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Bike of the Month
May 2022
1990 BMW K1
By George Canavan

Time to turn our attention to a different part of the old motorcycle hobby. AMCA specify bikes greater than 35 years old for participation in Chapter events*. Other interests in motorcycle collecting and riding are beginning to focus on “young timers”, bikes that are not yet at the 35 year threshold but are more available, less costly and easier to ride in dense, modern traffic. Many riders are picking up the bikes of their youth, bikes that are clean, low mileage examples or were out of their reach for several decades.

*(AMCA does allow geezers, such as me, to ride newer bikes so as to not be a hazard to self and others, thank you.)


Let’s step back in time and have a gander at one such new timer, the 1990 BMW K1. Entering the 1980’s, BMW corporate knew that they needed to step up their game to remain relevant in a very competitive market. While the Boxer Twins were beloved and fawned over by the faithful, there was a riding demographic who saw high performance, multi-cylinder land rockets as the future of road riding. BMW knew they needed an answer if they were to be around in the next decade. A halo sport bike needed to be launched to catch the eye of the new generation of riders who were fixated on technical, highly capable equipment.


On first blush, the K1 could be brushed off as an exercise in B.N.G. engineering, yes, Bold New Graphics. The K1 has the graphics angle covered in spades! It is not the ride for the modest or unassuming. It quickly became known as Ronald McDonald, the Ketchup and Mustard bike, because of its shocking Marrakech red and broom yellow livery.  ( I prefer to go by Hamburgler as it is a bit more obscure) This bike is more than an exercise in marketing hype though. Let’s have a look.


The BMW K100 LT (two valve) touring bike was already out there and it appeared that the future would belong to the liquid cooled, emissions efficient platforms. Also, BMW was restricted by governmental regulations to a maximum of 100 hp. Not so their Asian competitors. Think FZR 1000, CBR 1000F, ZX-7, GSX-R 1100, etc. Engineers had a hefty lift to compete with what was in the market. Not to worry, the technical gnomes back in R&D had a  corporate approved concept that would be their development guide.


The K1 emerged in 1988 as a technical tour de force. They easily wrung out the engine to the max allowable performance and didn’t stop there. They set a high development bar and exceeded the mark. The liquid cooled, lay-over, inline four was treated to dual overhead cams with hollow shafts, sixteen valves, a lightened crankshaft, a stainless steel exhaust header with  catalytic converter, and Digital Motor Electronics.  The chassis received shaft drive (a given for BMW) , 305 mm floating Brembo disc brakes, ABS braking, Marzocchi forks and world class aerodynamics. The secret sauce was the aero package. Ever wonder what the box on the back of the saddle was for? Aero drag reduction. This configuration with rider, measured a drag coefficient below 0.4cd. A first for a production machine.


The bike can run up to nearly 150mph, 0 - 62mph in 3.9 sec and deliver 48mpg at 75 mph. 


Between 1988 and 1993, 6,921 K1’s were produced in total with 670 coming to the U.S.A. It is estimated about one quarter of these bikes remain on the road today. 


Did the halo bike, Hail Mary pass, K1 do its job? In 2021, BMW motorcycle production totaled 194,261 units. Nice save guys!

Canavan K1.jpeg
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