BMW K Series Motorcycles - Happy Birthday K Series

Twenty-five years ago, the world was waking up to the idea of new technology. Microsoft Word was first released, the Nintendo Entertainment System went on sale and music fans were treated to the new possibilities of pop videos when Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' was broadcast for the first time. One of the year's box-office hits was 'Return of the Jedi', while US President Ronald Reagan unveiled proposals to develop technology to intercept enemy missiles. Called the 'strategic defense initiative', it soon became known as 'Star Wars'...

On September 19, 1983, at La Napoule in southern France, a monumental event took place - the international press launch of the BMW first four-cylinder motorcycle: the K 100 Series. A few days later - to the theme of Irene Cara's 'What a feeling' from the hit movie Flashdance (1983) - the K 100 was presented to the international BMW dealer network at Monte Carlo's Sporting Club. More than 120 machines were transported straight from the production lines in Berlin for the dealers to test ride so they would be enthused about this exciting new generation of four-cylinder motorcycles.

Long time BMW K Series enthusiast Shahram Shiva is the founder of K12RS.COM, BMW-K.COM, and fan websites and forums. As an avid fan of the famous German fours, he gives his impressions of a quarter century of unstoppable K power.

It was almost 25 years ago to the day in 1983 when BMW introduced the groundbreaking new line of water-cooled four-cylinder motorcycles simply called the 'K'. There is much history surrounding the K bikes, as they became known as the new flagship BMW motorcycle range with powerful engines mated to modern styling.

The K bikes soon became the new host machines for some of BMW's most cutting-edge technology. BMW's Antilock Braking System (ABS) was first introduced on a K 100 RS in 1988. BMW introduced its first 100 hp power plant with the wind-tunnel refined K1 and, continuing with this tradition, the company used the K line to launch its very first 130 hp engine on the truly unique K 1200 RS in 1997. Also added to this list of firsts was the first electronic cruise control for motorcycles, which appeared on the K 1200 LT, along with the option of a heated seat. Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) was introduced on the K 1200 S in 2005, which also featured BMW's most powerful (167 hp) motorcycle engine to date.

The K series of motorcycles began in 1983 as a single model, a naked K 100. This bike had no other designation attached to it, such as 'RS' or 'LT' (these came later). This new radical BMW looked ultra modern for its time and it was powered by a new engine concept - a 987cc, flat-4, longitudinal, laid out on its left side with the cylinder heads on the left and the crankshaft on the right. It was nicknamed the 'Flying Brick' because of the look of the engine. This engine - in its most updated 1170cc form - is still in use as it powers the current K 1200 LT motorcycles.

I remember the first time I saw a K 100, when I was in my early twenties. As a rider and a young design student I gravitated almost immediately toward this new line of bikes from BMW. The highly modern, clean and linear lines of this new K machine were a complete departure from almost every other motorcycle on the road at that time.

In the past nine years, I have put about 80,000 miles on K bikes alone. These high-spirited miles have been put on a variety of K models, starting with a very clean and pampered K 1100 RS that I picked up used from a dealership in New York. After 9,000 miles in nine months, I promptly swapped that K 11 with a new K 1200 RS in November 1999. Little did I know that this particular RS would in essence not only alter my professional life, but also teach me about what it means to love a particular machine. Of course BMW riders are no strangers to love affairs with bikes. Ever since the very first Beemer - the R32 - was launched in 1923 they have been coveted machines for those in the know.

In the past 25 years there have been numerous types of K motorcycles offering three distinct power plants. The K 100 launched the eight-valve, four-cylinder version with telescopic front forks. Soon after, the popular K 100 RS emerged with a very elegant and functional half fairing. Continuing with the expansion of the range, touring models were also offered in the form of K 100 RT and K 100 LT.

However, the bike that proved especially popular was the smaller 740cc, three-cylinder, K 75 that was introduced in 1985. The still in-demand K 75 is especially noteworthy because of its continuing popularity, even though the last of the K 75s left the BMW factory 13 years ago, in 1995.

The next big shift with the K motorcycles started with the 1988 model range as the very first production ABS was introduced on a K 100 RS. This shift was quickly followed by an updated and more powerful version of the K bike power plant. For the 1989 model year the new 'Flying Brick' sporting a 16-valve engine, now offered a cool 100 hp and appeared wrapped in racing plastics in an experimental - and very radical for its time - superbike called the K1.

The revolutionary BMW K1, with its wind-cheating, super aerodynamic bodywork, in many ways ushered in a new performance age for BMW. The 130 hp K 1200 RS and the 167 hp K 1200 S wouldn't have been possible without the K1 DNA. Today, the K1 is a favorite among collectors of modern BMWs.

Although BMW introduced the anti-dive Telelever front suspension in 1993 on the Boxer engines, it wasn't until 1997 that they were placed on K bikes. The first K that received the Telelever was the K 1200 RS. The popular, ultra smooth K 1200 RS (1998-2004) marked the first time BMW broke through the self-imposed 100 horsepower limit. The K 1200 RS with its sexy and curvy Italian inspired bodywork was a hit. As the first K bike to actually suspend the engine beneath an aluminum frame, instead of using it as a stress member, the K 12 RS is glass-smooth and is an extremely reliable and comfortable long-distance runner.

This successful engineering of a vibration-free, super smooth riding experience is one of the benchmarks of today's K 1200 LT luxury tourer. In the summer of 1999, I took my only demo ride on the new K 1200 RS and I was hooked. I loved the power, the styling, the ergonomics and especially the new ABS II. A few months later I picked one up with all the available options at that time. I like black bikes but the K 12 RS wasn't available in my favorite color, so I had the bike painted before I took delivery and nicknamed it 'Nandi' for the mythical bull that the Hindu god Lord Shiva rides upon. A few months later, in March 2000, I organized the first ever K 1200 RS rally in Connecticut.

Now, nine years and 64,000 miles later, my love affair with 'Nandi' is still continuing. Although I have the privilege of riding different bikes, every time I take Nandi out, whether for a commute in all kinds of weather or a joy ride, it brings a smile to my face. K bikes have been bringing smiles to many hardcore, committed riders for many years of course. The K 75, for example, with its smooth, highly reliable, counterbalanced engine, has run quite successfully in the Iron Butt Rally, and has also been the choice of global adventurers.

The year 2004 was a historically important one for BMW. This was the year that BMW introduced a new product philosophy. BMW's post 2004 engineering vision is to produce bikes that not only remain faithful to the brand's time-honored qualities of reliability, advanced engineering, premium components and safety, but also to become highly competitive in the areas of performance and aesthetics. With this new goal in mind, power-to-weight ratio has become the new mantra at BMW Motorrad.

Their fine machines that used to be the heaviest in their respective categories are now the lightest. For example, the new K 1200 S is the lightest in the 'Hypersport' class, as is the K 1200 GT among the multi-cylinder touring bikes. With this new philosophy in mind BMW changed its K series line up in 2004 by introducing the 1157cc, across-the-frame (transverse) mounted, liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder power plant, putting out an impressive 167hp and 96 ft-lb of torque at 8,250rpm. This engine was mated to a new K 1200 S that was about 15 percent lighter and 30 percent more powerful than the generation it replaced.

This new production of K bikes also launched an alternative front suspension, different from the trusted Telelever. BMW called this new system 'Duolever' for a double wishbone, with an upright and steering linkage system that was originally designed by inventor Norman Hossack.

The K 1200 S was followed by a lighter and slightly quicker K 1200 R naked bike and the 152hp K 1200 GT - an agile and comfortable Gran Turismo. A half-faired K 1200 R Sport was also introduced in 2007.

After 25 years the multi-cylinder BMWs are no longer confined to the letter 'K'. In April 2008 BMW Motorrad launched another designation to represent an even faster line of BMW four-cylinder bikes and that mark is 'S'. BMW is planning to enter World Superbike racing with its new S series.

K bikes have developed quite a diehard following in the past quarter-century. I have thoroughly enjoyed riding them in the last decade. With their planted, straight-line high stability, all-day comfort and roomy ergonomics, smooth and powerful engines, ABS, shaft drive, great braking power, alternative front suspension and host of trick options, they'll remain a favorite among serious two-wheel enthusiasts with a taste for refinement. Happy Birthday, K bikes!

The bike that started it all a quarter of a century ago - the K100.
Shahram Shiva has ridden over 100,000 kilometres on his K 1200 RS.
The clean lines of the K 1100 RS
A bike that proved especially popular was the smaller 740cc, three-cylinder, K 75 that was introduced in 1985.
The revolutionary BMW K1, with its wind-cheating, super aerodynamic bodywork.
The 167 hp K 1200 S