Rolf Witthoeft’s 1980 ISDT Works BMW GS 900

The ISDT 1980 was the end of a format that began in 1913 and a review across the site will show how the sport became more and more a specialism in Motorbike design rather than a test for a wide range of activities that could be done on a motorbike. By 1980 the manufacturers and riders were adamant that the format of the event need be changed to better test the modern bikes and riders requiring greater agility and technical speed skills. The knock on effect was the old heavy four strokes that had been the classic weapons of choice became un competitive. One of the victims was BMW who had been a popular ride in the over 600 cc class. 1980 was the last year of the BMW GS bike which migrated onto the world of Paris Dakar and Rallye style long distance events. Below are photographs of what remains a very effective if slightly agricultural looking motorbike that for its simpleness remains a timeless classic that would find willing buyers if BMW reintroduced one today. (Images provided by

Photo of Rolf Witthöft’s BMW GS 900 as ridden in the ISDT 1980

Photo of Rolf Witthöft’s BMW GS 900 as ridden in the ISDT 1980

Photo of Rolf Witthöft’s BMW GS 900 as ridden in the ISDT 1980

Photo of Rolf Witthöft’s BMW GS 900 as ridden in the ISDT 1980

Photo of a works BMW mill in what is one of the miracles of off road racing engineering.

Photo of Rolf Witthöft who was on the team winning the Vase in the ISDT 1980

Photo of BMW team riders displaying the agility of the big Airhead Beemer

The BMW factory has always had a semi-official interest in ISDT racing, but as a boost to the launch of the R80GS, a full works team was fielded for 1979 that earned its keep by dominating the unlimited class of the ISDT and the European Enduro Championships. A feat the marque repeated in 1980.  Even as it did so, the writing was on the wall for the big BMWs. As ISDT events become increasingly closer to motocross events, the BMWs were at a disadvantage, particularly since the big-bore, two-stroke opposition was becoming more manageable and more competitive every year

The 1980 model pictured won the German and European enduro championships, plus the prestigious ISDT. The big, shaft driven, monoshock, 900cc  beast, pumped out 50 bhp and apparently weighed just 132 kg, which is bit hard to believe, looking at all that steel.

Photo of the BMW team at Brioude for the ISDT 1980 (Courtesy Squadra Regalorita Club France)

Can anyone name correctly this line up, it seems to be a tragedy that some one at BMW at some point decided to send every one of these bikes for scrap…. how do they sleep at night?

Photo of a BMW hauling its way across a special test at ISDT 1980 (Courtesy Squadra Regalorita Club France)

Photo of what appears to be the legend of Beemer reliability out of the window, Rolf Witthöeft carries out what appears to be a top end rebuild on track on his airhead at ISDT 1980 (Courtesy Squadra Regalorita Club France)

It’s also worth noting that, at the time, the International Six Days Trial was still a reliability trial and it was a big deal to actually get a bike to the finish of the event. Something BMW’s marketing men were quick to seize on and utilised effectively to build the legend of the ultimate adventure machine, the R80GS

Often forgotten when considering  BMW’s wins in the 1979 and 1980 ISDT events was the fact that, back then, the ISDT was organized according to capacity bands and the 500cc plus was, de facto, restricted to big, heavy four-strokes. It was this segregation of the bikes which also allowed the BMW to do so well.

This factory-endorsed, 900 cc boxer enduro from almost thirty years ago shows what could have been. In 1980 it won the German and European enduro championships, plus the prestigious ISDT. The bike inspired the cultish BMW R80 G/S (Gelände/Straße, or off-road/street) built from ’81 to ‘87. That machine married the 900 cc R80/7 engine to a strengthened R65 chassis, and was the only BMW twin to be unaffected by the launch of the K series. For more obscure BMW off-roading goodness, check out this gallery from German BMW race preparation expert HPN. (from and

There is a video featuring these old boxer airhead beemers here on youtube.


5 thoughts on “Rolf Witthoeft’s 1980 ISDT Works BMW GS 900”

  1. Pingback: quienes son ??

  2. Fantastic

  3. Ulrich Sauff said:

    You asked for the names of the BMW-Team Brioude 1980 : From left to right : Herbert Wegele, Kurt Fischer, Theo Schreck, Werner Schütz, Rolf Witthöft,Fritz Witzel + Manager Dietmar Beinhauer

  4. Peter Newell said:

    Hi. I was at Brioude with the Australian team in 1980.
    On the Thursday morning the times were very tight a lot of the riders, ours included were fuelling up, changing goggles etc in a narrow lane way after the lunch time control, both sides of the lane were congested with bikes riders & team members etc. there was probably only maximum 1.5 or 1.8 metres gap down the centre of all this activity.
    I will never forget the BMW that wouldn’t kick start at the control. Points were deducted. The rider pushed the bike with the clutch pulled in, he landed and on the seat sidesaddle, the throttle must have been cracked open a tad, for when he released the clutch, The front wheel launched itself skywards and pulled a perfect Mono the rider remaining side saddle, maintaining the mono for the full length of the lane easy 40 to 50 metres, he turned the corner at the end of the lane dropped the front wheel and only then did he change from the side saddle position to throwing his right leg over the bike and riding off down the road. I am a 70 year old enthusiast and have followed all forms of motor cycle racing for all my adult life.
    It remains today as one of the most impressive pieces of riding that I have ever witnessed.
    E I have often wondered who the rider was, does any one out there know?
    Cheers Peter

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