2020 BMW R18 First Edition review - this cruiser has all the foundations of an instant classic

Highlights

  • BMW’s largest ever engine
  • Limited run First Edition
  • Incredibly stylish cruiser

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
Power: 90 bhp
Seat height: Low (27.2 in / 690 mm)
Weight: High (761 lbs / 345 kg)

Prices

New £19,000
Used £9,500 - £13,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The BMW R18 First Edition cruiser motorbike has been a long time coming. Initially unveiled as a concept in spring 2019, BMW then brought us another concept and the engine before revealing its finished form in spring 2020.

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 & 117lbs.ft).

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 BMW 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.

BMW R18

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 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. There have been several further versions of this bike since it was launched, most recently the 2023 BMW R18 Roctane.

Watch: BMW R18 video review

Additional reporting by Phil West

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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 Triumph Thruxtons, BMW R nine Ts, Buells and even a Triumph 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.

BMW R18 front brake

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

1000 miles down including the Wrynose and Hardknott passes in the Lake District on the @mallelondon #greatmallerally yesterday. Glen Coe today!

A post shared by MCN (@motorcyclenews) on Sep 4, 2020 at 5:45am PDT

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.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
5 out of 5 (5/5)

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 110lb.ft is available between 2000 and 4000rpm, which is where you do 95% of the riding.

BMW R18 cylinder head

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 quality

Next up: Value
5 out of 5 (5/5)

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.

BMW R18 headlight

Our BMW R18 owners' reviews do indicate that one buyer had a nightmare with their bike, although it's possible this could be an isolated incident.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
2 out of 5 (2/5)

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 Triumph Rocket 3 GT (£20,200) could also be considered rivals.

BMW R18 vs Triumph Rocket 3

BMW R18 and Triumph Rocket 3 GT

BMW’s biggest ever boxer is an exercise in classy minimalism, while the Triumph Rocket 3 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.

Equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

BMW R18 right side

While my riding friends were breaking into sweats scrabbling around in gravel car parks, I coolly 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 BMW R18 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, a black gearbox, an aerodynamic design pack and aluminium engine covers.

You're also able to customise your bike after buying it using the same Option 719 parts line-up.

BMW R18 with Option 719 paint

Specs

Engine size 1802cc
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
Seat height 690mm
Bike weight 345kg
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 £117
Annual service cost £250
New price £19,000
Used price £9,500 - £13,000
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term -

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

Model history

  • 2020: BMW R18 introduced as the company's first attempt at a cruiser.
  • 2023: R18 100 Years version revealed to celebrate BMW's centenary.
  • 2024: Price hike to £19k.

Other versions

Owners' reviews for the BMW R18 (2020 - on)

6 owners have reviewed their BMW R18 (2020 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your BMW R18 (2020 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Engine: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Equipment: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
4 out of 5 Heavyweight Boxer.
26 January 2024 by Stephen Robbie

Version: R18 Bobber

Year: 2023

The R18 certainly won’t appeal to everybody. It faces stiff competition from Harley and a lesser extent Indian too. Let’s be clear: The R18 is NOT a power cruiser and isn’t trying to be. So comparisons to the R3 and Diavel are pointless. If you want a Harley, you’ll probably still buy one. In fairness, the M8 114 is a cracking engine. I see the R18 as a gentlemen’s bike - No flames, no eagles and less brash. Mine is a bobber, with very little chrome. But that’s personal preference.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

The low seat height, 90mm of rear suspension travel and a long wheelbase are immediately obvious. This is also a heavy bike and so expectations are needed. Ridden smoothly ( Not necessarily slowly) and using the torque, the R18 can pick-up its heels. No. The brakes won’t do a stoppie - But are certainly up to the job. I believe (?) the front lever applies some rear braking. Big twins also give decent engine braking. Worth noting that R18’s left the factory with poor rear suspension settings. Check the bike has been set-up. FYI I’m 6ft 4” and have big feet. I found the footboard option with heel and toe, suits me, better than the pegs.

Engine 4 out of 5

The R18 engine is certainly a talking point and at first sight, leaves people in awe. As well as receiving its share of stupid comments. But BMW boxer engines have always attracted those ( Yawn!). When starting, I don’t think it has quite the sense of occasion of a similar Harley and much of that is down to noise ( Or lack of it). My bike has the BMW Akropovic exhausts. Which after all, are road legal and could still do with a bit more bark. There are some pops on the over-run. My neighbour probably won’t miss the Harley! Plenty of torque and I’d forget Rain Mode. Pulls well and so it should. But the sweet spot is 3K -5Krpm.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Earlier days for me. Very well built bike and I am picky. Before buying, I took a long hard look at alternatives. Including current models from both Indian and Harley Davidson. The difference is the R18 stands-up to close scrutiny I PX’d a Harley Softail Slim for this bike. A bike I loved and, in fairness never let me down. But it was a b*st*rd to clean. Even without chrome and was too small for me. I’m not a high mileage rider and have mechanical sympathy. So, have no concerns about the reliability of the R18 and it came with a two year warranty.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

At full list price the R18 range are costly and price of the options soon stacks-up. Thus far, used resale prices haven’t done well and a source told me this was not helped by initial over-supply, and a lauch during the Covid period. I can see things improving or at least market stability. The R18 is better value with dealer incentives and certainly as a used buy. Where, like me you can find well-spec’d, low mileage examples at Motorrad dealers. Running costs will broadly be on par with equivalent alternatives. But helped by no drive belts and sensible tyre sizes. Just a thought: If you’re thinking of buying and modifying a First Edition? Be sure you want that chrome. If not, look for a later bike.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Have given four stars because my bike does have cruise control ( I won’t use it much) and the reverse gear option. As per MCN’s test - The reverse is useful. Especially if you’re a smaller or older rider. The traction control is switchable and mindful that Harley doesn’t yet offer it on their bikes. Mine also has Hill Hold and heated grips. A fuel guage would have been good. But I’m getting used to it and use the trip. There is a fuel light. I love the instrument pod with ‘Berlin Built’ and the cool white backlighting and the adaptive headlight. But a completely standard bike is still a nice thing.

Buying experience: Good buying experience from Bahnstormer Motorrad. By whom my bike had been customised. I wanted this particular bike… Received a good PX allowance. Though appreciate that the R18 is not a volume seller. So not hung-up on resale.

5 out of 5 BMW underrated bike R18
13 November 2023 by Noddy

Version: First edition

Year: 2022

Fantastic big bike Crap seat is the only negative thing I can say but easy to fix Power is good 😊

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

I do 3 hours so about 150 mile and have a break

Engine 5 out of 5

Lots of power

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Still spotless after 2 years

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

First service was £200 and second £250

Equipment 4 out of 5

Very basic finish but I am not into gadgets Tyres seem ok in both dry and wet conditions At 1800 miles my front is down to 5.5 mm

Buying experience: Shopped around and found a all brands Dealer selling cheaper than Main Dealer Also gave me a good price on my Trade in and Delivered for free some 300 miles

2 out of 5 Beautiful but flawed
19 July 2023 by Alan 2310

Year: 2021

Best feature is the feel of the engine. The torque and noise makes you smile. Worst was horrid reliability, terrible build quality and absolutely terrible local dealer.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

Brakes were binding, required a new calliper and disc, when they work they are good, powerful enough and the suspension is nice.

Engine 4 out of 5

The bikes all about the engine. Engine looks amazing, feels amazing to ride and when you look down you can’t help but think it’s stupid and smile. But due to the engine and the cruiser style the ground clearance is pretty poor.

Reliability & build quality 2 out of 5

I owned the bike for 3 whole months. It spent 5 weeks in total over 3 separate occasions in the dealers for parts and work. Brake calliper and disc needed replacement (no Uk parts available), peeling chrome on the generator cover around the emblem, faulty breather valve with the tank and an electronic fault with the immobiliser. Bike wouldn’t start at all so needed to be collected by the dealer. I was told after inspection the keyless key and the ecu had two different immobiliser codes, so the bike wouldn’t start. I was told they don’t know why it’s done it but it’s “fine now” so ride on. Zero confidence in the bike or dealer drove me to Harley, who has been absolutely brilliant.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

About average with the likes of Harley and Indian, however Harley doesn’t need valve clearances checked every 6000 miles! Pretty good on fuel but then has a small tank.

Equipment 5 out of 5

As simple as I needed with a lovely looking dash, real clean and tidy looking and with all LED lights which some other manufacturers at this price don’t offer.

Buying experience: Bought from a dealer and sold a managers company bike. When it was in for parts I was watching YouTube videos and I found my very bike being reviewed by MCN. After some digging turns out I was lied to and the bike is actually an ex press bike which is likely why I had so many issues.

5 out of 5 It’s actually really good. Try one for yourself.
02 February 2023 by JonF

Version: FE

Year: 2020

It is what it is, if you already know you like it then it won’t disappoint but be honest with yourself about what you really want. This is a heavy cruiser. It’s not anywhere near as quick as a sports bike and doesn’t go round corners like one either, it’s no Rocket3, you can’t go off road like a GS Or Africa Twin. It’s not a great commuter, not the best tourer either (in my trim anyway). However it’s got great presence, and ridden as it should be it delivers massively. Beautifully made, superb balance, handles really well, comfortable, sounds nice, goes well, lovely gearbox. There’s a lot to like.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

It’s a firm ride, not mushy. This means handling is great and it holds a line like it’s on rails but there’s not a lot of suspension travel so you do have to slow down a bit on very bad roads, however, it’s a cruiser people. Not an ADV bike. Seat is decent, some owners (especially in America) moan a lot about that but they do travel much bigger differences than us. Plenty of seat options though to choose from. Of course you can scrape foot pegs but really you don’t have to, you just ride the bike accordingly and slow down a bit on very tight bends.

Engine 5 out of 5

Got to be 5 stars. Big torque, low revs, it whines, ticks, thuds. Fabulous. It feels very ‘real’ and alive. On a steady throttle at modest speeds (say 50-55 ish) it’s as smooth as silk, depends how you want to ride it. You choose. Modes work but I leave mine in rock mode all the time.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

It’s beautifully made, deep flawless chrome & paint, no plastics. Keeping mine stock because I like it but some owners are customizing them too.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Economy is good, getting about 48mpg. Servicing isn’t cheap but it’s not that different to other premium bikes really.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Got everything I need really. Fuel gauge would be nice but there’s a trip reset anyway so that doesn’t matter, it not exactly difficult is it? Personally I don’t want or need cruise control. I have it on my car and use it maybe once or twice a year on long motorway trips so I really don't use it.

Buying experience: Dealer purchase. Easy and enjoyable. Good price.

5 out of 5 Art on Wheels
05 September 2022 by Wildy

Year: 2022

Annual servicing cost: £250

The bike gets under your skin. It is a joy to ride. it is planted on the straights and is sure footed going into corners. The fit and finish are second to none. My most recent bikes have been a BMW R Ninet and a Triumph Rocket R3 2.5., and this IMHO is far better built. The paint is deep and shines like no other bike ( mine has the option 719 galaxy dust). Everywhere you stop other bikes will approach admire it. I have yet to ground the floorboards but I don`t ride it like a sports bike. The only thing I would have liked to have been added was a fuel gauge. You just have to reset the trip meter on fill ups. I generally get 145 -150 before the warning light comes on. Overall though, it is an exceptional bike.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

On the firm side, but nothing major. Just take your time adjusting the preload, and all is good. The brakes are superb.

Engine 5 out of 5

The engine is amazing. You can`t help but look down at the cylinders as it takes yo along.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

So far its been perfect.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

The bike does around 50 mpg .

Equipment 3 out of 5

A fuel gauge or trip meter would have been nice. the cruise control and heated grips are excellent.

Buying experience: Bought rom Vines, Guilford and got a good deal. i couldn`t be happier.

5 out of 5
18 August 2021 by John

Version: First Edition

Year: 2021

This is a real motorcycle. Not for the Pansys that require a cushy seat, cruise control, windscreen, fairing, Etc. This is a rolling work of art. I want to keep riding and riding and riding this Beast. Probably my favorite machine in a stable with Indian Chief Vintage, Harley Softail Deluxe, Indian Scout Sixty. I love all of them but the R18 deserves a kiss after each ride. It is truly unique and beautiful.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
Back to top