Bahn Burner: 1990 BMW K1

Based on the K100, the 1990 BMW K1 was a sporting machine without a hint of touring pretensions.

| March/April 2016

  • 1990 BMW K1
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 1990 BMW K1
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 1990 BMW K1
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • Owner Rick Pellegrino on his K1 at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The K1 may not be a track weapon, but it’s an extremely capable high-speed touring bike, poised and confident on the road and easily capable of triple-digit speeds.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • 1990 BMW k1
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The K1 bristles with unique touches including fairing-mounted switches and gauges.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The rear seat cowl comes off for two-up riding.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • Single-shock Paralever controls driveshaft effect.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • Front wheel cowl improves aerodynamics.
    Photo by Stephen Clark
  • The K1’s radical styling didn’t translate to high sales, but more than a quarter-century later it still looks cutting edge.
    Photo by Stephen Clark

1990 BMW K1
987cc liquid-cooled DOHC inline four, 67mm x 70mm bore and stroke, 11:1 compression ratio, 95hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed:
143mph (period test)
5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight (wet):
612lb (278kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
5.2gal (20ltr)/45-50mpg
Price then/now:

At the end of the 1980s, the high-horsepower superbike category belonged to the Japanese motorcycle makers. But Germany’s BMW was about to unleash — in the words of Monty Python — something completely different.

Based on BMW’s 4-cylinder K100, a touring-oriented model first introduced in 1984, the new for 1989 K1 was a sporting performance machine without a hint of touring pretensions. According to motorcycle historian Ian Falloon in The Complete Book of BMW Motorcycles, in the late 1980s BMW took a look at the available Japanese superbikes with their firecracker performance and taut handling. Tops in horsepower and agility, all of these Japanese rockets featured chain final drive.

“BMW decided the time was ripe for a shaft drive Superbike,” Falloon writes, “one considerably more performance focused than the K100. When it was first displayed at the Cologne Show at the end of 1988, the K1 shattered the perception of BMW producing only conservatively styled touring and sport touring motorcycles.” Of the resulting K1 fitting into the established superbike category, a March 1990 Cycle report said BMW had gone its own way, just as BMW always had.

A lifelong rider

Zigy K
1/17/2020 5:14:53 PM

I've just acquired a 'ketchup/mustard" K1 and wondering where to find replacement decals; my "K1" decal has two small scuffs. seems perhaps easier to paint small places by hand? thanks, z

2/23/2016 12:40:34 PM

I remember that ad well, Tony, and I had the same impression. I rode the one we featured, and the experience didn't blunt the desire one bit. Quite the opposite. There's just something very, very special about them. Just don't ride one in the summer! Richard

2/20/2016 3:19:44 PM

The K1 hooked me the first time I saw BMW's ad for the bike. The print ad featured two K1s, pulled to the side of the road, riders fully leathered, with the long straight road ahead splitting what appeared to be near-Martian landscape of red rocks. This was the future and I wanted to be a part of it...astride one of those BMWs. Fast forward about 15 BMWs later, and I've ridden, but have yet to own a K1. It was on my bucket list; I love the engine and of course the look. But having owned several K1200RSs, it's obvious time and technology have advanced.

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