BMW's Two-Wheel Drive Hybrid Motorcycle Concept

This time it’s not an April Fools’ Day gag.

BMW april fools 2wd
Here's the motorcycle that BMW teased— but was it all an elaborate double-bluff?Photo: Ben Purvis

On April 1st this year BMW put out a press release. "BMW Motorrad launches the R1200GS xDrive Hybrid," it said, "World premiere of the first travel enduro featuring Hybrid All-Wheel Drive." It went on to describe a system that used a hub-mounted electric motor to power the front wheel, providing an extra 45bhp on top of the 125bhp of the normal 1170cc boxer twin that drives the rear. The result? A 170bhp super GS that drives both wheels. Throw in regenerative braking (which BMW's release cleverly said would allow the firm to remove one of the normal bike's front discs and calipers, more than compensating for the weight of the hub-mounted motor), and it sounded like a persuasive idea. Indeed, more than one media outlet took the press release at face value despite its April 1st date. Well played, BMW, well played.

But there was something almost too convincing about the whole idea. Not only did it closely copy the ideas of the Wunderlich X2 prototype—a 2wd hybrid version of the R1200GS with a hub-mounted front motor that was revealed by the famed BMW tuner back in 2015—but it makes a lot of sense, particularly for a firm like BMW that's already deeply involved with electric vehicles and hybrids. A bit of digging through the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) files soon revealed that BMW has played something of a double-bluff. A patent application, published just days before the April 1st press release. It's owner? Bayerische Motoren Werke. It's title? "Motorcycle with an electrically driveable front wheel." (WO2017036628).

The information showed that the idea was originally filed in Germany in September 2015, with an international application made in June 2016. It was finally published on March 9th 2017.

BMW 2wd Concept Patent
This information shows that the idea for two-wheel drive was originally filed in Germany in September 2015, with an international application made in June 2016. It was finally published on March 9th 2017.Photo: Ben Purvis

To quote from its front page:

"The invention relates to a vehicle having a front wheel which can be driven by means of a first drive arrangement, and a rear wheel which can be driven by means of a second drive arrangement. The first drive arrangement is integrated into the front wheel and comprises an electric motor for selectively rotatably driving the front wheel…”

Digging deeper into the main text of the patent, which is in German, it describes a bike that’s virtually identical to the made-up ‘R1200GS xDrive Hybrid’ of the April 1st press release. In fact, it is closer still to the Wunderlich X2, a bike that was shown to the public shortly after this patent was originally filed. Like the Wunderlich, the BMW design includes an option to reverse the front wheel’s motor—so it can be used to help wheel the bike around. It also explains that the front drive would cut in as needed, so would only come into use when rear grip is lost, and would regenerate power under braking.

BMW Wunderlich Concept
The Wunderlich X2 was shown to the public shortly after the two-wheel drive patent was originally filed by BMW—the mystery deepens.Photo: Ben Purvis

Unfortunately, the patent’s pictures are limited to a single cutaway of the front hub’s drive system and reduction gears, but the text does make it clear it’s intended for heavy bikes like adventure tourers. The R1200GS is the obvious application. The similarity to the Wunderlich X2 might be more than a coincidence. BMW has a close relationship with Wunderlich, and what better way to test the waters for a radical new idea, without making a public commitment, than to show it under the banner of a trusted aftermarket tuner?

BMW Wunderlich 2wd concept
The similarities between the Wunderlich X2 and BMW's patent might be more than just a coincidence.Photo: Ben Purvis