BMW Motorrad is showcasing another custom R18, this time from designer Dirk Oehlerking, who helms Kingston Custom. And well, my feelings about this new design are...complicated. Because I can’t be sure whether I am repulsed by or attracted to the Art Deco styling of this bike.
BMW refers to Oehlerking’s customizations as “extreme,” and that’s not wrong. But if I’m being fair, this custom R18 — the second in what BMW calls the SoulFuel series — is easier on the eyes than the Blechmann R18.
This machine is named the Spirit of Passion, and even though it seems a pretty radical reinvention of the R18, its designer shared that beneath the prominent fairing, the Bavarian bike is largely unchanged.
“The BMW R 18 is so perfect that I left the technology as it is,” Oehlerking said. “The frame is 100 percent original and so sophisticated that nothing should be changed here.”
That is high praise coming from the designer of the Spirit, and a testament to the work that went into conceiving and producing the R18.
One of the coolest bits of this unconventional design is how much it recalls the BMW 328, one of the greats in BMW’s motorsport pantheon. This bike is the 328 incarnate if that iconic racer were brought back as a motorcycle. So I feel like I’m on a pendulum that traces back and forth between appreciating the design and hating it.
And there is some historical context to mention besides the BMW 328, because the Spirit has what is called a dustbin fairing. Roadracing bikes like the Norton Manx and Moto Guzzi V8 have worn them. Here’s a Guzzi V8 piloted by the acclaimed racer, Bill Lomas, at the 1998 Isle of Man TT:
History aside, and practically speaking, the real-world limitations of the Spirit are obvious. Just what exactly is that thing’s turning radius? How many times am I likely to bump that cowling on a concrete barrier when parking? How much does the fairing compromise the headlight output? And despite the effort to look period correct, that tiny windscreen looks like an afterthought tacked atop the bike’s swooping profile.
On the other hand, as divisive as it is the front fascia is well wrought and flows into the body of the bike beneath cohesively. If ever there were a bike that made mid-controls palatable to me, it’s this one, and the reworked rear fender is fantastic!
The rear fender — as bulky as some fairings — takes that enormous back tire and tames it, telling it that less isn’t always more and covering it almost entirely without stripping it of presence. The grilles are superfluous, sure, but they connect the bike to BMW’s history.
And most of all, the Spirit corrects the R18's most egregious mistake as it was originally designed. It removes the dreadful exhaust pipes that mar an otherwise handsome motorcycle.
Even if you don’t love the Spirit, we can maybe all agree that Ohelerking’s redesign fixes the exhaust of the R18. But if you still think that the bike is too much, take a look at some of the designer’s other creations and re-evaluate the Spirit. You might be surprised.