Never before has a motorcycle so perfectly embodied the heritage of the company that made it as the BMW R 18. Just have a look at its double steel tube frame, solid-looking rear, exposed shaft drive and, most perfect, that flat twin engine.
Officially, BMW drew on its postwar R 5 for inspiration, and you can see a lot of R 5 in almost every aspect of this beautiful cruiser. But really, you could look at almost any great BMW motorcycle from the last 90-something years and see parts of it reflected in the new R 18. Ain’t nostalgia grand?
BMW has been teasing this bike and this engine for seemingly ever. The engine was first to bow, appearing in custom motorcycles at shows all around the world for at least a year. Then at Villa d’Est last May, a show BMW has more or less adopted, the bike- and carmaker revealed the Concept R18, a motorcycle that so closely resembles the production bike you see here that you’d have to look closely to see the changes, like one of those “Can you spot five differences” puzzles your kids are probably working on right now.
“Like no other BMW motorcycle before it, this model stands entirely in the tradition of historical BMW motorcycles, both technically and in terms of design style,” BMW Motorrad said in a statement. “It borrows from famous models such as the BMW R 5 both technologically and visually, shifting the focus back onto the motorcycle essentials: purist, no-frills technology and the boxer engine as the epicenter of riding pleasure.”
So after all that buildup, is the finished and final product worth all the wait? Oh, yeah. Even if it didn’t move at all, the R 18 would be worth having around just to look at. It is immediately clear that it is a BMW, no one is going to look at it and think it’s anything else. The double-loop steel tube frame looks like it was lifted straight out of any of a number of pre- and postwar Beemers. The front telescopic forks and what sure looks like a solid rear swing arm (but hides an enclosed axle drive in a rigid-frame design) wrapping around both sides of the rear wheel are pure functional retro. The black teardrop-shaped gas tank and even the single, circular instrument binnacle match the bike’s ancestral past perfectly.
All those features are wrapped around the mechanical heart of the beautiful beast: the pushrod OHV 1802-cc flat twin, AKA “The Big Boxer.” Flat twins have powered Beemers since 1923, and this one is — no surprise — the most powerful one ever made. Peak power is 91 hp at 4750 rpm, and peak torque is a robust 116 lb ft at 3000 revs. Almost all of that torque — 110 lb ft — is available from 2000 to 4000 rpm, too. An exposed and nickel-plated solid shaft drive finishes it off, twisting the torque to the drive wheel just aft of the six-speed constant mesh manual transmission.
The seat is a low 27.2 inches, with wide flat plates instead of pegs for your feet, the latter which are located in what BMW says is the “mid-mounted position.” Looks like your boot toe is right under the cylinder cooling fins, so even if you’re in Miami, don’t ride in flip-flops.
Rides have not been handed out yet but having just returned another famous flat-two BMW motorcycle, the R 1250 RS, and having ridden a number of the R NineT flat twos before that, I am optimistic. Perhaps giddily so.
All this cool won’t come cheaply, though. The First Edition, with extra styling touches and a few cool tchotchkes, is $20,565 when you add destination. The base MSRP is $18,190. Is that too much? Consider that the buyer of this is not, obviously, looking for a sport bike and may simply want something cool to cruise on around town and to the beach in the summer. Such a customer may have already made his or her fortune and have the means to invest that much on a bike this beautiful. It’s almost half the price of an even moderately equipped X1, the least-expensive BMW auto on the market right now. So in that regard it’s a bargain. Can’t wait to take one around the block a few hundred times.
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