Whatever Happened To... Udo Gietl - Up To Speed

By Ian Falloon, Photography by BMW RA

Without the genius of the unheralded tuner, even the most talented rider would be a mid-field runner. And one of the most-genius ever was Udo Gietl.

Born in Germany in 1940, Gietl moved to Florida after WWII. He raced motocross, trained as an electrical engineer and worked with NASA and on Polaris submarines before going to work for then-BMW importer Butler & Smith.

After preparing two R69US models that finished 1-2 in the '69 Danville 5-hour endurance race, Gietl was entrusted to build a pair of F-750 racebikes. Many of those bikes' parts in turn made their way onto an R75/5 that Reg Pridmore rode to victory in the AFM production class in '73.

The release of the R90S in '74 foreshadowed the creation of the AMA Superbike class. Gietl was on the AMA rules committee, and purportedly coined the very term "Superbike."

In that first season, '76, the BMW team of Pridmore, Steve McLaughlin and Gary Fisher dominated. McLaughlin drafted past Pridmore to win the inaugural race at Daytona, while Pridmore went on to claim the championship. Gietl's bookkeeping showed the effort cost $250,000, but ensured the sales success of the R90S and for a time changed the public's perception of BMW motorcycles. Still, Butler & Smith pulled the plug.

In '79 Gietl accepted a position at American Honda. He retired from there in '96, and spent three years building a 56-foot carbon-fiber sailboat. He went racing off the California coast and began to win, until one day the Hamburg Yacht Club in Germany made him an offer too good to refuse.

Life after yacht racing saw a return to motorcycles, and today Gietl enjoys riding his Ducati Monster 620 in the Southern California canyons. "I could afford to buy any motorcycle, but all I need is an uncomplicated, air-cooled twin," he says.

We can't imagine it remaining uncomplicated for long.

By Ian Falloon
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