Review: 2023 BMW R 18 Roctane

Review: 2023 BMW R 18 Roctane

The BMW R 18 was quite an audacious move from the Munich-based company, bringing it to a new market segment. BMW has explored the cruiser category before, but without substantial success—although the R 1200 C from 1997 has a large fan base today and the prices for used machines are pretty stable. That doesn’t really make the Baroque Angel (as the bike is nicknamed in Europe) a classic, but those who owned one or still ride one swear by the torquey powertrain and the well-handling chassis.

So, it must have taken some office diplomacy in Munich to put the idea of a Bavarian cruiser back on the table. For more than two years, BMW worked with custom bike builders around the world to prepare prototypes with the largest twin-cylinder boxer engine ever. Some of these bikes were shown at various shows to gauge riders’ acceptance of the innovative concept.

Yet, when the first pictures and tests of the finished bike made the rounds, my thoughts went back to the R 1200 C and I couldn’t imagine the R 18 being a success story. With 30 degrees of lean angle and the unique seating position with a low seat, plus the huge cylinders demanding a narrow knee angle … I just couldn’t picture a comfortable ride.

My test model was painted in Mineral Gray Metallic Matte, probably the coolest color available. It makes the bike look like a jet fighter with the black-chromed exhaust and engine covers.

In spring 2022, I followed BMW’s invitation to ride the Great Getaway in Costa Rica on the R 18. After four days on bumpy roads through the Central American country, I came back somewhat disappointed from this, otherwise, dream trip. The R 18 is a great show bike with a beefy engine, excellent finish, and classic style. But, for a tour of several days, it was simply too exhausting for my motocross-damaged knees.

That’s why I was quite reluctant to test ride the 2023 R 18 Roctane. But if somebody had to do it, I figured it might as well be me.

Bigger Is Better

In preparation for the ride, I studied the Roctane’s technical specifications, which gave me some hope. It had bigger wheels (21/18 inches instead of 19/16 on the R 18), more ground clearance and a bigger lean angle (33 degrees instead of 30), plus a taller seat with more padding. Things were starting to look good for a two-day ride in Bavaria! Further modifications compared to the Classic version include a new round LED headlight that integrates the speedometer and a pair of rigid, bagger-style panniers.

The modified ergonomics are immediately noticeable. With the taller seat (28.3 inches compared to 26.7), you no longer have to drop down low onto the saddle like onto a couch. As a result, you have more room for the legs before they rest on the floorboards. The new handlebar is narrower and closer to the rider.

Autobahn’s Absolute Authority

As I swung through the on-ramp of the autobahn toward the Bavarian Alps, my mouth stretched into a grin. The lusty engine pushes from idle speed, and while accelerating in fourth gear out of a turn, that insane torque seems to push the road under the machine to support Earth’s rotation. Shifting briefly with the heel into fifth and sixth gear just feels like spurring a racehorse to get it running faster.

The 120/70-21 front tire on the cast aluminum rim gives the bike more ground clearance, which you can appreciate a lot on twisty roads.

The Roctane flies over the highway with absolute authority. Speeds up to 75 mph are still alright in terms of wind protection, and the vibrations remain pleasant up to 3,000 rpm. To overtake, a quick twist of the throttle speeds the bike up to 100 mph in sixth gear (remember, there are no speed limits on the autobahn). The wind pressure increases, of course, and the vibrations start to get a little annoying, but it feels good to have some extra horsepower in the crankcase for when you need it. The top speed is limited electronically to around 112 mph.

The R 18 Roctane is the fifth family member of the R 18 tribe. After the base model came the Transcontinental luxury touring version with a fairing, leg guards, panniers, and a stereo. The similar Bagger with a slightly smaller fairing followed, then the Pure Classic with a simple windshield and soft bags, and now finally the Roctane. I had the opportunity to briefly ride all the other models with the big twin as well. The heavy touring bikes are more reminiscent of the likes of the K 1600 in terms of ergonomics, riding comfort, luxury, and weight. With the models weighing more than 800 lbs, the 91 hp engine has an arduous job to keep the bikes moving.

But when I switched back to the Roctane, it felt almost like hopping on a sportbike. In the Rock riding mode, the engine bites vigorously, resulting in a riding style that might be classified “sporty.” The bike felt like it’s capable of a considerably steeper lean angle than the 33 degrees it actually achieves, especially on the winding road up to the Auerberg mountain in southern Bavaria. The revised ergonomics, higher ground clearance, and the muscular engine made the Roctane power up the mountain almost like a muscle bike.

Power and Comfort

The powerplant was a positive surprise. The R 18 Roctane is undoubtedly one of the best packages for riders that are looking for a kind of “sports cruiser” with the 1800cc boxer engine.

The riding position has improved a lot, with the taller seat resulting in a much more comfortable knee angle that allows you to stay on the bike for long day trips.

Apparently it’s just minor details, but the concerted and efficient model update has really done wonders. As a nice touch for cruising on straight roads, the increased ground clearance lets riders below 5 feet, 10 inches (like your humble author) poke their legs between the floorboards and the cylinders to stretch them just like on a V-twin. It can help take the strain off the knees on endless highways or let you simply hang out on the trestle as Harley-Davidson riders do. But remember to only do that on the straights. Once you start leaning, you ought to retract your legs quickly.

The 1800cc engine’s sovereignty never ceases to amaze me. I often found myself riding along a country road at around 60 mph, delighted to see how this powerful unit provides propulsion in the “final” gear over an extremely wide rpm range. Then, a quick glance at the small speedometer in the headlight revealed I was riding only in the fourth gear with two more available to enjoy the endless punch of torque.

The Sporty Powerhouse

The R 18 Roctane is an astounding motorcycle that boasts a lot of expert mechanical engineering and analog technology. This bike personifies mechanical luxury, but it now comes with significantly increased utility value for money. With a windshield and panniers, you can extend its use cases even to trivial commuting. The Roctane is a big shot, without a doubt, and the best so far in the whole R 18 product line.

Front end control on the Roctane is very precise. Even if you enter the curves heavy on the brake, the new handlebar makes up for it with perfect ergonomics and positioning.

The responsiveness of the front fork could still be improved a bit, but—compared to the first R 18 model—it works better. Yet, it’s not quite as smooth as the Transcontinental or the Bagger with a steeper steering angle.

Personally, I would have liked a more aggressive front brake system, because the first bite on the brake discs is not very strong. BMW says this setup has been chosen intentionally because many R 18 riders don’t exactly have racetrack experience and would probably overbrake the heavy motorcycle too easily with a snappy system à la the S 1000 RR. Nevertheless, when you pull the brake lever firmly, the bike delivers the expected braking power in all its glory.

What have I missed? It’s a pity there’s no outside temperature indicator on the TFT display, even though the bike’s hardware and software monitor it.

The R 18 Roctane is a new asset on the market—a cruiser with a strong personality, superior finish and quality, and incredible torque. And now, finally, it comes with a better chassis that allows discreet sporty riding.

Technical Specs

+ great engine with impressive torque, good chassis and comfort for a custom bike, exceptional quality and finish
– weight and price, passenger comfort and luggage transport, no outside temperature display

Distributor: BMW Motorrad
MSRP: $18,695
Engine: boxer, air/oil-cooled, 2-cylinder, 4-valve
Displacement: 1802cc
Power: 91hp @4,750rpm; 116lb-ft @3,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, single-disc, dry clutch, constant-mesh
Rake/Trail: 32.7°/5.9in
Weight (wet): 825lbs
Seat Height: 28.3in
Fuel Capacity: 4.2gal
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Black Storm Metallic, Mineral Gray Metallic Matte, Manhattan Metallic Matte