The new BMW R 18 B.
The new BMW R 18 B.
Image: BMW Group

It has been just over a year I joined a couple of motorcycle enthusiasts to descend on the Lanzerac Wine Estate in Stellenbosch for the launch of BMW Motorrad’s R 18. While the K1600B, which was primarily for the North American market, seemed to be designed to compete with their baggers and cruisers, R 18 takes Harley-Davidson head for cruiser market locally and abroad.

BMW ran a teaser video campaign in the lead up to the global launch during the Covid-induced lockdowns, culminating with the unveiling of the bikes online, from Cape Town.

In designing the R 18, BMW engineers drew inspiration from Rudolf Schleicher’s 1936 R 5; in fact, the R 18, looks rather like a modern, updated version of that classic. The R 5’s DNA is evident in teardrop tank with pinstriping detail, the curl on the exhaust, the standard handlebars and the sleeved forks.

At the launch last year, Motorrad SA unveiled the R 18 and the R 18 Classic, with panniers and a windscreen as standard fittings. The R 18 B and the R 18 Transcontinental complete the family, and while the launch was affected by the pandemic it doesn’t mean that you’ll have to wait to cop yours.

The R 18 B is designed as a typical bagger while the Transcontinental can be classified as a touring cruiser. With its top case and backrest for the passenger it will take the fight directly to the Harley-Davidson Ultra.

A custom build BMW R 18.
A custom build BMW R 18.
Image: BMW Motorrad South Africa

I prefer the more stripped-down version of the R 18 because, at the heart of BMW Motorrad’s ‘heritage’ motorcycles, individualisation is key.

Depending on the bike, there are standard customisation parts and colours for multiple components, but the R 18 also lends itself to more deliberate tailoring. A BMW Motorrad dealers recently customised one under the Brooklyn Banger moniker. Said to have been inspired by “a salt pan racer or a classic garage-built hot rod”, it comes in BMW Brooklyn Grey accented with burgundy and rose gold. Modifications include:

  • Mirrors with internal cabling);
  • A hand-built headlight unit that includes the speedometer;
  • Spotlights to give the front a more aggressive look
  • A hand-shaped foam seat with carbon fibre and resin housing and a hand-stitched leather cover. The hand-welded welded seat mount retains the R 18’s LED tail light.
  • Handmade rear mudguard mounted on a custom mudguard hoop meticulously welded to the original rear swing arm
  • All chrome parts are blacked out and the 3D-printed engine and tank badges are airbrushed and hand painted in black and burgundy.
  • Full stainless exhaust pipes that retain the Fishtail silencer
The new BMW R 18 B First Edition.
The new BMW R 18 B First Edition.
Image: BMW Group
The new BMW R 18 B.
The new BMW R 18 B.
Image: BMW Group
The new BMW R 18 B.
The new BMW R 18 B.
Image: BMW Group

I have yet to ride the R 18 B or the R 18 Transcontinental but if the R 18 and R 18 Classic are anything to go by, that will be a pleasure — especially over longer distances. Having struggled with back problems for years, I can usually gauge the comfort of a ride by how I feel when it’s over. We put in proper kilometres at the launch and my back didn’t suffer much during or afterwards.

There was a time when it felt like BMW Motorrad operated within a narrow spectrum, but over the past decade or so with the introduction of the G 310 through to the Heritage motorcycles they seem to be happy to compete on all fronts.

And while they were a tad guarded about sales, I have been told that according to their data “the R 18 range has made significant inroads into the cruiser segment with a market share of more than 51%” through the third quarter of 2021.

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