BMW R18 CLASSIC (2021 - on) Review
- BMW’s premium cruiser in mile-munching form
- Classy alternative to a Harley-Davidson bagger
- Perfect if you’re fond of deploying Autosol
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
It’s pretty obvious that the BMW R18 Classic is aimed at America. With its huge pushrod twin-cylinder engine, raked-back forks, traditional styling plus a fine balance of heritage and bling, the regular R18 is clearly devised to lure riders from Harley-Davidson – and this R18 Classic First Edition goes further into the US firm’s territory. Adorned with screen, spotlights, pillion seat, 'bagger'-style panniers, cruise control and fatter 16-inch front wheel, the distance-ready BMW is challenging the Road King and Street Glide head on.
A couple of grand more than the normal R18 at a significant £20,980, it’s easy to question why the Classic costs so much. It doesn’t go very fast, isn’t shimmering with whizzbang tech, has a basic chassis specification and delivers a simple ride. Doesn’t matter. Your cash instead buys a bike of fabulous quality and engineering, smothered with soul-stirring details, and that delivers vivid sensations on each and every ride. Every journey on the big Beemer is an experience.
- Related: Best touring motorcycles
Whether you’d actually choose the Classic for longer journeys and trips away is a matter of taste. Though the screen allows sustained motorway speed, and the panniers add practicality, for effortlessly swallowing serious miles a pukka tourist like BMW’s own best-selling R1250RT or sumptuous K1600GT clearly makes more sense; they’re smoother, comfier, have far more easy-life extras and are both cheaper. However, if your touring is about sensations and taking time to appreciate the ride and your surroundings, rather than what time you reach the final destination, then the R18 Classic has easily as much appeal as the default Harley tourers and baggers.
Though it rides the same as the regular R18, the additions to create the Classic alter the air of the bike; for me, it doesn’t have quite as much laid-back cool in tourer guise. What’s definite however is that the R18 Classic has the comfort, practicality, dynamic and quality to easily match the offerings of Milwaukee. Don’t buy a rumbling chrome-covered American twin without testing this German first.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
The Classic retains the unadorned version’s surprisingly neutral feel and easy control below 40mph, and swings through turns cheerfully. Decent ride quality for a cruiser too. It’s far from what you’d call sumptuous (that’ll be the age-old thing of cruiser riders demanding 'connection' to the road), but the R18’s suspension has a smoother action than rival Harleys. It’s nothing like as teeth-chattering firm as a Triumph Rocket 3 GT either and so comfort is respectable. Your feet aren’t thrust too far forward, instead being located in what Harley would call a 'mid-control' position, and the 'bars are pulled back and wide without making you feel like a tree-swinging orangutan.
Being fitted with a screen raises the R18’s comfortable cruising speed from 65 to 80mph and makes it far more accommodating for prolonged multilane drudgery. It’s not the all-enclosing protection of a full-dress tourist; hands and knees are still cooled by the breeze, and at 6ft 2in there’s a hint of buffeting unless I dip my head. But it definitely works.
With the bags and their mounting framework, the screen and Harley-esque spots, the Classic is 20 kilos heavier than a regular R18 at 365kg ready to cruise. The front wheel is also a smaller and wider, wearing a 130/90 B16 to go with the 180/65 B16 at the back, rather than the 120/70 R19 on the regular R18. Neither weight nor wheel makes any difference to the way the BMW rides, though (the smaller wheel has a taller tyre, so rolling radius and chassis geometry are unchanged).
Those brakes calipers might look period, but they’re modern four-pots. There’s not much initial grab, and with more than a third of a ton carried low they need a good squeeze to really haul the BMW up. A good stamp of the matching four-pot rear helps no end. The front brake lever is also noticeably chunky, just like… yes, a Harley.
EngineNext up: Reliability
With an 1802cc engine tuned for huge punch at dawdling revs and a laid-back demeanour, the R18 clearly isn’t designed for rapid transit. It’s most definitely a cruiser, with 60mph requiring little more than 2000rpm in top gear.
This doesn’t mean the enormous sticky-out 1802cc engine isn’t a delightful thing, however. The R18 has the most torque of any boxer ever with more than 116 lb.ft of grunt at a lowly 3000rpm. It thumps and lunges straight from idle, rocks hard to the left from the force of the longitudinal crank if you blat the throttle, and overflows with easy-to-use thrust. Get used to the feel-good delivery and how it makes power, start short-shifting in the middle of the revs, and you really appreciate how it allows lazy-yet-brisk progress. The Classic’s straight exhausts (needed for pannier clearance) don’t look as cool as the fishtail pipes on the normal R18 but give a deep soundtrack that’s pretty much as pleasing.
The hydraulic clutch uses a lever as substantial as the brake, but the action is light. Obviously the six-speed gearbox doesn’t have the slick-shifting snickery of a whizzbang performance bike, but it shifts ratios cleanly and easily, and requires less toe travel than you’d perhaps expect.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Quality and level of finish are high. The R18 is a premium product, made using fine-quality materials, beautifully detailed and proudly presented. Paint is thick and glossy, chrome has a deep shine, controls feel robust.
BMW have quite a bit of experience with opposed-twin engines. The R18’s pushrod unit is a new design and so reliability is unknown, but it’s a softly-tuned lump of substantial engineering and so we wouldn’t expect any issues.
The bike’s style and nature mean it’s perhaps not intended for year-round use, though. There are chassis parts that require keeping on top of to prevent their appearance suffering, and the cool-looking exposed shaft drive is prone to orange discolouration if the bike is ridden in the wet or left parked outside for too long.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
At £20,980 on the road (2021 price) the R18 Classic isn’t what you’d call budget motorcycling. Value doesn’t mean cheap, though, and the BMW’s pricing puts it smack in-line with Harley’s very similar Road King (£20,495), and it undercuts their Street Glide (£24,495). The R18 Classic is also competitive with the Indian Super Chief (£19,995) and Springfield (£22,495). Moto Guzzi’s underrated California is a few grand cheaper, though the Italian V-twin is also an older design with less brand status and weaker residuals.
Whether the BMW will match the residual value of used Harleys is hard to know. The German brand’s bikes aren’t particularly known for losing money, but nothing retains value like a H-D. First-year R18 Classics have every chance, though. Like the normal R18, examples from the initial 12 months are all tagged First Edition and feature restrained white pinstripes, additional chrome and a 'welcome pack' for owners. It’s a limited run, only available in this guise for a year, which should ensure future desirability.
Though is looks decidedly old school the R18 has plenty of modernity subtly woven in. You get three modes (the amusingly labelled Rock, Roll and Rain), traction control, daytime running lights, and cruise control. The digital panel in the stylish dial has adequate info and is controlled from the left switchgear. It’s a shame heated grips aren’t standard, though they are an option (£255). You can also specify hill start control (£100) plus reverse gear (£930), engaged with a small lever on the left side of the gearbox and controlled with the starter button.
The sidestand is like those used by Harley-Davidson. As the stand takes the bike’s weight it slots into a frame lug, so the bike can’t roll forward off it. Very American twin. The combined indicators/taillights are also rather stars-and-stripes.
Though they appear to use classic buckles, the panniers are actually held shut by simple modern plastic clips. This makes the robust leather bags easy to get into, though space is limited to a generous fish and chip supper rather than a full-face helmet, especially with the heavyweight waterproof inner bags. The panniers are also positively attached to a substantial frame, so can’t just be whipped off and on.
2021 Option 719 upgrades
BMW introduced a raft of factory custom options for both the R18 and R18 Classic models in 2021 including a violet/turquoise flip paint finish. The Option 719 range also includes two wheel options, a seat and aluminium engine covers.
|Engine type||Air-cooled pushrod 8v opposed twin|
|Frame type||Steel tube double-cradle|
|Fuel capacity||16 litres|
|Front suspension||Telescopic fork, no adjustment|
|Rear suspension||Monoshock, adjustable preload|
|Front brake||2 x 300mm discs with four-piston calipers. ABS|
|Rear brake||300mm disc, four-piston caliper|
|Front tyre size||130/90 x 16|
|Rear tyre size||180/65 x 16|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||-|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||-|
14 of 17
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||91 bhp|
|Max torque||116.5 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||176 miles|
Model history & versions
- 2020: BMW R18 cruiser launched, with styling and features influenced by models from deep in the brand’s history. Its 1802cc engine is the largest boxer to date and has the greatest torque too.
- 2021: BMW R18 Classic arrives, with added practicality from a screen, spotlights, panniers and cruise control. The model also uses a smaller and broader front wheel and straight exhausts, rather than the regular bike’s delightfully curvy pipes.
The naked R18 First Edition costs £18,995.
Owners' reviews for the BMW R18 CLASSIC (2021 - on)
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