Understanding Those Vintage BMW Motorcycle Model Numbers

I am no expert on BMW motorcycles – I will admit that right away, as I have never owned one personally.

That said, I have plenty of BMW motorcycle riding friends (fanatics) and have wanted one for a very long time.  In particular, I would like to get a vintage GS (1980-1997) and have been doing some research recently on vintage BMW motorcycle model numbers, in general.

BMW uses a sometimes systematic/sometimes unsystematic naming convention for their motorcycles that is pretty easy to follow and understand once laid out in front of you.  Below is a basic breakdown for those who lack a fundamental understanding of what those BMW motorcycle model numbers mean.  This list is by no means exhaustive as there were many side models and off-shoot iterations of bikes that BMW produced.  This is meant as a general guide.

BMW Motorcycle Model Numbers: Semi-Unsystematic, Systematic, Unsystematic Again….

BMW likes to use straight numbers, dashes, and slashes instead of the colloquial names we are used to from the Japanese manufacturers.

Prior to 1969: The naming convention wasn’t that systematic.  The table below lays out the models that I am aware of, but keep in mind that there were many others.  If you can get your hands on any one of these, don’t hesitate.  The number after the R generally correlated with engine size.  Those with a 2X are single cylinders, while the rest are generally the BMW twins we are accustomed to seeing.

Model NumberYears
R 321923-1926
R 371925-1926
R 391925-1927
R 421926-1928
R 471927-1928
R 521928-1929
R 571928-1930
R 621928-1929
R 631928-1929
R 111929-1934
R 161929-1934
R 21931-1936
R 41932-1937
R 121935-1942
R 171935-1937
R 31936
R 51936-1937
R 61937
R 351937-1940
R 201937-1938
R 231938-1940
R 511938-1940
R 611938-1941
R 661938-1941
R 711938-1941
R 751941-1944
R 241948-1950
R 251950-1951
R 51/21950-1951
R 25/21951-1953
R 51/31951-1954
R 671951
R 67/21952-1954
R 25/31953-1956
R 67/31955-1956
R 681952-1954
R 501955-1960
R 691955-1960
R 261956-1960
R 601956-1960
R 271960-1966
R 50 S1960-1962
R 50/21960-1969
R 60/21960-1969
R 69 S1960-1969

1969-1983:  Really the systematic naming convention began in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the /2 or “slash 2” bikes listed in the table above.  This continued with /3, /4, /5, all the way up to the /7 in late 1970s.  Like their predecessors, the first number after the R correlates with engine size, while the number after the slash corresponds to the generation or iteration of the motorcycle.

Post 1983:  This is when BMW started getting wild and crazy again with their motorcycle designations.  They kept the R series, but also introduced the F, K, G, and HP2 series.

The bottom line to the story is that if you are in the market for a vintage BMW focus on the “slash” number – the lower the better.  If size is important, there are generally R50, R60, R75, and R90 iterations of each generation with R90 being the largest displacement at 900cc.

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