There are precious few examples of truly beautiful motorcycle design in the world.
For the most part, a motorcycle is a thing of utility. It does what it was meant to do, but at various times in history, designers have reached into their bag of tricks in attempts to achieve something more timeless, more glorious, and some of those attempts have hit the mark like a punch to the solar plexus.
The creation of the BMW R7 prototype was one of those moments in time, and it was nearly lost to history.
Only a single example of this magnificent ride was crafted back in 1934 by BMW design engineer Alfred Böning, and it was a stark divergence from the “motorized bicycle” style of many early machines during the 1930s. The R7 introduced enclosed bodywork, a pressed steel frame, open and valanced fenders and – perhaps the most prescient element – telescopic front forks. With an ‘H’ pattern hand shifter and an 800c Boxer engine designed by Leonhard Ischinger, the R7 was more than just a pretty face. The boxer was revolutionary for its time as well with its crankshaft forged for a single piece and a monoblock cylinder housing, and a hemispherical combustion chamber eliminated the need for a head gasket.
The R7 was also, due to the brutal economic and political conditions of the times, way too expensive to produce. That led the factory to strip it down, crated it up and abandon the bike – until 2005. When the crate was rediscovered and the R7 was pulled out for inspection, restorers found it was something like 70% complete. It was also, however, nearly a pile of rust.
As the restorers set to work, they found original design drawings in the BMW Archives and BMW Classic went on from there. A team rebuilt the frame, bodywork, transmission and the one-off motor, and by the close of 2008, the R7 project was complete. The bike was sent out on the road for testing and the rest is truly history; history in glorious motion.
In its final form, the R7 weighed in at a little over 360 pounds dry and produced 35hp @ 5000 rpm which made it capable of over reaching speeds just over 90 mph.
Böning retired in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, there was a groundswell of talk about restoring R7. The job was ultimately given to Armin Frey and Hans Keckeisen, and we have them to thank for the survival of this awesome piece of design and function.
Now if they’d only put a modern version into production, I’d start returning aluminum cans every day and buy one myself…
BMW R7 Specifications
Engine and transmission
|Engine type:||2 cylinders, 4-stroke, Boxer|
|Displacement:||790 cc (48.27 cubic inches)|
|Bore × stroke:||83 mm × 73 mm (oversquare – shortstroke)|
|Power:||34.94 HP (25.7 kW) @ 5000 rpm|
|Valve train:||OHV, variable|
|Valves per cylinder:||2|
|Fuel and ignition|
|Sparks per cylinder:||1|
|Fuel supply system:||Carburetor|
|Lubrication system:||Wet sump|
|Clutch:||Dry, single plate, cable operated|
|Curb weight:||178 kg|
|Chassis and suspension|
|Frame type:||steel, Monocoque frame|