Bios PDF Print E-mail
Written by BMWVMCA NEWS   
Friday, 04 April 2008


I asked for your biographies about how you became interested in BMW motorcycles. The response was respectably healthy. Keep your stories coming.

Bios:  Phil Sikora (Warwick, NY)

I’ll never forget the first time I saw an R27. I had my R100RS, which I purchased in October of 1976 from The Sport Spot, for a few years and had already been to a number of club meets and events. And I was pretty familiar with the /5 and /6 model line – my cousin Ed had an R50/5 and I had lusted for a silver-smoke R90S before I picked up my RS. And then I saw this really odd, no, different looking BMW. One cylinder? Huh? Was that a new model? And that was the start of my interest in older BMWs. I haven’t had an especially unique or expansive affair with vintage BMWs but I figure I can tell you my small collection of anecdotes anyway. Everyone can’t be a big-time owner.

In due course I did get an R27, my first “old” bike. $400 was probably the correct price for it in the late ‘70s, considering its condition. But I didn’t know any better. It was just very cool looking.

So Cousin Ed let me take it apart in his one-car garage and futz around with it. I really had no business pretending that I knew what I was doing. You hear that all the time about not messing with something that you don’t know nothing about. But I didn’t used to let ignorance stop me. I’ve only recently learned that lesson.

Here’s an example: the bike came with an aftermarket muffler that was rattle-the-panes loud. It was not at all like my RS level of sound. As I contemplated some really cheap way to remedy the situation, I recalled how my previous bike, a ’72 Honda 750, had these pieces of metal that attached to the muffler ends and I could always tell when I lost one because it became instantly louder. (I wear earplugs and earmuffs when I cut the lawn – I really hate loud noises). So I figured if I could plug the ends with some suitable material, well that would be all I needed.

My problem was in clearly defining the word suitable. You see, I had these used oil filters from the RS lying around (used as in oil-impregnated, paper element). And wouldn’t you know it, it fit exactly into the end of the R27 muffler. Problem solved.

I took my newly modified bike out for a test ride. Sounded great. And all things considered, it looked kind of cool with those flames coming out of the end of the muffler. Not many R27 owners can claim that about their singles. But then again, most owners aren’t quite as lame.

A few years later, common sense prevailed and I had a former dealer in PA work on it (actually that was a mistake, too, but less of a mistake than my working on it). I hadn’t ridden it in a few years and was pretty anxious to get back on two wheels (the RS being relegated to a leaky shed from which it never recovered).

So I set out for my 50-mile commute to work from my home in Warwick, NY. There’s really only two ways out of Warwick in a southerly direction – up this hill or up that hill. My first surprise was having to downshift to second gear and scream along at 40 to get up the hill. All the other commuters behind me, anxious to get to work, didn’t quite see me as the gallant gentleman on his vintage bike courageously commuting to work under adverse conditions (I think it did get down to the 50s that summer night). 18 horses don’t get you as much as you’d expect, although the Mikuni carb I had on it was able to produce 80 mpg on that first, slow, breaking-it-in tank.

Eventually it dawned on me that I was not willing to live within the limits of the bike. I could do it now, I think, but that’s probably only because I’ve slowed down a bit.

I did eventually sell the R27 to someone who, when he came to load it in the back of his pickup, had that same gleam in his eye as I had in my early days. I’m sure he’d be writing a similar story (while cursing me).

House, marriage, beautiful daughters, rotting RS – you know the drill – and no bike riding. But I had been pining for a sidecar all the while. And I thought of something like a Steib LS200 on an R27 would be just what the doctor ordered (you can see I’m a slow learner). Even Cliff’s head mechanic tried to educate me. But I was still holding onto another romantic vision. He said you’d never be able to get out of your own way. I countered with my best argument – then why do they make a setup like that possible and why did people buy and use them? Clearly I had him there. Then he told me a personal story.

In Czechoslovakia, his parents and uncle used to walk to town every Saturday to shop. Apparently it was a bit of a walk. But then they bought a used R27 with a sidecar and they were in heaven.  (See, I knew I was winning him over). Instead of that long, tedious walk to town every week, they could now ride. It was great. But the point he was trying to make was that it was a relative great. Sure it beat walking but with their load and the condition of the roads, they may have only been doing 35. And that’s what I meant earlier when I said that I wasn’t ready to live within the bike’s limits.

Luckily I have friends and one of them found me a ’59 R69 with a Steib S350. That rig suited my needs better. And it wasn’t even in horrible shape. At one point I took it apart to restore it (that was eight years ago) and since I saw that the restoration wasn’t going to be a very fast process for me, I bought a “/2” conversion with a Hollandia car. I took that apart to restore that five years ago. (Don’t forget about that slow learner comment). Then I got a VW-powered “/2” conversion. I haven’t taken it apart yet and I need to, but I’m afraid.”

I’ve been circling around making a point, amidst these recollections, and I think I’m ready to come in for a landing now and end this article. There are a million stories in the naked city and any number of ways to be involved with vintage BMWs – just pick one! Restore one, just ride one, pine over one, whatever.

I think this club is a great vehicle for promoting our passion.

Hope to see you on the road. Don’t expect me to have flames coming out of the back of my mufflers. At least I’ve learned that much. But I do make mistakes surrounding the appropriate consumption of chili at rallies. Hey! That could almost be the same thing as the muffler incident, no?

Phil Sikora

Bruce Frey (Moscow, Russia)     

Developing the Vintage BMW Addiction     

My first motorcycle was a brand new 65cc Honda purchased a few weeks before I received my driver’s license.  It was quickly upgraded to a 160cc Honda and I had grand visions of BSA or Triumph in the future.  Unfortunately, my pocketbook dictated otherwise and the 160 remained my ride throughout high school.  Winter riding in the Chicago area was difficult, but I really enjoyed the motorcycle experience.  While there were a handful of British bikes in the high school parking lot, I was more interested in my friend’s small block Chevy's and Hemis than in motorcycles.  My trusty 160 Honda was eventually sold to buy my first car.  I missed riding, but motorcycles were more of a luxury than I could afford.  In college, I had friends who were into motocross and I got to play with their bikes occasionally in return for my keeping their cars running.  I got married soon after college and my wife, who had lost a lot of skin in a crash, was anti-motorcycle.  At that time, love conquered all and it seemed that motorcycles were destined to be fond memories.     

Fast forward to1996.  We were being transferred to Barcelona, Spain, where traffic is horrible, fuel is expensive, parking is impossible and it seems that about twenty percent of the population rides scooters or motorcycles.  I mentioned the “M” word and got a “well, maybe.”   It seemed that there might be hope!  After witnessing a couple of moto accidents, the idea of riding in Barcelona traffic was a little too intimidating, although for the first time in almost thirty years I looked at motorcycle ads.  BMW seemed to be the way to go.     

Fast forward again to the summer of 1999 in Austin, Texas where my wife and I were doing a college inspection trip with our daughter.  As we were going to dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse, there was a beautiful black side valve BMW with a sidecar parked nearby.  I cannot recall the model, but we spent several minutes ooh-ing and aah-ing over it.  My wife said that the rig was an attention getter, probably could not go too fast and that with the sidecar, it looked like fun.  As soon as I got home I set out to discover everything I could about vintage BMW motorcycles!  Pandora’s Box was officially open!     

Where to start?  What to buy?  It had to have a sidecar. That was clear.  I wanted a bike that was capable of day or short weekend trips on back roads and that had the right vintage motorcycle “look.”  While being the most logical choices mechanically, the Earles fork bikes didn’t have the right aesthetics for me.  The bikes from the 1920’s up to the early 1930’s were dismissed because they were scarce and not right as a bike that would (hopefully) be ridden a lot.  The early to mid 1930’s bikes were dismissed basically because they lacked a foot shift.     

That left me looking at the R5-R67 family of bikes.  I was fascinated with the idea of a side valve and the R71 quickly became the bike of choice; that is until I tried to find one.  I traveled to Germany occasionally on business so I was able to pick up old-timer magazines with classified ads.  I must admit that I soon became VERY frustrated and impatient.  Every R71 lead I followed turned out to be Russian or Chinese.  At this time, I expanded my search parameters and finally organized a trip to Germany to look at some prospective bikes.       

One fellow had a variety of prewar and postwar rigs, the most interesting of which were an R6 with a Royal, an R12 with a Felber and an R67 with a Steib TR500.  The R12 was in rough shape and lacked the desired foot shift, but the R6 was BEAUTIFUL….and it was a side valve!  It was an older restoration and in good running condition.  While it was not one hundred percent correct, it had THE look I was after.  The R67 seemed rather mundane by comparison, although an S500 sidecar might have helped.     

The sidevalve engine, the canoe bow of the sidecar and the graceful lines of the hard tail frame were too much for me to resist and a deal was struck after a few weeks of negotiation.  The transportation of the bike to Barcelona and getting it registered also make interesting stories, but the R6 rig was soon cruising the hills and villages outside of Barcelona.       

Just after I closed the deal for the R6, I was offered a basket case R71.  I figured that one bike to ride and another to work on was appropriate so I quickly accepted.  Coincidently, the R6 rig and the R71 arrived at my house on different trucks at the same time, which I took as a good omen.     

Now I needed parts and the trips to Veterama began!  A few weeks after my first Veterama trip I am at a vintage show in Barcelona and what do I see? A sad looking R6 “rolling basket case,” which solved several parts problems.  I am now running out of garage space. 

As I become more and more enamored with their graceful hard tail frames, it seems only logical that one should have an R5 to go with the R6.  After just missing a couple of R5 deals in Europe, an R5 project turns up in the USA just as I think I will be repatriated.  How can you pass up a quite complete 1936 R5 with extra engine parts?  I can’t.  I am hooked!  My wife thinks that I am a prime candidate for “Vintage BMW Anonymous” and I cannot disagree.      

Well, the repatriation did not happen as planned as I am writing this from Moscow, Russia.  All my toys are back in the USA and it looks like another European assignment will keep me away for a few more years (but close to Veterama).  My home leave time is generally spent visiting doctors, dentists and relatives, but I try to check a few items off the restoration list during each visit.  In the meantime, I live vicariously through newsletters such as this and various Internet groups in order to keep from getting Vintage BMW withdrawal.   


So, if you had a nice looking pre-war rig parked near the Spaghetti Warehouse in Austin, Texas one evening in the summer of 1999, my addiction is entirely your fault!  Please identify yourself so I can thank you.  Now, all I need to find is someone to blame for my 1967 Mercedes Coupe……

Bruce Frey

Scott Ameling (Gibsongurg, Ohio)    

“Back in 1961 as a soldier stationed in Kaiserslautern, West Germany, my father decided he wanted to buy his first motorcycle. He found a dealer in Mannheim that sold bikes and looked at Jawas. As he was browsing thru the bikes a salesman mentioned they had an old BMW no one wanted. He looked at it and the price was right so all that was left was a test ride. Never having ridden before he asked one of his buddies who had ridden bikes to take it out for him. As this dealer didn't allow test rides the buddy had to ride on the back with a mechanic driving. Dad still laughs when he tells the story of the look on his friends face as the mechanic tore out of the parking lot! The price was right ($350.00) so he bought it.

Over the years this old BMW has been my inspiration (Along with my Dad) to get into old beemers. It turned out this "old BMW" was a 1953 R-68! Now, over the years things were changed on the old bike, put on and taken off, and now that my Dad is retired he'd like the bike to look like it did when he bought it. So far so good.

We're almost done, but I have been unable to find the proper mounting for the pillion seat that came on it. Its design is like the hinged "slide back" seat, except its about double the thickness and HAD a solid mounting and metal frame in the back suitable to two up riding. I still have the rubber studs but have no idea what the mount that goes from the seat to the hole in the rear fender brace looks like! If anyone has any ideas or  where I could find these mounts, I'd greatly appreciate it! I have seen similar seats in pictures on R-67/3's but I can't see the mounts.

Scott Ameling 

Paul Seibert (Sonoma, California)      

Paul, a pilot and aviation enthusiast, left Mid-Ohio to proceed directly to Oshkosh, WI for the EAA national fly-in.      

“I really enjoyed the gathering (at Mid-Ohio).     

Oshkosh was great too. Jenny was a big hit and won Grand Champion Antique. (A 1818 JN4H owned by Frank Schelling of Pleasant Hill, California) Below is a link to read about her.     

Your dream is absolutely correct. The big slow turning 1400 RPM  Hisso V8, with  short collector stacks on each side, makes a beautiful noise. The wind in the wires is awesome - both while riding in her and from the ground.     

My friend Chris Price (who rode his '69 R50 to the vintage races in Ohio around the lake from Wisconsin.) also flew his 1931 Heath to Oshkosh and won Grand Champion Seaplane.     

I will forward some pix of the two in flight.     

I have been interested in airplanes since I was a kid. I lived in the country in NE Ohio and rode my pedal bike to the local grass airport to work as a line boy when I was 14. I also bought a new Whizzer Motor for my Roadmaster bike with paper route money.     

I Majored in Aviation Maintenance at Parks College of St Louis University, and have worked in aviation all of my life.    

I first became fascinated with BMWs while living in the northeast when an airplane friend introduced me to a new '63 R69S. I rode it and I was hooked.      

My first BMW was a much neglected English frame, '58 R50 ex Peace Corps bike in Africa, that I restored in '68. Next was my'67 R69S which I bought in '71 and still have. After that it was a '57 R60 and 284/4 combination that I restored in '73 and also still own. Since moving to California in the early '80's I have been fortunate to be one of the Saturday morning BMW bunch at the legendary Jo Groeger's shop in Redwood City.     

Now I am heavily into old airplanes. In addition to volunteering as crew for Jenny, I am flying a 1936 Monocoupe, restoring a 1929 Fleet biplane and have a 1941 Porterfield waiting.     

Have you seen the issue of ‘Motorcycle Collector’ that featured my R51SS? Perhaps I could send that to you along with a copy of the little ‘story board’ that I made up for bike displays and you could create a little story about the bike  for the newsletter. The story about the bike would be lots more interesting to your readers than the story about me.

Best Regards, Paul Seibert 

Peter Berry (Thomas, Ontario, Canada)     

I have just completed and am now riding a 1956 R50 , and following that restoration began looking for an early single to restore here in Canada. They are hard to come by. I offered up my immaculate 1973 R60/5 in trade for a project bike at the Canadian Vintage rally and low and behold I received 2 separate offers on early 50's R51 projects which are also exceedingly rare here in Canada. I made the trade on one of these, a 1954 R51/3 and am now learning everything I can on these machines. The one I got has matching #'s and all the major parts but is missing a lot of the hardware and bits and pieces. I spent almost $1500 at Mid Ohio just on cosmetic parts I needed. The engine would actually start on this bike but is well worn out. I will have to hold out on parts for that until the money tree sprouts some more growth. I have a huge interest in the singles and one day a project will come along. I only ride the Vintage bikes, my 1956 being that right now, but it is the restoration part that I really like. I was into British bike restorations for many years, but have found the BMW's much more enjoyable to ride and so over the last few years have been concentrating on them. Because of space limitations I  don’t amass a lot of bikes, but usually keep a restored rider and work on a project over a few years. I continue to monitor the mono site and like I said my next project will hopefully be a single. I looked at one of the post war R35's on E-bay long and hard but was warned off of it by some members of the site as a Russian copy EMW. They are unique enough that E-bay is not the place to buy if you don’t know much about them,  a nice looking project none the less.       

I live in Canada about 2 hours east of Detroit / Windsor just south of London.”

Peter Berry 

Last Updated ( Friday, 04 April 2008 )
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