NSU Supermax

NSU Supermax 1950s German classic motorcycle

NSU began by knocking out knitting machines. Then it branched into bicycles. It built its first motorcycle in 1901. The German firm went on to release a steady stream of successful motorbikes – including, of course, the Supermax. It carried on doing so until the early Sixties. On both road and track, NSU was at the forefront of bike design and development. Cars, too, were added to its catalogue. NSU, then, deserves its berth in motoring history every bit as much as its illustrious compatriot, BMW. Well, almost!

NSU hit pay dirt when – in ’29 – it recruited Walter Moore. Previously, he had worked for Norton. Moore helped shape NSU’s first bike to be fitted with an overhead-camshaft engine. No doubt partly due to his past employment, the result was not entirely dissimilar to the Norton CS1. Indeed, wags at the British firm went so far as to suggest NSU was short for ‘Norton Spares Used’! Rightly ignoring such ribaldry, Moore pressed on regardless. He must have done something right. By the time of the Second World War, NSU was one of the world’s biggest bike manufacturers.

A decade after the end of the war came NSU’s finest hour. The 250cc Supermax was launched in ’55. Thankfully, the bike lived up to its grandiose billing. To wit, the Supermax did pretty much everything well. Acceleration and braking were equally impressive. Handling-wise, too, it excelled. The mix of its single-overhead-cam motor, pressed-steel frame and leading-link forks was bang on the money. The Supermax sailed to a top speed of 75mph. Said performance, though, came at a price. Sadly, one which most motorcyclists were not prepared to pay. As a result, the ’60s saw NSU switch to car production. But not before it had secured its place in the annals of bike racing. In ’53 – on NSUs – Werner Haas won both 125 and 250cc World Championships. He was the first German rider to achieve such a feat. In ’54, Haas took the 250 title again. ’55 found NSU taking the 250 crown for the third time in as many years. So, BMW’s bike division always had a rival. NSU, too, produced a panoply of sublime motorcycles. None more so than the Supermax!

BMW R60/2

The ’60’ in R60/2 referenced the bike’s 600cc engine capacity. BMW released it in 1960. It proved to be a popular addition to BMW’s roster of rugged, reliable machines. The R60/2 was no athlete. Well, in fact, it was – but its athleticism was of the long-distance kind. Heavy steering – and soft suspension – rendered the R60/2 far from flickable. Point it at some far-flung destination, however – and you would be there soon enough. Stability-wise, having a side-car attached helped. The R60/2 adapted well to three wheels. That was good – because, for many families, at the time, the motorcycle was often the sole form of transport.

The R60/2’s stamina was provided by a ‘boxer’ flat-twin. Though far from the most finely-tuned engine ever built, it was, nonetheless, strong and relatively smooth. That was seen to by its simple, reciprocal layout – the two pistons ‘punching’ steadily in and out. The power that produced was well-documented. In the ’30s, Ernst Henne had set speed records on streamlined, supercharged BMWs. Schorsch Meier was the first foreign rider to win an Isle of Man TT. That was the ’39 Senior – aboard a half-litre boxer BMW. And – in ’56 – Walter Zeller was runner-up in the 500cc world championship. BMW’s forte, though, was side-car racing. Between ’54 and ’74, they notched up 19 out of 21 world championships, in the category.

Top whack for the roadster R60/2 was 87mph. That, from a mere 26bhp. Weight, though, had been pared down to just 430lb. So, the shaft drive set-up was still able to deliver a reasonable return of speed. Leading-link Earles forks oozed comfort. And, the R60/2 was pleasantly enough styled – in a ‘solid’ sort of a way. If you craved a machine, then, to set your pulse racing, the R60/2 probably would not have been it. If, though, travelling the world without missing a beat was what was needed … well, BMW had built the bike for you!


Back in the day, BMW bikes were borderline staid. That all changed with the K1. Design-led flair and panache were dripping off it. The K1 looked the absolute business – and BMW did plenty of it, as a result!

In engineering terms, the K1 was straight out of the top drawer. That said, BMW know no other way! Suspension was set up per the Paralever system – specially formulated for shaft-drive power trains. The K-series engine featured four horizontally-opposed cylinders – the flat layout having been a BMW trademark since the year dot. This time around, though, it was fuel-injected. Cue 100bhp. And a top speed of 145mph.

The K1 was stylistically stunning. Paint and bodywork blended into a cool mélange. Cool was not a word which had been overused for BMW, in the past … at least, not so far as its motorcycle department was concerned! The K1, though, was a visual harbinger of ‘Beemers’ to come. Indeed, BMW would go on to produce some of the best-looking bikes on the planet. Of course, Teutonic technical class came as standard!