March 09, 2021 By Maynard Marcelo Photos by Randy Silva-Netto

BMW R18 First Edition : The Birth of a Classic

As the motorcycle section editor of C! Magazine I get the privilege of testing most, if not all, of the newest motorcycles to land on Philippine shores. After almost 15 years in the industry writing motorcycle reviews only a few bikes ever made a lasting impression upon me, and one such bike was the new BMW R18 First Edition. 

I first saw the R18 at the BMW booth during the 2019 EICMA Motorcycle Show held in Milan, Italy and even if I am not much of a cruiser fan I can’t help but admire the clean and elegant lines of the R18 Concept. It’s so simple yet so mesmerizing to look at. Last December at the exclusive media preview organized by SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp., the Philippine distributor of BMW Motorrad, I was astonished to see that the production R18 surprisingly remained faithful to the R18 Concept design. 

BMW designed the R18 for customization and they developed a catalogue full of accessories specifically for it. Want to turn your R18 into a Bobber? They have it. Fancy the chopper look? They have it as well. In fact, you can turn your R18 into anything you want because we were told that most aftermarket cruiser accessories made for other brands, such as handlebar risers, foot controls, and even gas caps, can be bolted right on the R18 with no modifications required. Is it just us or can you also see a hint of Harley-Davidson Softail Slim in the R18’s design? If that’s the case then we think BMW couldn’t have chosen a better inspiration (or could it be their target?) for the R18. 

Like the 1936 BMW R5 where the designers draw their inspiration from, the R18 chassis is composed of a double-cradle design with a central backbone that flows straight from the headstock down to the rear axle. While the R5 has a rigid chassis, the R18 sports a cleverly disguised hardtail look swingarm. The preload only adjustable ZF Sachs rear shock absorber offers 89 mm (3.5 inch) of travel is mounted horizontally underneath the seat and directly connects the top of the swingarm to the main chassis. 

Up front the beautifully shrouded 49 mm Showa fork offers a more generous 199 mm (4.7 inches) of suspension travel. Despite having spoke rims for that classic look, the R 18 rolls on tubeless Michelin 120/70 R19 tires in front and 180/60 R16 in the rear. Braking duties are handled by twin 300mm brake discs clamped with 4-piston calipers in front and a single disc of the same size in the rear with 2-piston caliper. Seat height is a very low 690 mm. The R 18 tips the scales at 345 kg.        

The main talking point about the R 18, perhaps on top of its captivating styling, is none other than the Euro 5 compliant 1802cc boxer-twin motor, the largest displacement boxer-twin BMW ever produced. The air/oil-cooled 1802cc boxer-twin motor features old-school pushrods and a 4 valves per cylinder head that produces 91 hp at 4750 rpm and a maximum torque of 116.52 lb-ft at 3000 rpm. From the 6-speed gearbox, power is transferred to the rear wheel via an exposed shaft drive, a feature also derived from the R5.    

While the rest of the world gets two versions (Basic and First Edition) of the R18, we only get the premium First Edition variant with added premium features and lots of chrome accents and the elaborate double white pin-striping paintwork. Premium features added to the R18 First Edition are the Keyless Start, Hill Start Control, and Reverse Assist. Standard on all R18 are ride-by-wire, ABS, Automatic Stability Control, Engine Drag Torque Control, and 3 Riding Modes (Rock, Roll, and Rain). R18 First Edition buyers will also get an exclusive owner’s kit that contains a BMW heritage book, an R18 cap, R18 belt and buckle, and three classic copper-lettered BMW emblems with screws and a screwdriver.      

With the key fob stored inside your pocket thumb the starter button and the big boxer twin motor comes to life with a rather forceful rock to the left before settling to a lumpy but steady idle. Riders unfamiliar with this inherent boxer-twin characteristic will be surely intimidated, if not terrified. But that will be replaced by sheer joy once you start moving forward. It doesn’t take much to get the R18 moving. With an abundance of low down torque just a little bit of throttle is needed for forward progress. Pull the light clutch then shift to first gear with a satisfying clunk. This may sound very uncharacteristic for a BMW but this mechanical sound every time you shift gears is actually engineered into the gearbox because, we were told, that’s how cruiser riders like it. 

That big bold 1800cc emblems on the motor may elicit panic to riders not used to big displacement numbers but don’t fear, this big boxer twin prefers short shifting below 2000 rpm than exploring the threshold of its 5500 rpm limit. With 90 percent of its torque concentrated between 1750 rpm and 3000 rpm there’s really no reason to go beyond 3500 rpm where the 1802 cc boxer twin produces its peak power. Beyond 3500 rpm power tapers off gradually and vibration starts to build up. There’s a narrow corridor between 3500 rpm and 4500 rpm where vibrations are quite noticeable, then disappears until 5500 rpm. The key with the R18 is converting that massive 116.52 lb-ft of torque to speed. Around town I rarely go beyond 4th gear. Most of the time I only use 2nd and 3rd gear. 5th and 6th gears are best reserved for long stretches of highways and wide open provincial roads. BMW claims a top speed of no less than 180 Km/h.  

While most cruisers only get traction control to tame their massive torque figures, BMW decided to equip the R18 with three preprogrammed riding modes, namely Rock, Roll, and Rain. These riding modes not only work in unison with the BMW ASC, or Automatic Stability Control, but also changes how the throttle responds to inputs. In Rock mode throttle response is sharper and power is more immediate in the lower parts of the rev range. You can even induce the rear wheel to break traction during hard acceleration from a standstill if you must. In Roll mode the power delivery is softer and throttle response is less aggressive. In Rain mode throttle response is very soft and power delivery very conservative which is ideal for wet riding conditions. The R18 is also equipped with MSR, or an Engine Drag Control, an ECU controlled slip assist system that modulates the throttle body butterfly valves to prevent the rear wheel from locking up under heavy engine braking or after downshifts.

R is for Reverse, and F for Forward

At 345 kilograms the R18 is certainly no featherweight, and you will be reminded of this every time you pick it up from its side stand, or when backing out of a parking spot. Good thing the seat height is very low at 690 mm (27.2 inches) even short riders can find solid footing. The R18 First Edition is also equipped with a useful reverse-assist system that uses the electric motor as a reverse gear. Just flip down a switch located just above the left footboard while on neutral with the engine running and press the starter button to reverse. It’s very easy to use. 

The reach to the handlebar is long but offers a relaxing upright riding position that’s well suited for leisurely rides. While other big cruisers offer a variety of riding positions, the R18 is somewhat stuck with mid-mounted foot pegs because of the limitations presented by the protruding cylinder heads.

But I think this setup is ideal for short legged riders who have some difficulty operating those hard-to-reach forward foot controls because of height limitations. The foot peg positioning also helps alleviate some weight from your butt after riding for a while because the seat, while very supportive, is a bit on the firm side for continuous riding. Pillion accommodation is an added cost option. 

Nestled on top of the wonderfully sculpted triple clamp and LED headlight is a large round analogue speedometer with classic white on black numerals and a large “Berlin Built” sign at the bottom to remind you that you’re riding a German cruiser, even if it feels very American in execution.

Using the rocker switch on the left hand switchgear you can scroll through a variety of useful information on the LCD screen in the middle to display gear position, tachometer, time, odometer, trip meters, ride mode, and even your average speed, but sadly there’s no fuel gauge. However we found out that of the 16 liters of fuel inside the tank, 4 liters are your reserve when the low fuel warning lit up. That should give you more or less 80 kilometers of range to look for a gasoline station at an average 20 kilometers per liter of fuel economy.      

For such a long and heavy cruiser the R18 is surprisingly easy to maneuver. The wide handlebars offer plenty of leverage for maneuvering in traffic, plus it also gives you a clear reference just how far out the cylinder heads protrude on both sides. Despite the super relaxed 32.7 degrees of rake and 5.9 inches of trail, turn in is light and cornering stability is superb but lean angles must always be kept in check when cornering because of the limited ground clearance of the foot boards. Turn aggressively and see expensive sparks fly from underneath to remind you that you’re riding a cruiser, and not a sport naked. 

The R18 brakes, while powerful and easy to modulate, need some getting used to because it requires a firm squeeze on the front brake lever for rapid deceleration from triple digit speeds. This might be due to new brake pads because our test bike only has a few hundred kilometers on its odometer and should improve in time.

The R18 uses an integral ABS function where the front brake lever operates all three brake calipers applying brake pressure to the front and rear wheels. The foot brake lever only operates the rear brake, though. The clutch and brake levers are span adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of hand sizes. Switches and controls are intuitive to use and have a high quality tactile feel to their operation.

PhP 1,955,000 ($40,265.18 at current exchange rate) may seem dear for a motorcycle. But then again the R18 is not just a motorcycle. The R18 is a statement of good taste. The R18 is an  engineering masterpiece and artwork rolled into one. The R18 is an elegant gesture to BMW’s past while acknowledging current motorcycling trends. But most of all, the R18 represents your personal riding enjoyment. You don’t ride an R18 to commute to your office or to travel long distances (but technically you can), there are other motorcycles that are more functional, more comfortable, and less expensive for those purposes. You ride an R18 to enjoy yourself and the good life that you’ve worked so hard to achieve, or simply to celebrate your grand lottery win.   


Specifications:

Engine: EFI, air/oil-cooled flat-twin cylinder, twin cam, 8 valves, 4 stroke

Displacement: 1802cc

Max Power: 91 hp @ 4750 rpm

Max Torque: 116 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed

Seat Height: 690.88 mm

Fuel Capacity: 16 Liters

Tire, Front: 120/70-R19

Tire, Rear: 180/65-B16

Brakes, Front/ Rear: 2 Disc/Disc ABS

Curb Weight: 345 kg.

Top Speed:  180 km/h +

Price: PhP 1,955,000 

+: Superb build quality, attention to details, reverse assist, gorgeous styling 

-: No fuel gauge

C! Rating  9.5/10 

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