Confessions of a BMW Addict

Moshe K Levy BMW Motorrad R 1150 RT
The author with his 2004 BMW R 1150 RT in Yellowstone National Park during his first cross-country trip in 2007.

As a young motorcyclist, I discovered BMW by accident. In the summer of 2003, I was cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway on my 1998 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom, a violent jackhammer of a bike that was crude, loud, and spectacularly uncomfortable. The sun was about to set as I pulled into a motorcycle-friendly campground. After parking my bike, I saw a large crowd gathered around a blazing fire, listening intently to a presentation. I approached curiously and was soon in rapt attention myself.

The speakers were Chris and Erin Ratay, who were wrapping up a four-year, 101,322-mile circumnavigation of the planet aboard a pair of BMW F 650s, a trip that earned a Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled by a couple on two motorcycles. I had stumbled upon the last stop on the Ratays’ “ultimate journey” before they returned home to New York.

Of course, the globetrotting couple shared interesting tales of adventure travel, but the theme they kept coming back to was the indestructability of their BMWs. Their bikes were on display, and everyone at camp scrutinized them carefully. After four years traversing 50 countries on six continents, both F 650s looked as though they had been dropped from an aircraft at 30,000 feet, crash-landed on jagged rockface, set on fire with napalm, and then run over by a battalion of Abrams tanks. Yet both started instantly and ran with the precision of a fine Swiss watch.

Juxtaposed against my primitive Sportster, the contrast in terms of modern engineering and stout reliability couldn’t be clearer. I began studying BMWs and fell in love with the R 75/5 that Clement Salvadori wrote about in the pages of Rider (Retrospective, April 1991; I also recently wrote my own Retrospective: BMW /5 Series – 1970-1973). I soon had a 1973 long-wheelbase Monza Blue R 75/5 Toaster in my garage, and it was a revelation. Despite its age, it was so quiet, so smooth, and so stable at speed. That motorcycle, with its quirky air-cooled flat-Twin “boxer” motor and bizarre but practical styling, was my gateway drug into the wonderful world of BMW motorcycles. And what a journey it’s been!

Over the past 20 years, I’ve owned or co-owned 11 BMWs ranging in age from a 1971 R 60/5 to a 2020 R 1250 GS. I’ve put well over 200,000 combined miles on them, traveling all over the U.S. and Canada. All of them have been supremely functional, which isn’t surprising given the company’s storied history of engineering innovations. BMW has given us hydraulically damped forks as well as the first production versions of a nose fairing, a full fairing, a single-sided swingarm, anti-lock brakes, and of course, BMW’s proprietary Paralever and Telelever suspension systems, among many other innovations.

1971 BMW R 60/5 slash five
The author’s wife on her first bike, a 1971 R 60/5 with standard 6.3-gal. tank. Now with almost 100,000 miles, it’s still going strong.

BMWs are generally overengineered, sometimes to a fault, but the company’s rabid fan base of high-mileage riders has come to respect the brand as representative of some of the finest motorcycles available at any price.

However, what I appreciate more than the motorcycles themselves is the BMW community of riders. They’re a wildly diverse group of mostly professionals, skewing heavily toward the intellectual and analytical gearheads that I feel most at home with. Every BMW group I’ve spent time with emphasizes riding competence and safety. BMW is a marque that appeals to serious riders, as reflected by the odometers one sees at any of the brand’s big rallies: 100,000-plus miles on bikes that are only a few years old is a common sight.

One hundred years of continuous production is a stellar accomplishment for any company, especially for a brand that has been considered a niche manufacturer for much of its history. But in recent years, BMW Motorrad has branched out beyond its traditional touring and adventure bikes to produce models such as high-performance sportbikes and electric scooters, which would have been unthinkable when I started riding BMWs 20 years ago. It’s going to be fascinating to see where the next 100 years take us!

See all of Rider‘s BMW coverage here.


  1. For many years I’ve drooled when I saw a BMW on the highway. I thought I couldn’t afford one. Then two years ago I purchased R1250 RT and wondered why I waited so long. I love it and ride every chance I get.

    • Yes, indeed ! While I have the earlier 1200 model, it is nearly perfect for the type of riding I do. I do wish BMW could make a down-sized fully equipped boxer version that was maybe in the 450 lb range, and more like a modern R60, but I am sure they couldn’t sell it if they did. Bikes are getting so large and heavy that it is frustrating, as I get older, to have to be foreced to revert to chain drive Oriental bikes that do not have the sophistication and incredible experience of riding a Beemer.

  2. Sadly, I have never had the expertise of riding a BMW. I was close though, 17 miles to be precise. In the summer of 2002, I left work early to ride the 25 miles to my nearest BMW dealer to pick up the brand new K1200 RS I had bought using my Yamaha TRX850 as a part exchange. After covering 8 miles I was approaching a roundabout at approx 40 mph when a car pulled out right in front of me, no more than 20 yards ahead of me. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to evade hitting the side of the car, was jettisoned over the hood/bonnet and my legs were splayed either side of a road sign, tearing my left leg completely off. Of course there were quite a few associated injuries, ruptured spleen, 7 fractured ribs, a puncture lung etc. Those were the major injuries, which left me having to use a wheelchair. I still suffer the loss of freedom my bikes gave me and nowadays I find myself living vicariously by watching hundreds, of not thousands of YT videos, reading Biking mags etc. I’m 70 now but still have the yearning all true bikers feel. I’m glad you took the plunge as I truly believe that BMWs are among the best motorcycles you can buy. Ride safe my friend and keep an eye open for 80 year old idiots coming out of junctions. Best wishes from a Scottish ex-biker.

    • Have you looked in to sidecars? I have seen – at Indy – a sidecar rig which the rider rolled his chair into the specially adapted sidecar, and operated from that position.
      My brother was born with spina bifida- he became a real gearhead, loved cars and bikes and the people around them- he also had to ride vicariously-
      He became active with Shriners Hospital (we live near their Chicago hospital) and also got involved with GLASA – great lakes area sports association- did amazing things with young people and veterans doing things they never expected to do- playing hockey, kayaking and so on. He had a GTI with hand controls that never failed to impress the kids at Shriners.
      good luck to you!

  3. A wonderful article, and thanks so much for writing it and sharing ! I reside in Appalachian Ohio and ride a 2015 BMW r1200RT, the most enjoyable bike I’ve ever owned (with only one’s weight, as I am 71 years old, and only 5’8 and 138 lbs). BMW’s are great bikes for those who actually place more value on the ride than on being seen or heard.

  4. My BMW story echos yours a lot. Bought my first BMW sight unseen in 1971 from William Walters BMW in San Antonio, Texas in 1971, a blue toaster tanked R75/5 short wheel based beauty. My very first ride on a Beemer was when I road it from the dealer to home in Kerrville, Tx. Since then I have owned more Beemers than I can count, ridden coast to coast, border to border and darn near every where in between. Been to the BMW Motorcycle factory at the invitation of BMW in ’77, even into their Skunk Works. Lucky enough to have founded a BMW Motorcycle dealership in ’73 and still at 80 plus years love riding my 310GS in the Mountains.

  5. Great article and inspiring. 1 year ago at the going age of 76 I bought my first BMW. A RnineT pure. I loved it so much I decided I needed another one so I just bought a R1200RS. My wife thinks I’m crazy but we just celebrated our 50th anniversary and she‘S starting to change her mind.

  6. I was in the XL List Sportster club and went on a few rides with Moshe. Now, almost 30 years later, I serendipitously stumble across this story in Rider… What a pleasant surprise. I’m glad you are still doing what you do best Moshe, being the perfect diplomat for whatever you find yourself on and disseminating great knowledge, wisdom and stories.

    I ended up on BMW also. It’s really nice to ride without dropping fillings and vertebrae…

    I hope you have a great, adventure-filled new year, Moshe …

  7. I used to be a BMW Fanatic. I’m a member of the 400,000 mile club. But then BMWNA screwed me ROYALLY in 2018 and I swore I’d never buy ANYTHING with the BMW Roundel no matter HOW many wheels it has. The company is no longer what it was when I bought my first BMW in 1985 and that’s a pity. I’ll run my 1999 K1200LT into the ground (238,000 miles and counting) and if I ever need to replace it it’ll likely be with a Honda Goldwing.


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