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BMW started out as a manufacturer of aircraft engines prior to World War I, but after the armistice the Treaty of Versailles effectively outlawed the German Air Force, and consequently the company turned its hand to producing air brakes, toolboxes, office furniture and eventually cars and motorcycles.
In 1922 BMW joined forces with 'Bayerische Flugzeugwerke' and in the process inherited two of their products, namely the 'Helios' motorcycle and a small machine bizarrely named 'The Flink'. By 1923 the first of the 'across the frame' Boxer engines were being rolled out and fitted to the new 'R32' models. This new engine sported the first of the recirculating wet sump systems, used up until the late sixties before being replaced by the current high-pressure oiling system still in use today.
During the Second World War, BMW were commissioned to build motorcycles for the German army, and their flat twin engine with protruding cylinders was found to perform particularly well in the inhospitable desert conditions of North Africa. By the end of the war BMW's Munich production plant had been all but destroyed by allied bombing raids, but the facility in Eisenach faired better, and BMW were able to salvage much of their tooling and machinery and store it safely at this location.
Today BMW produce a wide range of road bikes in addition to dual purpose and enduro models. In 2007 they purchased Husqvarna from the Italian firm MV Augusta and continue to go from strength to strength.