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Remember when the pictures of the BMW R18 first surfaced online? It had the motorcyclists all over the world swooning over it. And we aren’t talking about cruiser fans only. Nearly every motorcyclist around the world took notice of what BMW made in the form of the R18. We got a closer look at it recently and now, here we are with the first-ride impressions of it. Time for a story? You bet!
In order to be able to tell this story with all the emotions intact, we have to start with some examples. Imagine Ryan Reynolds, the Deadpool, in a sob-fest rom-com. Does it work? No, because we don’t see Reynolds that way. Imagine Jason Statham from The Transporter series in Dear John… or Al Pacino in Letters to Juliet. Doesn’t work, right?
The reason is pre-conceived notions or the process of being ‘typecast’. You see someone doing something very different than they generally do, Bam… it feels out of place. Not that it is not possible, but it just seems unlikely. Another typical example of this is the Germans being serious people. Brilliant engineers, but serious people. And again, shattering this motion, for real, is a German which is laid-back, relaxed, believes in enjoying the little things in life and last but not the least, is a fan of Rock’n’Roll! The BMW R18.
First and foremost, This is not the first cruiser from BMW. That accolade, if you want to call it that, goes to BMW R1200C and its 850cc follow-up. Those… were less than stellar. The R18, their next attempt at making a cruiser though, is an absolute home run! It looks amazing, it has a huge engine (visually too), it seems laid back and well, it has Rock and Roll as riding modes!
One of the things that really works in the favour of the BMW R18 is that it takes its cues from the BMW R5 from 1935. That motorcycle in mine, and the opinion of many others, is one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made. That alone was enough to deem the R18 a winner but it has a lot more than just heritage going for it.
Let’s talk about styling first. It has vintage cues, of course. But it is the way the modern bits have been blended that make it look absolutely smashing. Take the headlight for example. Rounded, chromed and it harkens back to the R5 but the LED setup reminds you that the Germans are aware that it is 2020.
Then there’s the single-pod instrument cluster but with more than enough tell-tale lamps cleverly hidden away. It is also beautifully illuminated and sports the Berlin-Built badge which not only tells that the R18 is built in the Berlin-Spandau factory of BMW but also shows the amount of pride BMW Motorrad has garnished the R18 with.
Then there’s the white pinstripe of the tank (exclusive to the First Edition). Just look at it and admire the beauty that can be found in the simplest of things. The massive boxer engine is proudly displayed and is, more or less, the centrepiece of the motorcycle.
Like any other modern engine, it has 4 valve heads but they are still operated via pushrods activated by the dual camshafts. And the camshafts, in turn, are driven by the crankshaft via a chain. BMW says all this and the use of shorter pushrods provides better control of the valve timing. We believe it is just their way of showing off their famed engineering prowess and maintaining that modern-classic amalgamation.
Moving on, we have the concealed rear suspension, the 19″ front and 16″ rear spoked wheels, the shaft-drive system with the driveshaft exposed and the dual-fishtail exhausts. Every visual cue that the motorcycle gives away is impressive and the build-quality is predictably flawless. All in all, the execution of the styling of the BMW R18 is seamless and to be honest, matchless. Probably that’s why the propeller insignia finds itself on quite a few quirky places on the motorcycle in addition to the First Edition badge for the, well, First Edition.
But hey, we have talked a lot about looks as you can see in the video above. This is about a different kind of magic. Riding the R18. So we request you to kindly dust off your denims, get those leather bombers ready (to match with the accessories you get with the R18), put that helmet on and join us for this enchantingly fulfilling ride.
Does it seem like we went a little overboard with enchanting and fulfilling? Stay with us and you’ll know. So at first, saddling up on the 345 Kg (kerb) R18 is a little intimidating. The same goes for when you fire up the engine for the first time and you feel it slightly bobbing left and right. Those who haven’t ridden a boxer yet, this is just a characteristic of this configuration of engines.
Despite all that, you’ll feel almost compelled to ride it because of the faith that the world has in German Engineering. And it is not misplaced. As soon as you are on the move, you forget all you know about cruisers and the very definition of it is rewritten. It isn’t crude and shouty. It is refined. But that does not mean it is devoid of character. Oh no-no-no. It has plenty. Just listen to that boxer sing away…
First, let us list out the things that you feel when you ride the R18, and then we’ll tell you how it actually feels. So in terms of numbers, we have 91 Bhp and 158 Nm of torque. Those figures are useless when viewed on a piece of paper but in the real world, they are the real deal. The transmission is 6-speed. The clutch is dry but it is of the anti-hopping variety.
First of all, we love the soft and confident burble of the 1,802cc air-cooled, two-cylinder boxer engine. Add to that the slight rattle of the dry clutch and you know that the clock has turned backwards. The same feeling is exuded by the clank you hear when you engage the first gear. It is so old-school, so familiar, and so endearing. As you find yourself on the move, you realize how beautifully BMW has put together this gem of an engine, their biggest Boxer to date.
The peak torque arrives at 3,000 rpm. And that is why, even at very slow speeds, you almost never feel like the R18 weighs over 300 kilos! You can sift through the gears smoothly and without any hiccups but it is always accompanied by that thud and clank. The R18 is deceiving in its looks and you almost certainly won’t feel that the R18 has a Ride-by-Wire system. The feeling on the throttle is just so direct and so organic.
The throttle response is also very crisp and the engine itself is very refined. Again, it is a trait of the Boxer engine as the forces are nearly balanced. Because of the massive amounts of torque available from the get-go, the roll-on acceleration is fantastic too and you almost instinctively do not downshift just to listen to that Boxer sing for a little longer between upshifts. Throughout the rev-range, it feels relaxed and willing to haul major a**. And with a claimed top speed of 180 km/h, it can do that too. But if you are looking to contest that claim, you’re probably missing the point.
Anyway, the R18 isn’t all about being big and nostalgic. It is quite modern too and the anti-hopping clutch is just one of the examples. 158 Newton-metres is a lot of torque which invariably means a lot of reverse of back-torque too. So botched downshifts won’t add more chrome to your ride. The same goes for the modes. Rock, Roll, and Rain. Rock is the best and that’s where you want to be if you want the R18 to be more engaging. Roll is for those lazy cruises and Rain for when the Gods weep in envy of your ride.
Now, handling. First, the massive wheelbase (1,731 mm) of the R18 in addition to the smoothness of the boxer makes for a steady and planted ride. Regardless of the speed, the R18 never waivers. The geometry plays a part too, of course.
Also, the 49mm forks up front boast of a 120 mm travel and the concealed shocks at the back, 90 mm. So you have a lot of ‘travel room’ and the pliant setup makes for a very comfortable ride. Only the biggest of the potholes are felt by the rider but even those don’t unsettle the mighty R18’s stride.
The overall responsiveness in the handling department is fair enough and to be honest, with a motorcycle this big, you shouldn’t try to scrape your knees. If you are riding the R18 like that, you will be missing the point… in addition to perhaps a cylinder-bank. The cornering clearance is not a lot and limits your shenanigans to what you can safely execute on a motorcycle like this.
Rest, the added steadiness because of the 19” front wheel is welcome. The brakes feel thoroughly ample for the R18 and they need to be because the inertia of a 400 kg+ (bike and the rider) moving at over 100 km/h is… considerable. Thankfully, the brakes inspire enough confidence to be able to do that.
The ergonomics are spot on and the seat is nice and low and comfortable. The reach to the handlebars is natural and doesn’t put unnecessary stress on… well, anywhere. The mid-mounted controls are also welcome because riding that way feels a little more commanding. Foot-forward controls are more comfortable but firstly, the cylinder banks would be a problem and second, they are a tad too relaxed sometimes in our opinion.
The BMW R18 is a commendable motorcycle and for more reasons than one. It is also almost flawless but the reason why a lot of people are going to love it is the customization options. In a very BMW fashion, the R18 can be personalized vastly so that you can truly make it your own and just to let you know the expanse of the options, you can even get ape-hangers!
Finally, we’ll admit that we aren’t big fans of cruisers. But this one… this one does it for us. It more than does it for us. You know when a motorcycle takes you back to the day when you first rode one and knew that motorcycling was going to be your life, that’s when you know that the makers have got it right.
The R18… well, it feels like it has led us to it. It is like a motorcycling spirit guide. You see, good motorcycles remind you that the emotion is what matters, the feeling is what matters, the experience is what matters, and most importantly, Soul is all that matters.
P.s. We almost forgot; for the Base Soul, the price you have to pay is INR 18,90,000 (Ex-Showroom) and for the First Edition Soul, it goes up to INR 21,90,000/- (Ex-Showroom).
For the full specs, click here.