When I hit my twenties, the BMW K1 was impossibly glamorous. It was the poster bike for motorcycling. As a casual observer, I didn’t realise it was BMW’s attempt to appeal to younger riders, seduced by Japanese sportsbikes such as the Suzuki GSX-R1100. And I didn’t know that BMW’s engineering and quality control—for once—was deeply flawed. To me, the K1 was the kind of motorcycle Luke Skywalker would ride if he existed in real life: a blend of warp speed power and futuristic styling.
It was a machine straight from the pages of JG Ballard’s Vermillion Sands: glossy, lurid and bizarre, a vehicle for the wealthy and disaffected. (For what little it’s worth, it was also the world’s first production motorcycle with a three-way catalytic converter.) The 987 cc, 100 bhp K1 sold less than 7,000 units between 1988 and 1993, and its dynamics were trumped by machines such as the Honda CBR600F. But it’s still beautiful two decades later. And it broke the mould in the realms of styling and marketing, catching the eye of people who would never have otherwise looked at a motorcycle. I’d still choose one today over any 1990s Japanese or American bike—and not just because it’s the only motorcycle you can ride while wearing a scarlet leather one-piece.