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As per our R69S write-up not so long ago, it’s extremely difficult not to digress into a wistful ode to those marvellous engineers and designers at Bayerische Motoren Werke, praising a simplistic design that transcended almost a century. But here at Shepster Towers, we’re all about taking the path of least resistance, as per out motto: you take the high road and we’ll sit here with our tea, taking one more fortnight lining up our decals to get them just right.
The first ever motorcycle badged as a proper BMW was the R32 in 1923, which is so long ago its effectively biblical. And lo, the flat, opposed-twin was born-eth, woven-eth into the very fabric-eth of time-eth. The longitudinal “boxer” engine, so named because the horizontally-opposed pistons appeared to punch out, or box each other, as the crankshaft spins, has been a gift over the years. Somewhere there must be a photo of a German lifting that engine high above his head, mimicking Pride Rock, with Elton John parping about the Circle of Life in the background. It almost goes against the cloth that BMW produced anything else. In fact, BMW would be so wedded to the boxer and shaft-driven motorcycles that only in 1994 did they break with tradition with the F650. That’s seventy-one years! As with the design of the Porsche, if it isn’t broken, it’s probably German.
They started developing the R75 before the second world war in 1938, a 500cc motorcycle powerful enough to strap a sidecar to, with the additional genius touch of attaching a crank to power the third-wheel of the sidecar. By the 1970’s BMW developed the /5 series, and applied it across the line to the R50, R65 and R75 (500cc, 600cc and 750cc respectively) providing such innovations such as electric-start as well as kick-start, proving that starting was pivotal to any motorcycle. The /5 series had telescopic front-forks too and was the first of their motorcycles to be entirely manufactured in Berlin. The /6 series followed in 1974 introducing a single disc brake at the front and a re-imagined instrument cluster in its two-year reign before finally the /7 arrived.
The last in the series had a small run until 1979, yet it maintained the authentic and original engine design of the air-cooled, four-stroke boxer-engine, and of course stayed true to having a shaft-drive. They had managed to double the number of horses strapped in its engine though since the original concept, somewhat slow progression, producing a whopping 50 HP. Like the /6 series, it had a single disk on the front brake and drum on the rear, yet up close it’s an oddity: the disk looks like an afterthought. The single disc brake was actually a hybrid cable/hydraulic system, whereby a cable from the handlebar lever actuated the master cylinder underneath the fuel tank. Another oddity was that the electrics and fuse-box actually sit behind the headlight, making re-wiring a bit of a sod, according to our Shepsters friend, Mick Yerbury. Inheriting the motorcycle in boxes ten years ago, Mick assembled the entire thing as a project with his son, taking only six months, which seems ludicrously quick considering the Bing carbs were bunged up tight. Then again, Mick is a damn sight better mechanic then we are!
There are pages dedicated to the customisation of the R75s, yet the original, which Mick has restored meticulously, is perfect in our minds. Despite the years, it’s still a picture of reliability and comfort, pushing through the countryside smoothly for over two hundred and fifty pleasurable miles on its massive twenty-four litre tank, or even when cruising along the highways just as easily sitting at one hundred and ten. Mick’s R75 is just shy of hitting one-hundred thousand kilometres, yet sounds just as sweet as ever. The painstakingly applied decals on the beautifully tapered tank set the bike off nicely, with those glorious chrome pipes and that steadfast, original engine proudly emblazoning the 75/7 seal to outlast time itself.