BMW’s current range of motorcycles are available in a startling range of colours. The GS800 comes in a green so gorgeous I could paint just about everything I own in that colour. This was not always the case. Generally, from the first models right into the 1980s, BMWs were painted black. Sure, there was an occasional white, cream or silver option but these were exceptional. Very few models, such as the orange R90S, were painted in vibrant colours. How do you radically customise a 1970s BMW? Repaint it in a bright colour, of course!
By the late 1950s BMW motorcycle sales were in huge trouble. Sales had decreased from 30 000 motorcycles in 1954 to a financially unviable 5 500 motorcycles in 1957. BMW decided to put greater effort into their automobile manufacturing and considered stopping motorcycle manufacture completely. The decision to focus on their cars worked and BMW survived but motorcycle production and development was neglected. To the benefit of all mankind, BMW decided to stay in motorcycle production but realised that they had fallen behind their European, British and Japanese competitors in terms of performance and appeal. In 1964 BMW lured Hans-Gunther Von Der Marwitz away from Porsche to develop their new motorcycle range. In 1970 the new /5 series was launched of which our featured R60/5 is an example.
Although still very much a BMW in appearance the R60/5 was an all new design. Its aircooled 599cc boxer twin engine was completely redesigned internally and had light alloy barrels with iron linings instead of the cast iron barrels used on previous models. The cylinder heads were also redesigned. Everything was produced with weight reduction in mind and alloy was used where possible. The result was a 46hp engine, 14hp more than its predecessor. A four speed gearbox was installed. Electrics were upgraded to 12v with an alternator. Electric start was introduced although the kickstart was retained. The frame was also a lighter, more stiff design. Even the rims and hubs were made of light alloy with drum brakes still used front and rear. The final product was a good handling motorcycle with better ground clearance and a brisk 160 km/h top speed. The R60/5 was available from 1970 until 1973 and is a popular classic BMW.
Dyelan’s striking R60/5 cafe racer was built to his specification by V Custom Cycles a while back. The biggest change on this motorcycle was the installation of an early 1970s Suzuki front suspension with the drilled twin disc brakes. This eliminated the two most criticised features of the original motorcycle; the front shocks and the poor stopping power of the front brakes. The exhaust headers were made up by V Custom and the imported cocktail shaker silencers installed. I spent some time riding next to Dyelan last weekend. If BMW had installed silencers which sounded as healthy as these do back in 1957, they would have sold 30 000 motorcycles and there would have been no financial crisis!
The original tank has been retained as has the headlight. The red backing colour in the speedo is a wonderful touch. The front fender is off a more modern motorcycle. The seat and bumstop were made by V Custom and it was upholstered by Dion the Leatherman. Clubman handlebars are a must on any self respecting cafe racer. Louis from Particular Paints applied the bright red paint with the GT stripe which runs the full length of the top of the motorcycle, including the headlight.
BMW never considered offering the R60/5 as a bright red cafe racer in 1970. Conservative was the name of their game back then. Now we know what they were missing.