Bike of the Month
1968 BMW R69US
By George Canavan
If we climb into the “Way Back Machine”, I can recall buying this R69 US back in 2010. It was an intriguing model that represented a sea change at the Bavarian car manufacturer’s HQ.
See, BMW was content to hold on to a design while making incremental improvements year over year. After all, they were the “ride your Rolex to lunch bunch” with oil tight engine cases, shaft drive and frames made of oval aircraft tubing that could effortlessly haul a side hack filled with a metric ton of Bratwurst, Weisswurst, Leberwurst, Bockwurst and Knockwurst. The 600 even had a 14 pound flywheel to assist you in your swift completion of your appointed rounds. Superb machines, that few were buying. People wanted speed not utility, technicolor, not Avus Black with Dover White pinstripes. Buyers wanted hip, quick sporty gear, not an escort for a funeral procession. The new bikes from Japan were eating the Bavarian’s sausage. Change or perish. The boys with the blue and white rondel needed to adapt or go the way of the carrier pigeon.
Change she said, and change they did. Change doesn’t come quickly to a traditional bike builder. Do you feed the new customers while starving the faithful buyers? How much change could be absorbed into the market? What to change?
A new bike was on the drawing boards but not on the roads where the revenue is generated. Enter the 1968 R69 US. The R 69 was the flagship sport 600 with 42 HP and a 100 mph timing slip. It would be replaced by the R600/5 and R750/5 in due time. The US variant represented a nod to the future and signaled a major change was in the makings but not quite there yet. The oval tube frame was retained with the shaft drive but the side car lugs were removed. The omnipresent Earls forks were binned for long travel telescopic forks. There were even a few color options and if you read the fine print you could get your retailer to special order any color that was in the current BMW car catalogue. In 1968, BMW was able to peddle about 485 R69US models. It might not seem like victory was on the horizon but the changes were well received. The Slash Five models would stretch some heads in 1970 as they had lighter frames, electric starters, more displacement and OMG! metallic paint. The old timers in their Lederhosen were convinced that Hippies had taken over the Mothership.
Back to the bike at hand. It was a long suffering but solid standard model in black with those white pin stripes. After some initial experiences, I just couldn’t handle the beat down cosmetics. Time to blow the bike apart, kill off the surface corrosion and visit the paint booth. One thing that I love about these old steeds is that they are built with high quality materials. Bolts do not seize up, nuts do not round off, nothing snaps apart when attempting a removal of a part that has not budged since 1968.
Regarding the powder coat for the frame and the paint for the tin, we needed some direction. Most folks have seen a black BMW/2. Few have seen a Dover white one. Fewer have seen much else. As we mulled over the Granada Red, the Dove Gray and even the Principality of Monaco Royal Escort Mediterranean Blue, we were stumped until I saw a photo of a German police green bike that was on display at the BMW museum. Some sleuthing led to a color code and the trigger was pulled. German high-viz green it would be. (In the US of A most motor patrol machines were dark stealth colors but on the Autobahn the attitude was “Achtung! I’m over here. Don’t hit me!” Makes sense doesn’t it?
After we did some miles the mechanicals needed a refresh so the engine received a rebuild and more miles were accumulated. While building up those miles the bike came to the attention of Margie Siegal at Motorcycle Classics. She wrote an article and Nick Cedar did the photoshoot. As this was happening, Bill Wood was shooting photos and writing an article of the 2019 Monterey ride for the AMCA publication.
Fast forward to March, 2020. In the most unexpected coincidence, the two magazines were published and released on the same day. Margie got her article as lede story in Motorcycle Classics. Nick got the cover with the green R69US. And! Bill got the cover of the AMCA magazine with a sweeping downhill shot of the green BMW heading from the mountains to the ocean with a fair amount of pace.
That, my friends, is about as rare as Unicorns flying in formation over a rainbow moon.