BMW's two-wheeled Concept Roadster
By: IOL Motoring Staff
Lake Como, Italy - Occasionally BMW likes to remind its more snooty clientele that the Bavarian Motor Works - founded in 1916 to build aircraft engines for Kaiser Bill's Batmen - was a maker of quality motorcycles long before it began building Austin Seven clones under the Dixi brand.
And what better place to do that than the snootiest event on the automotive calendar, the annual Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como.
Yes, Cyril, we know Pebble Beach in Monterey, California carries more prestige and bigger prizes, but for sheer snob appeal the Villa d'Este, just down the beach from George Clooney's batchelor pad, has it beat all hollow.
Which is probably why one of the exhibits in the 'Concepts and Prototypes' section of the 2014 Concorso had two fewer wheels than most of the guests expected.
Last year, on the 90th anniversary of the first BMW motorcycle, the Blue Propeller Guys showed off their gorgeously retro Concept 90; this year's Concept Roadster, by contrast, is as contemporary as they come - as insectoid in its form and stance as anything in showrooms today.
And yet, the concept roadster has more in common with Max Fritz' R32 of 1923 than it does with the S1000RR World Superbike contender, sharing its boxer-twin, shaft-drive architecture with the classics original.
It's built around the latest iteration of BMW's 1170cc R-series engine, with liquid-cooled heads and vertical induction, generating a conservative 92kW at 7750 revs and 125Nm at 6500rpm.
The engine is the biggest component and dominates the wedge-shaped bike, which has been kept as compact as possible, with a low front end and short, kicked up rear, to place the visual focus on the front wheel and give the impression that it's about to pull a dramatic stoppie even when it's standing still.
Split colouring separates the dark 'engine room' from the pearl white and yellow of the seat/tank section above it and the radiant blue mainframe, visually lowering the centre of gravity and bringing the bike closer to the road.
The finely-wrought sub-frame, seemingly cantilevered from the rear of the fuel tank, is milled from a single piece of aluminium - taking the concept of billet manufacture to its logical conclusion! - which allowed the use of thinner sections than would have been wise with any other process.
It's been left unfinished, its semi-circular milling marks creating an industrial look that contrasts with the smooth painted surfaces and flat two-tone upholstery of the racing-inspire single seat in yellow vinyl and perforated alcantara synthetic suede.
The headlight, sadly, is where the designers lost the plot - but that's not confined to this model or, indeed, this brand. The concept roadster has what looks like a plateful of matted LED light banks, in a flat, enduro-style mounting, set far too low to make any aesthetic sense, with a somewhat truncated all-digital instrument pod tucked in behind it - too low and too far away to be read at a glance, which is, let's face it, the raison d'etre of motorcycle instruments anyway.
In addition to the rear frame, the lateral air intakes are milled out of solid aluminium, shown to striking effect against the black radiator, as are the tappet covers; each has a protective Teflon pad - inspired by the knee-pads of racing leathers - to protect these vital components when the bike is ridden in anger on a twisty road (how d'you think the Boxer Cup racers got the nickname 'Potscrapers'?)
Form and function combine in the 'chin spoiler' under the crankcase, which is also the main silencer - the short, steep tailpipe is mainly cosmetic - concentrating main masses, both visually and physically, around the engine to make the steering quicker.
The rest of the running gear is bought-in from top suppliers such as Brembo, with the fork stanchions, monoshock body and brake callipers elegantly anodised to ensure they look as good as they work.