If you could own one, and only one, BMW motorcycle, what would you choose? We’ve had a tough time compiling our top favorite BMW models of all time but we think we’ve settled on a decent top list that covers all bases. The problem with choosing BMW motorcycle models for a list is the fact that the company has such a long and diverse history producing machines of all different shapes and sizes for wide range of purposes. To make matters even more difficult, many BMW motorcycle models essentially share the same DNA and mechanical components, so many of them are so similar that by adding one model to the list we immediately have to neglect scores of other worthy contenders for the sake of variety.
And while many models are essentially clones of the same BMW motorcycle wearing different clothes, there are a few quite frankly bizarre oddities that have rolled out of the Bavarian factory. There are some motorcycles that are actually incredibly advanced and fantastic motorcycles that faded into obscurity or didn’t sell as well as hoped when they first surfaced but are now considered quirky collector’s items, and there definitely a couple of those that make the list.
While we can all reminisce about great models from back in the day and take nostalgic trips down memory lane, there’s also no denying that in a list that focuses on “the best BMW motorcycle models of all time” that the best is often going to be the newest. Technology rarely takes a step backwards. So, if you’re expecting a list that’s chock full of attractive looking vintage machinery with sprung saddles and torpedo headlights then prepare to be disappointed. There are a few of them, but again, technology moves with the times.
Unfortunately, you can’t just go down to your local BMW Motorrad dealership and schedule a test ride on the brand’s more legendary machines from history, so our list focuses more on modern stuff and relatively new inventory from our favorite German motorcycle manufacturer. These new BMW motorcycles might be modern in style but they still capture the spirit and DNA of their predecessors, from the modern BMW sport bike, the S1000RR, to their versatile all-rounder, the R nineT, BMW Motorrad offers one of the most interesting and diverse ranges currently on the market.
So, let’s get on with the list and take a look at the best BMW motorcycle models of all time.
The 12 Best BMW Motorcycle Bikes Ever Made
#12. The BMW R nineT
Let’s kick things off with an obvious choice. The BMW R nineT has already established itself as platform and has been a sales success since it was first introduced back in 2014. It’s a great BMW motorcycle, but what makes it so special? Designed to be a modern classic from the get-go, this retro beauty comes complete with a classic air-cooled boxer engine for a nostalgic experience but comes accompanied with modern technology to keep it reliable, smooth, and hassle-free. The engine is a 1,170cc unit that produces a competent 96.5 hp at 7,610 rpm and 74.3 lb-ft of torque at 6,090 rpm at the rear wheel, but it’s not the grunt of the machine that makes it so appealing to buyers. The secret of the R nineT lies in its fully customizable, blank canvas nature. Designed to the ultimate custom platform, it has spawned countless custom models as well as five official BMW R nineT variations: the base model, the Pure, the Urban G/S, the Racer, and Scrambler. It’s one of the most versatile BMW motorcycle platforms ever made.
#11. The BMW F800GS
While the BMW F800GS might look a little vanilla on paper, it’s quite the wild child when compared to the rest of the BMW motorcycle range. For a start, it’s not a boxer twin. Going against the grain, BMW decided to fit the F800GS with a parallel twin motor instead – and that’s a great thing for a bike of its shape and style. Boasting a modest 85 horses, 60 lb-ft of torque and a feisty top speed of 130 mph, there’s a lot to like about the F800GS. It’s an adventure bike that excels both on and off-road, and for the vast majority of riders looking for something that can take you on an adventure at rough it in the dirt the F800GS is a superior choice when compared with the more popular R1200GS. It’s not as iconic though, so that’s why it doesn’t command the same kind of following. That being said, BMW are more than happy with their creation, since it has been a mainstay in the company line up for the best part of the last decade. It could do with having a little more character – but that is hardly a complaint.
#10. The BMW GS650 XChallenge
The G650 range is often overlooked, and even if noticed, is quickly discounted. And that’s a damn shame because the three models on offer were pretty good. The XMoto, XCountry and the XChallenge were a great family but sadly only enjoyed a brief three years in showrooms between 2006 and 2009. Our favorite is the XChallenge: a cool dual sport powered by an updated version of the engine more commonly found on the F650. The 652cc single cylinder Rotax engine was good for 52 hp at 7,000 rpm and 44 lb-ft of torque at 5,250 rpm, and it was neatly held in place by a lightweight frame that had incredibly nimble handling, making for a bike that was seriously good both on and off road. While it’s not the most memorable BMW motorcycle in the line-up, it’s definitely one that we wouldn’t mind having with us in the event of a zombie apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Tough, versatile, and equipped with German reliability and sensibility. What’s not to like?
#09. The BMW HP2 Sport
The BMW HP2 is a bit of an odd ball when you think about it. At a time when BMW had absolutely no real presence in the sports bike arena, and when competition was incredibly ferocious, the company decided to release a mild tester…the BMW HP2. What were they thinking when they pulled the covers off of a shaft driven sports model that was powered by a bulky boxer twin? When you think about it, none of it should’ve worked – but weirdly enough, it did. Sure, it wasn’t in the same league as the top flight superbikes, but what BMW managed was nothing short of amazing: they built a bike that was a joy to ride on the road and could have a good go on the track as well. Reviewers at the time were thrilled with the HP2’s punchy 1170cc engine that produced a good 128 hp and 80 lb-ft of torque. The HP2 even spawned a couple of sideline models (the HP2 Enduro and HP2 Megamoto) but they didn’t garner the same kind of acclaim. While the HP2 only enjoyed a short production run, it paved the way for an even more remarkable BMW motorcycle. You can probably guess which one, but without the HP2, we may not have the outgoing and sports-ready BMWs that we’re familiar with today.
#08. The BMW K1600GTL
Six cylinders, 1,649cc, 160 horsepower…yes, the BMW K1600GTL is one hell of a motorcycle. The top of the range K1600GTL is BMW’s Gold Wing swatter – and while it may not have managed to unseat the Honda Gold Wing as the grandest of grand tourers, it had a very good try. And is still trying. Powered by a bold straight six engine (the narrowest six cylinder engine in the industry, claims BMW) and decked out in luxury touring garb, the BMW K1600GTL has managed to win numerous awards from the likes of trusted magazines and journalists winning accolades such as the Best Tourer for 2011 from MCN, Best Touring Bike 2011 from Motorcyclist and the Best Sports Touring Motorcycle 2011 from Cycle Word. And the last award is the most significant there, because it is actually a sports tourer that can actually perform remarkably well as sports machine should you feel that way inclined. While it’s not the best BMW motorcycle ever, we can’t help but applaud the company for bringing the six-cylinder back into fashion. Kind of.
#07. The BMW R100RS
Aerodynamics and motorcycles go hand in hand, but getting it right took a bit of trial and error. Back in 1977 BMW began playing around with wind tunnels and designing fairings and bodywork based on their findings…and the BMW R100RS is the first of their creations. In fact, the R100RS wasn’t the only BMW motorcycle to be blessed with a full fairing, it was the first mass-produced motorcycle to get one ever. Aerodynamic fairings are commonplace these days, but someone had to start the trend at it was BMW –and that reason alone should be worth the list entry– but there’s more: it was a fine motorcycle too. With a production run spanning from 1977 to 1996, there was a reason that BMW kept it around. Powered by a 980cc air cooled boxer twin capable of 70 hp at 7,250 rpm and a top speed of 108 mph, it was a highly respected machine that gave an unprecedented level of comfort and a ride experience that had never been enjoyed before.
#06. The BMW K1
Talking of radical aerodynamics, how about the BMW K1? Expensive, a definite opinion divider, and as un-BMW like as possible, the K1 rolled onto the scene to face mixed reviews. Designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency and Autobahn levels of comfort, the K1 utilized a mesmerizing glass fiber fairing that got everyone talking – but that wasn’t all that was special about this oddity. It wasn’t even a traditional BMW boxer either. Instead, BMW equipped it with a 987cc, liquid-cooled, longitudinal four-cylinder engine to prove that there was more to BMW than the standard flat twin. Still shaft-driven though. Not only was it an amazing aerodynamic exercise, proof that BMW knew more about motorcycle engines than the press gave them credit for – the BMW K1 also came equipped with ABS, which was decades ahead of its time – it would take at least another 20 years before ABS became a relatively normal thing. For all of its innovation, it was still as ugly as sin – but this isn’t a beauty contest, it’s about best BMW motorcycle models. And the K1 is certainly special.
#05. The BMW R90S
So we’ve seen the first full aerodynamic fairings on a BMW motorcycle, we’ve seen radically advanced fairings too – but there’s room for another accolade. Back in 1973, BMW launched the R90S and it was the first ever mass-produced motorcycle to boast a bikini fairing. BMW really care about aerodynamics, don’t they? In the years before that, if you wanted to make your motorcycle as streamlined as possible you’d have to buy an aftermarket fiber glass thing or make your own. With the new bodywork, BMW also treated the R90S with a 898cc air cooled boxer engine that could produce a maximum power output of 67 hp, driving the BMW R90S to a cool top speed of 124 mph. It could run the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds and hit 62mph in 4.8 seconds. Overall, it was an excellent motorcycle and performed excellently on the track as well, with two R90S models claiming first and second place at the very first AMA Superbike racer at the Daytona International Speedway in 1976, and eventually winning the whole 1976 AMA Superbike Championship with Reg Pridmore at the controls.
#04. The BMW R1100S
Described as a “sporty sports tourer” this nose-less beast might not be the most attractive motorcycle on the roster but it certainly impressed all those who rode it. While it wasn’t fast enough to be considered a real sports bike or as comfortable enough to be labelled as a dedicated touring machine it managed to excel reasonably well at both making it an attractive and practical prospect to a wide audience. Equipped with the standard 1,085cc, boxer that we’ve come to know and love from BMW, the spec sheet produced some interesting statistics: 98 horses, 72 lb-ft of torque, and thanks to the unusual suspension arrangement that features a Paralever system at the rear, the BMW R1100S has superb handling. It’s a little on the heavy side and not terribly good if you decide to take it off-road for some reason, but if you keep it upright and with plenty of asphalt between here and there, you’ll have a fantastic ride experience on board this BMW motorcycle.
#03. The BMW R1200GS
These days if you’re talking to someone about a BMW motorcycle, there’s a very high chance that you’re going to be talking about the R1200GS. Since it was first launched back in 2004 it has been gaining in popularity, largely thanks to the fact that it was a revolutionary adventure motorcycle that was miles ahead of its competitors. While the R1100GS and R1150GS models were fantastic, the buying public didn’t really get the GS fever until the R1200GS. And while you’d expect the Long Way Round R1150GS models to get the public spending their money, it was the R1200GS featured in the sequel Long Way Down instead. In fact, across Europe and the United Kingdom the R1200GS has repeatedly topped the charts as the most popular and best-selling motorcycle for the best part of the last two decades. A sales success, and a fine BMW motorcycle, you can see why we score it so highly…it would’ve scored higher but then that disastrous recall happened…
#02. The BMW S1000RR
Remember the HP2 and what we said it gave birth to? Well, this is what we were talking about: the absolutely godlike BMW S1000RR. When it was first launched in 2009 it caught us all by surprise. BMW had given hints that they were going to bring out a superbike but we thought it would be a good few years before they brought out anything that could logically challenge the supremacy of the likes of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Ducati. That’s not what happened though. Instead, BMW sauntered onto the scene and brought the fight to the old masters. S1000RR enthusiasts might be a little upset that the bike hasn’t seen that much in the way of an update since 2009, but that’s shouldn’t be a complaint: that’s a testament to how amazing this BMW motorcycle was straight from the word go. There’s a new one coming though, a completely overhauled version that should once again shoot shockwaves through the segment – and we can’t wait to be there when it happens. But the S1000RR isn’t number one. Oh no…
#01. The BMW HP4 Race
There’s no pretense about road legality with behemoth of a BMW motorcycle. When the HP4 Race was unveiled in Shanghai we were all blown away. Constructed using advanced technologies using carbon fiber and more, the whole package weighs in at a mind bending 321 lbs – or 146 kilos in old money. The lightness is hard to get your head round, and you’ll have to lift the frame yourself to get a real idea of how mental it is (I have done this, and it is truly bizarre). But lightness is one thing, but when you mate it to a race tuned engine that’s capable of delivering 212 horsepower (resulting in a crazy power to weight ratio of 1.474 horses per kilo) you know that you’re looking at a motorcycle that’s far too wild for mere mortals to even consider riding. And with a price tag of $78,000, most mere mortals won’t be able to consider riding it. And then BMW recommend that you replace the engine every 3000 miles for the best results. Yeah, it’s out of reach for 99.9% of the world’s riders but this is easily the best BMW motorcycle ever made, and it shouldn’t be available to just anyone. And that’s why it’s our number one.