BMW took their time with the R18, with the company releasing 2 concepts and an engine layout throughout 2020 before actually releasing the motorcycle in Spring 2021. Was it worth the weight and the hype? We’ll keep our verdict short: yes, but it ain’t perfect.
To get the most out of the 3 BMW R18’s we got from our local dealership, we took it on a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle via the Pacific Highway Route. After making sure our Golden State license was updated, we underwent our 1,400+ mile journey that helped us push the R18 to its cruising limits, driving through different terrains and weathers, from a few desert trails in SoCal, the urban jungle of San Francisco, the winding forests of Oregon, and finally, through rainy Seattle. We would have pushed it further, but we all received angry phone calls from our wives demanding we go home.
A quick breakdown of why we love the R18: the 1802cc boxer engine is the real highlight of this vehicle, pumping out 89bhp at 117ft/lbs of torque. It’s the right kind of power you need when barreling down the I-1 and you need to get past a few Sunday drivers.
But all this power is highly regulated, so there are no fears of this German stallion bucking under the seat, thanks to the R18’s combination of an exposed shaft drive, bevel box, and a Softail cantilever rear end that allows the motorcycle to keep everything at a steady space.
The R18 is heavy, it is big, it is loud, and it does not apologize for being any of those things. Dainty, this motorcycle is not. This is the kind of motorcycle you get when you’re nearing retirement age (I hate to point to some of the reviewers of CarCityMotors but…) and the Harley is just too “outlaw” for you. BMW’s take on a cruiser is much more sophisticated and refined, albeit incomplete and lacking in certain aspects.
Overall Ride Quality and Brakes
The R18 is billed as a cruiser, but it doesn’t actually ride like one; if anything, the R18 rides more like a retro naked, excelling more at higher speeds and hard rides. Don’t let its 750lbs frame and 96in frame fool you: the R18 was meant for peg scraping and fast corners.
Aggressive downshifts, however, are noticeable, but the Softail cantilever does a fantastic job of keeping shaft jacking at a minimum. It helps that the Softail backend gives the R18 such a smooth and classy look. This is one of those things you need to consider when doing a road trip checklist, after all: ensuring your suspension is set for different kinds of terrain.
The cantilever itself is held aloft by a preload-adjustable rear shock that gives 3.5in (90mm) of travel from its under-seat perch. Sure, you’ll have to take the seat off if you want to adjust the suspension, but this extra step is the price you pay for getting those refined lines and class-A vibes that the R18 was built for.
On our road test, we found the R18’s suspension is on the firmer side: great for hard rides and fast corners, but not the ideal for lazy cruising on straightaways. That being said, it does handle potholes and bumps fairly well, with the front end having a noticeably progressive give than the back end.
The R18 features linked ABS brakes sans IMU that work exceptionally well for non-IMU ABS, although this means that the R18’s Hill Start Control isn’t the smoothest, with the motorcycle lurching from a standstill. It’s not the worst thing, but it is something you don’t expect from BMW.
At 750lbs, the brakes do a great job of slowing you down, but sudden stops do require a less-than-subtle pull on the lever. Remember, it’s a heavy and long machine
Stopping quickly requires a decent heave on the lever but it’s a weighty machine and the long/low chassis means you don’t get the same weight transfer you would on a more traditional machine.
The BMW R18 Engine Build
Powered by the nee 1802cc boxer engine, the R18 is a beast of a bike. But other than the sheer power it pumps out, it also looks formidable, with BMW focusing on making the engine look like a classic, 50s powerhouse. Of course, BMW being BMW, they couldn’t help but show off their machine skills, with the engineers sneaking the fuel injectors in the head rather than in the throttle body.
The 1802cc boxer engine churns out 89bhp at 117ft/lbs of torque which, honestly, might not sound like much, but a majority of that push shines through in the 2000 to 4000rpm range which, to be fair, is where you’ll do a plenary majority of your riding anyway.
But despite the power, the R18’s engine manages to ride smooth, so smooth that you could pull off clutch-less shifts easily at high speeds. The boxer engine makes corners and twisties ride like a cul-de-sac: smooth, effortless, and the closest you’ll get to gliding on two wheels.
All that being said, however, we need to talk about the actual shift lever, which sits just a few inches too close to the side stand when it’s up. It’s a minor complaint, but one that, again, isn’t something I expected to make when riding a BMW. All three of us admittedly had our foot caught on the side stand during a downshift. Thankfully, precision engineering saved our lives.
And finally, here’s something that will divide motorcycle owners: the R18 is quiet. Almost too quiet. Sure, BMW stuck to European noise regulations very closely, and while I didn’t think much of it at first, I sure did miss the tell-tale rumble of an 1800cc twin.
BMW R18 Review: The Downsides
As we said, the R18 is almost perfect, and here’s what we didn’t like about it: the lack of equipment.
When you hear “BMW”, you think “German, high-precision, high-quality, high-tech”, but the R18 only really delivers on the first three. Despite the year-long hype and the manufacturer’s penchant for sticking one, digital tech after another on their cars, the R18 seems bereft of tech.
The R18 has no cruise control, no range indicator, not even a fuel gauge. Heck, even the tech that is present is pretty lacking, with each piece of tech seemingly coming at a price. Sure, the ignition is keyless, but the steering lock and the fuel fillers aren’t. The hill start control, as mentioned, is chunky and jerky, while the self-canceling indicators go off just a few seconds too soon. At $17,500, I honestly expected just a bit more.
The Final Verdict
We stick by what we said in the beginning: the BMW R18 is, without a doubt, a worthy contender for Cruiser King in a landscape dominated by Harley, Indian, and Triumph. Yes, the tech is lacking, but the electronics are more than capable of handling most things you throw at it.
The engine is beastly, but smooth, and while it does excel at corners and hard rides, it’s smooth enough to dawdle along at 60 if you want to slow down a bit to catch the views, and if you take the Pacific Coast highway as we did, you’re going to be doing a lot of that anyway (just make sure your vehicle insurance is up-to-date).