The Vintagent Road Tests come straight from the saddle of the world’s rarest motorcycles.  Catch the Road Test series here.

The BMW R63 was the top of BMWs range in 1928; they had never offered a 750cc OHV motorcycle before. The R63 was an expensive machine when new, and cost about the same as a Brough Superior in the UK, due to import taxes, and I doubt many – if any at all – were imported to the USA. They remain coveted and expensive machines today, as the technical specification is impressive; 750cc OHV motorcycles for the street were rare in 1928, and none were offered in the USA at the time, and only a handful of luxury or super-sports machines in the UK or Europe were available with such a motor.  The styling is another contributing factor to their continued demand; with spare, light lines, the ‘flat tank’ nestling between the frame rails, and the sporty motor, the R63 is a true Bauhaus beauty.  BMW changed course in 1930 with pressed-steel frames that were also lovely, and gave an Art Deco flair to their lineup, but the R63 has a very different vibe, appearing much lighter and more sporting than its descendants.

A youthful Paul d’Orléans in 2006, giving his BMW R63 a ride in Golden Gate Park for an article by Andy Saunders in City Bike magazine. I was ‘into’ period riding gear at the time, although the death of a dear friend wearing an identical Davida helmet inspired me to put useless ‘safety’ gear on a shelf, and ditch nostalgia riding. [Andy Saunders]

I came across the R63 after selling a Brough Superior SS100 (and several other machines) in order to buy a house in San Francisco in 2001.  The SS100 left me with enough cash to buy a restored 1928 BMW R63, which looked amazing via photos. The bike was restored in Germany, but was clearly not re-built for actual riding, only for display.  I’ve never been so disappointed in a purchase! The mechanical noise was awful; it sounded like a cement mixer, handled like a cart, had terrible brakes which dragged and howled while riding, and a gearbox which whined like a dog with attachment issues.  I returned it to the vendor, who had warned me I should give it a test ride before buying, but he was 3000 miles away, so I rolled the dice.  He re-sold it immediately, such is demand for even poorly restored R63s.

What a beauty! The BMW R63 is from the ‘flat tank’ era of BMW design, with the fuel tank nestled beneath the top frame rails. A spare, Bauhaus-style design, with a 750cc OHV motor that was the most powerful machine available from BMW. [Andy Saunders]

Of course, my R63 wasn’t representative of BMWs from the 1920’s. I’ve since ridden some real peaches from the era (see this Road Test of an R16)…but after asking around for opinions on the R63, I found that although mine was mechanically suspect, they’re all slightly crude compared to the later models I was more familiar with, starting with the R5 in 1936.  The chassis specs are interesting; up front is a leaf-spring front fork with a generous 7″ brake, although the rear brake is via a finned clamp over the shaft drive coupling, and does little good, especially when wet.  The gearbox has three speeds, and shifting can be graunchy, but that’s a problem BMW didn’t solve until the turn of the Century.  The 24hp motor has plenty of torque, as you might expect, and spun up well to a satisfying if not thrilling top speed of around 75mph.  If you think I’m expecting too much for the period, my 1928 AJS K7 350cc had the same top speed, my 1928 Sunbeam Model 90TT would romp to over 90mph, and my tuned ’26 Norton Model 18 was timed at 96mph.  The handling with the leaf-sprung front fork was not up to British standards of the era, but probably equivalent of an American machine of the era. Which is why the dominant racing machines of the 1920s were Nortons and Sunbeams, which handle superbly and are much lighter, quicker motorcycles.  In sum, the R63 is not a road-burner, but a beautiful grand touring machine, which is a fine thing to be.

Lest we forget: Ernst Henne in September 1929 on a BMW WR750 supercharged for record-breaking: he reached 134.67mph on the Ingolstadt autobahn. Read our ‘Absolute Speed, Absolute Power’ article. [The Vintagent Archive]

Would I give another R63 a try in my stable?  Of course!  What a beauty.  I met a mechanic/restorer in Germany who regularly rides his R63 from Munich to Turkey for his summer holidays; now that’s a relationship worth envying.  And it should be remembered that the R63 formed the foundation of BMW’s WR750 racers and record-breakers, that would record 135mph with a supercharger and streamlined bodywork.  A very different animal indeed…



Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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