BMW R18 first edition (2020 - on) Review
- BMW’s largest ever engine
- Limited run First Edition
- Incredibly stylish cruiser
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
BMW’s new R18 has been a long time coming. First unveiled as a concept in spring last year, BMW then brought us another concept and the engine before revealing its finished form this spring.
- Latest news: BMW launch R18 Classic model
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Now, some 18 months later we took the finished machine on the Great Malle Rally: a 1500 mile journey from one end of Great Britain to the other. And what did we learn? It’s really rather good, although it’s far from perfect.
The real centrepiece of the bike is the new 1802cc boxer engine. Performance figures are pretty much on the money compared to the competition (89bhp & 117ft lbs).
The engine puts its power down through an exposed shaft drive, which runs into a bevel box that’s locked into a ‘softail’ cantilever rear end. Out on the road, the suspension as a whole is on the firmer side and better suited to getting on with it, than dawdling along.
Where the R18 seems to make the most sense is if you ride it like a giant R nineT. Pay no heed to its weight, length or limited ground clearance and you’ll have an absolute riot. Ride it like that and you’ll have an unshakeable grin from ear to ear.
If nothing else, you have to commend BMW for building the R18 at all. In a world of tightening emissions and downsized engines, building not only a new air-cooled engine but their largest ever engine to date deserves some serious respect.
There’s also that honest realisation that this is not a volume bike – it’s really aimed at 50-something American BMW owners that would never touch a Harley. For those sort of people, this bike is pretty much ideal, even if it does fall a bit short in the gadget department.
The First Edition model (which is the only one available at the moment) costs £18,995, which gets you some pinstriping and fancy chrome bits over the standard model but the one we rode with all the fancy bits was £20,945. However you cut it, that’s a lot of cash.
There really is no telling how well this will go for BMW but right now, it has all the foundations of an instant classic.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
For something that looks like a cruiser, it doesn’t really ride like one. There’s no magic carpet smooth ride for cruising down gentle roads. Instead, it rides like a giant retro naked and seems to make the most sense when ridden hard.
Pay no heed to its weight, length or limited ground clearance and you’ll have an absolute riot. Fire it into a corner, haul on the brakes, shuttle it round scraping the pegs then unleash the big engine.
I spent the vast amount of my riding time with riders on Triumph Bonnevilles and Thruxtons, BMW R nineTs, Buells and even a Street Triple. With the exception of riding up Hardknott Pass (which it managed admirably by the way) they never had such a great advantage so as to clear off into the distance.
On the flowing A-roads of Wales and Scotland, it was in its element and for corner after corner I was left with an immovable grin.
The most interesting chassis elements are going on at the back. Styled to look like the R5, the engine puts its power down through an exposed shaft drive, which runs into a bevel box that’s locked into a 'softail' cantilever rear end. The result is astonishing, although you never get the joy of watching it spin yourself.
In truth the cantilever works well and while some shaft jacking is noticeable, especially on very aggressive downshifts, it’s not enough to be concerned about. It’s also worth it on looks alone.
Holding that cantilever in the air is a preload adjustable rear shock, which offers 90mm of travel from its perch under the seat. It does mean the seat has to come off if you want to adjust the suspension, but again, it’s a price worth paying for the clean look. Besides, keep that single seat on and it will never be a problem.
Out on the road, the suspension as a whole is on the firmer side with the damping far better suited to getting on with it, than dawdling along. It does crash over bigger bumps, potholes and the like, but it’s no kidney bruiser. The front end feels more progressive but that’s because there is 30% more suspension travel to play with.
The brakes are linked ABS (there’s no IMU) but they work fine enough, although since there’s no IMU the Hill Start Control isn’t especially refined. It lurches from a standstill unlike the latest and greatest from BMW’s other machines.
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.
EngineNext up: Reliability
The R18 is powered by the new 1802cc boxer engine. BMW have worked hard to make it look classic, with the pushrods over the top of the cylinders, while also using modern engineering to keep it clean, such as putting the fuel injectors in the head rather than in the throttle body.
The result is a really amazing piece of machinery that can’t help but draw the eye. Every time you sit on it and glance down, your eyes are just sucked in by the huge cylinders and pistons bouncing around in front of your legs.
Performance figures are pretty much on the money compared to the competition (89bhp & 117ft lbs). That might not sound like a lot from such a big engine, but 110ftlbs is available between 2000 and 4000rpm, which is where you do 95% of the riding.
Riding twisty roads is simply a case of leaving it in third, and it will pull from 30 right into the naughty numbers. It just makes riding the thing totally effortless, despite the fact it’s pulling 345kg along. The gearbox is well spread out too and surprisingly slick for a boxer, snicking into gears well and just about smooth enough for clutchless shifts if you’re really getting on.
One minor complaint needs to be levelled at the gear lever, which sits a little too close to the sidestand when it’s up and I found I sometimes caught my foot on it when attempting a downshift.
It’s also a little too quiet – I know with noise regulations the way they are things are tough, but the sound of the R18 was regularly drowned out by riding companions on R nineTs with standard exhausts. On sound alone, you’d have no idea it was a hulking great 1800cc twin.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
The fit and finish of the First Edition is absolutely excellent. The pinstriping is done by hand, the black paint has just a hint of sparkle so it pops in the sun, while the enamel tank badges are pure 1930s class.
The real draw is the exposed drive shaft, which never ceases to amaze. BMW promise that its well-sealed enough to shrug off all the elements and that despite its outward appearance, it’s no more dangerous than your standard drive chain.
Given that it’s a brand new engine and chassis platform we have no real clue how it will hold up. Traditionally BMW have made a name for themselves with good engineering but they’ve also been plagued by recalls in recent years. That said, at a tech day they showed us a disassembled test engine that had done 60,000 miles (or so they said) and it looked in good nick.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
There’s no obvious insurance group yet but similarly priced BMW models are in 14, which is definitely high. An R18 in the UK comes with a tracker as standard and you can pay extra for an alarm, both of which should help keep the prices down.
Again no servicing costs available yet but we’d expect it to be sensible. Service intervals are every 6000 miles, which includes oil, filters and valves. However the valves are old school adjustable tappets, so it’s a 20 minute job, not some horrendous cam out, valve shim measuring monster. It also needs an annual service, which includes brake fluid. If you’re opting for main dealer and ride 3000 miles a year, budget £500 a year not including parts.
The R18 has two obvious rivals from its obvious American competitors: The Harley-Davidson Softail Slim (£15,695) and the Indian Chief Dark Horse (£17,999). Neither of them have the exact same levels of kit on board but they’re both very similar.
The Softail Slim is the closest and even if you pick the fancy options, it’s still thousands cheaper than the R18. Depending on how you view it both the Triumph Speedmaster (£11,650) and the Rocket 3 GT (£20,200) could also be considered rivals.
BMW R18 vs Triumph Rocket 3
BMW’s biggest ever boxer is an exercise in classy minimalism, while the Rocket is a true muscle bike, an exercise in excess with enough numbers, features, modes and spec for three bikes, never mind one.
The R18, by contrast is nothing more than it needs to be to deliver a characterful cruiser. There’s just one clean, simple dial, plain glossy black or metal surfaces, craftily hidden wires and just a solo seat. The engine just happens to be a big 1800cc to deliver the grunty, US-style vibe required of it.
Both deliver, but in different ways. The 2500cc Rocket is a hilarious force of nature but its brilliance is in also being impressively versatile and manageable. All of that, for £20k, almost seems a bargain.
The R18, by contrast, is a finely-sculpted piece of art so slick you want to stroke it. No, you don’t seem to get as much for your £20k, but the R18 does bring a huge amount of BMW quality to the custom bike class and maybe that’s enough.
Despite BMW’s high tech persona, this is actually where the R18 let me down the most. For a BMW it’s bereft of tech: there’s no cruise control, no fuel gauge, no range indicator and what tech there is needs work.
The ignition is keyless but the fuel filler and steering lock aren’t, while the Hill Start Control is jerky and the self-cancelling indicators turn off too soon. Not really good enough for a £19,000 bike.
The riding electronics are more than clever enough to keep up with anything you can throw at them though, which means you can ride it without a care in the world. There are three riding modes (Rain, Rock and Roll) but anything other than Rock (the equivalent of Sport mode) feels lacklustre.
While I’m on the electronics there’s also the matter of the reverse. Now this might seem like a total gimmick but I ended up using it two or three times a day. Selected with a fun little lever on the side of the gearbox, it runs the starter motor in reverse to winch you out of any tiny spots you find yourself in.
While my riding friends were breaking into sweats scrabbling around in gravel car parks, I cooly wafted backwards then pulled away. Genuinely worth every penny.
Just like the equivalent American machines, there are loads of accessories available from handlebars, to sissy bars, pillion seats to bobber seats. Most of it is style related however if I was buying one I’d get the Vance & Hines slip ons on order straight away.
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/oil cooled two-cylinder four-stroke boxer engine with two chain-driven camshafts above the drive shaft|
|Frame type||Double-cradle steel frame with screwed-on underbeams|
|Fuel capacity||16 litres|
|Front suspension||Telescopic fork – 120mm non-adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Steel swinging fork with central shock strut – 90mm|
|Front brake||Twin disc brake, diameter 300 mm, four-piston fixed calipers|
|Rear brake||Single disc brakes, diameter 300 mm, four-piston fixed calipers|
|Front tyre size||120/70 R19|
|Rear tyre size||180/65 B16|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||50.4 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||-|
|Used price||£16,500 - £19,000|
How much to insure?
Top speed & performance
|Max power||90 bhp|
|Max torque||116.5 ft-lb|
|Top speed||110 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||178 miles|
Model history & versions
2020: BMW R18 introduced as the company's first attempt at a cruiser.
For now all we get in the UK is the 'First Edition' model, whereas some other markets just get the standard model. In time, the standard model is likely to make its way here too. There are also more models in the works, including a full dress bagger that’s been spied a few times although we’ve had no indication from BMW when this will launch.
Owners' reviews for the BMW R18 (2020 - on)
No owners have yet reviewed the BMW R18 (2020 - on).