Retros driving progress: BMW R18 uses new tech in order to look old
The new BMW R18 is something of an engineering marvel, after all there’s not many people who would design a new 1800cc air-cooled engine in our emissions obsessed world. But the innovations don’t end with the motor – out back BMW have used something brand new to help it look dead old.
- Full production R18 unveiled
- Pared back version of R18 spied testing
- What BMW's CEO says about the R18
- R18 tourer spyshots
- Order books open for BMW R18
- Clever R18 tech
- R18/2 unveiled
- The R18 concept
- First sighting of the R18 concept
BMW have used driveshafts on their boxer motors right since the very beginning but they’ve updated the tech along the way. The current R1250 series uses paralever rear ends: hollow, single-sided swingarms with a final drive supported by a torque arm.
Inside the swingarm is a driveshaft that features two universal joints – one at either end. Universal joints allow movement of a shaft to continue at an angle, however even if the motion into one end of the UJ is constant, the motion on the other side of it is jerky, so on the current R series BMW use two ‘in phase’ so the jerky motion becomes smooth again.
As the suspension moves up and down, the bevel box stays fixed relative to the motion of the driveshaft. Inside, the driveshaft moves with the wheel, while the u-joints and dampers inside the shaft prevent the up/down movement of the shaft overly affecting its rotational speed.
Because the pivot point of the swingarm is at the same point as the u-joint at the back of the gearbox, the driveshaft remains the same length. Meanwhile the torque arm attached the bevel box prevents ‘shaft jacking’, suspension movement caused by acceleration or deceleration.
Related articles on MCN
For the R18, BMW have thrown away 40 years of driveshaft tech and started again. To create the classic look of the R18, BMW have fitted a cantilevered rear-end. That means the entire rear-end is fixed, as if like a hardtail, and it pivots around one point at the bottom of the frame – at the top of the cantilever is a rear shock providing 90mm of travel.
"This looks beautiful and classic like the R5," says Sepp Miritsch, Head of Air-Cooled Boxer Series. "However, the knock-on effect of the offset pivot points means that the driveshaft needs to be shorter as the wheel moves through its arc. To get around this we have used a tripod joint – a motorcycle first."
A tripod joint uses a three-pronged yoke attached to the gearbox output shaft with roller bearings on the end. As the suspension compresses and the wheel arcs upwards, the yoke spins at a constant velocity while bearings run in groves in the driveshaft, allowing the yoke to plunge down inside the driveshaft housing.
This enables the driveshaft to automatically adjust its length without any loss of power. The cantilever effect of the rear end also prevents any shaft jacking – clever stuff, eh?
Hey big boxer! BMW R18 makes pricey production debut
First published on 03 April 2020 by Jordan Gibbons
Here's your first official look at the BMW R18 cruiser. Taking visual cues from the classic R5 and sporting a whopping 1802cc air-cooled boxer twin, BMW have officially planted their flat twin into Harley-Davidson’s territory.
The R18 is not only the largest and heaviest BMW to date, but also produces the most torque, too: a whole 116.5ftlb to be precise. More impressive still is that 110ft of go is available from just 2000rpm – why did they even bother with gears? But gears it has (six of them, naturally) plus there’s even an optional reverse, although that runs on the starter.
Housing this whopper is a steel cradle chassis, akin to the classic machines, with a cantilevered softail rear end. That means it looks like it has no suspension, but there’s 90mm of kidney-sparing bounce at the back. The real pièce de résistance of the chassis is the exposed, polished steel driveshaft that disappears into the fixed bevel box. Gorgeous!
Despite its retro looks there’s plenty of clever tech hidden inside the big beast including switchable riding modes (Rain, Rock and Roll – don’t ask…), traction control, cruise control, hill-hold control, drag-torque control for downshifts, ride-by-wire throttle, keyless ignition, cornering lights and combined ABS. You can even spec heated grips, and they definitely didn’t have those in the 1930s.
If the style of the machine isn’t quite for you, there’s also plenty of accessories available at launch from well-known brands like Roland Sands Design and Vance & Hines.
There’s an array of seats for the fussy bottomed and different handlebars for the Easy Riders – cleverly BMW have made the brake lines and wiring plug-and-play, so swapping a bar doesn’t turn into a £1000 workshop nightmare. The only downside to all this cleverness is that the bike weighs 345kg ready to roll, which is monstrous considering an equivalent Harley is a good 30kg less.
To begin with there are two models: a standard version plus the fancy First Edition, which is covered in chrome accessories and comes with a box full of 'cool dad' things including a trucker cap and a leather belt.
It’s not confirmed if we’ll get the standard model just yet but we will get the FE, which will be a whopping £18,995 when it arrives in September. And you thought Harleys were expensive...
BMW R18 specs
- 1802cc air-cooled boxer twin
- 89bhp & 116.5ftlb
- 690mm seat height
- 345kg (wet)
Bare-bones Beemer: Pared back BMW R18 spied in testing
First published 19 March 2020 by Ben Clarke
Taking aim directly at Harley-Davidson’s Heritage models, the classic-looking machine has a tall screen attached to its forks – which could be detachable like a Harley’s, high-level handlebars and a new, single clock instrument display.
This version of the R18 also has a smaller 16" front wheel with a fatter tyre bumping up the overall wheel diameter, again, like some of Harley’s retro models or a Triumph Bobber Black. The tyre itself looks to be a brand-new Michelin Commander 3, which has only just been launched and may well have been developed with BMW for the bike.
It’s no secret that BMW have the Milwaukee cruiser specialists firmly in their sights with the R18 and in a close-up of the clocks on this bike the word ‘Rock’ can be seen on a small LCD panel.
It could be that, in an effort to Americanise the bike, BMW have named their riding modes after what they perceive to be ‘American things’. It can be cringey when Europeans try to be all trans-Atlantic, but let’s hope BMW have got this one right and the other modes aren’t ‘Baseball’ and ‘Soda’.
Further evidence of H-D’s influence on the R18 can be seen by BMW’s decision to scrap the usual ignition on/off button on the top yoke. This will presumably mean riders just hit the little on button above the starter and go, like you do with a Harley. But unlike the competition from across the pond, BMW haven’t spent too much time on cable management and the look is far from seamless.
The model seen testing has a bobbed rear end but still has provision for a pillion and bagger-style panniers fitted. In keeping with the old BMW cliché we would expect the luggage and possibly the pillion seat to be optional extras rather than standard equipment.
We expect this pared back version of the R18 to cost around £12,500, which is the same price as a Harley-Davidson Street Bob, the American brand’s traditional entry level machine at this engine capacity.
'We’re not copying anyone' - BMW CEO says R18 will take on Harley-Davidson but it’s no cheap imitation
First published 6 March 2020 by Jordan Gibbons
After nine years of solid growth BMW are hoping 2020 will become their tenth with important new bikes such as the F900XR, but they’re also pinning their hopes on the soon to be fully revealed R18. Markus Schramm, BMW CEO and a fanatical biker, thinks this could be the machine that really takes it to the folks in Milwaukee.
"We have proven in the past that we can enter new segments we have not been in before," Schramm told MCN. "Take the S1000RR in 2009 - we were not part of the superbike world and now we are one of the leaders on superbike sales.
"It’s important for us to bring an emotional bike for BMW – we are not copying anybody. I think we have a good opportunity to grab a big slice of this huge segment. It’s 350,000 out of 1 million bikes above 500cc and the feedback we’ve had to the R18 concept is very promising."
Even for their new markets and going right back into BMW history, the marque has always been about performance first and foremost, so the R18 seems like a departure; style over substance. Schramm isn’t concerned.
"It’s a different mindset. Our core business is about pace and performance, but we also look at convenience and connectivity with our scooters and then we have heritage with the R nineT. The difference between nineT and cruiser is not that far – it’s all about customising, purity, simplicity. That’s where we are strong. We are looking forward to it."
- Related: Best cruiser motorbikes of 2020
- Related: 'Revival Birdcage' custom hints at new BMW cruiser
Of course BMW will not be the first to attempt to take on Harley – their last attempt the R1200C failed as badly as others from outside the US. So what’s changed?
"I think coming from the heritage perspective – not just technically but also in design. The shape of the tank and frame come straight from our history. Ten years ago we weren’t really part of the custom scene but these days it’s very different.
"We’re not just going after Harley. We want to present biking as an analogue island in a digital world."
BMW say they will launch the R18 in the latter half of the year, possibly at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the USA.
Torque of the town? BMW working on an R18 cruiser with serious twist
First published 28 February 2020 by Jordan Gibbons
BMW are working on a second R18 engined model that will place a big cruiser version alongside the naked bobber they have been teasing us with for some time. Although MCN first spotted a full-dress touring model months ago (ahead of the bobber, in fact), all of BMW's teaser campaign has been focussed on the bobber – with nothing more than 'no comment' about a Harley-Davidson rivalling traditional tourer.
But this is the first time we have seen a bagger test mule that appears to be almost production-ready. The spy shots also reveal that while the styling is typically American-traditional bagger, it's actually bristling with the very latest modern technology.
At its heart is the same 1802cc flat-twin boxer that BMW have already unveiled, which we know produces 89.8bhp @ 4750rpm as well as an earth-pummeling 116.5ftlbs of torque. We also know its mated to a six-speed gearbox for effortless cruising and that there will be an optional reverse gear that uses the starter motor to help riders paddle the bike backwards from standstill (rather than actually acting as a mechanical reverse). The twin chrome exhausts elegantly sweep from the heads back to their exit with straight-through style serenity – an optical illusion that masks the under-engine collector with shielded pipework that snakes in and back out again, just like Triumph's T120s
Like the rest of the the BMW's heritage R-series machines, the R18 engine uses a shaft final drive, although it's fully exposed on both R18 models, rather than enclosed. The chassis of this bagger version also appears to be the same as – or at least very similar to – the concept R18 bobber we’ve already seen, using a steel cradle main frame that holds the engine in the middle. The back-end uses a ‘softail’ arrangement to keep that authentic heritage feel, with an integrated final drive – just like the original 1930s bikes. The large swooping back mudguard effectively forms the rear subframe.
Where this tourer really begins to differ from the naked machine is the addition of full-dress bagger parts. Up front there’s a huge batwing-style fairing that's packed full of the latest tech. As well as a pleasing quartet of large, round clock units that presumably show speed, revs, temperature and fuel load – there’s an absolutely huge TFT screen. This will act as the infotainment control and display centre, handling navigation duties as well as music and other multimedia functions.
This could even see the firm debut a CarPlay connection, as first seen on two wheels on Honda's current Gold Wing (and now Africa Twin, too). Flanking the huge screen are a pair of equally enormous speakers (none are visible in the pannier lids), while the visible switchgear reveals that BMW will continue to use the set-up seen on the majority of their big bikes, including the intuitive command wheel on the left-hand switchgear.
But look closely at the front of the fairing above the headlight and there’s a telltale little box that suggests the bagger will boast adaptive cruise control – and possibly other radar-driven safety benefits – which will slow down the bike in traffic, then gently resume cruising speed when the way ahead has cleared. Talking of the headlamp, the large single LED unit appears to have a perimeter ring DRL, and be backed-up by twin spotlights nestling each side – another definite nod to this bike's American market aspirations.
Meanwhile, the rear lighting duties are all carried out by two pannier-mounted LED clusters that incorporate running lights, brake lights and indicators in each unit – with no single central rear light.
For more long-distance comfort there are a pair of lower leg fairings, as well as a large rider and pillion seat. The bagger has two top-loading hard panniers fitted as standard and we would fully expect there to be luggage rack and top-box options available. The side bags must be hard-mounted, as removing them would also remove the bike's rear lighting.
With all this tech we wouldn’t expect to see much change out of £20,000 and a fully-loaded version could conceivably stretch well beyond that to rival Harley's £24,695 Road Glide Limited and Ultra Limited.
There’s been no word from BMW on when we can expect to see either this model or the R18 bobber variant, but their accelerating campaign around the bobber – including private screenings of a near production-ready concept at MCN's London show earlier this month – suggests it could be unveiled as early as July, ahead of the Sturgis motorcycle rally in America, which starts on August 7.
Whether this bagger version will come at the same time is unclear, but with this test mule looking so close to being production-ready, we wouldn't bet against both models being unveiled simultaneously.
As ever, keep an eye out on MCN for more news as it happens. Watch out for the BMW R18 review coming soon...
BMW open order books for R18-based production model
First reported 17 December 2019 by Ben Clarke
We’ve seen the R18 and R18/2 concepts, both of which suggest a classic cruiser look, and it would be a real shock if the Bavarian brand strayed too far from these, stylistically.
Details of the bike’s enormous 1800cc boxer twin engine were confirmed in late 2019, and it uses old-school tech like air-cooling and pushrod valve actuation, further supporting the expected classic style of the bike.
If you’re interested, you can register on the BMW website now.
First published: 29 November 2019 by Ben Purvis
BMW’s forthcoming R18 cruiser range is one of the biggest motorcycling moves that the German giant have made in years but despite it being developed from a clean sheet they have turned to very traditional technology: air-cooling and pushrods.
Such old-school design is thrown into even sharper relief by the fact that in Milan, where BMW previewed the new bike, we saw two stalwarts of the cruiser world – Harley and Indian – displaying new water-cooled, overhead-cam engines. So what’s going on and how can BMW hope to meet emissions limits?
The answer revolves around BMW’s priority for the new engine: torque. Lots of low-end torque is key to a big cruiser engine and for that, capacity is king. Back in 2004 when the old R1200C was cancelled, BMW Motorrad’s then-boss, Dr Herbert Diess, put the blame firmly on the fact that its 1170cc engine was just too small.
A custom cruiser with a multitude of possibilities, the Concept R 18 / 2 is the second concept bike based on the big-boxer engine.— BMW Motorrad UK (@BMWMotorradUK) November 14, 2019
Sign up here to become one of the first to receive exclusive news:https://t.co/lUew3E3yBo pic.twitter.com/SO1KQYqCYk
The problem is that a big capacity and a long stroke, needed for low-revving torque, mean that the bike’s cylinders will inevitably be long. No problem on a V-twin but on a boxer engine like the R18’s it’s an issue; if the cylinders stick out too far the bike won’t corner or be able to squeeze through traffic.
Pushrod valve-gear comes to the rescue here. While a cam-in-block, pushrod engine lacks high-revving ability, that’s not what BMW are after. BMW need small cylinder heads to keep the engine’s width down, and that’s what pushrods provide.
The low-rev design means emissions aren’t the problem they might seem, either. High-revving engines need lots of valve overlap, when both the intake and exhaust valves are open at the same time, to get gasses through fast enough at peak revs.
But at low speeds that means there’s an opportunity for unburned fuel to get into the exhaust. BMW’s engine won’t need such extreme valve timing, so sidesteps that problem.
What about the air-cooling? The R18/2 had a key change compared to the earlier R18 concept in the form of an oil-cooler. Spy shots of the production version show an even larger one. So BMW are using oil-cooling to get back some of that temperature control while retaining the aesthetic advantages of air cooling.
Noise is another issue, but while air-cooled bikes lack a water jacket to muffle noise, the pushrod design makes up for that. With the camshaft and lifters burried in the block, they won’t be heard chattering like those in an OHC motor.
All in, BMW’s 'old-fashioned' R18 isn’t so much a throwback as a clever application of the right technology for the task.
BMW R18 concept explored:
- Cylinder heads No overhead camshafts means heads are more compact, allowing more capacity for less width.
- Pushrods Cam-in-block engine design means heavier, less rigid valve-train but it’s fine for low revs and mechanically quiet for Euro5.
- Long stroke BMW’s low-revving, long-stroke engine won’t need extreme valve overlap, making it easier to pass emissions tests.
- Oil cooler Carefully-designed oil system means engine hot-spots can be kept cool with oil, again helping with emissions control.
More from MCN
First published: 05 November 2019 by Andy Calton
BMW have created a 'rough-around-the-edges' version of its custom cruiser Concept R18 using its bumper 1800cc boxer engine.
BMW first revealed a stripped-back, raked-out version of this bike in May (see below), but have now given it a complete overhaul and called it the Concept R18/2.
This version seems squarely aimed at the sportier American cruisers from Harley-Davidson and Indian, as BMW bids to muscle in on the hugely lucrative State-side market.
It has striking wheels; 19in at the front and 16in at the rear to create a dynamic dragster look. The candy red paintscheme from the fairing to tailpiece is eye-catching and the teardrop tank certainly gives it plenty of drama.
The star of the show remains the twin cylinder boxer 1800cc air-to-oil-cooled engine and it’s in full view on this version. The shaft drive also helps keep the lines clean, which was an important part of BMW’s bid to create what they are calling a 'modern custom'.
This is now the fourth incarnation of the bike using BMW’s big boxer engine. As well as the two BMW offerings, Japanese custom house Works Zon created the Departed and Revival Cycles in America showcased the Revival Birdcage.
Although BMW won’t be drawn on further details of what a production version of this big-capacity cruiser will look like, it seems a matter of when, not if. At some point BMW must surely stop testing the water and simply dive in?
First published: 18 July 2019 by Jordan Gibbons
BMW shocked the world when they unveiled the R18 concept recently – a softail cruiser with the largest capacity motorcycle engine the Bavarians have ever built – because it was nothing like any bike they’ve produced in recent memory. But the idea has been brewing in the background for quite some time.
"You know we’ve always had the idea of entering the American cruiser segment," Karl Victor Schaller, Head of Engineering at BMW Motorrad, told MCN. "So the questions were ‘can we do it with the existing 1200 engine [from the R nineT]?’ and ‘what is the possibility to extend that engine?’ because there’s always a little bit of headroom in each engine."
"Then we thought well maybe we do a little like in the past like the very old concept R5 with a supercharger," Schaller added. "So we said maybe a 1350 with a compressor would fit and the marketing guys said ‘that’s much better’ but it’s still not an 1800.
"Half the volume for a bike like this is in the States and they’re not talking about horsepower, they are talking about cubic inches. After we settled on 1800 we decided we need to do a whole new engine. You might think it’s not complicated because we have lots of boxer engine history but designing a boxer engine of that displacement is not very easy."
The R18 also presented a production departure from the brand that normally takes an engine-first approach to design – they are called Bavarian Motor Works after all.
"Normally engineering takes the lead and creates a new set-up for the GS," said Schaller. "In this case the designers took the lead and we tried to fit the technology into the design idea. In this segment it’s all about styling – no one cares about power. We started with the looks and tried to make engineering parts fit. The real bike you will see is not very far away from the concept."
Even so, the engineers didn’t have an easy time of it, especially with the new Euro5 rules waiting around the corner which stipulate the mechanical noise of the engine.
"We don’t have Euro5B, so the noise we can still control. We are expecting about a 2dBreduction which can be done with an engine like this, but if it’s more we’ll have completely different motorbikes. It’s not only the big ones – every bike would be affected. If we see 5, 6 or more dB reduction in engine noise, it would change motorbikes completely as you would not have any open engines any more."
Although performance details about the new engine are still thin on the ground, we do know it’s an air-cooled 1800cc boxer twin - not words that the chaps in white coats who draft emissions rules like to hear. Mercifully, BMW have come up with a solution that will see air-cooled engines sticking around for a little bit longer yet.
"The injector nozzles will move to the cylinder head, so they are no longer in the throttle butterfly body," revealed Schaller. "It’s still a port injection but it’s a completely different position. You’ll see this on all the models, we’ll move the injector nozzle closer to the valves."
The other issue is the sheer size of the pistons. Such a large capacity twin creates issues with the pressure and movement of engine oil in the crankcases.
"Oil control and oil foam control is not easy but we have a lot of experience with that, so we know what to do. This is maybe the biggest challenge on the engine."
BMW have already announced that a range of bikes with the new engine will be revealed later in the year and we’re expecting at least two distinct models – a softail and a full size bagger. As for the prices? We’d expect them to hover a few thousand each side of £20,000.
More from MCN
First published: 24 May 2019 by Jordan Gibbons
BMW have unveiled an all-new, stylish classic cruiser that looks set to take on Harley-Davidson in the near future. The R18 concept bike is a radical machine and shows that BMW are keen to woo cruiser and custom bike buyers.
Stripped down and raked out, the Concept R18 is not only a statement of BMW’s intentions, but also what their designers and engineers are capable of. From the total lack of switchgear, to the fishtail exhausts every single detail of the bike has been meticulously considered.
"This bike is not about being the fastest," says Edgar Heinrich, BMW Motorrad Head of Design. "This bike is about making an analogue statement in a digital age. BMW has a rich history of iconic motorcycles and they bear the same design characteristics. We believe that this can still work well today, together with current technology.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the R18 engine – BMW gave one to Custom Works Zon and another to Revival Cycles to get their take on it – but it’s the first time we’ve seen anything from the mothership.
BMW say that this bike is a tribute to the original 1936 R5 (below) and more recent R5 Concepts, but with a bit more meat in the engine department. The 21in (front) and 18in (rear) wheels give it a classic stance and the much-loved leaf-shaped saddle looks like it’s come straight of a 1950s Beemer.
The rest of the bike is dripping with stylish touches such as polished head covers, subtle shading and the teardrop tank. Even the pinstriping and Metzeler Rille tyres give it that cool custom vibe. Then there’s the completely open shaft drive, cantilever suspension, open carbs and a tiny LED light nestled between the fork legs. Even if you don’t like the style, you can appreciate the workmanship.
BMW have admitted that they are planning a whole range of cruisers later this year. Until now BMW’s heritage range has made do with engines from existing models, so to create a whole new engine platform for one bike seems unlikely.
We’ve already seen spy pics of a big bagger but it’s possible BMW will also present smaller, stripped-back bikes to compete with Harley-Davidson’s ever-popular Softail range as well as the likes of the Triumph Bobber.
BMW have said they will unveil the production bikes later this year, most likely at the EICMA motorcycle show in November but if this tantalising taste of what’s to come bears any resemblance to the finished articles, we’re going to be in for a treat...