A 1923-1926 R32
The First BMW Motorcycle

by Jeff Dean

Last updated September 25, 2011
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The boxer layout, with the crankshaft longitudinal and two opposed cylinders, was developed by BMW Engineer Max Friz, and resulted in the 1923 BMW R32 — the first BMW motorcycle (yes, Virginia, BMW made motorcycles five years before it produced cars).

The boxer engine layout always struck me as being utterly logical. The cylinders project sideways into the wind and have good primary balance, and transmission to a shaft final drive is relatively straight forward (or backward), eliminating any need for a bothersome chain or belt. Moreover, because the cylinders projected into the air stream, the engine on the opposed-twin runs much cooler than the more common V-twins.

The R32 established the boxer-twin, shaft-drive platform layout that BMW would use until the present. BMW used shaft drives in all of its motorcycles until the introduction of the chain-driven F650 in 1993 and continues to use this arrangement on its boxer-twin motorcycles.

Above: Here, above, is the 500cc, side-valve, BMW R32 that started BMW's long history of building some of the world's finest motorcycles! The distinguished and lucky man above is the rider of a brand new BMW R32, ca. 1925.

The R32 is, hands down, the most desireable BMW motorcycle to collectors. In November, 2009, at an auction in Munich, an R32 sold for $168,000.

Above is a 1924 R32 (note front brake). The original R32, of 1923, did not have a front brake. Photograph © BMW of North America.

Above are two lucky owners of BMW R32 motorcycles. Peter Nettesheim, of New York, is on the left, and Craig "Vech" Vechorik is on the right. Both were displaying their R32s at a national rally of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America.

The BMW R32 motorcycle (diagram above) was a 500 cc cycle designed by Max Friz.


Earlier models with opposed-twin engines created by the company, but that positioned fore-and-aft, were the 500cc Helios (photo above) and the Victoria (photo below) which were chain driven. BMW even experimented with a belt driven cycle before determining that shaft-drive was the most effective and reliable way to power a motorcycle.

BMW bought out Helios in 1923 and continued making these bikes until terminating production in November of that year.

The M2B15 boxer engine in the Helios and Victoria was the basis of the later R32 engine, which was turned 90 so the cylinders projected sideways out into the cooling airstream and the crankshaft was in line with the transmission and driveshaft.

Below is a true 1923 R32, which has no front brake.

BMW started producing its first motorcycle engine in 1922 for Victoria Motorcycles, and this engine was designed by Max Friz in Nuremberg. Because BMW was successful with its motorcycle engine production, Max Friz suggested that BMW to enter motorcycle industry. BMW agreed and Max Friz designed a revision of his first BMW motorcycle, with his BMW Boxer engine, which was named the Helios and was built in 1922. It had suspension problems so it did not sell well.

1924 BMW R32

After the Helios, Max Friz came up with the design for the BMW R32, which went into production in 1923 (see photo of 1923 factory production line above). This model was received very well, as nearly three thousand motorcycles were sold in just three years.

The R32 became the foundation for all furture boxer powered BMW motorcycles. BMW oriented the boxer engine with the cylinder heads sticking out on each side for superior cooling. Other motorcycle manufacturers aligned the cylinders with the frame as V-twins, one cylinder facing toward the front wheel and the other, troubled by receiving hot air from the front cylinder, toward the rear wheel. For example, Harley-Davidison introduced the model W, a flat twin orientated fore and aft design, in 1919 and built them through 1923.

One of the more amazing odes to the BMW R32 was created and finished in 2010 by a French BMW dealer, Jean-Luc Dupont, of French BMW Motorrad dealer Panda Moto 89. A motorcycle he designed and built, dubbed the “R1232” (photo below), was built from scratch to resemble the R32, but employed a modern BMW R1200 engine. Click on the photo below too go to Monsieur Dupont's website.


Click here to read English R32 specifications from BMW A.G., Munich, Germany.


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