Bore x stroke:
Front tyre dimensions:
Rear tyre dimensions:
Front brakes diameter:
Rear brakes diameter:
"All too much of the man-made is ugly, inefficient, depressing chaos"
It's a wonderful if not damning indictment. The source comes from the famed German architect Dieter Rams that although born in 1932, still influenced Apple design 70 years later with his strict adherence to the aesthetic which in turn has cascaded to people in their billions without them even knowing it. Naturally there are strict disciplines or principles with his design method, which included ensuring the product design was useful, innovative, honest, long-lasting and thorough down to the last detail. Most importantly, Rams believed not only in the aesthetic but simplicity, a huge proponent of 'as little design as possible' i.e. less but better, the title of his seminal book. Reflecting on those alone, it may as well be sung as a ballad to Bayerische Motoren Werke.
When huddled amongst old bike magazines, oil rags and cans of spam at Shepster Towers, our thoughts of motorcycles in 1969 drifted to the BMW R90S or the chrome of the 1977 Triumph Bonneville, yet the R69S belongs in another era all together. As with Rams principles of the aesthetic and belief in simplicity rather than over-design, the R69S looks like it stepped out of history three decades previously and refused to evolve. In the same decade that had century defining rock music from Deep Purple, Lez Zeppelin and Steppenwolf, the R69S was positively antediluvian, a Bing Crosby in the age of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Sing it with me, "I'm an old cowhand from the Rio Grande / But my legs ain't bowed and my cheeks ain't tan...."
With its shaft drive and four stroke opposed twin engine, it's a unique style that BMW have made all their own. It's looking down the classic styling of a Porsche and seeing the ancestry right in front of you. You can look at earlier models such as the R24, R51 and R68 and it's simply tracing a lineage. The R69S had drum brakes both front and rear, with disc brakes on a production motorcycle still being 6 years away. It had a 17 litre fuel tank, and could zip its speedy 202kg frame around at over 107 mph. Although many had separate driver and pillion seats, the model on show at Shepsters had the far more comfortable elongated joint seat. The brown and cream version pictured here is particularly handsome, with its wonderful sweeping chrome exhaust pipes.
Whilst the R69 produced a whopping 35 hp from in its early 1955 to 1960 run, the 1960-1969 R69S had in fact persuaded another 7 horses to clamber into its 549cc engine. Modern day CBR500s only produce a few more horses, so clearly for its time this was a high-powered machine, yet capable to support sidecars with lugs already installed along with its famously hardy Earles fork (named after an Englishman, they were a new type of front suspension fork with the pivot point behind the front wheel which meant the motorcycle didn't dip on braking). Yet every sinew in my body refuses to believe that this was designed a racer, with magazines at the time describing the machine as the ideal vacation/touring bike. Indeed the best description would be gentleman's tourer, albeit an excellent one that was famed not only for simplicity, quality and quietness, but for incredible fortitude.
To prove this ode to reliability, on June 8th 1959, a young John Penton (later a recognised Enduro Racer, owner of Penton Motorcycles and clothing manufacturer) set-off from New York City and headed west to California on a BMW R69S, albeit with an oversized fuel tank. Fifty-two hours and eleven minutes later, Penton rolled into Los Angeles. This stunt made BMW a household name in the US. Since they were bikes to be ridden, finding ones in great condition is rare. Since this article started with a quotation, I'll end it with another from the 1962 Cycle World Article, which really tells it all:
Whatever the BMW's merits in a contest of speed, it is still the smoothest, best finished, quietest and cleanest motorcycle it has ever been our pleasure to ride. To be honest, we think that anyone who would worry much over its performance-potential is a bit of a booby.