Matching the Future with the Past: 1928/1974 BMW R52 Similaria

Motorcycle builder and rider Bob Vail turns a 1974 BMW R75/6 into a 1928 R52 “Similaria.”

BMW R52 Similaria

BMW enthusiasts who appreciate the purity and performance of a bone-stock BMW might want to skip the next few pages in this issue of Motorcycle Classics; a 1974 R75/6 lost its pedigree in the making of the accompanying feature bike, what its builder describes as a 1928 BMW R52 Similaria.

But readers who forge onward with this narrative are in for a treat because you’re about to get a glimpse of how one man converted a mid-1970s Slash 6 BMW into what visually replicates a 1928 BMW R52, an early model that shared a similar silhouette with BMW’s first-ever model, the iconic 1923 R32. Those early R models set the stage for BMW’s prewar signature slab-side gas tank enveloped by two upper frame tubes that swooped from steering head to rear axle. It was a classic formula defining the simplistic yet graceful lines of practically every rigid-frame BMW from that era.

What about Bob?

The man responsible for the R52 Similaria is Bob Vail, who unabashedly describes himself as someone who enjoys “building and riding motorcycles equally.” Bob hails from Cleveland, Ohio, where, as he’ll tell you, “the cold snowy winters and beautiful summers are completely conducive to that equality.”

Consequently, Bob spends a good portion of those cold snowy winters turning metal on his 1940s-era South Bend lathe, plus shaping, filing, whittling and welding pieces of metal into bikes of his own creation — Similarias, as he calls them. Among his stable of retro-style bikes you’ll find a 1914 Harley-Davidson Similaria based on a 1997 H-D XL883 platform, and two Yamahas — a 1977 XS650 that he terms a Yamaton and a 1981 XV920R he morphed into a Yamacent. The remainder of his bike fleet consists of original bikes including a Ducati, a Laverda, a Moto Guzzi, a BMW, a Harley-Davidson and a Triumph, plus two non-Similaria retro-theme customs. And all his bikes are runners; as the man says, he likes to build and ride motorcycles.

The Kiwi Indian leaf spring front fork.

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

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