The BMW vintage motorcycle has long been a staple of motorcycle collectors, particularly models that were built right after World War II when the German company was back on its legs. Models like the beige R50 from the 1950s and the R5 1/3 with its classic hardtail seat are items chased after by collectors big and small. Fortunately, there's been enough production over the decades that some of these models can be found and are not completely lost to history or private collections. However, folks do need to take the time to hunt down the right bikes as these motorcycles do tend to go very quickly.
The period from 1955 to 1969 produced some of the most sought after BMW motorcycles with engines ranging from 250cc to 500cc, or essentially a bike for everyone's tastes. A good number of these models were sold both in Europe as well as the U.S., which would have likely convinced people that BMW was doing well. Ironically, the company was having serious financial problems at the time. This was also the period that the BMW motorcycle saw the last of its models equipped with a sidecar. After this time period, BMW riders wanted an “unencumbered” motorcycle for pure riding, so the accessory began to disappear.
There was plenty of groundswell to carry BMW forward. Many of the young riders from the 1960s had matured but still wanted a BMW motorcycle. This kept the vintage look and design in place for another decade, sticking to the famous black BMW bike look started years earlier.
The motorcycle models made from 1970 to 1982 carried a lot of the same pin-striping and black BMW motorcycle look of the earlier years. They also had thicker seats for longer riding, and many BMW models became the first touring bikes for long-distance riders. However, the later models had quite a bit more work added to them with bigger engines. Eventually, the old-style kickstart pedal was eliminated in trade for a key ignition. By 1977 a 1,000cc engine model became available in the R100/7.
Starting with the 1983 models going forward, the era of the vintage BMW motorcycle ended. Models produced afterwards had modern looks, far more plastic fairings for wind resistance and a different look. The bare metal body look didn't reappear again until the souped up R1200C model showed up in a James Bond film in 1997.
Finding a vintage BMW motorcycle can be done either through a BMW dealer or through private sales. The best way to get started if looking for a first bike is to go through a dealer, however. This is because there's a lot to learn when taking on a BMW motorcycle. These bikes take some time to understand, learn, maintain and keep running. And the older the model chosen, the more learning there is involved with keeping it running right. So a new buyer looking to get into the world of BMW motorcycles should do some homework first and research how these machines work.