Cruisers may not be the most popular motorcycle segment in the Philippines, yet its fans are fiercely loyal. And perhaps that’s why BMW has taken its time with this re-entry into this particularly challenging segment in order to create an offering that’s truly unique and unforgettable. After all, the cruiser brands that are still around have endured because they offer something unique. Copying in this segment gets you nowhere.
Perhaps a little backstory many might not know is that the R18 was built in response to Harley-Davidson’s invasion of Germany and not vice-versa. It turns out, Germany is Harley-Davidson’s number 1 market outside of the US.
As a result, the R18 was built to be BMW’s interpretation of what the cruiser experience should be. To call it BMW’s Harley-Davidson challenger misses the point entirely. As we discovered during our weekend with it, the R18 is not trying to be a Harley. If you come into the shorwoom expecting to find a more refined Fat Boy Low, you’re in for a lot of surprises.
Yet that’s a good thing. The R18, after all, is festooned with “Berlin Built” branding. And as such, you should be prepared for German-built trademarks like austere design, high quality, refined performance, and very stable and predictable handling.
Easily the most German thing about the R18 is its design. It’s purposely austere and somewhat imposing; a stark contrast from Harley’s big, brash, and very chrome approach. Rather than force-fitting futuristic styling into the cruiser’s classical form (like the R 1200 C), BMW simply went all-classic.
It has essentially resurrected the R5’s look with modern mechanics. Nearly every classic characteristic has been recreated, from tall block, nacelled exhaust pipes, fishtail exhaust, hardtail-look rear subframe, right down to the pinstriping. The decision clearly pulls on the heart strings of long-time BMW fans. And these are the buyers who the model is actually targeted at, not riders new to BMW brand.
The R18’s imposing size does well to remind riders to treat it with respect. With a wet weight of 345 kg, just lifting it off the side stand already takes considerable effort. Thanks to the very low seat height, practically any Pinoy rider can manage it.
No need to twist a key as it starts up with a handlebar-mounted ignition button and key in your pocket. It starts up with a loud rumble. Twist the throttle and the whole bike rolls a bit to the left. That's because of the innertia of the transverse-mounted cylinders and crankshaft.
If you’re in a tight spot, it has a reverse gear that actually uses the electric starter motor. By toggling a switch on the left side, keep an eye on the dial's gear indicator until you see ‘R’. Once there, you press the start button to get it rolling backward. There’s a lot of torque, but if you keep your finger on, it’s actually a reasonable and controllable pace.
Once clear, getting it moving is easy thanks to the light clutch and delightfully mechanical-feeling shift pedal. First gear is a satisfying and distinct click. The sheer torque at idle is enough to get it rolling and thanks to the large foot boards (optional in other countries), is easy to get into the groove.
The handlebars are pretty wide and it will take some effort to maneuver around tight spaces. Yet once rolling at 30 or 40 km/h, light countersteering is all that’s needed to get it to lean.
Naturally, you’ll have to resist most temptations to filter or split lanes with its width. With the massive clyinders poking out and wide step boards, one would think that it’s easy to grind when leaning, yet that never happened during our weekend ith the R18.
In fact, we took it up one of the rare few open cafes along Marilaque on a night ride. With few other riders, less traffic, and smooth winding roads, it served as a great opportunity to really open it up.
Within the city, the suspension will feel stiff and quiet harsh, particularly along potholed roads. Yet on smoother roads out of town, the damping feels just right, giving it a sportier feel than you’d expect from such a classically-styled bike.
With its very bright LED lights, I found myself the becoming the spear of my group of friends, lighting up Marilaque’s notoriously dark roads with ease. The bright rear LED tail lights were also quite visible from afar.
On the twisties, you truly appreciate its stiffer damping, giving it great handling despite its size. No grinding of step boards or engine covers at all, the clearance was enough to enjoy a bit of leaning and can keep faster pace than you expect.
Power on tap
Compared to the R 1250 GS, the R18’s output figures may seem disappointing. Yet the engine itself is designed to behave like a cruiser, returning lots of torque at the low end. This lets the bike hum along in 6th gear at 80 km/h at just 1,500 rpm.
But it does return power when you want it. Set it on ‘Rock’ and pin that throttle and it can still easily leave a liter bike behind. Its built-in riding modes (Rain, Roll, Rock) are very distinct and easy to tell apart by feel. Rain, as it implies is the most subdued, Roll is somwhere in between, while Rock is the most responsive.
Even then, it’s still a relatively quiet bike. Most cruisers announce their arrival, and while the R18 isn’t whisper quiet, its moderate volume and unusual exhaust note will leave many riders wondering what it is. It’s not a classical chug with pops and bangs, but a more modern low rumble.
Bringing it to a stop are surprisingly powerful brakes. They’re not as communicative as the brakes in BMW’s other models, but they do bite and quickly slow it down when it matters most. You’ll find yourself practically feathering the front brake quite a lot as the sheer torque and inertia of the bike keep it almost constantly rolling forward.
The rear brake is a bit harder to find as you’ll have to squeeze your foot in between the right cylinder head and step board.
With cylinders poking out of either side, many would think it would be incredibly hot. Yet the R18 manages the heat quite well. Even with feet under the cylinder, it never felt hot or uncomfortable.
Even after our little night ride, there was a hardly a fuel consumption penalty. It racked up between 15-18 km/L. Despite the size of the engine and the distance covered, we could have gone up and down Marilaque one or two more times with what was left in the tank.
When it was first launched, many readers remarked it was “too expensive, too big, too conservative.” How is it supposed to compete with Harley?
The R18 is nothing like a Harley or Indian. Then again, it never pretended to be. It’s a love letter to BMW’s past and, in a way, a possible new cruiser niche in the making.
As we’ve explained at the start, the R18 was not designed to deliver the typical cruiser experience, like a cushy ride, loud sound, or boat-like handling. Instead, it’s the exact opposite with a firmer ride, modern and tame sound, and surprisingly good handling.
Its appearance is the most deceptive thing about it as it looks very classic, is truly massive, but performs closer to an R NineT than a cruiser. In effect, it’s a modern bike with 1930s looks.
This First Edition is the chance for long-time BMW fans to finally own a classic R series without the troubles of maintaining a 1930s machine.
BMW R18 Classic
But this is just the start, more variants of the R18 will arrive, sporting more modern styling. Yet its innate characteristics will not change. The R18 is a cruiser built for BMW fans.