BMW K1 Road Test

BMW K1The K1 marked the start of BMW’s modern sports bike era; it was, and still is, innovative and great looking, if a little quirky in places. Chris Pearson takes one of the lenses out of his rose tinted specs to see what its like today.

There are few machines that stop a crowd quite like a BMW K1. Its futuristic styling, while appearing familiar, still hasn’t been surpassed 20 years on while its technical leads have become the norm in modern motorcycling. The fully enclosed body work, while not totally revolutionary, having been seen on the Massimo Tamburini designed, Ducati Paso two years previously, looks stunning while also enabling high speeds and a low fuel consumption, two things that rarely go hand in hand, with owners reporting around 400 miles per tank full on long hauls. Much wind tunnel work was completed in the development of the K1, in reality all the Germans should have done was copy the Kawasaki KR500 race machine of the early 80’s as that is what the K1 finally mimicked in its finished form. The figures achieved were impressive though, a drag coefficient of 0.34 measured with the rider prone, was the lowest, by far, of any machine of the period. What might surprise many is the fact it isn’t all of German origin, some crucial areas like the suspension and braking are pure Italian, the front forks being Marzocchi, while the stoppers are Brembo throughout. The brakes being the real stars of the show with tons of feel and unfading power while the ABS is unnoticeable, and completely unobtrusive, in its operation. Owning a K1 today does elevate you into a rather special club, BMW didn’t churn them out by the bucket load, making any survivors today quite rare and, with few other machines making such a first impression, you are guaranteed a crowd gathering whenever one is parked up. More than a few never actually made it on to the road instead heading straight into private collections, the high price and tech advances making the K1 into an instant collectors item when new.

K1While BMW, in typical conservative manner, claim a top speed of 150mph, a little work liberating a few extra horses by chipping the engine management systems soon has the speedo another 25mph further around the dial. The designers of the K1 did neglect one area, that of external luggage, the K1 literally bristles with little, in built glove compartments and small storage areas, with tow larger one in the rear side panels, but BMW only offered a soft pannier, luggage option while the biker likely to buy such a beast insisting on hard luggage more capable of withstanding high speed use. Although tricky to get a handle on at first, the ergonomics of the K1 are superb, in particular the switch gear that, once fully accustomed to, save much time and thought process in their operation. It is entirely possible to be braking and working the throttle while switching the indicators on, it really is that simple. Add to this the heated grips and you have an all rounder with few peers.

If high speed and unshakable stability are in your bag of requirements then the K1 should tick all of the boxes, bikes do not come any more stable than this all enclosed Beemer. Add to its talents the ability to do this sort of thing all day, and for mile after mile, and you quickly realise why the machine was so far ahead of its time. Its not completely perfect however, its heavy and long too, making for a sluggish machine to throw around but, when ridden with these limiting factors in mind, it does like most BM’s, give a great account of itself. The extreme stability is an asset however, long trips on the motorway can be achieved with little or no input required through the bars, simply leaning the machine with body weight will keep it on track even at high speed. The body work does bring with it a set of downfalls, the turning circle, at around 22ft, is huge often requiring the rider to get off and push this Bavarian monster through a series of manoeuvres just to get it pointing in the other direction. Physically the K1 is a large machine, its lengthy wheelbase one of the chief reasons it is so stable at speed and yet, for the occupants, and in particular the rider, the riding position can be a squeeze. The engine contributes to an extremely narrow and compact machine which in turn makes for footrests and handlebars a shade to close together for total comfort.

BMW K1That’s aside however and the K1 does do a great job of travelling in style, wide for the period at least low profile radial rubber gives bags of grip while the rear Paralever suspension taken for the GS series takes all in its stride keeping this heavy speedster on track no matter what the road throws at it. The rear shaft drive did require an extra joint to be fitted to keep the suspension performing as it should and it is this that is responsible for the cumbersome wheelbase, making it a good 4-inches longer than its nearest sports touring rival. The inline, four-cylinder engine is held back by the overall weight, its powerful and torquey on paper but in use has more than enough work to do with little left over to impressive with. The bike is still fast, but in a smooth and controlled manner, only a glimpse at the speedo will give the game away as with the fairing keeping the wind blast off the rider, and the engine spinning away so quietly, there are few other tell tale signs as to what’s happening in the outside world. Even with the power plant up near its 8500rpm redline there is little to give the game away, the crank losing any potential high rev vibrations deep into the chassis as it spins along the bikes length.

BMW K1 Model history

BMW K1 DashboardWhen BMW introduced its radical inline four engine back in 1982 it gained a lot of attention, many fearing the company had finally turned its back on the horizontally-opposed, twin-cylinder layout that had been the norm for so many years, but there was even more shocks to come. 6 years after the K100 came the K1, designed by a dedicated team of motorcyclists, some of whom were experienced racers, this machine arguably marking a turning point in the history of BMW. With the exception of the stunning R90S of the 70’s, BMW were hardly regarded as a sports bike producer before the emergence of the K1, the most powerful and fastest Beemer built to date. It could have been much faster too, as, in the late 80’s when the type was first introduced, BMW were adhering to a strict 100 horse power limit to promote rider safety. Based upon the inline four K100 series, the K1 was the subject of a limited production run with less than 7000 machines ever leaving the factory in the five years it was in the BMW line up. Technologically the K1 was right at the head of the game with a lightweight tubular space frame and ABS braking fitted as standard, while the faultless fuel injection came a decade before the Japanese dare fit such a thing to their top of the range production machines. In effect the K1 was a showcase for what the BMW development team could do, a real prototype for sale, albeit a well sorted and effective one. It was among the worlds most expensive two-wheeled machinery, tipping the scales at £9450 in its basic form with an optional catalytic converter available for an extra £365. Many of the features first seen on the K1 still abound on BMW’s today and this 20-year-old machine is immediately familiar to modern day bikers.

BMW K1 Specifications

  • Engine liquid-cooled 4-cylinder 4-stroke DOHC
  • Capacity 987cc
  • Bore/stroke 67 x 70 mm
  • Power 100bhp @ 8000rpm
  • Torque 74ft-lb @ 6750rpm
  • Carburetion Bosch fuel injection
  • Transmission 5-speed, Dry single plate clutch, Shaft final drive
  • Suspension 41.62mm telescopic forks, BMW Paralever
  • Brakes 305mm discs 4-piston Brembo calipers, 285mm disc 2-piston Brembo caliper
  • Wheels 120/70 x 17 160/60 x 18
  • Weight 234kgs
  • Top speed 150 mph
  • Wheelbase 1565mm
  • Fuel capacity 22ltrs

BMW K1 Timeline;

First seen at the Cologne show of that year

The first of the K1’s appears to a mixed reaction with few taking a shine to its radical styling

The colour schemes were reduced to just two while the graphics were toned down to reduce the initial shock. Sales still remained slow, the K1 being just too different and expensive

The K1 was finally discontinued with less than 7000 having been built.

BMW K1 Gallery

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