2010 Motorcyclist of the Year

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by BMW

BMW's Hendrik von Kuenheim
Unless you're an inveterate BMW loyalist or a captain of the motorcycle industry, von Kuenheim is probably just the latest name atop BMW Motorrad's corporate ladder. Any good partisan knows better. First, as CEO from 1970 to 1993, Eberhard von Kuenheim turned Bayerische Motoren Werke's relatively obscure sedans and sports cars into "The Ultimate Driving Machines," quadrupling automotive production, tripling the company's motorcycle output and establishing the brand as a global player. BMW as you know it wouldn't exist without him, which means BMW motorcycles might not exist at all.

Today, General Director Hendrik von Kuenheim means to do for BMW motorcycles what his father did for BMW automobiles. We know what you're thinking: Son of legendary company savior goes straight from college graduation to corner office. Not this one: After earning a degree in Hotel Management from Cornell in '85, von Kuenheim started learning the family business as a sales trainee in San Francisco. After working his way through the ranks in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Chicago and Munich, he was BMW boss in Dubai, Canada and Spain before taking over as head of the brand's new world order on January 1, 2008.

In the ensuing two years and change, he's presided over one of the biggest paradigm shifts at BMW Mototorrad since Boxers only came in black and white. The factory rolled out six new models in '08, including revamped versions of the company's biggest sellers, the R1200GS and Adventure, along with the more affordable mid-sized F800GS and a groundbreaking dirtbike, the G450X. The K1300 in S, R and GT trim was introduced at Intermot '08, but the best was yet to come.

On Wednesday, April 16, 2008, von Kuenheim confirmed what sportbike fans around the world had been thinking for the better part of a year: BMW would build a 1000cc inline-four to go World Superbike racing. "In our first year in the Superbike World Championship, we seek to bring home several places in the top 10 and to consistently close the gap to the top teams," von Kuenheim said. "In year two, we plan to catch up with the top teams and to win our first places on the podium. And our medium-term objective, obviously, is to win the world championship."

Despite the fact that he was going up against the collective technological expertise of four Japanese factories who own 85 percent of the market, the production S1000RR-unveiled in May 2009 at Italy's Autodromo di Monza-is a linchpin in von Kuenheim's plan to increase sales by 50 percent and sell 150,000 bikes by 2012. That's a tall order when the fish are jumpin', the cotton is high, your daddy's rich and mom is good lookin'. When our global economy is slowly circling the drain, we wouldn't blame you for thinking the man wasn't dealing from a full 52-card deck.

At least until you spend a few days chasing his dust through Morocco's Atlas Mountains. When the CEO flies helicopters, rides an F800GS faster than most of his customers, then tells you how many Harleys were sold in China last quarter and explains the intricacies of everything from the American motorcycle market to Daimler Benz to Troy Corser's training regimen, all in encyclopedic detail, those plans don't sound so crazy anymore. When you stop to think that there might not be an S1000RR or a BMW World Superbike team without the guy washing down another day's worth of Moroccan dust with a Casablanca lager, Hendrik von Kuenheim looks like our 2010 Motorcyclist of the Year.

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