BMW R75/5 Review
Without a doubt, 1970 was a watershed year for BMW motorcycles. Having turned its focus to the automotive group throughout the 1960s, BMW’s motorcycles were burdened with styling and engineering roots that dated back to the 1940s. Although the R series motorcycles had enjoyed technical advances along the way, they appeared to be anything but modern in a world that had welcomed the Honda CB750K0. Then came the BMW R75/5 motorcycle.
Boasting an all-new motor, though retaining the signature horizontally opposed pushrod flat twin configuration, the R75/5 was virtually a new machine. The wholly redesigned motor had everything from new cylinder heads to a repositioned camshaft. Styling was suitably contemporary, making the BMW R75/5 a landmark machine.
Modifications and upgrades continued through the early 1970s motorcycles, culminating in the 1973 edition you see here. Enthusiastic 1969 Porsche 911E owner Stefan Koch’s acquisition of this R75/5 was the happy confluence of circumstances. Although there was no room for additional cars in his garage, space remained next to his R 1150 RS for one more motorcycle. He found an all-original BMW R75/5 that had been stored undercover in the back of a garage for decades, and it fit his available space perfectly.
Koch stripped the 1973 BMW R75/5 down and reconditioned it to full running condition (the Bing carbs needed rebuilding) with the help of West Valley Cycle Sales in Los Angeles-the oldest continuous BMW motorcycle dealer in the United States, and family owned since 1950.
Amazingly, the tank’s lacquer paint is original, virtually unchanged from the day it was painted in BMW’s Berlin factory; the interior was not so pristine and required acid washing. Not an untouchable museum piece or dainty trailer queen, Koch’s R75/5 is a ready to ride motorcycle, and I availed myself of that opportunity.
Like 21st century BMWs, the R75/5 has some fascinating idiosyncrasies that you see from a company that has seemingly always valued individuality. Trying to locate the key will frustrate the uninitiated. As it turns out, it sits just north of the speedo/odo/tach unit that is integrated into the elongated headlight, with the keyhole hidden under a sliding cover.
The handlebars are home to a group of unmarked buttons and switches, which take care of the mundane chores of starting the bike and engaging the turn signals. The 1973 BMW R75/5 features redundant starting procedures; if you had let the battery run low, a sideways-operating starting pedal is available to fire up the 745cc powerplant-not an easy job with a 9:1 compression ratio. Fortunately, the battery on Koch’s bike is fresh and I am ready to ride at the push of a button.
The boxer may be a torquey motor, pumping out 44 ft/lbs at 5000 rpm, but the R75/5 is a bit lacking just off idle. As I gained experience taking off from a standing start, I learned that the engine does like to be revved to get moving smoothly, and that the dry single-plate clutch is up to the task. Acceleration is strong, and watching the automobiles disappear in the rearview mirrors was a pleasure as I hit the 50 horsepower peak at 6200 rpm.
Once underway, the R75/5’s preference for revs continues. Despite its four-speed transmission-which requires deliberate actuation-the bike was viewed in its time as one of the premier touring machines. Koch’s bike has a six-gallon fuel tank (a popular option), giving it a substantial range. Taking it up to highway speeds, it is easy to see why it was preferred for long hauls. A bit lumpy around town, the oversquare R75/5 smoothed out nicely as I hit 60 mph. It even seemed to get quieter, which reminded me of a story from my youth.
When I was first becoming aware of motorcycles, my father (an Indian owner in the 1940s) would always point out the BMWs when they would come by, complimenting them on their near-silence, while simultaneously sharing a story about how boisterous his inline-four Indian was. I don’t believe I ever saw a BMW rider in those days riding irresponsibly-it was a gentleman’s motorcycle with a dignity that no other marques approached. I grew up admiring both the bikes and the riders.
I would not hesitate to take Koch’s bike coast-to-coast on a moment’s notice, thanks to its unassailable credentials as a touring motorcycle, but the BMW R75/5 also has impeccable handling. To be sure, I did not hustle his bike through the canyons like I would a modern sport bike, but it offered an inviting ride when the road turned twisty. Even though this edition had the extended swingarm for increased high-speed stability, it remains sufficiently nimble in the corners.
One update Koch made to the R75/5 was the installation of Works Gasser DRS vintage shocks. With the top of the shock shielded by the original BMW cover, it retains a generally original appearance, but the modern suspension improves the bike’s handling and precluded ugly jarring on the rough pavement of the local back roads.
What speeds up, must slow down, and the full width drums of the R75/5 are certainly up to the task, ably aided by the generous engine compression. I never felt caught out when a signal unexpectedly changed, or I found myself entering a corner with a bit too much speed. This is not simply a nice vintage bike-it is an exceptional motorcycle that delivers a sophisticated riding experience.
“My R75 had been languishing in someone’s garage for nearly 30 years,” Koch explains. “I was stunned by the 4800 miles on the odometer, and struck by the irony of finding such a low-mileage BMW, a motorcycle engineered to be ridden over many miles for many years. I quickly decided that it was to be my next project.”
“After completion I was hesitant to ride it long distances-over 200 miles-concerned that its age and long slumber would have somehow made it frail, but no more,” Koch asserts confidently. “I’m considering acquiring a pair of 1970s Wixon hard bags and taking it on some longer rides. I feel now as if I’m the custodian of a little piece of BMW’s history.”
MOTORCYCLE RIDING STYLE
Helmet: HJC AC-12 Carbon
Jacket: BMW Atlantis
Gloves: Held Steve
Pants: Levi’s 550
Boots: BMW Contour
Photography by Don Williams