Professional racer Eugene Laverty on a BMW R18. (Press photo via bmwgroup.com)
Since this is a family-friendly portal, I shall refrain from including expletives in this article, but I cannot lie – the moment I saw the BMW R18, the first words that came out of my mouth were unprintable. Now, over the years, I’ve seen and ridden my share of large motorcycles, but this thing… it’s a behemoth. In length and width, it’s absolutely gargantuan, and even though I’ve been atop several Harley-Davidsons, Indians and Triumphs, none of them has had the visual impact the R18 does. You see, this Beemer isn’t just huge – it’s absolutely beautiful as well. I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best-looking cruiser in the world, because it looks deliciously retro, it gets every proportion just right and its build quality is top drawer stuff (other than the footpegs, oddly). You cannot mistake it for anything else on the road today, and when you’re playing in this league, exclusivity is of paramount importance.
The R18 takes inspiration from the famous BMW R5 model, first launched in 1936. If you check out photos of that model, it looks stunning and contemporary even today, so it’s no surprise that the R18 is a stunner as well. The raked front end with those massive fork covers, the round mirrors, instrument pod and headlight, the ‘fish tail’ exhaust, the iconic ‘boxer’ engine, the single seat – all these elements from the R5 have been given a thoroughly modern (yet classic) interpretation on this machine. It looks great from every angle, but its most arresting sides are the front three-fourths and profile views, where you truly get to appreciate its throwback design, especially the lovely teardrop tank with exquisite white pin-striping.
The engine, though huge, has somehow been made to look almost compact, and the rear is starkly simple (although I feel the tail lights look too modern and kind of out of place). As I said, the fit and finish levels are fantastic, and the chrome and painted elements almost have a glow to them. The instrument pod, with ‘Berlin Built’ inscribed at the bottom, is part analogue/digital and looks good, but it has no fuel gauge (a fuel warning light comes on) – and the fuel cap bizarrely has no locking mechanism. For a bike built by usually meticulous Germans, these quirks are rather noticeable, but there you have it.
That engine. Oh, that engine. Laid out in classic boxer fashion, each of those humongous cylinders puts out 901cc (almost as much as a small car!), and the overall 1802cc makes it the largest and most powerful boxer twin BMW has ever bolted on to one of its motorcycles. In keeping with the classic theme, it has no balance shaft, which means that when you thumb the starter, the sheer violence within makes it rock from side to side, something that will almost certainly alarm riders who aren’t used to this. Despite what its dimensions may have you believe, the engine isn’t shatteringly powerful in terms of horsepower – there’s 90 bhp on tap, alongside 158 healthy Nm of torque – and it isn’t shatteringly loud either; in fact it’s a little too quiet, if you ask me. Modern emission norms have led to this strangulation, but I’m sure BMW could have figured out a way to give the R18 some extra oomph in the decibel department.
Getting things moving on the R18 isn’t an entirely straightforward process, due to its whopping 345 kg weight (the engine alone weighs over 100 kg, which is kind of like having a scooter stuffed into the frame). Getting the bike off its stand requires some heft on your part, and in all honesty, if you’re of slender build, you’re likely better off staying away from the R18. The seat is very comfortable, and for a rider of my height (6 ft), the ergonomics are quite spot on, with the wide, swept-back handlebar at just the right height (the cylinders placed bang in front of your shins can be disconcerting at first). Once it’s fired up and you get used to the rumblings and vibrations, it’s a loud ‘thunk’ into first gear to get you off the line.
If you whack the throttle open from standstill (which I don’t recommend if you’re a newbie), the results are hilariously entertaining. An immense wave of torque momentarily overwhelms the rear wheel, which spins and starts to slide the rear end until the electronics kick in and set things right, after which you rocket forward on said wave of torque. If you keep up this slightly hooligan-like behaviour, the R18 will quite easily hit close to 190 kph in a short while, but its sweet spot is at about 140+ kph. At this speed and in top gear, the torque on offer means that the engine is totally unstressed, and it will pull the bike all the way from 60 kph in sixth to its top speed.
The engine is refined, but there’s no escaping the vibrations coming from it either, although they never become unpleasant. You get three riding modes to choose from – Rock, Roll and Rain (good job with the naming, BMW). Each alters the throttle response noticeably, with Rock being the Full Monty mode for aggressive riding, Roll being a sort of middle ground and Rain dulling things down to the point that it’s… well, dull. The massive brakes do an impressive job of bringing this leviathan to a halt.
Riding in city conditions requires some care, but it isn’t as scary a thought as it sounds. The engine does stick out from the frame, but as long as you make allowances for this, you should be fine. There is a certain amount of heat that builds up in the engine at crawling speed, but it’s much better controlled than in some of the big American cruisers I’ve ridden. The clutch is thankfully light, so your left wrist won’t beg for mercy after an extended traffic session.
You can’t expect a bike of this size and weight to be a ballet dancer around corners, and the R18 certainly isn’t one. It’s as planted as the BMW factory itself in a straight line, as all good cruisers should be, and on sweeping corners, it’s very easy to steer. A successive series of sharp corners will make you feel every one of its 345 kilos, and if you lean it over too far, you’ll scrape the footpegs, which isn’t an issue unless you scare yourself into suddenly standing the bike up in the middle of the corner. As you get used to the R18, you’ll realise that it’ll do pretty much anything you ask of it, within reasonable limits. The ride quality is a little on the stiff side, due to the suspension travel at the rear being 90mm, but this won’t cause any deals to be reneged on. You can even tackle all but the most mountainous speed breaker without scraping the bike’s underside (it’ll come very close, though).
The R18 is an extremely niche product, not least because it costs Rs 29.6 lakh (on-road Mumbai) for the Classic version, which is loaded to the gills with extras; the First and Standard editions cost about Rs 2 lakh to 3 lakh less, respectively. For this enormous sum of money, you should get cruise control and a reverse gear, but they’re mystifyingly not available even as extras in India. Still, if you’re seriously eyeing this machine, that kind of money is almost certainly pocket change as far as you’re concerned. All you’re interested in are looks, power, presence and exclusivity, which the R18 delivers in a manner that is unmatched by any other cruiser out there. Just sign that cheque already.