be done.

“Like all companies BMW is looking a long way ahead and we are already working on Euro5 and the targets and timings of our model plans through to 2021. Air-cooled engines are planned all the way through to 2021 at least.”

BMW aren’t the only manufacturer working hard on future engines but it is one of the first to commit to air-cooled motors into the future. Ducati have committed to keeping lower-powered engines with air-cooling in bikes, such as the Scrambler, but we know Triumph have designed new water-cooled 865cc and 1100cc engines for their range of Bonnevilles, which we will see in 2017. Harley-Davidson have also been implementing water-cooling in recent updates to bikes as part of the Project Rushmore overhaul of their large-capacity machines, while their air-cooled models can sneak through tests thanks to their lower output.

BMW’s current air-cooled range is limited to just the R nineT retro roadster, which for the second year since launch has been the fourth best-selling bike in BMW’s range behind the R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure and the S1000RR.

But we believe this is about to change with more additions to the R nineT family, the first of which is expected to be a production version of the Scrambler, which was shown as a prototype earlier this year. And MCN sources suggest there are a number of other variants to follow soon after.


What about the water-cooled engine?

Air-cooled motors are clearly important to BMW but the bulk of sales these days in terms of the boxer engine come in the form of the water-cooled variant now used in the best-selling R1200GS, GS Adventure, R1200RS and the R1200R.

This engine was a completely new design and was first introduced in 2010 and represented a massive change for BMW. That engine has seen some small tweaks since then but an interim update will see a little more power eked from the engine along with improvements to fuel efficiency according to Schaller.

Schaller said: “The R1200GS and others using the 125bhp water-cooled boxer engine still win many tests because of the usability of that engine. The last thing we want to do is ruin that feeling by increasing power too high.

“For those who want more power we have the S1000XR. There will be changes to the R1200 engine in the next few years and power will increase a little, as will fuel efficiency.”

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