TALE OF THE UNEXPECTED. THE BMW C1.

When you’re heading out on a motorbike you can’t just grab it and go, as you would a car. First you need to don some protective clothing – boots, helmet, everything in between – just in case you come a cropper. That’s a faff, takes time and quickly has you drowning in sweat when the summer comes around. So riding to a meeting or business client might be tricky. And that’s a shame, given how much more practical motorcycles can be than cars in congestion-plagued cities.

BMW C1
BMW C1

BMW C1 – The motorcycle reimagined

Why not, then, simply combine the merits of a motorcycle with those of a car? Easier said than done, of course, but that didn’t stop BMW treating the IFMA show to a jaw-dropping new creation in 1992. Centre stage was a design study miles out of left field, a scooter with protective shoulder bars over the rider and safety belts for good measure. “C1” had already been chosen as its name, but another eight years would come and go before the production version could be launched. The time was spent developing the solutions for wind and weather protection, passive safety and comfort to the requisite technical standard.

Out of this lengthy gestation period emerged a high-tech scooter the likes of which the world had never seen. An extruded aluminium frame of impressive strength formed a protective cell around the rider who, with the benefit of seat belts and no obligation to wear a helmet, could enjoy far more freedom than a conventional biker. Gone was the need for leathers, gained was a 50-litre storage compartment as easy to load as the boot of any car.

Off-road motorcycle
BMW C1

Modern technology inside and out

A Telelever front wheel fork and drivetrain swing arm at the rear teamed up with optional ABS to deliver a safe and cosseting ride. The 125cc four-valve engine with electronic injection and closed-loop catalytic converter produced 15 hp, which was good for 110 km/h (68 mph) and proved ideal for everyday use. For those who wanted more, there was the C1 200 available from 2001, which extracted just 3 hp more from its 176 cubic centimetres but offered a marked increase in torque (17 Newton metres [13 lb-ft] vs. 12 Nm [9 lb-ft]). The brawnier model brought a handful of other improvements, such as A-pillar extensions and a new rear spoiler.

Engines came from Austrian supplier Rotax and the BMW C1 was put together by Bertone in Italy. Sales, though, continued only until 2004 and there was no successor waiting in line. Perhaps this was simply a vehicle too far ahead of its time. That said, almost 34,000 examples did leave the factory. These remain largely in the clutches and loving care of true aficionados, while as a “futuristic classic” the C1 is now attracting a new generation of fans.

The arrival of the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT saw BMW return to the scooter market in 2012, though in less spectacular style than with the C1. More significant change was left to the subsequent C evolution, which has since charted a hushed and emission-free route into the future.