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BMW K100RT Superbike Road Test

Nov 1984

What a rare privilege it was to attend one of BMW's foreign press launches. Rare since for the last five years, both past and present editors have always seized such invitations for themselves. And a privilege because it has always been a bald fact of motorcycling life that anything associated with BMW is bound to be a bit good.

Thanks to a fortuitous clash of editorial commitments, your humble scribe found himself in possession of a four day invitation to Corsica where BMW proposed launching their supertourer version of the K100, the new Kl00RT. It seemed a long way to go to launch a fairing though naturally I refrained from questioning BMW's wisdom in such matters. The arrival of hotel brochures and an itinerary fuelled my interest and anticipation. I was finally going on an expensive BMW foreign fling. A parvenu at last invited to the exclusive party.

I was the last to arrive at the airport on a Tuesday afternoon. Not too late to get my baggage in the hold but well, this is a BMW trip and arriving 50 minutes late is a bit sloppy. In the departure lounge were my fellow scribblers. Editors outweighed hacks by about 2:1. By early evening we were in Corsica. After an informal presentation backed by first-class promotional material, we had supper and a lengthy chat with BMW's numerous support personnel. They take almost as many staff as they do journalists.

Their haulage man had driven 15 RT's down through France and onto the boat on a single lorry. They were crated with the front wheels, mirrors and panniers off, then packed two-high. BMW's other staff included their UK manager and president of the MCA, Pat Myers, plus their PR man, Arthur Dalziel, their service manager, their technical expert, an observer from the UK car division, a representative of BMW France who'd helped co-ordinate the trip plus a freelance photographer and a director of the organising travel firm. Blimey . . .

As Pat Myers explained on that first night, they like to think they do things a bit different at BMW. And it's true. They're friends with the press. Their launches are kind of different and informal, sort of low-key in an expensive way, definitely no pressure, no expectations other than fair comment. Here are the motorcycles boys, you've got the maps and plenty of time to do what you want, see you all at the lunch rendevous. Naturally lunch (more so even than supper) is a splendidly lengthy affair.

We only spent two days in Corsica actually riding the new bikes. My first sight of them from the hotel window at Sam was of a line of 15, alternately red or grey Kl00RTs, standing in stepped formation in the hotel drive. I picked a grey one with 1200 miles on the clock that had dodgy petrol warning lights from the start, tingled to such a degree I got a numb throttle hand, made endless strange noises from the tank and fairing but was otherwise a lovely, long-legged motorcycle. The next day I had a red one, identical except that the instrumentation didn't play up. So it goes.

The roads in Corsica were a revelation but a bit limiting. Imagine a small, unspoilt and overgrown island that is south of the Cote d'Azure yet is thrown up everywhere in dramatic mountains, valleys and impressive viewpoints. A lot of French and German bikers go there for touring holidays and you can see why. Most of the roads are dreadful — mountain passes with endless blind bends, potholes, bad cambers and surfaces and inadequate passing places for the coaches, wild pigs and running bulls that you encounter on the line coming the other way. Yes, it'd be nice to have a touring holiday there but was it any place to test a motorcycle? Well, BMW would correctly argue that it was different and the bike is a tourer and anyway, what do you boys think? I myself got a bit sick of endless mountain roads with no vision possible. In the end some of us were dreaming about motorways and sheer speed. But to a man we were undoubtedly impressed with the RT's performance and capabilities.

The K-series success story is almost entirely due to BMW's legendary thoroughness in design, engineering and finish. The new fours are the result of a six year development period the aim of which was "not to replace but rather supplement the flat twin." My own view is that all three K models (identical in engine output and running gear) complement the old boxer.

On the road they feel much the same as far as balance and weight go, though they clearly have a lot more poke plus tighter, more precise handling.

Before riding the RT I'd only had a brief crack in London on the K100RS but had been immediately impressed to note that nothing had been changed for the sake of it and indeed, much of the old boxer's familiar appeal had been retained and improved upon — reasonable weight and nimbleness, a low centre of gravity, good torque and traction, excellent comfort and equipment. Redoubtable tackle.

The Kl00RT is only 8lbs heavier than the RS despite a fairing that's 36in wide from mirror to mirror (the RS is 31.Sin) and is taller at 57.Sin (compared to SOin). Your first sight once on board is of that curious and unadjustable screen-top spoiler. On the move you look well above the screen but peer through that aerofoil and you get a very wierd view of the world. The whole blade is much bigger than that fitted to the RS but since they've also fitted a high-rise handlebar, the riding position is more relaxed. On the RS you reach forward to slightly dropped bars. On the RT you sit more upright. So relaxed and comfy you could even smoke a small cigar.

The seat, some 32in high, is soft and spacious, the rubber mounted bars are nice to steer with, the pegs, levers and pedals are all set just right. The screen spoiler expertly routes the windrush clean over and above your helmet. The bike starts easily, warms quickly and runs sweet and hard through the gears thanks to the fat range of torque available. It revs and accelerates harder and quicker than the old boxers, yet if anything, traction has been improved. Along the twisty mountain roads it was more relaxing and smoother to drive in top gear and ride comfortably through the apexes than it was to hustle the gears.

Both the Bosch Jetronic fuel injection ('putor controlled with a trick fuel shut-off facility) and the much-acclaimed Compact Drive System (a perfect marriage of gear primary drive, a single plate clutch and a three shaft transmission) deserve full praise here. The rider has the real choice of both considerable power and massive torque, cruise or charge, its all there, the horses are delivered smoothly, comfortably and pretty instantly.

After the first hour in the mountains I was depressed upon stopping and removing both my jacket and a sweat-sodden t-shirt to find I'd only covered 38 miles. God it was hot and those roads are incredibly slow. It ectually says in the Corsican tourist brochure (for motorists) that 25 mph is a good average on these roads, 30 would be more realistic, 40 is definitely trying. The second day had smoother, quicker bits but that first morning in the mountains let the RT show its toughness and adaptability.

Apart from some subtle tingling vibration that was seizing up my throttle hand I was very impressed with the engine. The cycle too seemed capable of being driven hard and confidently. The suspension was certainly soaking up the bumps and holes. The soft and unadjustable front end was diving quite a lot on the brakes but rode the appalling surfaces well. The monolever rear end on its lightest pre-load was just fine. The only time it was worth adjusting was when we finally hit some smooth 120 mph straight roads and sweepers. Mine ran an indicated best of just over 125 mph and was a bit tight. Others reported a top end of 130 no problem. The aerodynamics are excellent at speed, the bike remains aloofly stable as it gobbles up the miles and the scenery.

Though the RT weighs 557lbs fully gassed it has little of the clumsy heavyweight feel of a big Jap four pot. On tight mountain roads it felt nimble and relaxed, like a big cat