On the outskirts of Watkinsville, Georgia, a quaint southern town just south of Athens and UGA, Boxerworks-Service , led by charismatic Nathan Mende and his team of dedicated craftsmen are turning heads as they turn out BeemerGlides, fully-functional retro-‘whatever old style bikes you would like.’ Born in Teaneck, NJ in the late ‘40s, Nathan’s father worked part-time at a local garage, wherein resided eight Slash Two BMWs; the owner, Nathan’s dad and six compadres would annually ship all eight bikes to a remote location, fly out and have a nice rideabout home. In the middle ‘60s he came upon a 1965 BMW R69S, the then top-of-the-line BMW motorrad (i.e. motorized wheels) with a stunning 46 hp. Nathan used his $500 nest egg and borrowed the remaining $300 to purchase the machine. Without realizing it, Nathan’s formative years branded him with the BMW marque. Accordingly, he took employment at Hawk Cycles BMW motorcycle dealer in Athens OH—and later, Freeman Cycles in Beverly, Massachusetts, said to be the original BMW motorcycle dealer in the US.
Nathan left the northeast to begin his adventures in 1967. After working around the world in the oil industry, Nathan moved to Vermont for a time; despite the wicked winters, he was a year-‘round motorcyclist. Next stopover was Charleston, SC, where he began a part-time BMW repair business in his garage. Six years later, middle Georgia became his home and again his BMW repair, resto, and customization trade took off. The original Boxerworks-Service was in a building on Nathan’s many rural acres and later moved into Watkinsville. The current business is in a new building on the Greenville Highway.
The early Georgia days included working as a BMW motorrad tech at the Athens BMW auto dealer, who became a ‘dual dealer,’ handling both auto and bikes. The dealer sent Nathan to become certified as a technician, while at the same time BMW Corporate was suing him for using ‘BMW’ in the name of his home-based business, hence the name-change to ‘Boxerworks-Service,’ a modification Nathan never regretted.
The dual-dealership did not last, and Boxerworks-Service became Nathan’s full-time pursuit; the first employee was hired. In 2005, the soon-to-be-legendary Dean Graham joined Boxerworks. Dean was a BMW owner with little BMW experience but deep familiarity with a variety of the needed skills, including electrician. His motorcycle-wiring handiwork could be displayed in an art gallery—welding, pipe-fitting, gas and diesel mechanicals and more. Today, Nathan says one of his biggest concerns is keeping Dean challenged; Dean builds motors, both stockers and full-blown BMW Airhead Boxer hot-rod mills, an anomaly in the Beemer world. He does the finishing work on a ‘Glide bike after all the parts are in place and is the fussy drivability quality-control guy. When a ‘Glide leaves Watkinsville, the chassis and running gear are better than Spandau (the Berlin factor) ever imagined. While BMWs and other Euro-marques are Boxerworks-Service’s specialty they will repair virtually any make of motorcycle.
Where did the concept for the BeemerGlide arise? About 10 years ago, BMW resto-guru Todd Rasmussen built the first BeemerGlide; Nathan was able to buy it from Rasmussen, whereupon his team disassembled it, reengineered many parts and components with an eye to making it easier to manufacture in numbers. The ability to sell ‘Glides in kit-form was also an objective. The ‘Glide is now designed as a single multi-style frame that supports several retro-styles including the look of the wartime Harley-Davidson WLA. The U.S. Army also commissioned H-D to design and build an opposed flat-twin, shaft-drive motorcycle, the H-D XA for the benefit of the maintenance-free shaft drive. One thousand were produced, few survive. The ‘Glide pays homage to this small piece of U.S. Army history.
About this time, a British subject, Barbadian James Vann, saw a picture of the BeemerGlide and something ignited within. A middle-aged fellow, James migrated to the US and came by for a visit with Mr. Mende; “I can sell these things. I can build them, also.”
Before this pivotal event, Boxerwork’s creative division did a diverse bit of everything one-off but did not move into the realm of really attractive and emotionally-moving restoration-conversions that can be practical, relatively easy, and economical. ‘Glides can be both repaired with OEM BMW parts, copious aftermarket alternatives, and the weaker components of 1970s engineering.
Nathan, himself a skilled just-about-everything operator/technician, and his team of overlapping specialists do all the work in-house with these exceptions: The original BMW frame goes to the contractor that built the ‘Glide frame-jig; two-thirds of the fame is retained, including the fork-head and down tubes that are stamped with the VIN. New tubing and gussets are added to lower the seat, and accept a variety of fenders, tanks, seats, shocks, and such. The only other contracted work for a ‘Glide is paint and upholstery. James is project manager, responsible for specs, progress, sheet-metal, and final assembly. Dean does motors to spec, from mild 55 hp-70 hp stockers to full-on streetable carb-breathing two-valve push-rod monsters that have reached over 90 hp. BMW’s Boxer engine has a low torque-to-horsepower ratio—lots of torque in relation peak horsepower, making drivability very pleasant and predicable—and nicely quick while on the power band which includes most of the tach. Are Hayabusas worried? No. However, Bird-riders’ neck, buttocks, arms, eyes, wrists, hands and knee-joints will be painfully worried long before the ‘Glide needs to find a gas station. For the Stoplight Open, get a ‘Glide with Final Drive gears for a sidecar or other low-HP model to enjoy two-gear throttle-only wheelies. Horsepower sells bikes—Torque satisfies riders.
Customers can specify a number of retro-styles, including the original BeemerGlide, or an XA that was bobbed after the war, or a Board Track bike might be your desire … or Flat-tracker, Beach Cruiser, Drag Bike or whatever else you and James can imagine. It will certainly be a one—off. ‘Glides all feature blacked-out engine and running gear to keep the focus on the entire aesthetics package and not just the funny-looking motor. The battery is actually the familiar oil tank, and other such mods make the creation match your old memories as you ride around comfortably and reliably on, well, relatively modern hard-parts.
Want to try it yourself? Whether you are an experienced Airhead owner—let’s depart to describe the term; ‘Airhead’ is the informal name for BMW motorcycles beginning with the original 1923 R32 up to the last fully air-cooled 1995 R100s. Modern Era Airheads cover 1975-1995. Airheads believe in simplicity, thus: “Airheads never break, and when they do, you can fix’em with a pocket knife.” In 1983, BMW began to introduce other engine configurations, none of which were totally reliant on air-flow for engine cooling. Airheads are known for reliability, total parts availability, and ease of maintenance and roadside repairs. But back to you, the erstwhile at-homebuilder:
The assembly process for the home-garage builder, who may supply donor components while relying on James to acquire the remainder, is straight-forward. The individual builder can specify how much of the build is done by Boxerworks and then enjoy the thrill of completing a work of moto-art oneself. Even more pleasant will be the total cost of such a build.
If a big motor is spec’ed, Boxerwork’s neighbor is a cylinder-head specialist well-known in the high-performance auto and motorcycle world. Len Hoffman’s machine shop, adjacent to Nathan, is as large as Boxerworks and chock-full of precision metal working machinery. The full menu is available, from simple valve-grinds up to giant valves, bench-flowed ports and shaped combustion chambers.
Other fields where Boxerworks is active include dual-sport machines, up to big Adventure models, competitive tire pricing, service on nearly all late-model BMWs, Ducatis, sidecar fabrication, installation and drivability. One Boxerworks commissions was an Airhead sidecar build liveried up in University of Florida—Blue and Orange colors. The owner bravely rode it daily in Athens, home of arch-rival UGA. Speed Channel personality Dave DeSpain is a near neighbor and relies on Boxerworks-Service to maintain his eclectic fleet. BMW dealers, most of whom no longer work on Airheads, send owners to Boxerworks, which has the full range of special-tools, tech manuals, and memo—and even better, combined decades of experience with these venerable power plants and drive-trains.
What’s next? James is collecting parts for a ‘Big Front Disc(s) bike; three new frames are in production, and there are orders to fill, some from Asia. In process is a new swing-arm/driveshaft tunnel design using a single shock. Nathan, the face of Boxerworks, wants to change that. James now rides herd on the creative and diverse personalities; “It’s an easy job because we’re really family,” Nathan noted. “I take a month off each year now, to ride the US with my girlfriend.” Mr. Mende rides a Nathanized BMW G/S with few OEM parts except castings and frame. “I foresee a ‘Glide Rally in 5 or 10 years with over 50 ‘Glides in attendance!”
The team (ahem, ‘family’) is cohesive—maintaining and growing both the size and core values of Boxerworks as Nathan backs off his own throttle a bit; “We’re customer-focused, do quality guaranteed work, always come in on budget, communicate with the customer profusely to avoid surprises along the build. Because the best surprise is no surprise on the bill and a big surprise for the owner of a new one-off and personalized ‘Glide.”
Boxerworks is located at:
1461 Greensboro Highway
Watkinsville, GA 30677
Office: (706) 310-0699
GPS: N33 51.079 W83 23.775
Roger Wiles © 2015