BMW R 18: A Modern Power Cruiser From The Past
By Michael Gougis
BMW has officially introduced the latest addition to its two-wheel lineup, a long, low, powerful cruiser rooted in the company’s motorcycling past that features its largest-ever boxer twin and a full complement of modern technology.
The BMW R 18 is uniquely German (featuring the phrase “Berlin Built” in several places on the machine) yet is aimed squarely at the North American audience, with half of the worldwide production of the bikes headed for the U.S. and Canada.
“This will be an important motorcycle for the U.S.,” said Trudy Hardy, head of Region America, BMW Motorrad, at the international launch of the R 18. “It was made for us.”
Central to the all-new machine, the first to be built on this platform, is the 1802cc twin-cylinder engine, designed to place the machine squarely in the heavy cruiser category that is dominated by Harley-Davidson. BMW says the air- and oil-cooled twin pumps out 91 horsepower at 4750 rpm, 116 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3000 rpm, and has more than 110 lbs.-ft. of torque available from 2000 to 4000 rpm. A six-speed transmission delivers power to the rear wheel via an exposed drive shaft on the right side of the tubular steel swingarm.
A double-wall, double-loop steel frame provides a low 27.2-inch seat height. Conventional Showa forks and a single ZF shock at the rear handle suspension duties, while dual discs at the front and a single disc at the rear are operated through an ABS system. The wheelbase is 68.1 inches long, and the spoked rims wear a 120/70/19 tire in the front and a 180/65/16 in the rear.
The extensive use of steel and metal throughout the machine (the turn signal buckets are metal) means that the R 18 is hefty, at 761 pounds. The use of steel for things like fenders and side covers is deliberate, as the bike is designed to deliver an impression of solidity and stability. Even the handlebars are solidly-mounted to produce a more direct physical connection with the bike’s vibrations and motions – the R 18 is about delivering a feel, rather than a performance number.
While BMW has gone through great lengths to hide hoses, wiring, etc., the R 18 has a wide variety of technology and rider aids designed to make the beast easy to manage. ABS, traction control and rear wheel slip control (electronic and via a mechanical slipper clutch) are integrated into three ride modes – Rain, Roll and Rock. The bike has a keyless ignition, and Hill Start mode allows the rider to pull away from a stop without having to balance the clutch against the brakes to avoid rolling backward. And speaking of backward, the R 18 has reverse, as well.
Styling cues are lifted from significant BMW models of the past, especially the R5 of 1936 and 1937. The tank shape, the straight line of the upper frame tube, colors, exposed drive shaft and boxer engine all were chosen as representative of iconic BMW models, said Vinnie Kung, Product Manager, Motorrad Division. “We were able to pull from our own book,” Kung said.
BMW considers the $17,495 R 18 its first real entry into the cruiser market, and studied that segment long and hard while preparing the R 18, said Edgar Heinrich, head of the development team responsible for the R 18. While the cruiser-styled R1200C (1997 to 2004) sold well, it did so as kind of a stylized standard, not in the cruiser segment that the stout, powerful, low-slung R 18 is designed to penetrate.
“It (the R1200C) was very successful, but not in the cruiser market,” Heinrich said. “It did well as a kind of standard. But if we go into this (cruiser) market, if we want to be successful, we have to play by the rules there.”