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Blogger News: HONOURING HISTORY WITH THE R 5 HOMMAGE 24.5.16

BMW Motorrad pays respect to one of its all-time greats.

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There was no question that BMW Motorrad could let the 80th anniversary of the R 5 pass without officially marking the occasion. And what better way to honour one of the favourite BMW motorcycles of all time than by creating a dedicated homage bike to showcase all the classic beauty of the original, but incorporating a whole host of modern twists.
 
 
A new chapter for a very special BMW bike.
 
Rider thrills, race wins and an elegant, timeless design are just a few of the many valid reasons why the 1936 R 5 is considered by classic motorcycle enthusiasts as one of the very best of the pre-war BMW boxers. Among the many R 5 fans is current BMW Motorrad head of vehicle design, Ola Stenegard, whose long-held dream of creating a concept bike to pay homage to the fastest and most modern BMW motorcycle of its time has brought together a select group of experts in classic racing and restoration, design, engineering and custom building. 
 
The surge in popularity of building cool custom bikes based around old BMWs has seen interest and demand for old airhead boxers skyrocket. But when BMW Motorrad had the idea to celebrate the 80th birthday of the R 5 with a modern, yet sophisticated homage bike that would showcase the beautiful proportions, lines and details of the original, the last thing on anyone's mind would be taking apart an historic R 5, as Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design, BMW Motorrad, explains. 
“The R 5 is one of mine and Ola's favourite BMWs from a design point of view. It’s got it all – the rigid frame that’s the purest and most beautiful solution and that special motor at the heart of the bike. But customising old historic vehicles is super sensitive. Where do you put a modern part and what do you leave stock? It’s a balancing act and we knew we wanted to give it a modern feel by updating brakes, suspension and things like that but we didn’t want to fit a prototype motor or a 9T engine. A new motor just wouldn’t cut it, because it wouldn’t honour the R 5 in the right way, but we couldn’t just chop up an old original R 5 – that would be sacrilege.” 
 
 
A sketch, a search and a solution.
 
Although he’s penned some of the most memorable BMW bikes of recent years, such as the S 1000 RR supersports bike, Ola Stenegard’s roots actually lie in custom building – a passion he has had for over 30 years.
Having decided on the R 5 as a starting point, Ola’s initial design sketch was a sensitive mix of old-school engineering and modern technology wrapped up in the pleasing proportions of a ‘bobber’. On paper, the bike looked extremely promising, but the reality was that it would have to be built from scratch, with parts they didn’t yet have.
 
Bringing a piece of history back to life.
 
A deadline was set – the bike would be unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este event in Italy and so it was over to the Project manager for Concept Bikes, Michael Eder, to conduct the search for the right motor and gearbox. “We have a long heritage of cool bikes, but the R 5 is about as cool as it gets.
Many people forget that this was a really a race bike that was conceived by enthusiasts who knew how to build an engine for racing and put it in a bike that really looked good on the road, too. But we didn’t want to take the engine from an existing bike, we wanted to bring old parts together in a chassis that gave the motor and all the parts a new life in a special bike that works perfectly and looks great. Easier said than done of course, but that was our plan to bring a piece of history back to life.”
From left to right: Perka Nyström, Benna Norén, Ola Stenegard, Michael Eder, Sebastian Gutsch, Ronna Norén.
In need of a Swede – or two.
 
With such a tight deadline for the project, Ola looked in the direction of some of his oldest friends to help turn this dream of a fully-crafted R 5 Hommage to honour the brand’s history, into reality. He enlisted the help of brothers Ronna and Benna Norén and brought them together with Sebastian Gutsch to see what might happen when the custom and vintage worlds collide. “Bringing people together from different specialties is what makes customising special,” says Ola. “It’s all about the motorcycling ‘family’ and it was great to see these specialists from polar opposites of the motorcycling spectrum sharing ideas and talking about what could be achieved.”
The two brothers are leading lights in the traditional chopper custom scene, but also have prior experience with Bavarian boxers, having built the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ R nineT in 2014 that was one of several memorable BMW Motorrad project builds. However, creating a concept bike from scratch based on a single design sketch is something entirely different, even for a talented master craftsman such as Ronna. “We’re used to doing top fuel drag racers, choppers, bobbers and race bikes, so it was great to do a completely different style of bike as it keeps you fresh,” says Ronna. “With this latest project I did a lot of research into the 1936 R 5, and the craftsmanship is there to see in the details. The starting point for that original R 5 was always the design, and when I saw Ola’s sketch for the homage bike, I knew he’d nailed it right away.”
 
Best of both worlds.
 
Armed with Ola’s sketch and a few boxes of R 5 parts sourced by Sebastian, Ronna started building a frame. The mission was clear: to capture the simplicity and beauty of the original R 5 frame and fork, but add some modern elements such as a rear suspension solution that would offer comfort yet still retain the rigid look without affecting the characteristic design line flowing from steering head to rear axle.  An essential element of the build was to maintain the oval tubing that made the original frame so distinctive and show as much of it as possible. To this end, the swingarm pivot was kept low to enhance the bike’s good looks, while a linkage actuates a state-of-the-art Öhlins shock. To give the bike a bit more attitude than the original series machine, more rake was introduced in the steering head.
The front fork was made by Ronna’s twin brother Benna, and has also received its fair share of attention. The fork covers are fully integrated in the machined aluminium triple-trees and given an aerodynamic teardrop section worthy of Ernst Henne. A thin rib on the leading edge ties it together with the valve covers and breast plate. The lower forklegs bring the fork right up-to-date and are crowned by a radially-mounted 6-piston caliper. As for the wheels, specially made ISR hubs are machined from aluminum where the spokes are integrated into the brake disc centre – a truly innovative statement – while the blacked-out aluminium rims are shod in old-school Allstate rubber.
 
Breathing new life into an old engine.
 
With the chassis on wheels, attention turned to the engine. Somewhere along the line the idea of tuning the R 5 motor with a ‘blower’ (supercharger) was thrown into the mix. Everyone agreed that it made sense, not just from a historical perspective, but would also make the modern additions such as the disc brakes and suspension more relevant due to the significant additional power produced. Work started on the battle-scarred original engine cases. Hard racing meant that they had seen better days but the best one was picked, welded and restored back to its former glory. The cylinders and heads are ‘repops’ (reproductions) since the original ones proved much too hard to come by, while the valve covers as well as the breast cover were machined from aluminium by Benna and his crew.
It was the blower that proved to be the crowning achievement though. Instead of replacing the generator with a compressor, the team hatched the idea to place it in the spot where the air filter normally sits. When building the frame and chassis, a shoebox was used as a mock-up around the dummy engine, but as the project progressed, Ronna constructed an aluminium adapter plate, sitting between the motor and gearbox to hold the unique blower in place. The drive is done up by a custom-made belt from the crank. The inlet and plenum chamber were all fabricated by Ronna.  Sebastian also recommended electronic ignition as well as the historically correct Amal carburetor. Finally the motor was finished off with a full custom-made stainless steel exhaust system and put to the Dynotest for fine-tuning. As the clock counted down, work continued in other areas of the build. 
 
The devil is in the details.
 
When it came to the bodywork, nothing was spared in the quest for custom perfection. In true ‘bobber’ style, the rear fender was kept short and chopped. The petrol tank – hammered out from sheet-metal by Ronna – was made to closely resemble a narrowed, sectioned and slightly massaged R 5 original, topped off by a machined pop-up fuel cap in stainless steel by Benna. The seat was also painstakingly designed, with a one-off base covered in heavy, hand-stitched leather and crowned with the ‘Hommage’ logo, designed by BMW Motorrad’s Ulli Sengenberger.
The handlebars were made by Benna, who also incorporated a modern interpretation of the old reversed ‘meathooks’ for the controls. Despite the tight timeframe, Benna machined a set of adjustable controls, bringing the classic R 5-style levers into the present day.
He even found time to add a couple of hidden messages that can only be read when the clutch and brake levers are activated, adding a subtle touch of humour while still remaining faithful to the originals.
“When I started looking at the original R 5 I thought, how do you customise this,” says Benna. “It was a big risk to take on a custom project of a bike that you’d actually want for yourself as a stock bike! We knew there was a risk in taking on a classic like the R 5, so we had to really think about how to keep the tradition and ‘feeling’ recognisable but also add some cheeky details and have some fun with it. But as soon as I saw Ola’s first sketch I could see it had real potential, right from the beginning.”
“I was afraid about what I’d say if I didn’t like the finished bike, but now it’s so much better than I thought it was going to be.”
- Sebastian Gutsch
 
Any colour you like, so long as it’s black-ish.
 
Finally, time had come for the surfacing and detailing. Another Swede, specialist automotive painter Håkan Lindberg, was drafted in to bring some colour to the project. Håkan will be familiar with those who saw the one-off BMW S 1000 RR that was created in homage to the 2015 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation action movie blockbuster.
For the R 5 Hommage, Håkan’s brief was of course for black paintwork with white pinstripes, but with a twist, as Ola explains: “Since the tank and fender were both finished in steel, it was decided to let the steel shine through the ghosted paint in R 90 S style. The pinstripes also received the custom touch with pearl paint and some patterning to add sparkle. All-in-all, the main theme of the R 5 Hommage was shiny black with very little chrome, but to let the polished aluminium from all the machined parts add some sophisticated ‘bling’ to the project.”
The engine and gearbox housing as well as the compressor were kept honest and original with just a careful glass beading to clean them up, while the finished project was crowned by the machined badges, designed by Ulli, on each side of the blower, finally spelling out the motorcycle’s official name: ‘R 5 Hommage’.
 
Start me up!
 
Returning to Sweden to witness the bike in all its finished glory was R 5 expert Sebastian Gutsch, who had been admittedly nervous about seeing the customised concept bike for the first time, and taking it out for a ride. “I was afraid about what I’d say if I didn’t like the finished bike, but now it’s so much better than I thought it was going to be,” he confirmed. “Ronna and the team have really picked out all the special points from the original R 5 and have made a wonderful job. The form of the tank is beautiful, the bike looks very light and it feels absolutely right when you sit on it – it feels completely like an R 5. From the beginning I loved the idea of putting a charger on it. The engine really pulls, there’s a lot of torque. This R 5 Hommage has really surprised me in a positive way and I’m so glad I was able to help with the old engine – it was lying around anyway!”
Project manager Michael Eder was alongside Ola, Ronna, Benna and Sebastian to hear the old R 5 engine come to life again in the new bike, and for him it was also an emotional reaction. “When I saw the finished bike it was crazy – like the birth of your new child. When you look at it you see so many details, and then you start it up and it’s something else. It sounds amazing to hear a supercharger in an old motor like this and it’s important that people hear it running, not just look at it presented on a podium. I think nobody expected this kind of bike from BMW Motorrad but it’s been a fantastic team effort.”
 
Having started life as an idea in his head that imagined how a manufacturer-built BMW custom bike based on an iconic boxer could look, Ola Stenegard can be justifiably proud of bringing together some of the best creative talents in the business. The R 5 Hommage is the result of a meeting of minds that will surely look as inspiring in 80 years’ time as it does today – just like the original classic on which it is based.
“I’m super happy that it all came good. It’s one of the bikes that I’m most proud of, maybe because it’s closer to my heart than any other bike or possibly because there was no guarantee that it could ever be done,” enthuses Ola. “We started with nothing, all the other bikes we’d done had a running engine, but for this we put together a motor from old broken pieces and for good measure decided to throw a supercharger on it! It’s the collection of individual expertise that has resulted in this thing of beauty that pays homage to 80 years of the R 5’s heritage. This is a bike I’m sure I’ll look back at 30 years from now and still feel good about.” 


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