/2 exhaust pipes and finned nuts
This page applies to all models after the war up to the mid-80s. BMW has used two basic types of exhaust nut.
The R50, R60, R50/2, and R60/2 exhaust nut and gasket
All BMW motorcycle singles and twins (except the R50S, R68, R69, and R69S sports models) had a simple exhaust nut and gasket. The nut was captured and couldn’t be removed from the exhaust pipe. The pipe was crimped over to make a mating surface for the gasket. That crimp prevented one from removing the nut from the pipe.
Photo by Lonnie Walker, thanks
The nut shown here is not a BMW motorcycle part. It is some after-market part item. I have no idea how it is “captured,” as the photo doesn’t show it. The copper gasket is a crush type and “fills” any minor mismatch in the pipe-to-head fit. I have seen them so bad that I had to use two gaskets to seal the exhaust. Many times I have had to loosen the lower exhaust mounts to get enough “play” for the nut to thread onto the BMW head. Get and keep a few of the copper gaskets, even though they are usually reusable.
This is a stock BMW exhaust nut from a /2. The threads are in great shape, and I use this tool with grinding compound to “clean” up the bad threads on a head. It isn’t as good as the proper die, but far better than nothing. You can see that this nut is quite different from the one shown above. This shows the damage done when failing to use the proper tool. Some idiot used a punch and screwdriver to remove and install the exhaust ring. The damage to the ring is bad enough, but it is not the whole story. The pin wrench supplied in the /2 toolkit works very well on this nut, but not the finned one. It applies “lifting pressure” as well as rotating pressure. This tool will remove the ring easily; if someone tried the same ring with a punch and hammer, it would not rotate well. It would need to be pounded all of the ways off. This needless stress easily damages the BMW head exhaust threads. The exhaust threads on the butterheads are weak enough already. They don’t need to be mangled further by the use of an improper tool.
The problem with this type of exhaust nut
This type of joint sealing is accomplished by pulling the flared flange of the exhaust pipe tightly against the head. It depends mostly on the two surfaces being parallel. The copper crush gasket can only seal up a small error. It is often necessary to loosen up the pipe at the motor mounts to allow it to “fit” the exhaust port on the BMW head. Sometimes the curve in the exhaust pipe isn’t exactly perfect for making it fit properly. Great pressure is exerted on the exhaust threads when all is tightened up. The sports models with the exhaust system inserted into the head are a far better sealing method. Far less “pulling pressure” is applied to the aluminum threads to get a proper seal.
Thread file for use on BMW motorcycle exhaust threads
A metric thread file is also very useful.
A close-up of a thread file. The teeth on the very end are made to go in and clean out “inside” threads.
This thread file is American and shows the “threads per inch” as I couldn’t find my metric file for the photos.
This is the new stock setup for the BMW R50/R60 types. If you look very closely, you would see a collar welded onto the crimped part of the pipe. This collar spreads out the pressure from the ring. Always use anti-seize when reinstalling any exhaust nut on any year and model of BMW motorcycle.
This is the unique exhaust pipe for the rare BMW R50S. It has the finned nut and the end with a flange. These are very hard to find in good condition because there is no way to get the finned nut on or off. It is captured just like the R50/R60 type. Photo by James Young, thanks.
Removing the exhaust nut from an R68, R69, R69S, R50S, and later
The whole issue of removing the exhaust nuts from a BMW motorcycle head has seldom been properly addressed. The tools available up to about 1970 were very poor. There are two basic ways to get the nut off. Use a proper tool or cut them off. Both will be shown below.
This is an exhaust nut on a BMW R69S. It shows that some PO (previous owner) ruined the original set of holes for removal. Then a second set was drilled and also ruined. Some people learn slowly, and some never learn. This could well be the result of using the tool provided in the BMW motorcycle tool kit. More about that is below.
In 1970 BMW came out with a new series motorcycle series called the /5. From then on, all exhaust pipe fasteners were of one kind. They copied the very successful former “sport” model system. The exhaust pipes go into the BMW head about an inch (25 mm) or more and are held in by the exhaust nut. It is finned for cooling and is cast out of aluminum.
BMW motorcycle exhaust nut from 70-71 and tool provided in the BMW tool kit. See the holes for the tool?
To remove the nut takes a special tool. The tools have been made in several varieties, and most work. The one supplied in the BMW toolkits was nearly useless.
This tool is from a BMW motorcycle toolkit, which works poorly to remove the finned exhaust nuts. The curve is wrong, and it will lift the pin of the hole as pressure is applied. When the round pin is only partly in the hole, it easily tears out the metal. One can grind the inside of the curve to get a proper fit.
The “Matra” tool that BMW provided only to BMW motorcycle dealers. The curve is correct, unlike the one in the toolkit, but it still applies all pressure to one hole. This can still rip the hole out.
The early /5 BMW motorcycle had exhaust nuts that still had 6 holes for a pin wrench similar to the ones shown above. A new tool soon came out, and then the exhaust nuts had no pin holes to fit the tool in the toolkit. BMW had a tool made out of cast iron. It was long and heavy. Many aftermarket tools have been made out of aluminum and are lighter. They often break.
This is a “short” version of an aftermarket tool. Photo supplied by Lonnie Walker, thanks.
This BMW motorcycle exhaust nut tool is made by Ed Korn, and it works very well. It is the best that I have used. One needs a 3/8″ drive handle, as shown below.
Ed’s tool in operation
Make sure that the teeth are fully meshed and tight. You may have to use a lever to “straighten” one or two fins so that the tool will fit properly.
To crack a nut loose, one has to hold the tool well engaged in the teeth with pressure in the direction of removal. It may come loose with some arm pressure. If not, then one should use a plastic rebound-less hammer. After it is loose, the nut must only be removed by hand and without the use of a hammer. There is a great risk that the threads will gall. They are aluminum against aluminum. If it seems to get tighter while rotating it off, stop. To continue is to risk ruining the threads on the head. To replace a nut is cheap, but fixing the threads on the head is not cheap. The nut must be cut off with a hacksaw. Cut the nut at two places (on opposite sides) and only saw down “to the threads” of the head. Now use a chisel in the saw cut to break the two pieces off. When you get one cut finished, try to spread it apart and get the nut off. Often it will come off at that point. If not, then make the second cut.
This is what happens when one cuts too deeply into the exhaust nut with the hacksaw.
Installing the BMW motorcycle exhaust system
The best method is to install the exhaust pipes and then the mufflers. Run the exhaust nut onto the head by hand to ensure that the threads work. Clean up as necessary to get it to go on smoothly. The threads on both sides should be prepared with some anti-seize compound before installation. That will increase the chance that the nut will come off easily the next time. Clean as necessary. Make sure that the ( sports type) exhaust pipe goes into the head easily. Be sure that you have the compression rings. If one or both are lost, get more of them. On the forward surface of the thicker ring where it mates with the exhaust nut, I use some anti-seize there too. It reduces friction and allows it to turn without stressing the threads. Tighten the exhaust nut up only slightly at this time.
On the /2, one may add in the crossover after the exhaust pipes are loosely mounted.
Now attach the clamps to the motor mounts. It may require tapping the long through bolt a bit from side to side to get them both on. However, that takes two persons. By myself, I just used adjustable pliers to grab the clamp and lift it to the motor mount bolt. Leave the nuts loose.
Mount the mufflers last and leave the fasteners loose. Now, tighten each fastener starting at the front. The motor mount nuts need to be fairly tight, as they play a dual role. The engine is a structural element in the frame design, so don’t let the engine “move” around. Loose motor mounts may allow excessive engine vibration too.
Clean the entire system of grease before starting it up. Foreign material (grease) may discolor the nice new chrome.
Once the bike is started up, listen for exhaust leaks around each side. Now tighten the exhaust nuts as necessary to stop the leaks. You only want to tighten the nuts just enough to stop the leaks. The tighter you tighten them, the greater the chance of the threads galling later on. Do not exceed the book torque settings. If they leak after reaching maximum torque, then start over and carefully examine each part. Some of the anti-seize may run out as the system gets hot. Just wipe it off.
Some believe that an owner should remove the exhaust nuts yearly to regrease them and ensure that they will come loose. I disagree; any removal can gall the threads, so why run that risk? Wait until you actually need to remove them. Buy and keep a spare exhaust nut for your model of BMW motorcycle. You will probably need it eventually.
BMW sports motorcycle exhaust nut sealing rings
This is what the exhaust rings look like.
This is the order of the rings.
Stripped BMW motorcycle exhaust threads
You can remove the head and send it to any shops set up to repair the threads. Some weld it up and machine the threads down. Some cut off the old threads flush, bore out the hole, insert a pre-made piece, and weld it in. Both seem to work well. The same shop will replace any missing fins for a small sum. At the same time, you will want to do a valve job. Soon you will have hundreds of dollars in that head. All because you were too cheap to cut the nut off in the first place.
I highly suggest that anyone doing some of their mechanical work should be prepared for it. Buy a good BMW motorcycle exhaust nut tool and at least one spare nut. They are very cheap.
Aftermarket finned nut
A few aftermarket suppliers have offered a clamp-on type finned exhaust nut. It appealed to the owner who wanted his/her R50/R60 to have one of the hallmark features of the sports models. I guess one could say that it could help to cool slightly, but from a person dealing with these bikes when they were new, the real reason was vanity.
These were featured in the Butler and Smith catalogs and also sold by Flanders. I saw the same ones at BMW dealers in Germany, so I conclude that they were probably made there and imported into the USA.
I asked for photos, and Frank Beck was nice enough to send these.
Updated 15 July 2022