A BMW Superbike?
Although based on the standard K100, the BMW K1 was in fact a very different animal. While the general layout was the same (liquid-cooled inline four, disc brakes front and rear, fuel injection) the K1 received a new 4-valve cylinder head good for another 10 horsepower and 10 foot-pounds of torque (74ft/lb versus the K100’s 64ft/lb). It also got an improved version of the K100’s Bosch fuel injection, which supposedly accounted for much of the engine’s improved performance. BMW could have made the engine more powerful yet, but continued its voluntary adherence to a 100 horsepower maximum for motorcycles in Germany. By the time the K1 was U.S. emissions compliant it was down to 95 horsepower, still the most powerful BMW made to that time.
Four-piston Brembo calipers replaced the K100’s twin units up front, and a thicker rear rotor aided heat dissipation. U.S. K1s also received the K100’s optional ABS system, first offered in 1988, standard. The K1 also received BMW’s new Paralever system, announced for the R80GS and R100GS the year before. Using a double-jointed driveshaft/swingarm with the rear hub linked by the shock at the top and the Paralever at the bottom, the system canceled out the rise and fall from acceleration and deceleration familiar to shaft-driven bikes.
The K1’s frame looked much like the K100’s, but was in fact substantially strengthened, with larger diameter tubing and slightly revised geometry — along with a longer wheelbase — to improve stability in fast sweepers. This was, after all, a bike designed for the autobahn, and with a top speed in excess of 140mph, all day runs at 100mph-plus were a snap. Testers mostly praised the K1’s performance and were impressed by its high-speed aplomb, with more than a few testers claiming to hit an indicated 150mph; not bad for a 600-plus-pound bike with “only” 95 horses to push it around.
Much of that high-speed calm was thanks to the K1’s controversial bodywork. This was to be the company’s flagship, a technological tour de force that nobody would confuse with anything BMW — or anyone else — had ever made before. From its wind-tunnel tested fairing including an almost completely enveloped front wheel (giving a drag coefficient of 0.34, the lowest of any production motorcycle then made) to its bold (or lurid, as some saw it) ketchup or blue and yellow paint schemes with screaming yellow graphics, the BMW K1 demanded attention.