BMW R90S

The high-speed BMW R90S set the motorcycle industry on its head.

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  • BMW R90S
    BMW R90S
    Photo by Roland Brown
  • BMW R90S
    BMW R90S
    Photo by Roland Brown
  • BMW R90S
    BMW R90S
    Photo by Roland Brown
  • BMW’s air-cooled twin has a legendary — and deserved — reputation for reliability and economy
    BMW’s air-cooled twin has a legendary — and deserved — reputation for reliability and economy.
    Photo by Roland Brown
  • Almost tame by today’s standards, the R90S was radical stuff when BMW introduced it in 1973 for the 1974 model year
    Almost tame by today’s standards, the R90S was radical stuff when BMW introduced it in 1973 for the 1974 model year.
    Photo by Roland Brown

  • BMW R90S
  • BMW R90S
  • BMW R90S
  • BMW’s air-cooled twin has a legendary — and deserved — reputation for reliability and economy
  • Almost tame by today’s standards, the R90S was radical stuff when BMW introduced it in 1973 for the 1974 model year

BMW R90S

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.

Herb Ganz
9/13/2020 11:23:25 PM

1977- Best memory was a run from Glacier National Park back to Austin. Rode Sheridan WY to Post TX in one day ~1100 miles. It is true that dialed-in at around 90 mph your were tucked and comfortable - tappets clicking nicely. Silver smoked. Great article!


TONYC
9/11/2020 8:39:52 PM

Love the review. Nit pick: The S's tank was the same tank as used on the standard /6, not unique. There was a smaller "sport" tank offered on the /6 but it's rare.


DAVIDP
9/10/2020 11:11:55 PM

Back in 1986 I occasionally happened to be commuting at the same time as a guy on an R90s. I was riding my '74 Triumph Trident, and we used to joust together on I-85 into the 285 interchange. These bikes were very evenly matched at 85mph, very impressive and FUN!




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