Tomorrow, BMW Motorrad Philippines will launch its first new cruiser in a long time, the R 18. Ever since its announcement way back in 2019, BMW has trickled a steady stream of information about it, leading up to its launch.
Yet many will probably wonder, what’s so great about this new cruiser? How will it compete with the likes of established brands like Harley-Davidson or Indian, much less the competitively priced models from Japanese brands like Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Honda?
Deviating from the formula
First of all, BMW plans to deviate strongly from the established cruiser formula. From its inception, cruisers have always typically had a V-twin engine. It’s an engine configuration Harley-Davidson has never dared move away from. Indian is equally faithful to this formula. Japanese cruisers have been more adventurous, typically selecting a parallel twin to power the cruisers. Perhaps the most extreme thus far is a flat six as seen on Honda’s Gold Wing. However, this is debatably more of a tourer than a cruiser.
Another cruiser trademark is the use of a drivebelt. Compared to a drivechain, a drivebelt is a bit more flexible and helps to tame the massive low-end torque cruiser engines are known to deliver. After all, they’re more about cruising down the highway than neckbreaking acceleration.
Rather than using these two hallmarks of a cruiser, BMW is implementing its own trademark technologies, a boxer twin engine and shaft drive.
The boxer twin BMW will put in its cruiser is its specially developed 1,802cc Big Boxer engine, the largest it has ever made yet. It’s been especially designed for cruisers with a peak output of 92 Ps (91 hp) at 4,750 rpm, designed to come sooner than most of its rev-happy models. It also boasts of over 150 Nm of torque, that comes in as early as 2,000 to 4,000 rpm. That much torque coming in as low as 2,000 rpm means it has the power to chug along in high gear even at low engine speeds. Imagine cruising at 80 km/h in 4th or 5th gear with the engine comfortably humming at a very low 1,500 rpm.
Another benefit of the boxer configuration is its low center of gravity. With the cylinder heads sticking out the sides, much of the weight will be lower to the ground, making it much more stable and easier to handle whether at low or high speed. Conventional cruisers have a vertically-oriented engine, making it far more top-heavy.
Finally, the boxer configuration also makes it more comfortable to ride. Conventional cruisers have the engine in between the rider’s legs, potentially burning his crotch area when caught in traffic. Because the engine of the R 18 is shifted forward, riders will find it more enjoyable to ride especially in the summer or in heavy traffic. That heat will radiate upward before the rider’s legs, not under them.
Another way BMW is mixing it up is with its shaft drive. As opposed to the typical belt drive, the shaft drive delivers power directly to the wheels. This means less power losses in transmission. As such, the power figures you see in the brochure will be very close to reality. In addition, the use of a shaft means its drivetrain is much more protected, making it easier to maintain. No more worries about regularly inspecting the belt or chain.
One thing BMW is copying from the established cruiser formula is customizability. Harley-Davidson allows its buyers to customize their motorcycle right on the showroom, or buy custom parts from its extensive catalog and install it themselves.
BMW will grant buyers the same priviledge, with an extensive catalog of custom parts, high-end add-ons, and even performance parts. If the R NineT and GS are anything to go buy, expect a lot of parts for the R 18 (from Vance & Hines, Roland Sands) available at launch. There will also be a lot of third-party brands offering even more options.
Finally, if you have something more radical in mind, BMW has thought of that too. Many of its parts are easy to remove with basic tools, allowing customizers to fit parts from completely different motorcycles for that unique look. Just look at this drag bike and tourer made from an R 18.
High-tech but retro
Finally, it’s easy to get that classic look but still enjoy modern riding aids thanks to its clever integration. No fancy LED screens here, BMW’s wide range of electronics, like riding modes, keyless ride, ABS, stability and engine drag control are displayed on its retro dial.
Controls for these functions are fitted in the handlebars that can be easily adapted to custom builds.
Finally, as opposed to Harley-Davidson and Indian's proud "American made" branding, BMW has cheekily inserted "Berlin-Built" badges all around the bike. They’re using German vehicles’ reputation for reliability to their advantage. So that’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering this bike.
The BMW R 18 will be launched publicly tomorrow. Catch it live on December 12, at 8PM by clicking this LINK.