BMW R18 – 1800cc cruiser
There are moments where you see a picture of a motorcycle, and it doesn’t make you blink or think twice. Something like that happened when we saw the first pictures of the BMW R18 circulating the web; we weren’t too impressed. Another manufacturer that tips its toes in the cruiser segment, we thought. Why would BMW, who is the industry leader when it comes to big adventure bikes, venture into the realm of cruisers? As it turns out, the R18 harkens back to BMW’s heritage dating back to one of the first BMW boxer models; the R5 from 1936/1937. Much of the inspiration for the modern R18 comes from this particular motorcycle. Moreover, the R18 is not BMW’s first attempt to enter the heavy cruiser market in recent history. Who remembers the R1200C? That hardly brought BMW the success they had hoped for, even James Bond couldn’t change that. Despite this, I was not immediately impressed by the R18. It looks nice and the chrome is shiny, that’s about it.
Until you start reading the spec sheet, and realize that there is something quite provocative about the R18. To begin with, there’s that massive engine. 1800cc boxer twin engine to be precise, still air-cooled, but with a little bit of help from an external oil-cooler. The 90hp of peak power at a lowish 4750 rpm isn’t too bad considering the displacement, but the 158Nm of torque at a ridiculous 3000 rpm is what gets our hearts pump faster; this we gotta try!
And try we did. BMW Motorrad in the Netherlands invited us to try out their new, dressed-down version of the R18, called ‘First Edition’, and the full-fat version of the R18 known as the ‘Trans Continental’. This review is about the R18 ‘First Edition’. The review on the R18 ‘Trans Continental’ will follow next.
First impression of the R18 ‘First Edition’
Wow, this thing is massive! That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw R18. It’s that engine that blows your mind. 900cc on each side, the barrels are huge compared to what we’re used to. The black color with white pinstriping is simple and elegant at the same time. It looks timeless on the R18. Then there are the beautiful chrome polished fishtail exhaust pipes; they look incredibly beautiful; we wish more manufacturers would put them on cruiser! What BMW did really well with the R18, is hide the ugly catalytic converters underneath the engine, between the exhaust headers, out of eye-sight. Wire-spoked wheel, with stainless steel spokes and black rims add to that distinguished look and feel. But the ‘piece-de-resistance’ has to be that exposed shaft drive. It’s so incredibly old-school, we fell head over heels for it. That’s how you build a retro bike!
When you swing your leg over the seat, you feel you are seated on something special. There is one minimalistic speedo, but make no mistake, it has an LCD display that allows you to access information most companies would be jealous of! The R18 is brought to life in a similar way like most modern cars and motorcycles. You keep the key in your pocket, and simply press the power button on the right controls. There are 3 ride modes from which you can choose: Rock, Roll, and Rain. We had to guess and search up what Rock and Roll did, but there was very little doubt about the Rain-mode. This impacts the throttle response and traction control in a pleasant and non-intrusive matter. Rock would be similar to ‘Sport’ mode on most bike, and Roll is the equivalent to ‘Normal’ or ‘Touring’. We kept the R18 on Rock, because it allowed for a very useable throttle response.
Picking the bike from it’s side stand immediately gives away the elephant on the room; 345 kilograms of wet weight. Maneuvering the R18 at stand still is difficult to say the least. Getting the bike rolling will help, so you hit the start button. First thought: This bike rocks! Quite literally! The slightest opening of the throttle results in a massive swing to the right, caused by the inertia exerted by the flywheel, which must be huge. That’s also when the first lesson was learned: you keep both feet firmly on the ground when you pull up in first gear. If you forget that, you risk tipping the bike over to the left by the sheer force of the flywheels’ movement. But, as predicted, once the mass is in motion, the R18 hides its weight pretty well. A neat feature the R18 has was the ‘reverse’ gear, which needs to be operated manually. This helps with moving the bike backwards without looking like you’re hitting the gym, if needed.
King of the road
The sound the exhaust produces when you open up the throttle is magnificent. It reminds me of the sound a turbo-charged V8 diesel engine makes; deep, short, throaty. With a similar powerband too! A small twist of the right wrist results in incredible acceleration. It feels as if the road is moving underneath your tires, and not the other way around! The R18 invites for some serious mile-munching. The handlebars aren’t too far of a reach, the seat is very comfortable, but the seating position leaves much to desire. If you have a larger shoe size than 43 (Size 10), you’ll struggle with keeping your feet from hitting the cylinders and air-intake. You want to sit with your feet a bit further to the front, but you can’t. Instead, it looks like you’re sitting a on a small camping chair. Too bad, because it could have made a massive improvement on the ride quality. The same goes for the suspension. The front Showa fork works well under most circumstances, but the rear ZF shock with its limited travel of 90mm only (!) can be a bit too harsh on anything that isn’t silky smooth tarmac. The brakes are good for such a massive bike, but they’re not nearly as good as the radial Brembo brakes that can be found on Moto Guzzi’s 1400 California. The 16-liter fuel tank provided a sufficient range for comfortable riding without getting range anxiety, we averages around 16 km/l or 38 US MPG under mixed riding conditions. Rides of up to 2 hours or done effortlessly, especially with nice comforts like cruise-control and heated grips, which worked flawlessly.
Overall, the BMW R18 ‘First Edition’ was a very pleasant surprise, to the point where we are foreseeing a renaissance of the custom cruisers. We’ve seen revivals of retro style motorcycle before, such as café racers and scramblers. Could the cruiser be the next big thing? If so, then BMW has set the standard pretty high as far as we’re concerned. Just like with any other new BMW, there is an accessories catalogue that seems to be endless with exclusive and high-quality special equipment, were a potential buyer can opt for features such as cruise control, special paint, special wheels, heated comfort seat and so on. With a starting price of just below 28,000 Euro in the Netherlands, prices can go up to nearly 40,000 euro. That’s a lot of money, question is if the R18 is worth it. We’ll let the market decide, but we sure would love to see these beasts more often on the road.
BikeBrewers – Adnane