BMW C1 – the ‘safest thing on two wheels’ that broke my wrist!

by Jill Boulton

(originally published in the newspaper Business a.m. October 30, 2001)

“Maybe you should ring Air Traffic Control and ask them if it’s safe to take off,” said my neighbour as I struggled to start the C1 for its first trip with me in the cockpit.

BMW says the C1 is the safest thing on two wheels, so I deduced that there would be some sort of security procedure before it would allow you to go.

Seatbelts on, ignition on, raise centre stand, raise side stand, press start? No luck. All right, how about ignition first, seatbelts second, stands third, then start? Sorry, no. Stands first, seatbelts, ignition, start perhaps? Nothing.

The BMW C1 200 Executive, the strangest of all vehicles, had arrived with no handbook. The delivery man had also left a large sealed box which both he and I thought would house instructions. But no – the box contained several dozen napkins from France …

The BMW press office was more helpful, telling me about the immobiliser. So without further ado, we were on our first trip to work.

How does one refer to the C1? The newer and larger C1200 certainly does not feel like a motorcycle, despite its 170cc engine and the fact that you need a full bike licence to ride it. With its big, comfy, car-like seat you can sit back, almost put your feet up, and enjoy the ride.

It is a twist ‘n’ go like a scooter, but how many scooters have an interior light, a roof, windscreen and wiper, a glovebox, and seatbelts? But something tells me it is not a car …

Maybe it is the car for motorcyclists, or the scooter for car drivers. Whatever it is, this caped crusader of a vehicle attracts a lot of attention wherever you go and is brilliant fun to ride, especially if you don’t mind people laughing, staring, smiling, waving and pointing at you. In the end, you just smile and wave back.

But this machine is a practical alternative to the car. Options include an audio system, ABS and a 75-litre storage box for your laptop or the shopping. It can even come with a passenger seat to use it for the school run – the C1 would earn you serious street cred from your child’s peers in the playground.

It is not easy, or glamorous, to manoeuvre without power or at low speeds. And yes, it is quite heavy, but no more so than the average motorbike – it’s just that more of the weight is above your head.

The ‘roof’ is actually a rigid cell using aluminium space-frame technology designed to protect the rider in a crash.

In fact, BMW claims the C1 provides the same protection as a small car. And – very usefully in the UK – the roof provides some defence from the weather.

Ironically, it was the roof of the C1 that was to be the undoing of my brief but mostly pleasurable relationship with this strange machine.

Turning tightly to position myself at a set of traffic lights, I lost my balance – and dropped it.

Unfortunately, the C1’s biggest “safety” feature sandwiched my hand between it and an ambulance, so I am now nursing a broken wrist and a bruised ego.

So it is back to using the bus. Apparently, a double decker can tip to 45 degrees before it falls over.

Footnote: This article had been heavily sub-edited (i.e. cut to bits) by the time it reached the printed page, and on balance I don’t think it’s a very fair review of the bike, which was really practical and good fun to ride – once it got going above wobble speed. Incidentally, immediately after I dropped the C1 and broke a bone in my wrist, I jumped back on and rode it back to work – it was only later that I realised something was amiss … !