BMW R 18 Concept: Reality beckons for BMW cruiser
Story: Mat Durrans
There are some glamorous places for launching your latest concept bike, and then there is Glamour++, namely the Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como. I’m at the annual Concorso D’Eleganza that is run in association with BMW, with both parties celebrating 90 years of very successful existence.
Although primarily an exclusive beauty pageant for working motorcycles spanning the full history of the two-wheeler, I was lucky enough to crack an invite from BMW to witness the debut of a bike from the future.
That glimpse of 2020 made its first appearance during the opening evening of the event as the assembled journalists and VIP guests sipped a variety of expensive libations and listened to the speeches of some VVIP’s. The arrival of BMW’s concept was heralded by a soundtrack that suggested a traditional BMW boxer twin had spent the previous night gorging on industrial strength chillies while smoking neat TNT and downing nitrous shooters.
I hadn’t even seen the damn thing and already I knew I was going to like it.
And then it roared into view piloted by BMW Motorrad’s head of design Edgar Heinrich. As you can see from the pictures it’s quite the looker. Classic lines, clean design and totally dominated by that massive 1800cc boxer motor. Given the interest generated by the noisy yet glamorous arrival, the bike was soon hidden by a crowd of designer-clad VVVIP’s and so I decided to concentrate on filling my belly with fine wine and even finer food.
The next day was my chance to spend some quality time up close and personal with the R 18 Concept and chat with the men responsible for its existence.
“Every part has a functional purpose. There are not many who would dare to take such an absolutely honest approach”, says Bart Janssen Groesbeek, designer of the concept bike. Given that this is a concept bike, that’s something of a bold claim, though when Mr. Heinrich is open about the fact that BMW will be selling a cruiser with this motor and chassis by the second-half of 2020 it suddenly carries a lot more weight.
Let’s not get too carried away here, because this is after all ‘just’ a concept, and certain elements undoubtedly won’t make it into production. The carbs for instance obviously will fall away in favour of a fuel injection system, and the minimalism of no dash and mirrors will also have to be remedied.
And what about that open shaft drive? Well, apparently BMW has managed to get it past the safety nerds and it will make it into production like that. Unfortunately the brake and clutch levers, with their bar-end mounts – aping inspirational models like the R5 from 1936 – will not be able to make it into production due to some annoying safety legislation. However, further R5 influences are still visible in the headlight styling, frame and indeed the overall look of the Concept R 18.
Lovely as the many detail touches are on the new bike, there’s no avoiding the star of the show, which in this case is very obviously the new oil and air-cooled 1800cc boxer twin.
It’s big, really big, and yet it’s almost beautiful in its own right. Great care has been taken in its design to make sure that it has a level of finish and presence that lets you appreciate its brutish engineering as an almost purely artistic element. It looks impressive in pictures, but let me assure you that in the flesh that presence is undoubtedly magnified.
The production ready frame is fabricated from steel tubing bent into a cradle form, including the swingarm which melds cleverly with the main frame to give the air of a rigid, hardtail rear end.
Wheel sizes are as you’d expect for a big cruiser with attitude, with a larger front (21-inch) complemented by a smaller rear rim (18-inch).
Full disclosure necessitates an admission from me: I generally don’t like cruisers, aesthetically they tend to leave me cold, and dynamically they often generate white hot anger at their disappointing performance – from both chassis and engine.
However, even a grumpy old cynic like me couldn’t fail but be moved by the simple yet stylish lines of the R18, and given the enticing prospect of 1.8 litres of boxer torque and BMW’s undoubted ability to make bikes that handle and go as well as they look, I’m genuinely looking forward to riding the company’s latest attempt at a cruiser. [We’ll spare them the blushes of dredging up memories of their previous attempt, the R 1200 C which was, erm, not very nice]
I shouldn’t have to wait too long for that first ride either, because BMW is talking about the production version of this concept being available to buy some time towards the end of 2020. I’d imagine that the first model will be a relatively accurate yet road legal version of this bobber-type cruiser, but you can guarantee that hot on its heels will be a bagger of some description, and inevitably a full touring version.
Nobody at the launch really said it directly, but the obvious desire for the brand is to sell more motorbikes, and that means finding new markets. One massive market that has remained tantalisingly out of reach, until now, is in North America. Many Japanese and European manufacturers have tried to tap into this lucrative segment, but few have made any great inroads.
BMW has the ingredients here for the most serious attack yet on a market dominated by an American manufacturer that has had things its own way for a very long time.
That time may be coming to an end.