It was easier to handle and gave more back to the rider than any of its predecessors, plus it was a bit of a looker and had a fondness for colours and chrome. The new BMW /5 range tapped into the burgeoning zeitgeist of a country in the throes of great change. While many had written the motorcycle off as a future form of transport, a handful of visionaries at BMW were beavering away on a model that would radiate a new attitude, brimming with passion and freedom. The new BMW /5 was the machine fans around the world had – perhaps subconsciously – been waiting for. Success came quickly and in spades.

Black and white photo of the first BMW / 5
Anniversary badge

BMW made good motorcycles, nobody doubted that. But the 1960s were a more colourful, faster moving, vociferous moment in time. People had more money in their pockets, and this increase in affluence brought greater opportunity. Suddenly, everyone had a set of wheels – and, with each passing year, those wheels had more horsepower driving them, more chrome around them and more prestige. It seemed the days of the motorcycle as a budget conveyance were over, and there was even talk of its demise altogether. Only 3,651 motorcycles were newly registered in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1963.

BMW /5 in front of Schloss Bellevue
 BMW / 5 in a curve

Fans and visionaries

For many people, cars were the only game in town. BMW’s “Neue Klasse” range – spearheaded by the 1800 – put the company back in the fast lane and proved to be a good little earner. Behind the scenes at the factory, however, lurked a small band of enthusiasts who viewed motorcycles as more than purely a means of getting from A to B without breaking the bank. Technical director Helmut Werner Bönsch had to overcome considerable resistance to push through his new motorcycle development project. But in 1963 an early prototype was finalised and dispatched for off-road trials. It was followed in 1964 by a test model which would lay the groundwork for the eventual /5 and was put through its paces over rough terrain.

The new engine for the bike was still a distance from “finished article” status, Alex von Falkenhausen and Ferdinand Jardin having only started design work in 1965. But it was worth the wait when it arrived, an exceptionally hard-wearing and robust unit finally emerging from the factory. Some of its details were inspired by automotive construction, the double plain-bearing crankshaft and electric starter motor being cases in point. Other innovative elements included the new frame and telescopic front fork, and the seat bench could now be flipped open – to reveal a compartment for tools. The slim, rectangular fuel tank dominated the design from the side, while plastic fairings saved weight.

BMW /5 cockpit
BMW /5 cylinder and carburettor
BMW /5

Raising the bar: the BMW R 50/5 – R 60/5 – R 75/5

The newcomer was a handsome beast, modern and fresh, agile and nippy, and as such very different from what had gone before. The conservative lines of earlier BMW motorcycles had been cast aside; the BMW /5 was the work of engineers who were keen bikers themselves, and that passion shone through in every detail.

However, the boom in car sales was giving BMW’s home plant in Munich something of a production headache. In the end, the decision was taken to expand the company’s factory in Berlin and relocate motorcycle production there. To start with, the Berlin plant focussed on piecing together subassemblies brought in from Munich. But with the new /5, Berlin took over full manufacturing duties. Productions figures settled into a steep and sustained upward trajectory. By 1973 a total of 69,000 /5 motorcycles “made in Berlin” had been dispatched to customers around the world, and two years later the 100,000 mark was reached and breached.

BMW /5
Five BMW /5
BMW /5

Celebrating the half century – the BMW R nineT /5

The BMW R nineT /5 special-edition model celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the /5 in stunning fashion. Special design elements recall the legendary bikes that arrived on the scene midway through that tumultuous era, a homage to the late-1960s laced with modern technology and quality. The motorcycle as an attitude to life, then as now. Make Life a Ride.

BMW /5 on a bridge
Two BMW /5