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Bike Review - Posted 20th August 2012

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The exotic offerings from the 1980s can be expensive to buy and tricky to live with. Mark Holyoake recommends a more affordable motorcycle...

My search for a Norton Rotary has taken a small diversion, partly because (a) I don't think I will be able to justify to SWMBO a rotary let alone (b) find a Norton I can afford. However in a strange twist, after reading many period tests of the Commander and Interpol, one bike kept appearing in magazines at around the same time and always seemed to get a good press.

That bike is a BMW K.

Good use of metallic paint to show off the shape and lines. BMW at their best?.. BMW K75S

This series of BMWs was once scorned by diehards who loved their twins and thought the Germans were barking dropping their beloved Boxers. Were they right? I don't think so, on recent evidence anyway. This must have been before the Germans created the oil-head, as opposed to the traditional air-head twins, when BMW had a stab at doing away with the flat twin altogether. Unfortunately, BMW's customers appeared to be '...not fully in-line…' with the idea, unlike the replacement BMW engine which was indeed inline and laid on its side.

So when the triples and fours arrived in the BMW line-up, the odds were stacked against them. So what's it like to own and ride one now? I haven't plumped for a K100 nor the later four-valve type, but the smaller 750. A K75, and in my case an S-version as opposed to the C, RS or naked types. My K75 has done just over 60,000 miles and it seems to go really well and runs nicely. It's not a rotary but it is very smooth, as rotaries are reputed to be.

Loving the triangular silencer, too.. BMW K75S

The K75 was affordable (unlike a rotary) and is amazingly smoooooth - more so (allegedly) than the four-cylinder K100 versions. It appears construction-wise to be solid, perhaps because it was made at a time when BMW had strong values in terms of longevity. The bike is well engineered, designed for motorcyclists rather than accountants (although I assume there were some hanging about), comfort over horsepower. These machines were never top in the power or speed stakes (although an R90S was fast in its day, and the R100RS revolutionary with its fairing), but jolly good all round and with that 'made from solid blocks' feeling.

The K75 appears to have good power and ooomph through the rev range, good lower rev torque - no power band as such. Between 3000 and 8500rpm the power is creamy smooth without dip or dale in the power graph. It handles well and has good engine braking. There doesn't seem to be any vibration when running, to speak of and I have even managed 58mpg or thereabouts over mixed running on A, B and even C roads.

I don't have a low seat version but it doesn't seem as tall and scary as some modern monsters. After checking the specs I was surprised how close the K75's figures are to something like a Ducati Darmah. It was light(ish) in its day but these days probably seen as heavy compared with the Japanese missiles that fly about. My version doesn't have the ABS system so in braking is reasonably conventional; Brembo equipped, not BMW's earlier offerings.

K Series BMWs on

One fear I have is in the step bikes around this time made in terms of ancillaries. Prior to this, bikes had points, screw and locknut tappet adjustment, carbs, and so on. BMW threw some technology at the K-series what with electronic ignition (although that was commonplace by then), fuel injection, pumped fuel (with the pump submersed in the tank) and computer-controlled ignition and sensors and 'things'. I am not sure much of this would have been 'new' to BMW having done this stuff in cars but it's a step-change from the older flat twins. Commonplace now. So hopefully my 'scary' ponderings are a nonsense.

The K75 can't be seen as an exciting, out-and-out sportster but seems to be reliable, long lasting, very smooth and not too heavy… although it's also no flyweight, and can cater with short ambles as well as more ambitious miles. It seems at home on roads from C-class to motorway and handles them all. It's wonderfully competent in the 30 to 70mph range where real riding happens. The standard bike has a nice riding position; good bar/seat footpeg position, plus luggage capability, and on my S-model it comes with a good fairing. Spares new (expensive) and used (some expensive) seem to still be available. eBay may become your friend with some electrical / mechanical stuff shared between the four- and three-cylinder models.

K75 and very large shower curtain. This implies a very large shower..

Mechanical servicing is generally OK. These earlier 2-valve types, although using bucket and shim, clearances can be adjusted (when they need to be) without major dismantling. Huge mileages are possible: 100,000, 200,000, even 300,000 have been seen on the clocks of K-series bikes.

I don't know, however, if the K75 if it will ever be seen as a classic in the way the older twins have become. Maybe it's on the cusp and it will be overlooked while the oil-heads will be seen as classics. For me it's the closest I can get to a rotary right now - if only because it was tested against them back in the day.

For me, the K75 may be one of BMW's best models. I've tried many singles, air-heads and oil-heads. I did like a K1100 I sampled recently, but found it just a tad heavy. The triple seems to be a good compromise between old and newer, bridging a gap between the 1970s and the bikes made these days.

The best word to describe it? Smooth.


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