Airheads are inflating

Published: 23 July 2017

Everybody wants an old BMW ‘airhead’ – the air-cooled flat twin that remained in production for 70 years. There’s a good reason for this. These bikes were, at least until the mid-1980s, built to standards that outclassed the opposition. You got stainless steel and quality glass fibre, top-notch alloy castings, paint as good as you got on BMW’s cars and even (before it was banned) red lead coating on the inside of the tanks, to prevent corrosion.

BMW airheads have never been cheap. Right now, though, you’re looking at your last chance of bagging one at a sensible(ish) price. BMW made small changes over the decades, but they were immensely significant. They abandoned the expensive roller bearing crankshaft models in favour of plain bearing motors. Then they hogged the engines out from 600cc to 750cc, 800cc, 900cc and finally a full litre. However, the 1000cc engines were a bit lumpy and the 800s and 900s are sweeter.


They produced the first sports tourer in the form of the 90S, with its cockpit fairing that was copied by absolutely everyone. Then they produced the wind tunnel-developed R100RS, whose fairing has perhaps never been bettered. BMW also launched the world’s first big adventure trailie, in the form of the R80G/S.

Entry into the airhead world now costs about £2000, for something like a late 1970s R75 or early R80. Three grand is starting money for a good R100RS, five grand for a good GS and seven for an R90S. There are a lot about, because the damn things were built to last. Even a cosmetically-challenged non-runner is worth a grand, because they are so rebuildable. But their popularity with the retro scene means demand is strong… so prices are on the up.

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