1989-1993 BMW K1

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Four-piston Brembo calipers replaced the K100’s twin units up front, and a thicker rear rotor aided heat dissipation. U.S. K1s also received the K100’s optional ABS system, first offered in 1988, standard. The K1 also received BMW’s new Paralever system, announced for the R80GS and R100GS the year before. Using a double-jointed driveshaft/swingarm with the rear hub linked by the shock at the top and the Paralever at the bottom, the system canceled out the rise and fall from acceleration and deceleration familiar to shaft-driven bikes.


The K1’s frame looked much like the K100’s, but was in fact substantially strengthened, with larger diameter tubing and slightly revised geometry — along with a longer wheelbase — to improve stability in fast sweepers. This was, after all, a bike designed for the autobahn, and with a top speed in excess of 140mph, all day runs at 100mph-plus were a snap. Testers mostly praised the K1’s performance and were impressed by its high-speed aplomb, with more than a few testers claiming to hit an indicated 150mph; not bad for a 600-plus-pound bike with “only” 95 horses to push it around.

Much of that high-speed calm was thanks to the K1’s controversial bodywork. This was to be the company’s flagship, a technological tour de force that nobody would confuse with anything BMW — or anyone else — had ever made before. From its wind-tunnel tested fairing including an almost completely enveloped front wheel (giving a drag coefficient of 0.34, the lowest of any production motorcycle then made) to its bold (or lurid, as some saw it) ketchup or blue and yellow paint schemes with screaming yellow graphics, the K1 demanded attention.

Unfortunately, not all the attention was positive. While some considered the bodywork cutting edge, more thought it was just plain weird. And while performance was good, the K1’s solid-mounted engine was faulted for mid-range buzziness. Worse yet, at speeds below 50mph many testers found the heat pouring from under the K1’s bodywork unbearable. Although BMW eventually offered an optional under-body blanket to minimize the heat question, it was always an issue.

At almost 13 grand it was also expensive, and for that kind of money the well-heeled cyclist expected more power and more refinement, especially from BMW. Panel fit and finish on early models was often poor, and while performance was good, a Honda CBR600 was just as fast, lighter and stopped shorter. And it was much, much cheaper.

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