BMW motorcycle crash bars, safety bars, valve cover engine guards
Crash bars, safety bars, valve covers, or engine guards on a BMW motorcycle twin
This page applies to BMW motorcycle twin models from the mid-’50s to the mid-’80s and maybe later. It is only natural to want to protect those vulnerable appearing heads sticking out on the BMW boxer. Several manufacturers have offered their version of protection to valve covers. The engine guard sold by BMW is a loop that bolts to the frame. The loop lies in one plane. It goes out around the exhaust pipe and protects from the front only.
I consider this one, and others like it, to be the most dangerous.
This type has been very popular and, as far as I know, was first sold in the USA by Flanders for the /2 series.
Common characteristics of crash bars.
1. They stick out slightly farther than the valve cover, in the theory that it will protect it if the bike falls over. When sports riding, they will touch in less of a lean than the same bike without crash bars.
2. Some require removal or loosening and swinging out of the way to adjust the valves, so the maintenance cost is higher. See the photos above.
3. Some require dropping the exhaust system to mount them. One doesn’t want to remove this exhaust nut with aluminum on aluminum threads more often than necessary.
4. Most require mounting on the front motor mount bolt.
5. Most allow “highway pegs” to be mounted. They are very dangerous because a simple low-side accident can turn into a high-side accident. A highway peg doesn’t want to slide but catch and flip the bike.
What are “low side” and a “high side” crashes?
“Low siding” is where the bike is leaning, loses traction, and slides out. If one slides until friction slows the bike to a stop, the result usually isn’t drastic. On the BMW, many riders have reported that they just pulled their leg out of the lower side and sat on top of the sliding bike. Hitting trees, cars, curbs, and many other things is where the damage occurs. While sliding, the bike incurs a bump, and some of the weight can be transferred back to the tires. The tires can get enough traction to allow the motorcycle to “high side.” High siding is where a sliding bike’s tires get traction, and the bike flips. It is usually safer to slide along and grind off the valve cover. A low side can turn into a high side.
A high side is where the bike flips and crashes down on the pavement very hard. If the first thing to hit is the head, as opposed to the front or rear wheel, the energy is transmitted to the case, and the case can distort or break. If this energy is at an angle, then the cylinder can snap off. Even with a crash bar, the resulting high-side crash is often too great for it to be effective.
More importantly, consider the rider. The “high side” rider can be “launched” into space. Some rather impressive heights and distances have been reported. The likelihood of injury in a “high side” is much greater than in a “low side.” High siding is where the damage to the bike and the injury to the rider are the greatest. So what are the factors in a high side, and how can we reduce the chances of it happening?
Let’s first consider sliding along merrily in a low side and coming to an uneven pavement bump up of 1/2″. This bump is the edge between where two slabs of concrete have been poured. If the valve cover takes the “hit,” then because it is soft, it may break and tear away easily. The more that the “hit” is absorbed by a disintegrating valve cover, the less energy is transferred to the tires and less chance of a high side. The radius of the valve cover is about 3,” and it can also sort of ride up and over a bump.
The diameter of a crash bar is about one inch. The radius is only 1/2 of that. A vertical bump of 1/2″ is the same as if it were 2″ high. The crash bar has hit a “brick wall” because of two reasons. The bar is too small to go over it and is made of strong stuff that won’t tear and break while absorbing energy. The valve cover has a chance to ride over it and/or break away. The breaking valve cover will transfer less weight back to the tires. Weight on the tires will allow them to do their job and get traction. This is one case where the hard rubber is an advantage, and a sticky rubber tire is terrible because it may grab easily to become a high side.
Over the years, I have seen several wrecks where the cylinder has been broken off. I tried to learn all of the details in all of these wrecks. In all but one of the “, snapped off cylinder” wrecks, one thing was in common. The bike first went down and slid. It “hit” something and high-sided and flipped over to the other side, and snapped that cylinder off. These bikes all had crash bars. Crash bars cause cylinders to get snapped off and riders to sustain a greater injury.
Crash bars have also caused crashes in another way, though less often. To protect the head, they must stick out farther. In a serious lean, the bar can touch the ground. If it is a smooth touch, then it’s not so serious. If it hits hard, the rear tire can be levered off the pavement, and it may become a high-side crash.
Sports riders understand this and often elect not to have crash bars. A conservative rider can, through no fault of his/her own, get into trouble and need that extra lean angle that is lost by crash bars.
With the BMW boxer, one should consider that the factory installed the very best crash bar, THE VALVE COVER. They are cheap, especially when one considers all the factors.
Crash bars (also called “safety bars” or “roll bars”) are common equipment on cruiser-type bikes. They are designed to protect a rider’s legs (and the motor) from injury in a rollover. Critics claim these only work if the accident doesn’t throw the rider away from the motorcycle or trap them under the bike. The Hurt Report concluded this regarding crash bars:
Crash bars are not an effective injury countermeasure; the reduction of injury to the ankle-foot is balanced by an increase of injury to the thigh-upper leg, knee, and lower leg.
Note: This study considered all motorcycles, not just BMW. The BMW boxer is more likely to suffer damage caused by the crash bar and should be avoided.
READ THIS CAREFULLY, a disclaimer
I will be the first to admit that some accidents can use the crash bar for a benefit. This is like saying a helmet can break your neck. Statistically speaking, helmets are safe, and I have found that crash bars are “generally” dangerous on a BMW twin.
I do not know about their effectiveness on the newer engine configurations. My experience is with the boxers from 1950 to the middle 80s. I fully realize that different styles of crash bars have different dangers to consider. In my opinion, all crash bars increase the risk of a crash, greater damage, and injury in a crash. The BMW factory-style crash bar (flat loop) is probably the most dangerous.
BMW requires dealers to carry all factory accessories. So, how did I satisfy BMW and not violate my personal standards as a dealer? It wasn’t easy. Any inquiring customer of crash bars was given this talk and allowed to decide. We mounted almost no crash bars. Our customers without crash bars suffered none of the crashes that resulted in a cylinder being snapped off.
Updated 30 March 2023