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The BMW R 18 manages to deliver a delightful and personable riding experience, headlined by the attention-grabbing Boxer engine.

21 Sep 2021

BMW has made a Harley. That's the obvious punchline here.

Except, of course, that's not actually true. Not exactly.

This new R 18 is obviously a cruiser very much in the vein of the sorts of bikes that Harley-Davidson is most known for making. But, more than just that, it's also something of a nostalgic tribute act, paying homage to classic Boxer models whose lineage run all the way back to the R 5 first introduced to the world in 1936.


With its low slung, stretched out silhouette, the R 18 is an immediately eye-catching piece of machinery
In the looks department, the inspiration from the classic R 5 is clear. You've got that classic cruiser upright riding position, a long wheelbase, sleek flowing lines, wide saddle, and an immediately imposing sense of girth on the road. The R 18's bold and distinctive design (dominated by the sheer size and girth of the engine) is sure to draw keen attention on the road.

That sense of classic-ness also translates to the equipment levels, which is just a nice way of saying the equipment here is somewhat barebones. Unlike the rest of BMW's range, you don't get a TFT screen. Instead, you get a much more old-school single analogue dial, with a small digital display through which you can access some fairly basic functionality.

Modern amenities include a DRL so that you won't blind other motorists during daytime
You do get some modern features, though, including a full LED head light with daytime running light, as well as full LED rear lights. 

This particular bike also came fitted from the factory with some useful options, including cruise control, heated grips, as well as a reverse gear. BMW also offers plenty more customisation and personalisation options for the R 18.

Open road

Start the bike up (keyless), and immediately the 1,800cc twin-cylinder Boxer engine takes centre stage. Firing to life, the engine jumps hard to the left (a little shocking the very first time), before settling down into a chugging idle complete with plenty of side-to-side rocking.

Unsurprisingly, the 1,800cc Boxer engine takes centre stage, both visually, physically and mechanically
The Boxer engine is an iconic part of BMW's motorbike DNA, and in the R 18 BMW has developed its largest displacement one yet. And, it certainly feels that way. Even while idling, you can feel the vibration of the engine through every part of your body.

This would seem to suggest that the R 18 would be intimidating to ride. It absolutely isn't. The clutch is light and easy to engage, and gear shifts are super slick and smooth, and you can be up to highway speeds in no time at all.

There's good amounts of power - 90bhp and 158Nm of torque is plenty, and when you get the engine ticking above 2,500rpm, the visceral character of the Boxer engine really shines through. You'll feel the vibrations through every bone in your body.

A reverse gear makes manoeuvring this bike in tighter situations (esepcially carparks) much easier
The R 18 is also much more agile to ride than you'd imagine - quick steering, good balance, and actually much more lean-able into corners than its ground clearance would allow (scraping the foot rests will happen much more often than you'd expect). In fact, it doesn't feel quite as heavy as its 345kg on-paper unladen weight.

From a riding perspective, the R 18 is perhaps more like a supersized retro naked than a typical cruiser - there's actually good fun in riding it hard, rather than simply just cruising along at 80km/h.

The bike comes with three ride modes, with Rock providing the most engaging experience. It sharpens the throttle response, and even at idle the engine chugs a little louder. Switch to Roll and you get a much more relaxing experience. The throttle response is dampened quite a fair but, and you can really just cruise along in relatively quietness. Rain tones things down even more, though that's probably only really necessary for, well, rain.

The suspension is quite firm, but that does mean you get a much sporty and agile riding experience
Issues? The suspension could be more forgiving. Overall, the suspension is definitely on the firm side, and especially with the fairly limited travel of the rear suspension (89mm), it means that over harsher bumps, you really feel the judder in your bones. Riding this bike, I made extra effort to steer around manhole covers or bigger ruts in the road.

Also, the seat is rock hard. Bumble over any bump in the road and it literally smacks you in the ass. Plusher seats are much needed here.

By the cuff

The R 18 delivers a ton of retro vibes, whilst still proving to be a highly dynamic and capable modern motorcycle
I think the R 18 is an entirely competent and personable bike. However, I think its biggest issue is the hard-to-overlook fact that for some, it might be too 'American', meaning that it'll draw obvious and inevitable comparisons with Harleys. In that respect, I don't think it'll win over any Harley fans - it's more expensive, and not quite as relaxing and comfortable as a Harley.

But, this isn't really just a Harley wannabe. Yes, it has the visual character of a cruiser, but in fact, the bike's mechanical character is quite different.

This is a bike that delights in being pushed a little harder, and rewards you accordingly. What it actually is, is a cool-looking, fun-riding and retro-feeling naked bike that shares much more in common with that original R 5. Just much, much bigger.

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bmw  harley  bmw r 18  r 18  r18  bmw r18  cruiser  harley-davidson  bmw harley  bmw r 5