Our Bikes: BMW K1

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MCN’s Andy Downes and his BMW K1

“I sense my wife is warming to it”

His partner isn’t happy, his friends think he’s mad – but 25 years after falling for BMW’s futuristic  sports-tourer, a massive red and yellow starship is parked in Andy’s garage

There are generally two reactions when people discover I’ve bought a BMW K1. The first is incredulity combined with puzzlement, which often borders on horror. The second is a nodding look of approval; mixed in with a bit of the aforementioned shock. This is much less frequent.

When my wife saw a picture of the bike I was planning to see, she described it as ‘revolting’. However, when she saw in in the metal for the first time she changed her mind, explaining it was ‘even more horrible than in the pictures’. I sense she is warming to it.

In contrast, I love it. And before I bought it I hadn’t even ridden it beyond a cursory ‘test ride’ on a steeply-sloped driveway at the vendor’s house on the Isle of Wight. While attempting to avoid yeast extract clichés I can think of no other bike that elicits such powerful responses from normally mild-mannered and balanced workmates and friends. My two children (aged six and eight) think it’s brilliant and have already named it ‘The Red Rocket’. Some colleagues (and my wife) clearly think I have lost what few flickers of common sense might once have burned inside me.

My personal link to BMW’s K1 can be traced back to seeing one in the Park Lane BMW showroom in London in about 1989. It was red and yellow and may even have been this very bike given  that’s where my bike hailed from. It even has the original Park Lane BMW numberplate. To my 16-year-old mind on a day trip to the capital it seemed as if a spaceship had landed in central London. I was transfixed and it has remained embedded in my mind ever since.

I’ve been properly looking for a K1 for the past 18 months and have been carefully stalking the internet for that time. I’ve seen some go for not much cash, others for stupid amounts of money and then weeks and weeks of nothing going on sale. I’ve seen some dealers asking ludicrous money, and at times the hunt has been hugely frustrating while also making me clued up on the market for these oddballs.

Eventually this one appeared on a classic vehicle website; the only fly in the ointment being the Isle of Wight location, which added a layer of hassle. It looked like a decent prospect though with 40,000 miles on the clock, one owner from new (who sadly died in 2009, with the bike sold on by his son) and a recent load of work to get it running again after two years of standing unused. This work included a new fuel pump, fuel tank sender unit, new fuel lines, new bulb control unit, new hazard-flasher switch, a refurbed front brake master cylinder to cure a mild leak and an MOT. It even has the original BMW tankbag and tailpack and loads of paperwork too.

I then spent 12 hours in a van on a grim Sunday with Joseph, my endlessly chattering six-year-old son, for company, during which I was horribly fleeced of £193 for a van and two passengers on the WightLink ferry. Shortly afterwards the deal was done for a smidgeon over £4000 and the bike was loaded into the back of the MCN van. The only way this was able to happen was by promising my wife I would sell my 1998 Honda CBR600F-W which put back £2200 into the joint bank account after it sold a week after the K1 arrived.

So, I’d sold a perfectly functioning, reliable and fun Honda CBR600 and replaced it with a 25-year-old freak that weighs almost as much as my car. I swear I heard my garage take a sharp intake of breath and mutter ‘Oof’ as it took the strain when I wheeled the K1 inside.

The first step was to get the bike checked over and ready for the road again so I took it straight to main dealer Balderston BMW in Peterborough for a base level check-up. They have plenty of experience of K1s and fairly similar K100s. I wanted to know the bike was right before riding it; even though I know the mileage isn’t going to be huge each year there is little point starting with an unknown quantity. I thought an oil change, new plugs, air filter, new gearbox and shaft drive oil along with a check on the valve clearances should be enough to make sure it’s not going to blow up immediately.

Not quite. In the end the work list was longer than I thought, but I had to keep reminding myself this is a 25-year-old bike and all of the work was essential. New Brembo Oro brake discs were £400 from the brilliantly helpful importer Bike Torque Racing (www.biketorqueracing.co.uk); beautiful new braided steel brake hoses were made by Goodridge who now have the template for any other K1 owners with ABS-equipped bikes and cost £165 for the whole set. The costs for both are relatively similar to the BMW replacements.

The brakes needed more attention than thought with new pistons, seals, hoses, front discs, new Brembo sintered pads and a general clean out. They now work pretty well; you just have to bear in mind this is a fairly old bike. Insurance was a pleasant surprise though with specialists Moto Insure able to cover the bike (with a mutally agreed value and protected no claims) of just £110.

So here we go. All comments and observations about the bike are welcome, but please remember  that I love it and don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.

Step into the future

BODYWORK: This was the future in 1989 you know. And that shape is only marginally less aerodynamic than a Suzuki Hayabusa. The front mudguard and the seat hump both need repairing and respraying and will be a winter job. The K1 had notoriously poor glassfibre bodywork and time has not been kind to the strength of the original parts.

THAT COLOUR: A rare black and grey one was considred but, as a colleague said: “If you are going to buy a K1, only the brightest colour will do!”

OVERALL CONDITION: It’s far from a minter but that means I don’t mind riding it as 25-year patina means it’s for riding not just looking at.

BRAKES: Upgraded stoppers were always on the cards as the originals discs, pads, calipers and brake lines were shot to bits. Brembo Oro discs, Brembo pads and a complete new set of caliper pistons, seals and braided steel Goodridge hoses have brought the brakes up to an OK standard. A new BMW master cylinder cost £220.

TYRES: One of the biggest transformations on any bike of this age are new sports touring tyres. These Metzeler Z8 Interacts are superb and are available in the slightly odd 160/60/18 rear fitment.

SUSPENSION: It’s OK up to a point but needs a good service and refresh. The forks have probably never been opened so once the bike is off the road for winter they’ll get a complete going over. Aftermarket shocks are available too which will no doubt improve the handling massively.

ENGINE: It’s not just the outside of the K1 that’s a bit unusual: the engine is a 987cc inline four-cylinder that’s laid transversely across the frame.  With the all-enclosing fairing it cooks your legs.

RIDING IT: Nerves were replaced with relief once it was ridden. The handling is soggy, there’s too much heat from the engine, the throttle-springing is heavy and the bike weighs a tonne – but it’s owner loves it.


Next week: Emma Franklin’s Honda RS125 racer


Andy Downes

By Andy Downes

Former MCN Senior Reporter