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BMW R 18 Cruiser With Vintage Styling and the Biggest Boxer Engine Yet


The BMW R 18 was introduced to the world during the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020 although concept images had been circulating prior to this and the model had been in development since 2015. 

I can honestly say the launch of the BMW R 18 was one of the highlights of that year for me, from the concept images to the official launch in September, the bike blew me away and continues to do so, which is why I am so excited to write about it. 

The design, style and impressive presence of the bike is taken quite obviously from BMW’s early bikes, specifically the 1930’s R5 models. 

It is a traditionally styled vintage cruiser with just enough of the modern BMW tech and knowledge to make it a modern-day motorcycle capable of laying down serious miles. 

BMW wanted to enter the cruiser market and give the likes of Harley Davidson a run for their money. 

The irony is that at the same time Harley were producing new futuristic models like the Livewire and Pan America, switching gears from their core tradition of styled cruisers; then all of a sudden BMW entered the foray with a bike that would look at home in a museum with other pre-war era motorcycles. 

Let’s go on a journey into the world of the BMW R 18, look at its good points and any bad, with full specs, price and competition bikes also covered. 

Let’s start with a review.

BMW R 18 Review

The BMW R 18 takes its styling from the pre-war classic BMW R32
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The BMW R 18 oozes pre war styling

Style 

Sure we could skip straight to talk about the magnificent engine that powers the R 18 and yes that is the most important part of the motorcycle. However, I cannot get over the bikes aesthetics and because I am writing the review I have decided to start with the bikes bags of style. 

Back in the 1920’s and 30’s BMW created their iconic silhouettes in the form of motorcycles like the BMW R32 and R5. For the R 18 BMW’s designers looked back at the history books and sought inspiration.  The end result is an elegantly styled timeless motorcycle. 

The frame and swingarm look like its one piece, and the rear shock is hidden, fishtail exhausts are huge and swooping just like the R5 and the mirrors take their design from the R5 too. 

The chrome touches like the optional manual reverse lever add a touch of class and clever modern features while looking like a piece of historical mechanical engineering. 

The pinstriping and paintwork all combine to make the R 18 look like a one-off custom machine; it doesn’t look like a Harley, Indian, Triumph, it is a quintessential BMW. 

BMW R 18 Engine

The centerpiece of the R18 is its two cylinder Boxer engine, the thumping heart of the project. It cannot be ignored and it is BMW’s biggest ever motorcycle engine so why would you want to ignore its enormity?

The all new 1802 cc Boxer engine is a reflection of the traditional boxer design with pushrods over the cylinder, but has modern based functionality with fuel injectors in the head rather than the throttle body.

at 1800cc The BMW R 18 Cruiser has the biggest Boxer engine so far
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The biggest Boxer engine yet

Interestingly we live in a time when emissions laws are strangling our motorcycle engines and manufacturers are turning their heads to smaller engines to meet regulations. BMW Motorrad however have gone the other way to produce a huge engine that demands respect.

The torque levels are immense and once in 3rd gear you will find you can happily cruise from 30mph right up to the top end without shifting or blinking an eye.

This makes the bike great for backroads and twisties, giving you smooth acceleration and control regardless of gearing, which is always a plus. The gearbox is smooth, slick, far from what you would expect out of a huge twin engine. 

One tiny let down in regards to the engine is the lack of noise.

Yes I know there are noise restrictions and emissions laws to consider; but let’s face it, we all want our big cruisers to sound like Thor thundering down his hammer as we storm down the road. 

Chassis/Suspension/Handling

So the bike is huge, I mean huge, with a wet weight of 345kg, there is no two ways around that fact. 

There is a long wheelbase, a rear shock that is hidden so the swingarm and frame combine together looking like an original hard tail design and just a 19” front and 16” rear wheel. 

The massive engine itself weighs in at 110kg, so the chassis had some time spent on it to develop into a workable model that could actually handle and cope with the weight.

There are a few bikes that are good at hiding what they weigh once they get moving, that feel lighter almost the instant you pull on the throttle; the good news is the BMW R 18 is probably one of the best at that game. 

The front forks don’t dive or buckle and the shock does its job well. It is a basic system that has partnered well together, so the rider feels like there is adequate communication between the front and rear that then feeds back to them. 

What you will notice is the bike feels firm; however, that is the sacrifice needed to ensure it handles well, aggressively even if you want to push it. Soft suspension paired with this amount of weight would be a disaster. 

Investing in an aftermarket seat or more plush options of the two seater on the Classic model might help you feel more comfortable.

Mid-mounted pegs and wide handlebars, with a low seat height, put the rider into a relaxed riding position and a feeling of control washes over you before you even get going. 

Of course vibrations are felt but ride quality is excellent and they don’t get annoying or painful which can happen with some V-twins that ricochet vibrations through the bars and pegs.

It is good to know that you can throw the BMW R 18 into a corner and your pegs might scrape the ground but at no point does it feel like the bike is going to tip over or barrel down the road; it might have the vibe of a rhino but at no point is the R 18 going to tear off and take out several small cars on the road. 

There is a subtle reassuring control and calm about the smooth sculpted engine and solidly built chassis that contains it. 

Brakes

The brakes are very capable on the R 18 and they need to be, stopping a 345kg motorcycle is not an easy job, but BMW have equipped just the brakes needed that are up to the task.

They bring the bike to a stop efficiently with no doubt even when used harshly. ABS comes as standard and the Engine Braking System also kicks in to help bring the bike down from speed.

Tech

There is just enough modern technology thrown at the R 18 without it overshadowing the basic fundamentals of motorcycling:

  • Rider modes aptly named: Rock and Roll, Rain. (Rain, Road and Sport)
  • Traction Control
  • ABS
  • Heated grips
  • Keyless ride
  • Reverse assist
  • Adaptive headlight
  • Engine drag torque control

BMW have also partnered with the legendary Roland Sands along with Vance and Hines to produce an extensive accessory package. The idea is that the R 18 is a base for which the rider can personalize and make their own. 

The R 18 has soul and so many modern bikes including some of BMW’s own lineup are lacking in the soul department. The R 18 has boosted traditional motorcycling back to the forefront.  It has quirks without the mechanical issues that the iconic bikes of the past were known for. 

BMW R 18 Variants

While the entry level BMW R 18 has been deliberately left stripped bare and primed for owners to customise (there are plenty of after market R 18 Bobber kits available), there are several variants which each one not only increasing in price but also increasing in the ability to undertake longer distance touring. 

R18 Classic

The R18 Classic does just enough to the base R 18 to make it a more comfortable tourer without becoming a fully dressed cruiser, it manages to retain its stripped back charm compared to others in the line up. 

You get the advantage of a pillion seat so you can carry a passenger, some side saddle bags and a windscreen are also added.  The R18 Classic is a good choice for some two-up riding and some weekend trips on the road. 

R18 B

The R 18 B with B standing for Bagger
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The R 18 B with B standing for Bagger

The B stands for Bagger and the R18 B bridges the gap between the Classic and the fully dressed Transcontinental. 

The R 18 B takes things a bit further with a large fairing made up with panels on the handlebars and a small windscreen.  The passenger seat is removable and can be swapped for a solo seat; the B model also comes with a set of hard luggage saddlebags.

Four Marshall speakers are tucked into the side panels. You also get active cruise control with the B and Transcontinental models and a bigger fuel tank on both.

The electronics package is where the B model stands out from the R18 Classic and base model, a 10 ¼ inch TFT display in the cockpit displays all the information you need.

R18 Transcontinental

As for the Transcontinental, this is the fully dressed BMW cruiser built for the long haul.  It has the big fairing, hard saddlebags, and a huge seat for both the rider and pillion with a top box backrest, not dissimilar to traditional Goldwings of times gone by. 

No expense has been spared to produce the ultimate touring cruiser; Dynamic and Active Cruise Control, 3 Riding Modes, Automatic Stability Control, Dynamic Engine Brake Control, Reverser, Hill Start Control and a central locking system. 

Not all come as standard but are available as optional extras. 

The Transcontinental is for the riders who want to take on the biggest journeys and do so not only in comfort but in luxury. BMW are not hiding the fact they are out to compete with the Harley Bagger range with the Transcontinental.

BMW R18 Specs

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, opposed twin cylinder, Boxer engine, pushrod-actuated OHV, two camshafts, 4 valves per cylinder
  • Capacity – 1802cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 107.1 x 100mm
  • Compression Ratio –  9.6:1
  • Cooling System – Air/Oil cooled
  • Starting – Electric
  • Induction – Keihin EMS with DBW
  • Transmission – Slipper Clutch & 6 Speed Gear Box
  • Final Drive – Shaft
  • Max Power – 91 horsepower at 4,750rpm
  • Max Torque – 157 Nm at 3,000rpm
  • Top Speed – 112mph

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Double cradle steel frame
  • Front Suspension – Non-adjustable, 49mm fork
  • Rear Suspension – Cantilever spring-preload adjustable shock
  • Front Brakes – 2 x 300mm discs, 4 piston calipers
  • Rear Brakes – Single 300mm disc, 4 piston caliper
  • Spoked Wheels
  • Seat Height – 27.2”
  • Dry Weight – 345kg
  • Wheelbase – 68.1”
  • Fuel Capacity – 19L

BMW R18 Price

In the UK the BMW R 18 starts from £17,480.

  • R 18 Classic – £19,540
  • R 18 B – £22,450
  • R 18 Transcontinental – £24,300

In the US the BMW R 18 starts from $15,995

  • R 18 Classic – $18,995
  • R 18 B – $21,945
  • R 18 Transcontinental – $24,995

Who’s it for?

The stripped back BMW R 18 is for those who love the traditionally styled Bobbers of the 1930’s and those that want a cruiser with a story to tell, an attractive appearance and with a genuine heritage.

It is for the cruiser lover who doesn’t want to go for the typical American iron or the perfectly machined Japanese cruiser, it is for those that want to ride down the street and see heads turn. 

On a practical level it isn’t a bike for novices, even the base R 18 is heavy and the big boxer engine is thunderous.  It is for the more experienced rider that perhaps wants to slow things down a bit, but open up the throttle on the open road as they cross state lines. 

The BMW R 18 in any of its variations makes a great touring bike that will happily eat up as many miles as you can ride. 

You May Also Like…

When it comes to the R 18’s competition you are looking at the top of line cruisers from other manufacturers and also those that have been retro-styled as opposed to some of the more modern options out there. 

So from Harley Davidson you could look at the Heritage Classic, a very traditional all-American cruiser or the Road King which is a chromed classically styled Harley bagger from the Grand American Touring range. 

You might also like the Indian Springfield or the Chieftain Limited, two big v-twin cruisers that again are very traditional in their styling. 

Alternatively the Triumph Rocket III might be up your street, less traditional in terms of styling but definitely a standout cruiser like the BMW R 18. 

From Japan Kawasaki has the Vulcan 1700 Voyager which is a long distance touring cruiser that is a pretty good looking bike. 

Summary

There is nothing left to say, BMW Motorrad won with this bike, it is visually one of the most beautiful cruisers the world has seen, at first glance it takes you back to the early days of motorcycling. 

For anyone who appreciates motorcycles, the BMW R 18 is a work of art; the essence of the past is contained within a functional modern-day cruiser.

More info at the BMW R 18 web page

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