For a company that’s currently riding high, it’s hard to believe that BMW was once considered something of an oddball company when it came to motorcycles.
The old boxer twin engines traced their lineage back to the 1920s and even when the Bavarian company brought in a range of new three and four cylinder engines, they didn’t exactly follow convention.
First introduced in 1983, the K100 was an inline four-cylinder machine. But unlike Japanese multis, the then new generation Beemers had their engines mounted longitudinally rather than transversely. With the cylinder head sticking out the side, the K series BMWs were rather cruelly known as ‘Bricks’.
The K series were not bad bikes, especially the smooth-as-silk three cylinder K75s, but in 1988 BMW launched the ultimate Brick – the K1 – a bike so of its time it can justifiably claim to be an icon of its era.
Introduced as a concept in 1984, and launched as a production bike in 1988, the K100RS-based K1’s main claim to fame was its fully enclosed fairing – giving a drag coefficient of 0.38 in a decade when jelly mould designs and aerodynamic boasts were all the rage for car manufacturers.
The K1 was, in many ways, a marketing led project that aimed to shift the brand perception from that of dull but worthy to one which was more sporting and cutting edge.
Like the other K series bikes, the K1 featured spec that was way ahead of its time, with anti-lock brakes and fuel injection as standard. It would take a decade and a half before such technology would become commonplace, let alone the standard fare we have come to expect today.
Garish colourschemes were another trademark of the K1. The launch bikes’ bright red and yellow liveries were distinctive, to say the least, and had more than a hint of Tyrolean ski fashion about them. It was certainly more bold than the staid tourers BMW were known for turning out, but as the Eighties morphed into the Nineties, the colour offerings became more understated. Sadly the K1 was never a big sales hit, nor the model that changed public perception of the brand, but there is arguably no motorcycle that better encapsulates the decadence of the Eighties.
The slippery fairing gave a top speed of nearly 150mph, despite the engine following the manufacturer imposed 100bhp limit of the era. At 234kg without fuel, it was heavy, but the engine layout meant that it was all carried low in the chassis. It was long and slow steering too, and the fully enclosed fairing made for a bike that could be uncomfortably hot for the rider. It wasn’t a bad bike, but buyers seemed confused and less than 7000 were made in a near five year production run.
Maybe the K1 was ahead of its time. A few years later, Kawasaki came along with the ZZR1100 and made big sports tourers a popular proposition. These, along with the Honda Super Blackbird and Suzuki Hayabusa were icons of the 1990s, while the K1 remained consigned to the file marked ‘oddities’.
Whether the K1 is destined for nailed on classic status is still a matter of debate, however its Top Trumps spec sheet, quirky looks and the way in which it brought cutting edge technology to the showrooms, means that the BMW K1 definitely deserves iconic status in our opinion. Prices are steady rather than spectacular these days, no doubt due to the fact that few of today’s 40-somethings really lusted after them back in the day, but for a modern day classic that can be used on a day to day basis, the K1 can still turn heads while easily munching up the miles.