In 1935, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG introduced the BMW R5, a 500cc motorcycle that was initially developed for racing. The R5 was a technical and styling departure from the company’s first motorcycle, the 1923 R32. “At its debut, the R5 was not only a masterpiece of engineering”, said Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design for BMW Motorrad. “The clarity of its lines and the elegance of its proportions stand out from the rest. In my view, the R5 remains one of the most aesthetically appealing motorcycles in BMW’s history.”
The 4-stroke two-cylinder boxer engine of the R5 was a completely new design. The valve drive was actuated by two camshafts powered by a timing chain. With a power output of 26bhp at 5,500 rpm and a frame made of electrically-welded oval tubing, the relatively light R5 reached a top speed of 135 km/h, which was impressive at the time. The R5 influenced BMW motorcycle design up to the 1950s.
Today, the 1935 R5 still casts a spell over custom bike builders. To mark the R5’s 80th anniversary, BMW Motorrad officially unveiled a modern tribute called the “BMW R5 Hommage”. Designed in-house at BMW and built with the help of Swedish master craftsmen Ronna and Benna Norén of Unique Custom Cycles, the R5 Hommage is an intriguing and gorgeous blend of historic design cues and modern custom building techniques.
“The 1935 R5 captured the very essence of a motorcycle”, said Ola Stenegärd, BMW’s Head of Vehicle Design. “Our aim with the R5 Hommage was to transport that clarity and elegant aesthetic appeal to the modern era, creating a respectful combination of old-school and high-tech with a dash of high performance.” Modifying, damaging, or pillaging an original R5 was out of the question. The mere thought was considered a sacrilege.
Authentic at the Core
At the core of the R5 Hommage is an original 500cc two-cylinder engine provided by motorcycle enthusiast Sebastian Gutsch. The authentic R5 engine was originally damaged in a race and provided the starting point for creating the custom bike. Its 26-horsepower output was impressive 80 years ago but it won’t win any races today. Thus, a unique supercharger was built and installed after the boxer twin was restored to better-than-new condition. A custom stainless steel exhaust system expels the spent gases and provides an exciting exhaust note.
The aluminum engine and gearbox cases were bead-blasted with glass beads to remove 80 years of oil and grime. These matt-finished aluminum parts contrast beautifully with the highly polished engine breastplate and valve covers, which were machined from billet aluminum based on sketches. Reminiscent of the 1935 originals, the machined valve covers were made with the trademark “R5 crease”.
The rest of the R5 Hommage was elaborately handcrafted from scratch. Working off specifications provided by the BMW Motorrad design team, the Norén brothers used their 30 years of bike-building experience to produce the needed parts such as the frame, fuel tank, and rear fender, which are all unique components. The frame and fuel tank echo the shape of the original in a more modern, streamlined interpretation.
The original R5 used telescopic front forks with aerodynamically-shaped covers that were radical at the time. The R5 Hommage uses modern custom-made forks with a slight crease on the covers to mimic those on the engine breastplate and valve covers. The steering head is slightly more tilted to give the bike a steeper rake and greater presence. The rear suspension maintains an oval-shaped frame that is configured to draw a continuous line from the steering head to the rear wheel hub. The hand-made steel rear fender is the Norén brothers’ nod to classic bobber-style minimalism.
Old School Meets Hi-Tech
The R5 Hommage is rich in period design details. The embossed, hand-stitched leather seat looks like it came from the 1930s. The custom-made bar-end brake and clutch levers combine the look of traditional reversed levers with the adjustability of modern controls. Hydraulic disc brakes with polished rotors and calipers are mounted on minimalist front and rear wheel hubs laced with steel spokes to black powder-coated rims. Meaty period-looking tires provide contact with the road.
Classic BMW black with white pinstripes, interpreted in a contemporary style, provides the perfect finish for this custom bike. The layers of paint give an opaque effect with a “smoke” finish on the fuel tank and rear fender that allows a glimpse of the steel underneath to show through. Upon closer inspection, the finish shows a hint of metallic shine and a slight flake effect.
The similarities and the subtle differences of the original R5 and the custom bike can only be appreciated when the two motorcycles are parked side by side. The tribute bike echoes the elegant drop shapes of the original but with more modern, streamlined shapes. It’s hard to improve upon an original masterpiece but the BMW R5 Hommage is a testament to the imagination and creativity of the BMW Motorrad designers and the bike building talents of the Norén brothers and their crew at Unique Custom Cycles.