BMW made a bold gambit in 2020 when it introduced the R 18—a retro machine that embraced the brand’s illustrious heritage. The bike cradles a daring incarnation of the legendary Boxer engine (boring it out to an incredible 1800cc) with a design mandate unabashedly targeting the American landscape.
However, despite kudos for replicating the iconic 1936 R5, the audacious addition to BMW’s line-up left many enthusiasts uncertain of just where the machine fit in the realm of motorcycling. For 2022, BMW more clearly defines the R 18’s place in the broad spectrum of two-wheel classification, transforming the big cruiser into a legitimate bagger/long-hauler.
Styling and Design Elements
The iconic R5 styling cues remain, with the big-bore, push-rod, air/water-cooled Boxer still taking center stage. Yet it shares the limelight with a fork-mounted fairing (a short windscreen for the B), an enlarged 6.3-gallon fuel tank with integrated smartphone storage, top-loading waterproof side cases, and a rear top box for the Transcontinental.
Larger fenders front and rear tastefully blend with the contours of the fairing and side bags, with big round twin exhaust pipes perfectly capping the aesthetics. A full-LED headlight, standard heated grips, and a prominent dash with four analog instruments, along with a 10.25-inch TFT screen for full ride info and navigation, bring the R 18 fully into vogue. In addition to these upgrades, the Transcontinental sports auxiliary LED running lights, air flaps, highway bars with wind deflectors, a standard heated seat, and floor boards for both rider and pillion. Both machines are equipped with Marshall speakers.
Powertrain and Performance
In a grand departure from the traditional V-twin engine configuration that has long defined the cruiser/bagger realm, the BMW R 18 brings its own, unique interpretation to the class. The stalwart Boxer platform, in its two-cylinder, horizontally opposed layout, employs push-rod activation of its four valves per cylinder and is gifted with 1802cc of pure, lugubrious performance, placing it squarely among its peers.
Peak torque of 116 lb-ft arrives at 3,000 rpm, but—more importantly—the torque curve is long and consistent, with a full 110 lb-ft or more on tap from 2,000 rpm on. The sweet spot is at 2,700 rpm, where the engine exhibits a smooth character and plenty of power with a luscious and appealing throatiness, without being overly loud or obnoxious. If you want to wring the neck of the big Boxer, you’ll find a peak 91 hp at 4,750 rpm, but, in the cruiser mindset, it feels criminal to rev the R 18 that high for any length of time.
All of this performance is delivered to the rear wheel via a six-speed transmission, a single-plate hydraulic dry clutch, and a beautifully crafted and machined open drive shaft. Engine modes consist of Rain, Roll, and Rock, all easily activated with a touch of the thumb and a quick pull and release of the clutch.
Frame, Suspension, Wheels, and Brakes
One of the most significant changes from the previous R 18 is the redesigned duplex cradle frame. The steering stem and backbone have been heavily gusseted for rigidity, with steeper rake. This modification dramatically improves the bike’s slow-speed handling characteristics. The steeper rake and reduced trail gift the big machine with pleasantly responsive maneuverability without sacrificing any of its high-speed stability.
The re-designed chassis employs triple clamps that allow the fork tubes to align slightly behind the steering stem. It all contributes to splendid handling, with the R 18 exhibiting traditional cruising attributes, while at the same time possessing a somewhat sporty attitude in terms of responsive turn-in and mid-corner stability.
The B and Transcontinental versions of the R 18 share automatic load-leveling rear suspension via a monoshock and a steel double-sided swingarm. The system adjusts to load levels, soaking up the irregularities of the road with aplomb. The only thing it failed to absorb was a nasty, unavoidable pothole encountered at speed, which rattled the bike momentarily before the R 18 confidently regained its composure. Traditional telescopic forks (non-adjustable) and a rear monoshock provide a full 4.7 inches of travel front and back. This gives the R 18 more clearance and thus steeper lean angle potential than the original machine.
Attractive cast wheels adorn the R 18 (black for the B and silver for the Transcontinental) in a 19-inch front and 16-inch rear configuration. Dual 300mm discs, coupled with four-piston fixed calipers, handle stopping on the front end, while a single 300mm disc with identical calipers reside at the back. BMW’s Integral ABS System (aided by linked operation) works perfectly to bring the heavy machine’s speed down. That said, it’s wise to anticipate braking points and application to accommodate the R 18’s mass.
Creature comforts with a touch of decadence abound on the R 18. The cockpit is nicely configured, with a comfortable seating position in relation to grips and floorboards. All the gadgets and levers are well placed and easily operated. The sweep and bend of the handlebar provide an organic, natural feel. The seat is an all-day affair—plush, with a pleasant degree of lower back support. Standard seat height for the R 18 B is 28.35 inches. There is an optional Comfort Seat, which sits the rider at 29.13 inches, as well as a Bench Seat, that sits at the same height as the standard. The Transcontinental standard and Bench seats sit at 29.13 inches. Options include the Comfort Seat, presenting at 29.92 inches, and a low seat that takes the seat height down to 28.35 inches.
The R 18’s 10.25-inch TFT screen has home entertainment-like clarity, with information clearly displayed. The smart placement of the screen eliminates any searching and various layouts are easily readable, with essentials presented digitally as well as with analog instruments. Speaking of entertainment, Marshall Gold Series audio standard provides quality listening without distortion at higher volumes. The classic Marshall logo adorning the speakers carries its own legacy of early years of rock ‘n’ roll that most of those buying the R 18 will appreciate.
Handling and Rideability
From the moment you pull the R 18 off the kickstand, you’ll notice how much of the bike’s weight is carried low in the chassis. It would be interesting to see how the mass is situated with the Boxer platform as compared to a traditional V-twin, which sits much taller in the chassis. The entire drivetrain engages effortlessly, with the abundant torque making it easy to get off the line. There’s a pleasant syncopation in how all the mechanicals of the R 18 work in concert. These essential elements are balanced to augment one another, rendering an almost second-nature riding experience.
One of the big queries among the cruiser crowd has been where you put your feet when there are two enormous cylinders in the way. Personally, this was not an issue. I’m not a fan of highway pegs, so keeping my feet on the floorboards came naturally.
The single biggest surprise riding the R 18 was discovering the Rock engine mode after a full hour in Roll mode. The Roll mode provided smooth, almost passive delivery of power, with a kind of lazy lumbering off the line and through the gears. Usually, when switching between various engine mappings, the difference in engine response can be subtle to the point of being indistinguishable. Not the case with the R 18. Switching to the Rock mode was a Jekyll-and-Hyde experience. It allowed the big torque-lusty Boxer to really sing, with a decidedly crisp throttle and rapid revs. This one flick of the switch dramatically altered the entire characteristic of not only the engine, but the bike itself, giving it a more aggressive and—dare I say—sporty attitude. The Rain mode mellows all aspects of the R 18’s performance, keeping it safely in check in slick conditions.
There is definitely a striking, palpable difference between the R 18 B and the Transcontinental due to their respective weights. The B weighs in at 877.4 pounds fully gassed, while the Transcontinental tips the scales at 941.3 pounds. That 64-pound difference is caused by the Transcontinental’s slightly larger fairing, running lights with hardware, the rear top box with pillion seat and bracket, and the engine protectors. The majority of the additional weight is carried high and you can definitely feel it. This gives the Transcontinental a sensation of top-heaviness over the B, especially when stopped and when initially getting underway. The trade-out, obviously, is the added comfort for two-up touring.
The windscreens on both machines (the B’s is much shorter) do a remarkable job at slicing through the draft, without any of the mysterious turbulence that can crop up in the cockpit at different speeds. The transmission is fluid and concise, with the toe/heel shifter (once adjusted to personal preference) eliciting positive gear changes, with the sixth gear operating almost as overdrive. The R 18 is fitted with a reverse, which is a welcome indulgence given the heft.
The Bottom Line
BMW deals a pleasant surprise with a bike outside of their wheelhouse. They’ve brought almost 100 years of German engineering prowess to bear on the R 18, applying their penchant for performance and innovation to produce an attractive and appealing alternative for American roads. The R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental will deservedly take their place alongside the established marques in the cruiser category. Since the introduction of the original R 18, there’s been a marked soothing of resistance among diehard cruisers to accept a German motorcycle in their cherished realm. As they say: “There’s room at the top.”
2020 BMW R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental
+ ergonomics, incredible torque, pleasant big-bore Boxer rumble, classy retro-curb appeal
– slippery clutch, (mostly due to hot weather and miles of stop-and-go traffic)
Distributor BMW Motorrad
MSRP R 18 B (Base) $ 21,945, Transcontinental (Base) $ 24,995
Engine 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, horizontally opposed Boxer, push-rod-activated OHV, twin camshafts, 4-valve, air/water-cooled
Power 91hp @4,750 rpm; 116lb-ft @3,000rpm
Transmission 6-speed, hydraulic single-disc dry clutch
Wet Weight R 18 B: 877lbs, Transcontinental: 941lbs
Seat Height R 18 B: 28.35in, Transcontinental 29.1in (standard)
Fuel Capacity 6.3gal
Fuel Consumption 37mpg (as tested)
Fuel Grade premium
Color Blackstorm Metallic, Manhattan Metallic Matte, Galaxy Dust Metallic/Titan Silver 2 Metallic