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2021 BMW R18

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BMW goes BIG. With a fruity 1802cc pushrod twin and authentic retro styling, BMW are aiming at Harley customers. But does the 2020 BMW R18 have what it takes?


Big new Beemer


This is BMW’s new 1802cc R18, the company’s most important new model since the S1000RR superbike launched in 2009. Just as that bike stunned the sportsbike market by immediately pummelling rivals, the R18 is intended to dish out similar treatment to Harley-Davidson.


BMW R18 First Edition
2021 BMW R18 First Edition

BMW knows how difficult this is. The company’s last foray into cruisers – the R1200C in 1997 – showed that plonking a nice engine in a cruiser chassis is no guarantee of success. BMW sold over 40,000 of them, but barely made a dent in the vast American market.

To do that requires lashings of style and heritage, which is what BM have tried to apply to the R18. Much of the inspiration comes from the 1936 R5, a revolutionary tour de force that’s regarded by classic buffs as the company’s most important ever bike.

‘What they have done is very clever,’ says Stefan Knittel, a leading BMW historian who knew the R5’s designer Rudolf Schleicher. ‘They have taken inspiration from a small, sporty, lithe bike [the R5] and produced a vast, heavy cruiser that carries over much of the R5’s style. Retro bikes are not my cup of tea – I prefer the real thing – but I respect what BMW have achieved with the R18. Enlarging the innocent little R5 was the only way to go.’

The R5’s influence continues even within the engine, which isn’t just an oversized R1250GS. Instead, like the R5, its camshafts are in the crankcases, the valves (four per head) are operated by pushrods, and valve clearances are even adjusted by DIY-friendly screw and locknut. Torque is a Harley-beating 116 lb.ft, most of which sits between 2000 and 4000rpm.

Reaction to the bike has been mixed, with much online discussion about the inane hipsters in the launch video and the production bike’s differences to the widely praised concept machine. With art deco exhausts now obscuring the gorgeous open shaft drive, panels covering the gap above the battery box and normal levers rather than the concept’s inverted ones, you can understand the chuntering.

But there’s a lot to love about the R18. Whether it has the impact of the S1000RR depends how many people are willing to stump up £18,995…

Who’d ever have thought we’d see ape-hangers on a BMW? Above: the shaft bevel housing looks exactly the same as the 1936 R5’s Left: the riding modes are Rain, Roll and Rock. Permission to tut. Top: 1936 R5 Left: made in Berlin – is that a dig at Triumph, which are all now made in Thailand? The art deco exhausts are a tribute to the R7, which was the R5’s forerunner.


Cruisers by the numbers 2020 BMW R18

Max power 89bhp

Capacity 1802cc

Dry weight 345kg

Price £18,995  

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