BMW R18 Review
The R18 is BMW's second attempt at playing offense against the high and mighty Harley-Davidson, not only in their home ground but the world over. And we recently got to sample the R 18 ‘First Edition’ for a couple of days to find out what it has to offer.
Did you know Harley-Davidson’s largest market apart from the USA is… Germany? That statement should be a befitting explanation for the existence of what we have here- the BMW R18.
It is the Bavarian company’s second attempt at playing offense against the high and mighty Harley-Davidson, not only in their home ground but the world over. And we recently got to sample the R18 ‘First Edition’ for a couple of days to find out what it has to offer.
Imagine Marilyn Monroe or Hugh Jackman walking past you. You’d turn and stare. Or stop in your tracks even, to behold a sight rather out-worldly. The BMW R18 has exactly that kind of effect.
You’d be forgiven to fixate and even gasp at that burly engine with its mechanicals neatly hidden away. And even though your eyes are lead by graceful curves and clean lines flowing through the motorcycle’s shape, every little detail is worth a good, long look. The designers at BMW drew their inspiration for the R18 from the iconic R 5 from 1936.
And so you have the lustrous chrome, black paint, and white pinstripes on the side of the tank and rear fender, the screwed-in BMW logo, and even the triangular shape of the swingarm. It is also hard to miss the bulbous, fish tail-shaped exhaust which is also picked up from the BMW R 5.
The entire finish on the BMW R18 screams quality. But look closer and you’d realise, the fitment of the instrument cluster could have been better and the quality of footpegs is not deserving to be seen on a motorcycle with the opulence of a Grand Piano.
Since the BMW R18 comes with keyless ignition, you can just tap the power button before pushing down on the start switch. Then there is full-LED lighting for the headlamp, which by the way does an excellent job at illumination.
The bike also features fancy-looking triangular turn-indicators with LED lighting while the taillight integrates the turn signals. You also get a round, chrome embezzled instrument cluster that features an analogue speedometer and a bold ‘Berlin Built’ lettering at the bottom. Between this is a digital LCD screen that displays the engine rpm, tripmeters, and clock which is great. It is also good to know the average fuel consumption, voltage, and date.
But wait…where are the fuel gauge and distance-to-empty indicator? That said, even the lock on the fuel filler cap is absent! Nonetheless, BMW hasn’t skipped on essential electronic riding aids and the R18 comes with ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control), Engine Brake Control. Then there are three modes- Rain, Rock and Roll. Yes, you read that right.
The R18 is undoubtedly intimidating to look at and I won’t lie, the 345kg behemoth requires quite a bit of effort to pick up and lift off the stand. Pushing the R18 forward is also a task, after all, the massive 110kg engine makes for most of the mass in the front. On the flip-side, it is surprisingly easier moving the R18 backward. There also is a reverse assist on offer, just in case, although it is available as an optional extra.
With that aside, let’s talk about the elephant in the room- the R18’s 1,802cc engine. The motor is the largest boxer-twin engine built by BMW which also has a shiny plaque that reads the displacement in case you missed its sheer size. Now, the engineers at BMW have designed this motor like older boxer engines- without a balance shaft.
Crank it up and the engine rumbles alive with a pronounced and characterful shake from left to right. The first time, it is likely to catch you off-guard. This engine pulse can be felt strongly all through the ride, whether it is when upshifting or downshifting or even while throttling it at idle. Now, the engine is large in displacement but not necessarily in output offering 90bhp and 158Nm.
Nonetheless, there is an incredible amount of torque from as low as 1300rpm that makes it easy to ride in the city. Just slot it into gear and the R18 trundles along without any need for throttle action. The supply of torque is so tremendous, the R18 can even pull from 60kmph in fifth gear without breaking a sweat. Among the three ride modes the R18 comes with, the ‘Rain’ mode is the handiest while riding in traffic by offering a noticeably muted throttle response.
And while one would expect such a massive engine to heat up in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the air/oil-cooled unit never once threatened to burn up my thighs. Nevertheless, filtering through traffic isn’t easy. Every gram of the R18’s weight can be felt at low speed and the torque-effect rocks the chassis. Furthermore, the protruding cylinder heads don’t help the cause here.
But then, the BMW R18 is a cruiser and wasn’t built to slither its way through city traffic. Open highways and long corners are where its heart is. Toggle the mode to Roll and the throttle immediately feels responsive and relaxed on low-end power delivery. And if you find an open stretch of highway, switch the R18 into Rock and nothing is holding the motorcycle back. The exhaust note gets louder, while the throttle is crisper and precise than ever before. Whack the throttle and the traction control will let the rear slide for a moment while the R18 gurgles and pops to 5,500rpm. It would even let you indulge in a surprisingly stable 180kmph+ ride.
However, the engine isn’t entirely refined. Vibrations creep in at somewhere around 3,500rpm on the handlebar and seat all the way to 4,500rpm. In that 1000rpm range, the mirrors are blurry and the hands are buzzing from the vibes. That is when you realize the R18 is the most comfortable cruising around 140-150kmph. And as we found out, toeing the gear lever through the R18’s six-speed gearbox is a slick affair. BMW has also ensured to incorporate the signature American cruiser ‘thunk’ whilst shifting gears.
The ‘Murica resemblance is also present in the braking action with the heavy brake lever pull. That aside, the bite isn’t as confidence-inspiring and leaves something to be desired. Moreover, the pulse intervals from the ABS feel longer so there are minute moments where the rear slides under hard braking.
Now just like any cruiser, the BMW R18 offers broad-chested and relaxed riding ergonomics coming from the wide, sweptback handlebars and mid-mounted pegs. The seat is large and has ample space on offer too- although the cushioning is a tad too soft if you plan on being in the saddle for a long time. Speaking of which, the R18 uses a preload-adjustable cantilever suspension at the rear with just 88mm of travel which not only gives the impression of the R18 being a hardtail…but also feels like it.
The stiff setup is manageable over minor undulations in the road, although, it feels jarring on small bumps and creases and momentarily threatens to kick off the rider on the potholes our roads are infamous for. Having said that, the front end, with nearly 120mm of travel offers comparatively more pliant and controlled suspension services.
Now, thanks to its low and long body, the R18 does not promise knee-down shenanigans. A slight tip into a corner and the footpegs feelers instantly make contact with the tarmac. Don’t get me wrong, the R18 feels stable around corners, but the Michelin Commander tyres with their so-so grip are not up for the game of spirited riding.
Priced at Rs 22.55 lakh, the BMW R18 is expensive; around Rs 4.3 lakh more expensive than the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy that ships with a similar displacement engine, lesser weight, and larger tank capacity. It also demands a premium of Rs 4 lakh over the Triumph Rocket 3 R that is priced at Rs 18.5 lakh.
That said, the R18 also misses out on basic features like a fuel gauge or fuel filler lock. While Harley owners are usually accustomed to missing features that are offered as accessories, the deal-breaker for customers looking to buy the R18 is the spoked wheels wrapped in tubed tyres that limit its long-distance touring abilities. Furthermore, the soggy clutch and brake controls, the higher-rpm vibrations as well as the stiff ride quality are a few missed notes in this melody of a motorcycle.
All said and done, the R18 is a special motorcycle that BMW aimed to build with the simple yet iconic R 5 in mind. And even with the advancement in technology, the R18 is beautiful enough to resonate with the original masterpiece, paying heed to heritage rather than outright performance. The ride experience is best when not rushed and the rhythmic soundtrack of the boxer-twin is perfect on the long open stretches of road. And the BMW R18 does all of this, effortlessly grabbing attention while at it.
Photos by Kaustubh Gandhi
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