The BMW K1
Under the Radar
1989-1993 BMW K1.
Years produced: 1989-1993
Total production: 6,921
Claimed power: 95hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 143mph (period test)
Engine type: 987cc DOHC, liquid- cooled inline four
Transmission: 5-speed/shaft final drive
Weight: 618lb (wet)
Price then: $12,990 (1990)
Price now: $4,500-$8,500
When BMW introduced the radical sport-touring 4-cylinder BMW K1 in 1988, the Bavarian firm was already under attack from BMW traditionalists who felt the company was suffering an identity crisis, turning away from a time-honored line of horizontally opposed, air-cooled touring twins in favor of increasingly, well, un-BMW-like machines.
The break with tradition started in 1982, when BMW announced the inline 4-cylinder BMW K100. Featuring double-overhead cams, liquid cooling and Bosch electronic fuel injection, the K100’s 987cc mill was — in a further break from the norm — laid down on its side. It was unlike any BMW before; apart from the blue and white roundel on its tank, the only traditional BMW aspect of the K100 was its shaft-driven rear wheel.
Why BMW made this break is easy to understand. As the 1970s drew to a close, 4-cylinder motorcycles were clearly becoming the order of the day. BMW, which had coaxed as much performance as it could from its air-cooled twins, knew it needed a clean-burning, modern platform; the K100 was its path to the future. That it didn’t pick a horizontally opposed flat four is almost certainly due to the fact Honda had beat them to the punch with the Honda GL1000 in 1975.
Although sales of the new model were modest at first, buyers warmed up to the idea of a multi-cylinder BMW and a 3-cylinder variant, the BMW K75 (which had been planned along with the K100 from the beginning), was introduced two years later.
Although changes to the K100 over the next few years were few, BMW knew it needed to update the K100 to wring more power out of the bike, which at a claimed 90hp was starting to lag behind the competition’s liter bikes. BMW decided to address that point with the K1, but few expected the fully faired über rad BMW presented at its September 1988 press launch.
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