BMW Motorrad Spezial

1988 BMW K1

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.

BMW K1 motorcycle

  • The K1 was received with derision by the cogniscent because as a sport bike it was too heavy and too slow. The garish color scheme didn’t help. Today the K1 is an interesting curiosity that still looks like something out of an 80’s scifi show

  • In 1990 I felt the same way. Young family, big mortgage, and a budget, steered me to purchase the Honda CBR 1000F. Red, white and blue…..and I could wear my black leathers.

  • Adrian

    All valid comments but I would still have one.

  • mitchell

    BMW a big money waste, no a very Big Money Waste, that’s one ugly bike if you can call it a bike.
    And the two riders look like a right pair of toff’s on there way to some big money waste rally to enter in a who has got the most expensive tailored riding, leather jump suit and best riding posture completions. After gazing upon those things I will have go and use my eyeballs for an ash tray.

  • Alan

    I always thought it was fugly … impressive due to it’s size, but at the time I would rather have had a Paso.
    Now the S1000RR might be a different matter !

  • I used to love these because they were so different.

  • > and not just because it’s the only motorcycle you can ride while wearing a scarlet leather one-piece.

    Sounds like a perfect reason to me!

  • Hiwatt Scott

    I think the red and yellow ones are a bit too, umm, “Ronald McDonald”. The dark blue and yellow versions are a bit easier to swallow. When it first appeared, I was star struck, but it hasn’t particularly aged well.

  • factsmachine

    german hayabusa + 80’s transformers styling, I love it.

    this was just another case of BMW answering a question that nobody asked (see BMW X6)

  • I love the styling, the bike looks like the 80’s on two wheels. That front fender looks like it should be capable of firing phazors. Brilliant.

  • In the late ’80s, before i was of age to ride myself, this was the first bike that captured my attention and started the daydreams of what a bike could be. Akira meets Autobahn. It was different, ambitious, even audacious.

    But the K1 hasn’t dated well. To the moto-gence of the day that found it too heavy/expensive they were probably right, and already too jaded to have the K1 impress them. To those seeing it for the first time now i can understand the derision (but would argue beauty can have something other than a GSX’s silhouette). It took a certain state of mind, at a certain time, to really feel the impression of the K1.

    Today when they turn up on the local buy/sell my first impulse is always to run out and buy it. Second impulse is to hold on the the memory.

  • I could see David Hasslehoff riding one.

  • kim scholer

    Just goes to prove that BMW was a) ready to push the boundries (in this case of the average motorcyclists’ conservative attitude), and b) ahead of its time, which can be just as bad commercially as being behind them. Fully enclosed bikes have been tried on and off during the last 110 years, but have rarely sold well until very recently.

    I loved it back then and I still think it looks wonderfully weird.

  • Zonker

    Back in that day in the land of Oz when 1000km days were attainable and 800 km days commmonplace, the K1 held a special place for practical, high speed touring. My friend the motorcycle dealer who could have had his pick of Bimota, Guzzi, Ducati or Triumph always chose the K1 for long trips for its unmatched combination of comfort and speed. I had a K1100RS and have always regretted selling.

  • Kidchampion

    The K1 is the epitome of 80’s teutonic styling and although the style isn’t timeless, and isn’t appreciated now, it will be appreciated again at some point in history. Maybe after the remake of Tron hits the screens. And I should mention that I often wonder what attracts me to one bike blog, rather than another but your mention of JG Ballard, when reviewing this bike, is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to this site.

  • The Model Citizen

    I never really thought much about them until I was taken around Eastern Creek on the back of one. I had a new respect for them when in the right hands. Surprisingly impressive.

  • RetroGrouch

    I equate the K1 to Harley’s XLCR Sportster Cafe Racer. They both were big chances taken by the makers and poorly received when introduced. Except the XLCR was cool and now collectable. I can’t say that for the K1. It was a ridiculous bike back then and it’s a ridiculous bike today.

  • Pete

    I ride a old 86 K100. A straight line rocket. She will sit on 160k/h all day. And with some work she is now also starting to corner. She has done over 150,000Km’s and is just starting to be run in.

    I am planning to pick up a K1 inside a year or so. A collectors item very soon. How can you not like something that is soo ugly that it looks good? At 100hp there are todays bikes that will leave her behind. But I am sure I can squeeze out a few extra horses from that 4 cylinder motor.

  • nick

    I want one of these. Does anyone know of one for sale in the UK?

  • paul

    I purchased the blue/yellow one in 1993 and still own it today after 17yrs and nearly 100,000kms on the clock.The bike seems to go better now than it ever did.The new rocket ships that people can purchase today may beat it from cnr to cnr,but they take a second look when they see that the thing still flies past them around cnrs, and an indicated 255kms down the straight.Its easy to ride a fast bike fast, but it takes skill to ride a slow bike even faster.Don’t judge a book by its cover i say.Top quality and a little different.Cheers

  • Kerry

    Have any of the contributors to this blog actually riden one of these design masterpieces. The glow from the fuel and temprature gauges in the fairing on the BMW tank roundels at night is well worth the purchase price. When at speed with your head/helmet crouched behind the windscreen you see the speedo and rev counter and the road ahead. The large black nobby handle bars are a homage to the great BMW race bikes of the 30’s. One of those bikes you can just stare at for hours at end. 1000km a day in comfort and you cane always get parts from the factory.

    My current stable is a 92 blue BMWK1, a 02 moto guzzi cali stone, a 97 Ducati 916sp3 and a 06 Baines project project imola 90ss.. This is the third K1 i have owned since 1994. Modern calssic, buy now.

  • James

    This was a poster on my bedroom wall in 1990 when I was 11. It was the coolest looking bike in the world – from an 11 year old’s point of view anyway! It has always been at the back of mind.

    20 years later, I now own a red/yellow example and am completely besotted. Everytime I walk into my garage it bowls me over with the ‘wow’ factor. It was the sole reason for recently passing my motorbike test.

    It won’t make me a millionaire classic wise; but it’s a darn better investment than a boring ISA.

  • Pete

    And so I have piced up my K1. 34,000K on the clock, mod chip, factory tank bag and rear seat bag with side pouches. I am a happy boy. :-)

    But there is a few things to sort:
    – Footpegs are far too high up for me. So will make up a plate for each side and drop them down.
    – Front suspension hard. Needs work.
    – Hate the handlebars. Need to have a narrower set.
    – Almost 7 meters to turn her!! Need to sort that.

  • Markus

    This bike was then planned to have 160hp; so tha’s why the red line is yellow (as told to me by BMW engeneer). I put a race chip in it and I like that bike to ride fast and comfortable. Own an R1200GS and Guzzi 1000SP too. Each bike has its use.

  • anvelo Venetis

    Hey K1 fans. I also made one of my dreams come true when I got a k1 5 months ago. I bought some parts needed and made it look (and ride) like new! It is a great bike and I just did my first trip. I found out just from this short trip that I have mounted the front fender wrong. At high speeds, the fender would touch the tire and the screw would actually damage the tire. Can any one of you people send me some pics of how you have mounted the front fender? Other than that, the bike is perfect. Anyone near Greece?