Why we love the BMW R90S

1 of 1

No10 in RiDE’s list of icons is the BMW R90S.

Where did it come from?
Back in the early 1970s BMW suffered from a staid, sensible, beardy touring image. The R90S was a deliberate move to change that perception. 

Based on the R75/5 and styled by Hans Muth, the R90S was the flagship of the /6 range, with the engine bored out to 898cc and making 67bhp at 7000rpm, with a new-for-1973 five-speed gearbox. 

It was the first BMW with twin discs, had a unique bikini fairing and weighed just 200kg. Flat out, with the rider tucked behind that fairing, the R90S could top 125mph. 

It was a real alternative to the superb Honda CB750 – although it cost
a lot more then the Japanese bike.

What changed? Very little, in the three years the R90S was made. The twin discs were drilled from 1974 to aid wet weather braking, and the crankshaft and main bearings were beefed up in 1975 to prevent flex at high revs. A kickstart was optional, the gearbox was  improved and the starter motor strengthened. The 1976 bikes had new crankcases, swingarm and calipers.

Why do people like it? It had traditional BMW quality – each bike was assembled by one technician. There was a truly unique airbrushed paint finish, the most popular blending from Daytona orange into smoke grey; they were all slightly different. 

Cult rating 4/5 It succeeded in transforming BMW’s image, not just visually but through a return to sporting success, with excellent performances at Daytona and the Isle of Man TT races. Nowadays BMW are cool and the R90S is the coolest of them all. Much admired by BMW’s own designers, it was also the inspiration for the Roland Sands Concept 90 that paved the way for the hugely successful R nineT production bike. It has a magical mix of classic looks with modern performance and usability. Spares are available and prices solid.

The problem is… The only thing people complained about at the time was that the pinstriping on the first bikes was stuck on as opposed to being painted on, because the workers in the factory couldn’t get it straight enough.

Today the only problem with the R90S is finding £7000-£12,000 to buy one.

Without the R90S… There would have been no R100RS and consequently no S1000RR or possibly any of the world-beaters produced since the ’70s by a company energised by the R90S.

RiDE magazine

By RiDE magazine

The most useful magazine in motorcycling tells it like it is