Cruising into a new category

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Long the undisputed king of the premium adventure bike category with their GS series, and recently taking on the mid-priced middleweights with F900 released earlier this year, BMW Motorrad now takes solid aim on the cruiser market with a very interesting offering, the R18.

Originally unveiled as a concept bike at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019, the bike threw the motorcycle world on its ear. A German cruiser looking to go head-to-head in a heritage category dominated by Milwaukee iron and metric offerings from Japan? The concept bike certainly set the bar high but fans got a lot of bike when the production bike was finally unveiled.

The R18 is a unique take on the cruiser category, offering the look and feel one would expect from this genre but it also reconnects with a long history and heritage of BMW classics that can be traced back to the R5 from the 1930’s. Indeed to my eye, the R18 is equal parts cruiser as it is classic. From the black and pinstripe motif, the massive air-cooled engine to the double cradle tubular frame that has been made to mimic the lines of a rigid (it actually has a cleverly positioned rear shock under the seat), the look is long, lean and nostalgic with much of its visual heft taken up by the mighty 1802cc boxer engine, the largest one ever produced by Berlin.

Offering all the visual cues of a classic air-cooled engine, it features retro engineering details like pushrods instead of overhead cams, with lots of milled-aluminum and chrome components that lead to an exposed-shaft drive train. Beautifully basic engineering. But don’t be fooled—there’s a healthy dose of tech stealthily tucked away. Everything that needs to be there is there; it’s beautiful straight off the floor but as all cruisers must be, it is the ideal blank canvas which owners can customize to their hearts content.

In terms of numbers, the R18 puts out 91hp and 116 lb-ft of torque. Respectable figures given the old-school approach to engine engineering, tuned to give owners that feeling of riding a very nostalgic machine. It’s not all old-school, though; BMW have kept it simple on the surface but there are three riding modes—Rock, Roll and Rain—to choose from which gives various power and traction control characteristics depending on the mode chosen to suit the riding conditions. The electric reverse-assist is also a welcome bit of tech especially when maneuvering this 790 lb. colossus through tight parking spaces.

IN THE FLESH

To truly appreciate this beautiful behemoth, one has to see it in the flesh and a lucky few of us were present when BMW Motorrad Philippines officially threw the covers off the “First Edition” on our shores.

You can’t argue that the bike has got great lines and presence that can fill a room (or an entire warehouse in this particular case) but one really has to get up close to appreciate the amazing details that BMW has baked into the R18.

There are enough pictures out there to give you an idea of how the bike looks but the question is what are the important first impressions when you throw a leg over it?  So when you get handed the keys to a bike like this, you certainly don’t say no—even if it is just a couple of laps around a parking lot course.

ON THE MOVE

First things first—the “keys” are symbolic as this sled sports a slick keyless system. With that detail out of the way, lets address the elephant in the room: the elephant-like weight of a bike this big. No doubt 790 pounds feel like 790 pounds when you initially take it off the stand, but pop her into first and feather that clutch and the elephant disappears from the equation.

It handles well for its size but those with a preference for cruisers will already know that cruisers are best for well, cruising. Bikes slammed this low show their limits early in terms of turning clearances and it’s very easy to deck the pegs or floorboards if you push it in the turns. Depending on how you set up your R18, the position is quite neutral with the mid-controls and reasonable handlebar position and part of its appeal is the wonderfully soulful rhythm of the opposed twin cylinders that jolt you to the left on initial start-up. Not a flaw, instead an artfully engineered engine character detail by the master builders in Berlin.

There was hardly enough real estate to get the bike out of second gear, but the small taste is a great indicator of just how wonderful this bike would when unleashed on the open road. And we can’t wait to do a proper ride feature in the future.

Should you start clearing some garage space for one? Well the R18 First Edition is an interesting contrast of elements. It’s a cruiser and a classic. Its old-school but modern at the same time. It’s tough enough to hang with the V-twin crowd but will always stand out as a refined cut above the rest. BMW fans know this already, but at P1,955,000 it certainly won’t be for everyone and I think that works in its favor. A true gentleman’s cruiser.

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