The Holy Grail of BMWs: Krauser MKM1000

Motorcycle luggage maker Michael Krauser designed the Krauser MKM1000, using the BMW R100RS as his base.

Krauser MKM1000

A 1982 Krauser MKM1000.

Photo by Ken Richardson

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1982 Krauser MKM1000
Claimed power: 70hp @ 7,500 rpm
Top speed: 140 mph
Engine: 980cc air-cooled OHV flat twin, 94mm x 70.6mm bore and stroke
Weight (wet): 496lb (225kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.5gal (21ltr)
Price then/now: $11,985/$15,000-$25,000

Here’s a riddle: When is a BMW not really a BMW? When it’s a Krauser MKM1000, of course.

We’ll get to the motorcycle in a moment, but first, some history about Mike Krauser Motorcycle, or MKM as it is better known. German-born Michael Krauser is famous for his motorcycling achievements. In the 1950s, Krauser competed aboard works BMW machines, winning the German sidecar racing championship from 1955 to 1958. In the 1960s he ran a team of Rennsport outfits. In the 1970s Krauser not only introduced a successful line of motorcycle luggage, he also managed BMW factory sidecar racing teams. And then, in the latter part of the decade, he decided to build complete motorcycles.

Krauser’s is a deep and rich history — and the company is still in business today. According to their website, Krauser began in 1924 repairing engines and manufacturing pistons. In 1963, Krauser took over a BMW dealership, selling cars, and providing parts and service. With his background in motorcycles, in 1970 Krauser added two-wheelers to the range.

Tired of modifying luggage to fit motorcycles, in 1972 Krauser developed his first removable, injection-molded plastic side cases. His line of luggage became synonymous with BMW, but the company developed a product range to fit numerous other brands. According to one source, Krauser had 70 employees working to meet demand for the product.

But this success didn’t satisfy Krauser. By all accounts, he was a “motorcyclist’s motorcyclist,” someone who longed to be involved in something much grander in scale. That just happened to be the production of a street legal motorcycle.

Beginnings of the MKM1000

In the mid-1970s, Krauser had designed a race motorcycle featuring a 1,000cc BMW boxer engine surrounded by a much stiffer frame than what would have been stock. The machine was competitive, and the lessons learned, Krauser felt, were too important to simply leave at the track. However, when it came time to design a road-going machine, Krauser didn’t rely solely upon his own experiences. He instead worked with HPN — a development firm with three young engineers including Alfred Halbfeld, Klaus Pepperl and Michael Neher.

“He was in tight with BMW,” says BMW restorer and collector Phil Rose of Mike Krauser. “He had been involved with endurance racing and had always wanted to build his own motorcycle. In the late 1970s, the easiest path for him to do this was to use BMW mechanicals, and BMW got on board and supplied him with components.”

BMW provided all mechanical parts, including stock BMW R100RS engines, transmissions and final drives. Forks, handlebars, switchgear and brakes are BMW. Even the exhaust and mufflers are BMW, but mounted in such a way that they sweep up more sharply than they do on the R100RS.

And here we come back to our earlier riddle. In Germany, the MKM was certified as a production motorcycle. Although so much of the MKM is quite obviously BMW, instead of BMW serial numbers on drive components, for example, all parts are stamped with a “K” and then a Krauser number. As long as the drivetrain components were stock, BMW warrantied them.

The heart of the matter

Yet it’s not really about the running gear, anyway, because it’s the computer-designed space frame that sets the MKM apart. Constructed of regular thin-wall steel tubes, of which there are 52 straight tubes and four curved tubes welded together at 150 points, the entire frame weighs 25.3 pounds. In the early 1980s all of those frame tubes led contemporary bike magazines to dub the chassis “birdcage-like.” Painted magenta (purple) on some bikes (one period reviewer referred to it as “puke purple”), the frame is really what makes the Krauser special.

The fairing, seat cowl and tank cover are fiberglass, while the gas tank is metal. The tank cover and seat cowl are one piece, with the gas tank hiding underneath. The seat pan is held in place with a lock, and a post at the front and two screws at the rear are all that hold the one-piece bodywork to the frame. Dzus-type fasteners secure the lower fairing sections, while the upper fairing is bolted to the frame via a stock R100RS bracket and two other mounting points.

When compared to a stock BMW R100RS, in the MKM frame the 980cc flat twin air-cooled engine was raised by 1 inch. The wheelbase was longer, too, by 1.7 inches. The fork, however, featured shorter stanchions with travel decreased by 1.575 inches. Rake and trail were increased and Krauser designed the special rearsets and foot controls. The distinctive paint was a reflection of Krauser’s racing colors.

To be classified as a production motorcycle Krauser had to obtain German TUV certification, something that wasn’t simple to do. Similar to the DOT, the TUV puts a machine through rigorous testing procedures, and if any single component fails it’s back to the drawing board. A good reason to use proven BMW components.

Production begins

MKM production began in 1980 and ended in 1982, and there are differences between the years. For simplicity, we’ll call the early bikes Generation One and the later machines Generation Two. The Gen One bikes were equipped with ATE single-piston brakes, an aluminum gas tank with a Monza-style filler, a black frame, steel cylinders and a breaker point ignition. The Gen Two machines had a steel gas tank with a stock BMW locking gas cap and were updated with Brembo dual-piston calipers, Nikasil cylinder liners and electronic ignition.

The actual number of MKM1000 motorcycles built varies widely by the source being quoted, but 200 seems to be accurate. “I don’t have a definitive source for this information, but I’d guess there might have been three or four Gen One MKM1000s sold in the U.S.,” Phil says. “They were brought in by San Jose BMW, and they cost $14,000.”

According to Phil, of the entire MKM Generation Two production during the 1982 model year, only 13 were officially sold in the U.S. by BMW North America, and these machines were again sold through San Jose BMW and imported by Krauser USA in Seattle. The Gen Two MKM1000 was slightly less expensive at $12,000, but that was still nearly double the price of a stock BMW R100RS.

“You had to be well-heeled to buy one,” Phil says. And who could be in a better financial situation than Malcolm Forbes, the millionaire publisher of Forbes Magazine? Known for his extravagant tastes in airplanes, art, automobiles and motorcycles, Forbes purchased one of the 13 “Gen Two” MKM1000s — our feature bike — and shipped it to his castle in Morocco, where he put 3,800 miles on the clock. At the time, Forbes was famously friendly with film star Elizabeth Taylor. Who knows, perhaps Elizabeth Taylor’s derriere spent some time on the back of the bi-posto, or two-up, saddle?

Acquiring an MKM — or two

Phil Rose has been motorcycling for some 35 years, starting out aboard a 1974 Honda CB550. He moved on to a Kawasaki GPz750, and then discovered BMWs.

At this point, Phil began working with mechanic Darrell Messerle and they began restoring vintage /2 BMWs. These days, instead of restoring motorcycles Phil tries to buy bikes in good original condition. Currently, he has 26 or 27 machines in his Massachusetts-based collection.

Phil wound up with the ex-Malcolm Forbes MKM1000 in a roundabout way. Nine years ago, Phil looked at three MKM1000s owned by a Long Island collector, but at the time couldn’t afford to buy one of them, let alone all three. Then, in 2011, when a deal fell through on another MKM he was pursuing in Canada, Phil discovered the Long Island MKMs were still for sale.

“I had a lot of cash because I’d sold two bikes to fund the purchase (of the Canadian bike), but he sold that one to someone else,” Phil says.

“On the collector’s website, there was still a picture of an MKM1000. I sent him a note asking if the bike was for sale, and I got a call the next morning at 8:45. I made a deal to go and look, and I took my money and my van.”

It came to pass that this time Phil bought not only one, but all three MKMs — one of which was the Forbes machine. “I was told the collector had bought the MKM from Forbes’ son, and I had the title and Malcolm Forbes’ keychain. There are a lot of high-end bikes that have his name attached to them.” In this case, however, Phil has a New Jersey Certificate of Ownership proving Forbes’ ownership of the bike.

As purchased, the Forbes MKM1000 (no. 061) required a minimal amount of work to return it to roadworthy condition. Phil freed up the brakes, rebuilding the master cylinders and calipers using factory replacement parts, which, he points out, are all still available from any BMW retailer. He dropped the oil pan, cleaned it out, changed the oil filter, added fresh oil and changed all the drivetrain fluids. The 40mm Bing carburetors were stripped and serviced.

Because the machine had such low miles, no bearings needed replacement, and even the Metzeler tires are original to the 18-inch rear and 19-inch front wheels.

Yet while the bike was mechanically sound, cosmetically it needed some TLC. “Of the three MKMs, the Forbes bike was in the worst shape,” Phil says. “He just didn’t seem to care about the bike.”

For example, when a radar detector had been mounted to the fairing, two holes were drilled to bolt it in. “I cleaned it up, filled the holes, and touched up the paint and the decals. It looked 1,000 times better when I was done with it.”

The front footpeg rubbers, which are actually cut-down left-hand Magura handgrips, were the only rubber bits Phil replaced. Phil got the bike back into proper shape, and after adding a couple hundred miles to the odometer he sold the Forbes MKM to the founder of John's Beemer Garage.

Phil still has the other two MKM1000s in his collection, however, including a 4-valve equipped example.

“It’s typical 1980s BMW,” Phil says of riding the MKM. “On a racetrack it might be different, but on the street it’s like riding an R100RS. But you do notice a difference because you’re in a riding position that cants you more forward, and you definitely feel the change in rake and trail. The Krauser frame is what really grants you exclusivity, and because of it the MKM has become one of the holy grails of BMW collectors.” MC

Read more about the Krauser MKM1000 in Krauser Upgrades: 4-Valve Heads.