Motorcycle Classics

Race to Rebuild: The BMW R90/6

The basic concept is simple: Take a tired old classic, give it some love by way of mechanical freshening and upgrading, treat it to some custom bits and turn it into something cooler than what left the factory. The hard part comes in deciding exactly what “cooler” really looks like.

For starters, it wasn’t until recently that we even knew what our build foundation would be. We’ve been following a slightly different path with this build, one that gives readers and online fans a voice in the Motorcycle Classics/Dairyland Cycle Race to Rebuild.

As you may recall, we started this process with an announcement that we’d teamed up again with Dairyland Cycle to build another custom classic. But then we threw a little twist in by asking you to help us decide just what that classic should be.

The options we offered were all long-legged Seventies cruisers, including Harley-Davidson’s old-school Iron Head Sportster 1000, the legendary Honda CB750 Four, the T140 Bonneville 750 — the last of the “real” Triumphs — and BMW’s grand touring R90/6. We asked you to tell us which bike you wanted to see get the magic touch, and the overwhelming vote was for the BMW R90/6.

The BMW’s win was actually a bit of a surprise. Not because we don’t like the R90, quite the opposite. We think BMW’s Seventies twins are among the best everyday classics out there. Well-engineered, solid and dependable, they’re the perfect classic for the old bike fan who likes to get out on the road. Be that as it may, we really expected the nod to go to either the Honda, thanks to its status as the first true production Superbike, or the Triumph, simply because there’s no substitute for a British parallel twin when you’re talking classic motorcycles.

Our project BMW R90/6

OK, so BMW it was; next we had to find one. Fortunately, BMW made quite a few R90/6s during the model’s three-year life span — more than 21,000, in fact. And thanks to their quality build, the survival rate is high. Generally speaking, about the only way to kill an old Beemer is to run it out of oil or into a car. Suffice to say that we didn’t have any trouble locating suitable prospects.

The bike we settled on is, we think, perfect for our build. A first-year 1974 R90/6 that spent its life in Colorado (and found its way to us thanks to friends Clayton and Molly), it’s worn out enough that we’ll feel really good about giving it new life in a new form. See, as much as we like specials, we also appreciate a good original and the fact that once you change something, and change it fairly radically, it’s never going back. We didn’t want to take a perfect R90 and permanently modify it; that’d just be wrong. But find one rough enough, we reasoned, and we’d be doing it a favor.

At first blush our BMW R90 looks pretty nice, but it’s really a 10-footer, because at anything closer than that its warts start showing. Those warts include dents in the gas tank; bad paint on the side covers; knackered frame paint; worn-out shock absorbers; inoperative odometer; a tachometer missing its needle; non-stock electronic ignition; scruffy exhaust pipes; bad seat fabric and stitching; a cracked rear fender assembly … you get the drift.

So what’s it gonna be?

Ahh, there’s the real question, and once again, we’re hoping to get feedback from you on the subject. We know we’re going to take the café route with our Beemer, but we haven’t worked out all the details yet of just what that means. We also know we want it to be a good road bike, but how does that square with a café? That’s where you come in. Just like you did voting for which bike to build, we want you to log on to Dairyland Cycle’s Race to Rebuild Facebook page and help us decide.

We’ll be asking for opinions on all sorts of things, like bodywork and paint (we’re thinking custom tank, seat and fenders — maybe even a cool Seventies fairing), carburetor and exhaust upgrades, suspension and brake upgrades, tires and wheels; basically, all the details that define the finished product. Naturally, we’ll be featuring regular updates in our magazine and more frequent updates here online.

And just like previous builds, when it’s all done you might get to ride it home if your name is chosen in the Motorcycle Classics/Dairyland Cycle Race to Rebuild Sweepstakes. All it takes for a chance to win is signing up through Dairyland’s Facebook page. In the meantime, join the conversation and follow along online as our tired old BMW R90/6 morphs into a killer café for the road. MC

For more information

Race to Rebuild Part 2: After deconstructive surgery, the transformation of our 1974 BMW R90/6 starts.
Race to Rebuild Part 3: Our project 1974 BMW R90/6 may be in pieces, but we’re quickly getting traction on our build.

  • Published on Aug 9, 2012
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