10 Days with a 1973 BMW R75/5

The Classic Experience

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1973 BMW R75/5
Photo by Landon Hall
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1973 BMW R75/5
Recommended service

Oil change: Every three months or 2,000 miles
Air filter: Replace every 8,500 miles
Valve adjustment: Check/adjust every 8,500 miles
Spark plugs: Replace every 8,500 miles
Ignition points and timing: Replace points and adjust timing every 8,500 miles
Driveline splines: Clean and lube every 10,000 miles

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Every time I ride a BMW R75/5, it makes me wonder what I was thinking when I parted with mine a few years back. Sure, the Laverda that replaced it was a heck of a lot sexier, but there’s a price to pay for all that Italian flash, and it usually begins with a big “M” for maintenance.

While my 1983 RGS 1000 is actually quite reliable in its own Italian sort of way, there’s no escaping the extra level of attention it requires. Back in 1973, outside of maybe Honda with its superlative 4-stroke twins and fours, nobody made a machine as doggedly reliable as BMW, and the R75/5 was the best machine BMW had going.

New flash for the new slash
Introduced in 1969, the 745cc R75/5 was the biggest motorcycle in BMW’s new line of /5 models that also included the 498cc R50/5 and 599cc R60/5. Often considered more evolutionary than revolutionary, the new /5s were in fact a bit of both. While they retained BMW’s traditional boxer engine configuration (so named because the pistons of the horizontally opposed twin appear to “box” each other as the crankshaft spins) and shaft final drive, the /5s were significantly improved over their earlier brethren.

Where previous BMWs were kickstart only, the new /5s had Bosch electric starters (optional on the R50/5). Breaker points and a pair of 6-volt coils replaced the previous magneto system, and charging was by a brushless alternator instead of the generator found in previous models. Better yet, the new alternator put out a whopping 180 watts, a 50 percent higher output than most other bikes then on the market.

Although purists were a bit uncertain about the revised Beemers, new comers to the Bavarian fold embraced the new bikes. Although not as fast as a contemporary Norton 850 Commando, the R75/5 was faster than it looked, posting quarter-mile times in the high 13-second range and a top speed close to 110mph. It would tour effortlessly at 80mph all day long, returning 50mpg in the process, and it handled well, too, as capable on a two-lane back road as it was on the super slab. About the only thing you could really fault on the R75/5 was the ho-hum performance of its dual drum brakes.

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