Back Street Heroes
REAL WORLD ROADTEST – THE NEW BMW R18 CLASSIC
WHEN BMW ANNOUNCED IN 2019 THAT THEY WERE GOING TO BE CREATING A NEW CRUISER-STYLE BIKE, WITH A MASSIVE 1800CC FLATTWIN ENGINE, FOR 2020, IT RAPIDLY BECAME THE MOST ANTICIPATED NEW MODEL IN A LONG TIME.
The R18, when it was launched, was a very different bike to the usual Harley-style cruiser; it harked back more to the almost art deco bikes BMW built back in the 1920s and ’30s, like the R32 and R5. If you look at the lines of the R18, you can see the look of the 494cc R32 particularly (the first to bear the BMW name, incidentally) in it – the frame blends into the swingarm to give the impression it’s a traditional hardtail; the shrouds on the forks have that olde-worlde look about them; the exhausts have a hint of the 1936 R5; the exposed nickelplated drive shaft looks the part; and the double pinstripe on the tank n’ rear mudguard looks hand-painted (whether it is or not), just as they did back in the day. Yep, the stock R18 is a fine-looking, understated machine. Then, for 2021, they announced a second version, dubbed the R18 Classic; a touring, almost Harleyesque machine with a windshield; 15-litre leather-look saddlebags with trad’ buckles; a pillion seat, LED running lights, a smaller and wider 16in front wheel (instead of the stock R18’s 19-incher), and cruise control as standard. There’s ABS, of course, traction control, engine braking control, multiple riding modes (cringingly named ‘rock’ and ‘roll’ instead of ‘sport’ and ‘tour’), simple
and clean-looking instruments (with the words ‘Berlin Built’ inscribed on them), and amazing quality chrome on the cylinder heads and inlet manifolds, and you can also have an electric reverse gear, and hill start control, as options. It’s a little heavier at 365kg (the R18 is 345), which is up in Harley territory, but it still has that same 1802cc, air-cooled boxer twin making 91hp and 116.5lb-ft of torque.
Ah, that engine… as you climb aboard the low (27.5in) seat, your shins’re closer to the cylinders than you might expect (in fact, if you’re longlegged you may struggle – our rider, Loon, is six foot and he didn’t have any problems, but if you’re a giant…), the pull-back ‘bars appear right where you expect them to be and, once you’ve hauled the big beastie off its sidestand, a thumb of the starter button results in the traditional BMW twitch. It’s actually not as violent as I thought a 1.8-litre might be, but it is there, and each blip of the throttle twitches the bike to the right. At tick-over, around 900rpm, the ‘bar ends dance, and the clocks vibrate slightly, and it feels just right.
As you’d expect from an 1800cc engine, peak power n’ torque’re way down the rev range – 91hp at just 4,750rpm, and a huge 116.5ft-lb of torque at just 3,000rpm, and at anything over 2,000rpm there’s over 110ft-lb available. This means that while the Classic might look big, stately and sedate, it really isn’t. It’s not fast, top speed wise, but when you open the throttle it just absolutely fu… ahem, clears off, it really does. The weird
GET MORE INFO ON THE R18 CLASSIC (AND THE R18 TOO) FROM YOUR LOCAL BMW DEALER OR DIRECT FROM WWW.BMW-MOTORRAD.CO.UK
thing is, it doesn’t feel as though it is, at all, but not much’ll stay with it in the real world – going on to a local dual-carriageway I had some Henry in a big Mercedes practically sitting on my rear light, but a twist of the wrist, and a couple of gear changes, and he was just an over-privileged dot in my mirrors. Similarly, a friend on a Bandit 12 ‘fighter could barely keep it in sight up a long, sweeping hill, and I didn’t think I was trying that hard…
It’s lovely and smooth too, and the
gearbox’s perfect (sixth is very much an over-drive for motorway cruising). 70mph is just 2,300rpm, 85 is barely 3,000, and BMW reckon you can get a smidge over 50mpg (I didn’t) so, in theory, that’s over 200 miles per tank (I got 130-140 miles before the fuel light came on, but I think I’ve got a heavy right hand). The ride’s a little on the firm side, and the steering, as expected, a little slow, but the suspension doesn’t wallow or try and throw you into the nearest hedge if you go in a bit hot, and the twin 300mm front discs and four-piston calipers slow the bike perfectly (the rear brake’s linked to the front, and so controlled, stopping feels even and predictable). The seat’s comfy, the windscreen keeps the bugs (and the wind) off, and the ‘bags’re a useful size even if they won’t take a full-face.
I will warn you, though, the R18 Classic doesn’t come cheap – prices start at £20,980 and, as you’d expect, the list of accessories is huge, and designed/built in partnership with legendary bike designers like Roland Sands and Vance & Hines. There’s a vast array for both the stock R18 and the Classic, including wheels (with options from 16in to 21in), seats, footboards, screens, exhausts, ‘bars, luggage, cosmetic components, et al, so that starting price may not be what you pay. £21k as a start may sound a lot, but plenty of folk spend more on ‘Arleys, don’t they, and much as they’re good (and they are), Harleys are ten-a-penny these days, while an R18 is, and always will be, a bit more exclusive and, dare I say it, quite a lot classier.
NIK RIDING: LOON