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Bike of the Month

March 2019

1971 BMW R75/5

By George Canavan

BMW motorcycles have always offered a strong interest for me going back to the 1970’s and my first purchase - a well used 1960 R50/2. With 109,000 miles and a few accidents from new, it proved to be the perfect entry bike for the horizontally oriented motoring fan. We commuted rain and shine for a couple of years free of drama or incident.


After a couple of decades of four wheel family life, it was time to return to vintage riding. The choice was obvious, another R50/2 which led to a R69US. The US model was a stop gap model as the product line was being revamped to address modern riding styles and hip 70’s design elements. The US models returned to telescopic forks indicating a move from sidecar toting to a sportier chassis to come.


When the product planners decided to abandon tradition and move into the swinging 70’s they did it with wild abandon with the introduction of the Slash Five models. Gone were the oval tube elements with side car lugs, the Earles forks, the heavy duty gear box, oil slingers and roller bearings.


High pressure plain bearings and oil filtration were introduced as well as electric start, upgraded Bing carbs, a smoother automotive style four speed transmission, lighter frame elements with a separate rear structure and upgraded wheels and brakes. Top of the line engine capacity was notched up to 750cc. Gone were the staid color options of either Avus Black or Dover White. Granada Red, Metallic Green, Monza Blue, Polaris Silver and Curry Metallic met the market with a brave new face. In order to attract the swingers of the 70’s who were eyeing large bore bikes from Asia, Bavaria turned to chrome ladled on with a trowel. Hence the “Toaster Tank” moniker for the new design.


Our satisfying experiences with Slash Two BMW’s led to the interest in experiencing some of the benefits of these Airheads first hand. The Slash Fives were of most interest as they still had drum brakes, the now vestigial kick starter and the short wheel base. While Toaster Tanks were usually avoided by the purists who choose the larger slab sided tank without the chrome adornments, Toasters are now tolerated as a period design element.


eBay day dreams soon led to action as we zeroed in on a likely suspect. Toaster tank, check; funky color, check; 750cc, check; extensive maintenance file, check. There were enough things that felt right to pull the trigger so we did and had it shipped from North Carolina.


Upon arrival, the work began. Early short wheel base Slash Fives have earned a warning about not overloading the chassis as handling mysteries could be expected. The wind screen, panniers and top case were removed. Squared off Dunlop K 70 rubber was replaced with modern profile Avons. Worn rear shocks got pitched and the drive shaft renewed. Head bearings were removed and replaced too. All part and parcel of the handling package that needed to be addressed for safe and reliable touring.


Our R75/5 has been on the initial Reno Rough Rider Tour, the 19th Borrego Winter Road Run and several other tours both solo and two up free of drama or incident. It returns about 50 mpg, handles crisply and is fun to ride enthusiastically. Compared to a Slash Two or the later R100’s, the handling is more like a 450 dual sport. In all, an interesting addition to the riding experience. 

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