BMW’s R18 cruiser turned into tasty café racer in tie-up with Japanese custom king

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This ‘sport endurance’ version of BMW’s R18 cruiser is the latest one-off custom to be made out of collaboration between the German firm and some of the world’s leading bike builders.

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Called the ‘Wal’ (German for whale) it’s been built by Japanese customiser Shinya Kimura and is the third product of what BMW calls its ‘SoulFuel’ series, following previous custom R18s built in collaboration with Roland Sands and Dirk Oehlerking.

Kimura is famous for his low-slung customs and café racers and has also collaborated with Yamaha on their ‘Dark Custom’ series and even had bikes featured in movies such as Iron Man.

BMW R18 Wal under construction

His take on the R18 features an all-new, longer, larger one-off fuel tank, a half race fairing with two asymmetrically arranges headlights designed to look like eyes and some finned ‘teeth’ below. There’s also an elongated seat hump and custom-made seat pad. The exhaust is standard, but painted black.

Kimura said: "When I rode the production R18, I thought it might suit my build and riding preferences better if I designed it to be a little more front-facing with a fairing. I also wanted to be able to ride for long distances while feeling and enjoying the legendary boxer engine.

"The bike is wild and has almost inexhaustible power on the one hand, yet is completely good-natured on the other, just like a whale, hence the name."

BMW R18 gets the Werks: Customised Boxer on sale now from German builder

First published on 24 March 2021 by Jordan Gibbons

BMW R18 Walzwerk

This ‘uber-cool’ customised BMW R18 is the latest from celebrated German bike builder Marcus Walz who’s now making replicas of the bike that you can buy – for just under £30,000.

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Ex-racer Walz is one of the biggest names in German customising via his vast ‘Walzwerk’ business based in Hockenheim and also for his ‘Walz Harcore’ machines. He’s been building bikes for over 30 years, produces a range of BMW kits for the likes of the R nine T and K100 as well as one-off custom machines and this newcomer, based on BMW’s all-new, 1800cc R18 cruiser, is his latest creation.

BMW R18 Walzwerk engine

Potential customers can either buy a ready-made bike (Walz has a stock of brand new R18s ready for conversion) or supply their own.

The base model features a Walzwerk Bobber seat, front and rear fenders, exhaust, sidemount number plate, black headlamp, pegs and fuel cap, special mirrors and German-style bar-end indicators, plus special engine and numbered plaques. This costs €32,990 (£28,225 – or around £10K more than the standard R18).

From there, customers shop from a huge range of further Walzwerk accessories including different valve covers, grips, custom paint, ‘black pack’, big 21/18in wheel kit, different handlebars and more.

Faired enough: Kingston Custom present BMW R18 build

First published on 19 January, 2021 by Ben Clarke

BMW R18 Spirit of Passion

Another custom BMW R18 has been unveiled, this time built by Dirk Oehlerking of Kingston Custom in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The art deco-inspired creation is called the Spirit of Passion and follows other custom builds based on the R18 cruiser model by customisers including Roland Sands and Bernhard Naumann.

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The most obvious modification on the Spirit of Passion is an enormous fairing that encloses the front wheel and much of the engine. This bodywork along with the handlebars and rear mudguard were created in house at Kingston Custom, where the exhausts were also modified.

The indicators were swapped for Kellermann units and an LED headlight is integrated with the custom front fairing unit.

Aside from that and a saddle chosen from BMW’s own accessories catalogue, Oehlerking left the rest of the bike largely unchanged. "The BMW R 18 is so perfect that I left the technology as it is. The frame is 100% original and so sophisticated that nothing should be changed here," he said.

Bernhard 'Blechmann' Naumann builds sleek BMW R18 custom

First published on 24 August, 2020 by Ben Clarke

Blechmann BMW R18

Another custom-built BMW R18 has been unveiled ahead of the bike’s official launch. This time, the big cruiser was modified by Bernhard Naumann who is also known as Blechmann (German for 'tin man') thanks to his distinctive sheet metal work.

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The design is dominated by the headlight cowling complete with a nostril-like yellow lamp aperture and screen.

The fuel tank has been reworked to look sportier and narrower, exposing even more of the 1800cc 'Big Boxer' engine and complementing the new clip-on handlebars.

At the rear, the original subframe is retained but a new single seat unit has been created over the top with a brown leather saddle pad and retro buckles.

Blechmann BMW R18 left front

The whole bike is finished in black with classic BMW white pinstriping and took Naumann and his team 450 hours to complete.

"My work begins by removing parts of the original version until a white canvas remains," said Naumann. "As the construction progresses, the design develops. I call this rapid-prototyping-Blechmann-style."

"I draw my design directly on the object using the final material. This allows me to directly respond to the requirements and to keep an eye on the proportions at all times."

Who dragged you up? Roland Sands creates custom Dragster from BMW R18

First published on 7 August, 2020 by Ben Clarke

BMW R18 Dragster

The latest custom designer to be given free rein with BMW’s R18 cruiser is Roland Sands, and this muscle car-inspired Dragster is the result.

With a pared down design that makes a show-piece of the 1802cc Big Boxer engine at its heart, the Dragster transforms the R18 from laid-back cruiser to mean-looking, nitrous oxide-breathing straight liner.

Starting from the front, the forks are taken from an R nineT and paired with the brakes from an S1000RR. The fuel tank is retained from the donor bike albeit with a custom, pinstriped paintjob, and the exhausts are replaced with twin stainless megaphone pipes.

From the engine backwards, the modifications become even more extreme. The frame has been heavily modified to do away with rear suspension, a new custom seat has been fitted and drag bike footpegs have been added just in front of the rear spindle.

BMW R18 Dragster profile

"With an engine that’s so visibly the centre piece, I immediately thought of muscle cars," said Roland Sands of the creation. "My family has always been into going fast and my dad was a drag racer, so I thought it made sense to strip the bike down to the essentials and shape it to go fast on a straight track."

A drag bike is only as good as its engine and so Sands and team set about finding ways to pep up the R18’s 89bhp powerplant. "The electronics were definitely the most difficult task we had to deal with as we put in nitrous oxide, stripped out the stock exhaust and changed the intake drastically. It was a bit of an experiment, but we dialled it in!"

The Dragster features a host of bits from BMW’s milled parts design collection; the levers, wheels, valve covers, breast plate, headlight and gauges all come from the R18’s 2-Tone-Black extras catalogue. The front and rear fenders, though, were modified from stock to retain the bike’s silhouette. Sands added: "We always want to understand the genre of the bike we are building in, it’s the key to keeping it authentic and functional."

'Revival Birdcage' custom hints at new BMW boxer cruiser

First published on April 15, 2019 by Jordan Gibbons

BMW Revival Birdcage

If you thought the air-cooled BMW boxer engine was destined to eke out its final days powering the existing R nineT range of heritage offerings, with no chance of further development in the face of ever-toughening emissions regulations – think again.

Hiding in plain sight on a radical custom creation unveiled in Yokohama, Japan, at the end of 2018 was an all-new air-cooled BMW engine – supplied direct from BMW Motorrad in Germany to be the heart of this Custom Works Zon crazy special build.

This was no R nineT derivative, it was an all new engine – and the 'R18' name carried on the original bike’s tailpiece, as well as the huge physical size of the crankcases and heads, suggested this could be an 1800cc boxer twin built to directly attack Harley-Davidson and Indian’s dominance of the big-capacity air-head market on their home soil.

Now, around four months later, a second custom machine has been revealed featuring the same large-capacity boxer engine, with Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Timo Resch, revealing in a statement that: "BMW Motorrad will present a series production motorcycle with the Big Boxer for the Cruiser segment in the course of 2020."

The Birdcage features a large-capacity boxer twin

Known as 'The Revival Birdcage', the bike was created by American custom house Revival Cycles and was revealed for the first time last Thursday evening at the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas.

Resch then went on to say: "Naturally we want to keep growing. One step we will take to do so, certainly in the US market, is to enter the Cruiser segment. BMW Motorrad is consistently pursuing its growth strategy with the clear aim of becoming the number one in the Premium Big Bike Segment."

Inspired by German motorcycle racer, Ernst Henne's record-setting machines from the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Birdcage uses a titanium frame, designed to give maximum exposure to the 'Big Boxer' engine.

Alongside this, many of the parts, including the handlebars, footrests and carbon suspension components were all individually crafted, to create an additional layer of exclusivity. The entire build took around five months to complete.

Speaking about the project, Head of Revival Cycles, Alan Stulberg, said: "The frame came together very well in the end and we are very pleased with the result, as it accomplished the goal of being nearly transparent.

"We wanted to focus attention on the engine and that is precisely what we achieved with this completely unique frame we designed. You can easily view the engine and the drivetrain from all angles," Stulberg added. "I have always been a fan of the boxer engine, but the pure physical size and aesthetic appeal of this prototype really inspired us."

Custom Works Zon project

The first custom build boasted a radical minimalist street-tracker style and was the first build revealed with the new engine, which BMW confirmed as an all-new unit at the time. 

BMW K1600B appears in the background of a shot with the custom

All-new air-cooled BMW engine

BMW say the engine is still in the prototype stage, and that: "The external geometry and visible elements such as the push rods running above the cylinders in chrome-plated protection ducts recall BMW Motorrad boxer engines that were built until the late 1960s – but with an evidently larger capacity and a modern air/oil cooling.

"Further details about the engine and its possible future use will be communicated at a later point in time."

BMW 1800cc air-cooled boxer engine

BMW have long been looking at options for a serious large-capacity air-cooled platform to help them break into the lucrative American V-twin market – even experimenting with an upright W3 cylinder configuration to solve the feet-forward issues caused by the boxer’s head position.

But it seems they’ve decided to plough on with their trademark boxer configuration, and that its almost 100-year heritage is hugely important to their future direction. The new engine reverts to push-rods, finned heads, massive domed crankcases that look to house a huge flywheel, and distinctly 1920s/30s styling cues.

It won’t be a relic of the past though, and will have to boast impressive technology to enable it to pass the Euro5 regulations that will be in force before any production bike will be ready to launch.

This concept’s exhaust could clearly never pass noise regulations, and nor could the use of pleasingly old-school carburettors – the production bikes will obviously be fuel injected – while much of the rest of the engine’s packaging looks well resolved already.

Custom Works Zon BMW

BMW have clearly learnt from the custom scene, too – with cleverly concealed components hidden where the air box would reside on an old R-series boxer, from which the coil pack’s leads snake elegantly down behind the carbs and into the back of the cam covers.

Interestingly, it also retains the firm’s trademark shaft drive, ensuring no messy chains or unsightly belts and sprockets will ruin the cleanliness of the back-end.

Extreme vision for BMW custom

Yuichi Yoshizawa of Custom Works Zon commented: "It was a great honour and a challenge to be able to build a motorcycle around the prototype of such a spectacular new boxer engine for one of the most tradition-steeped manufacturers."

Zon's distinctive style is abundantly obvious, with wild aesthetics underpinned by classic styling cues and modern production techniques. The very low silhouette of the bike is reminiscent of Ernst Henne's record-breaking machines of the late 1920s and 1930s, while the defining headline is the combination of large 21in front and ridiculous 26inch rear milled aluminium wheels.

The Custom Works Zon team in their workshop

The girder fork was also machined from solid aluminium billet while the swingarm and main frame are steel trellis, with a bolt-on front cradle to facilitate removal of the "large-volume engine." The fuel tank, seat unit and front trim are hand-crafted from sheet metal.

There’s no word from BMW about further concepts, or the new R18 engine’s debut in a production model, but we’d expect to see more of the former soon, and for an official BMW concept to appear in late 2019 – followed by the unveil of a production bike the following year.

Who are Custom Works Zon?

Founded by Yuichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda in the prefecture of Shiga in 2003, Zon is well-known for its exceptional creations.

Regularly invited to well-known shows in the custom scene, such as Mama Tried Show in Milwaukee, The Hand Built Motorcycle Show in Austin and the Brooklyn Invitational, the small workshop has multitudes of awards to its name.

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Phil West

By Phil West

MCN Contributor and bike tester.