market dynamics
All new BMW R18 motorcycle: can it be Harley's rival?
Release date:2021.09.24

The new R 18 is clearly a cruiser, a fitting fit for Harley-Davidson's most famous bike category. But, far more than that, it was also a nostalgic tribute to the cult of the classic Boxers whose pedigree ran all the way back when the R 5 was introduced to the world in 1936

The classical

With its low-hanging, stretched profile, the R 18 is an instantly eye-catching machine

In terms of appearance, inspiration from the classic R 5 is obvious. You have the classic cruiser upright riding stance, long wheelbase, smooth lines, wide saddles, and an instantly impressive waistline on the road. The R 18's bold and unique design, dominated by the sheer size and girth of the engine, is sure to attract strong attention on the road.

This classic feeling also translates to equipment level, which is just a good way to say that the equipment here is a bit quasi-systematic. Unlike other BMW lines, you don't have a TFT screen. Instead, you get a more old-fashioned single-analog dial with a small digital display that allows you to access some fairly basic functions.


Modern conveniences include DRL, so you won't blind other drivers during the day

However, you do get some modern features, including full LED headlights with daytime running lights as well as full LED taillights.

This particular bike also comes with some useful options, including cruise control, heated handlebars and reverse gear. BMW also offers more customization and personalization options for the R 18.

The Open road

Start the bike (keyless), and the 1,800cc two-cylinder Boxer engine immediately takes center stage. When started, the engine jumped violently to the left (a bit shocking at first) and settled into a sudden idle with lots of side to side sway.

As expected, the 1,800cc Boxer engine takes center stage visually, physically, and mechanically

The Boxer engine is an iconic part of BMW's motorcycle DNA, and in the R 18 BMW has developed the largest engine to date. And, yes, it does. Even when idling, you can feel the vibration of the engine through every part of your body.

This seems to suggest that the R 18 is scary to ride. Absolutely not. The clutch is light and easy to engage, and the shift is so smooth that you can reach highway speeds in no time.

Plenty of power - 90bhp and 158Nm of torque are plenty, and the Boxer engine's inherent characteristics really stand out when the engine spins over 2,500 RPM. You will feel the vibrations of every bone in your body.

Reverse gear makes it easier to maneuver the bike in tighter conditions, especially in parking lots

The R 18's ride is also much more flexible than you'd expect - fast steering, good balance, and actually leaning into corners more easily than its ground clearance allows (scraping the pedals much more often than you'd expect). In fact, it doesn't weigh as much as the 345 kg empty weight on paper.

From a riding point of view, the R 18 is probably more like an oversized vintage naked car than a typical cruiser -- riding hard is actually fun, not just cruising at 80km/h.

The bike has three ride modes, with Rock providing the most engaging experience. It improves throttle response and makes the engine sound louder even when idling. Switch to scrolling and you'll have a much easier experience. Throttle response is pretty damped, but you can really cruise in relative silence. The rain makes things calmer, though that may be just what the rain really requires.

The suspension is very solid, but it does mean you can get a more sporty and agile ride

The problem? A pause would be more forgiving. Overall, the suspension is definitely solid, and the rear suspension in particular has a fairly limited travel (89mm), which means you can really feel your bones shaking during the more intense bumps. On this bike, I make a special effort to steer around manhole covers or larger ruts in the road.

In addition, the seats are very stiff. Step on any bump in the road and it will literally spank you. Luxury seating is in great demand here.

The R 18 offers plenty of vintage ambiance while still proving to be a highly dynamic and functional modern motorcycle

I think the R 18 is a completely capable and stylish bike. However, I think its biggest problem is the inconvenient fact that it may be too "American" for some people, which means obvious and inevitable comparisons to Harley. In that regard, I don't think it will win any Harley fans -- it's more expensive and not as relaxed and comfortable as a Harley.

But this isn't just a Harley fan. Yes, it has the visual characteristics of a cruiser, but in reality, the mechanical characteristics of a bicycle are completely different.

This is a bike that likes to be pushed harder and rewards you accordingly. It's actually a cool looking, fun to ride and retro feel naked bike that has more in common with the original R 5. It's just bigger.