BMW, having earned its logo emblem from a stylized spinning airplane propeller, took off in another direction when in 1923 the German company debuted its first motorcycle, the R32, featuring the now famous “Boxer” air-cooled opposed-Twin engine: In this first iteration, it displaced 486cc and churned out 8.5 horsepower. For decades the “airhead” became the cherished mainstay of the Bayerische Motoren Werke (a.k.a. Bavarian Motor Works) while enjoying a non-stop evolution. But then in 1983 BMW took off on a design tangent that created a love-hate reaction still inciting strong reactions, and passions, especially from the BMW purists.
The new machines were labeled with a K, and powered by an all-new inline four-cylinder with fuel-injection and liquid-cooling, which would became known as “the Flying Brick.” The K100 displaced 987cc and was claimed to produce 100 hp. It was joined in 1985 by a three-cylinder version, the K75, rated between 68 and 75 hp. The K bikes initiated the ABS braking system later incorporated in the traditional Boxer-powered models.
In a way, the earlier K bikes became the step-child in that, while they were super-smooth-running machines, the styling was considered “butt ugly” by many. Again, beauty is in the eye, and sometimes the seat of pants, of the observer/rider. In addition, the Ks stood rather tall in the saddle and are not well suited for short-inseamed riders. On the pro side, they were bulletproof, could take you to the moons of Jupiter and back, and as the years rolled on, used K bikes were bargain priced.
This brings us to Larry Romestant, SpecialK bikes, and the fortuitous intervention of the Post Office. Larry’s an engineer by training, and his resume includes stints at Apple and JBL, having spent months in China developing a factory for the latter. He also happens to be an avid motorcyclist who rides BMWs as well as Japanese machines.
“Then one day in 2004 I was in my garage when our postal carrier noticed me at work on a bike,” explained Romestant. “She said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a BMW sitting in my garage and I don’t ride it anymore. You’re welcome to have it for the deductible difference since the insurance company paid off on it after it was damaged in the Northridge earthquake.’ And I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be great if it was a nice old Boxer? I went over to the house, she opened the garage, and it was a purple 1990 K75 standard bike, a Triple. It was in very good condition, the only damage being a scuff to a saddlebag. I only had to pay $500 for the bike and after getting it running, had my first ride on a K bike and couldn’t believe it. It sounded like a sewing machine and yet so powerful, smooth and comfortable but it also looked like crap. I thought, you know, this is pretty cool, this has got some potential. At that point, I knew nothing about K bikes, but I was willing to learn.”
That pivotal tipping point took place a decade ago. The rest is SpecialK history, and we’re not talking the breakfast cereal. Fast forward to 2014, several projects and part designs later, and Larry’s created several outstanding variations on the K-bike theme: commuter, cruiser, sport tourer, supersport bike.
“The plan was, keep the bikes serviceable by BMW shops even though they didn’t look like standard BMWs, rather ones that could have been built by the factory. Because it’s a BMW, I wanted our SpecialK versions to represent the level of sophistication and class those bikes carry. What makes BMW special is that they manage to keep the execution of complex engineering simple, well thought out. While I don’t think styling was really a big deal for BMW, they knew how to make things work, a motorcycle that was robust and durable. After all it’s a Teutonic machine. I just thought I could make some beneficial changes.”
Focusing on the green-framed café racer, completed in January 2014 and which Larry refers to as the “Kaff” (Brit slang for café), specs include a modified, shortened front end from a K75S with Brembo fork legs fitted with Progressive springs matched to a frame donated by a 1997 BMW KLT. The rear section of the frame is custom from two lateral arms mount, so Larry’s hybrid design emphasizes the trellis appearance, the components fashioned by Larry from 4140 chromoly. You might notice the Velocette-inspired adjustable shock set up and the 4-into-4 Magni-style pipes, custom made in England by Larry Swan. The seat design echoes the classic Ducati 750SS.
The Bell Kaff uses the four-cylinder engine from a 2004 K1200RS, an 1171cc powerplant claimed to produce 130 hp in stock trim. The Kaff uses stock internals, but its intake and exhaust systems have been tweaked to yield an extra 15 hp, according to Romestant.
The beautiful polished alloy tank, mudguards and seat were hand-fabricated by master builder Evan Wilcox. Other details include VDO gauges mounted in custom-made CNC’d nacelles designed by Romestant. The rear hub is also one-off, crafted from a chunk of solid 7075 aluminum and matched to the front 4-leading shoe vintage Suzuki GT750 “Water Buffalo” unit. Its wire wheels, sourced from Buchanan’s, are shod with Bridgestone Spitfire II rubber.
The Kaff was built in collaboration with Evan Bell to honor several milestones. Bell is one of the industry’s trail blazers and owner of Irv Seaver BMW, which is celebrating its 100th year in business and Evan’s 50th year of ownership. Romestant wanted to show his appreciation for all of Bell’s achievements as well as to promote his SpecialK bikes, and it turned out a perfect match – Bell helped with the parts, while Romestant did the build.
Larry, who spent untold days and nights working on the bike, laughs and says, “It was crazy grueling. I actually lost 35 lbs. during the build. The bike itself shed about 100 lbs. from stock.” A film documenting the story is currently in production.
Larry has produced several SpecialK models, in both four- and three-cylinder versions, and is currently taking commissions for new machines for clients that want a unique BMW experience, one that “fuses engineering and artistry.” More information at www.SpecialKs.net or call Larry Romestant at 818.231.3014.