The high-speed BMW R90S set the motorcycle industry on its head
Photo by Roland Brown
Years produced: 1974-1976
Total production: 17,378
Claimed power: 67bhp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 125mph
Engine type: 900cc, two-valve, horizontally opposed twin
Weight: 215kg (474lb) wet
Price then: $3,430 (1974)
Price now: $3,500-$7,500
The speedometer shows a steady 80mph on the BMW R90S as the road ahead unwinds from a gentle curve. I’m sitting comfortably, leaning slightly forward to slightly raised handlebars, my chest and head protected from the wind by a neat half-fairing that also contains a clock and voltmeter.
The big orange fuel tank on this classic BMW motorcycle is full, giving the prospect of 200 miles of nonstop, high-speed riding. Below the tank I can see the engine’s cylinders sticking out either side, their gentle rustling almost drowned by a throaty twin-cylinder exhaust note. By modern standards the mechanical and exhaust sounds are loud, but they do nothing to mar the aristocratic air of the BMW R90S.
Nor does the bike’s stability as I bank through a series of gentle curves, suspension soaking up the bumps efficiently, the tall-geared engine feeling unburstable. Never mind its generous fuel range; this bike gives the impression that it would cruise at speed and in comfort forever.
Built for the long haul
However long BMW builds flat twins, it’s debatable whether there will be another to match the impact the BMW R90S made with its launch in 1974. The half-faired 90S, finished in a stylish smoked-color scheme (gray was the original color, with this bike’s orange following as an option a year later), may have been a sportster only by BMW’s traditionally restrained standards. But with a top speed a shade over 125mph, it was seriously quick by mid-Seventies standards.
The R90S was at its best traveling rapidly over long distances, but there was much more to this bike than sheer speed. Handsome, fine handling, comfortable, well equipped and very expensive, the R90S was arguably the best all-around superbike that money could buy.
The S and its unfaired relation, the R90/6, introduced at the same time, were derived more directly from the previous year’s R75 models. Enlarging the 745cc R75’s bore from 82 to 90mm while retaining the 70.6mm stroke gave a capacity of exactly 900cc. BMW also took the opportunity to make numerous engine mods, including strengthening the bottom end, plus fitting a revised gearshift mechanism and new alternator.
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