BMW Motorrad is entering uncharted waters by launching two motorcycles into the competitive American cruiser market. Last year, the marque added the R 18, a retro-styled cruiser with a massive 1.8-liter boxer twin. Motorrad isn’t done yet, and it has evolved the R 18 into the R 18 B bagger and R 18 Transcontinental luxury cruiser. These bikes are a pair of canyon-carving and highway mile-eating nostalgia machines and they’re aimed right at Harley-Davidson and Indian.
(Full Disclosure: BMW Motorrad invited me to Denver to ride the R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental. BMW paid for my transportation to and from Denver, put me in a swanky hotel and covered food for the duration of the event.)
BMW Motorrad has a long history building motorcycles across a number of segments. It’s famous for its GS adventure bikes and classics like the Flying Brick K series. But BMW rarely enters into the cruiser segment, a giant slice of the motorcycle market pie that’s dominated by Harley-Davidson. That’s changing with BMW’s first cruisers since the R1200C.
The R 18 B is a large and low bagger while the R 18 Transcontinental is a full dresser made for piling on miles.
These bikes are more than just R 18s with panniers. The motorcycles have a number of changes from tech straight down to the frame. Even the exhaust pipes get a new design. The R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental are built to be more comfortable and allow the rider to go farther with less fatigue than the regular R 18.
Both motorcycles take on a retro-modern design that blends design from the R5 into something from the present day. BMW is gunning for motorcycles like the Indian Chieftain with the R 18 B and Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited with the R 18 Transcontinental.
At the heart of these bikes are their air- and oil-cooled twin-cylinder boxers. They have plaques indicating a healthy 1,800cc displacement and thick exhaust pipes curl around the engine before heading straight back.
This engine is a nod to the pre-War BMW R5 and gives the R 18 B and Transcontinental some extra flair.
That engine produces 91 horsepower and 116 lb-ft torque with a redline of 5,500 RPM, transmitted to the rear wheel via shaft drive. It’s responsible for 244 pounds of these bikes’ total weight, which come in at about 877 pounds for the R 18 B and 941 pounds for the R 18 Transcontinental.
The weight doesn’t make balancing at a stop a daunting task. The bikes are easy to hold up and they both have a low enough seat height that even shorter riders can flat-foot the machines in confidence.
The R 18 B has a standard seat height of 28.35 inches while the Transcontinental sits at 29.13 inches.
If that extra height of the Transcontinental is too high, BMW offers a thinner seat option that brings the Transcontinental down to 28.35 inches. The testers were fitted with standard seats and I didn’t notice any height difference.
Basic instrumentation is handled by four analog gauges telling you fuel level, RPM, speed and power reserve.
The power reserve gauge is borrowed from Rolls Royce and doesn’t actually serve any real practical purpose. If you ride aggressively, it’ll be showing a big fat zero percent most of the time.
All other instrumentation goes through 10.25-inch TFT display which acts as the machines’ nerve center. Before you set off on a ride you can use the screen in conjunction of controls on the left side of the bar to set the bike’s drive mode, music, navigation, heating and more.
This system can be pretty confusing to use unless you know your way around a BMW.
Music is handled by a sound system designed with Marshall. The standard system features two 25-watt speakers mounted into the fairing.
Buyers can opt for Marshall Gold Series Stage 1 and Stage 2. Stage 1 adds two 90 watt subwoofers to the side cases while Stage 2 adds the subwoofers plus an additional two 25 watt speakers in the top case for a total output of 280 watts from six speakers.
The R 18 Bs at the event had the Marshall Gold Series Stage 1 setup while the Transcontinentals had Stage 2.
Firing up that massive engine is an event all on its own. The bike will rock upon startup like an old school muscle car. BMW says that this engine is smooth, but I found it to be largely the opposite.
The engine shakes enough at idle to slightly oscillate the handlebar. It also makes quite a bit of mechanical noise at idle like a Harley-Davidson Evolution engine. Some people don’t like that, but I think it all adds to the experience.
These bikes weigh a thousand pounds or more with a rider and you do feel it at slow speeds. BMW changed the profile of the R 18's frame for the R 18 B and Transcontinental so that the forks sit behind the steering head instead of in front of the steering head as in the R 18. BMW says that this offers better stability while cornering and hides some of the weight during low-speed maneuvers. The frame is also reinforced in key points as these are designed to carry more weight.
You may find yourself needing to practice maneuvers like a U-turn because the weight makes you want to put a foot down.
Hot motorcycle engines and summer city traffic don’t usually mix. I’m used to getting baked by a motorcycle engine on a hot summer day but neither bike did that here. The BMWs also have a Hill Start Control system that holds the brakes. I find it quite useful for not only starting on hills, but holding the brakes while completely stopped in heavy traffic.
Once you leave the confines of the cramped city you’ll really get to enjoy what the R 18 B and Transcontinental have to offer.
That engine has torque like a diesel. Power comes on at about 2,000 RPM and stays strong through the middle of the power band. It’s not fast, but it pulls hard. Put the transmission into sixth gear at 30 mph and it can still accelerate with traffic. It can climb a mountain pass without downshifting.
You get a few drive modes on both motorcycles and like the rest of the design, they’re given an old-school theme. The standard driving mode is Roll, which slows down throttle response for heavy traffic and cruising. Then you get Rock, which makes throttle response snappy, and Rain, which makes throttle response slow for slippery environments.
Pushing this engine hard doesn’t yield a lot more speed. It feels like it’s running out of power above 4,500 RPM and near redline it’s vibrating so much that the mirrors are practically useless. That’s fine. Banging off of the rev limiter isn’t really this engine’s mission; it really wants to go on a cruise.
And cruising is what these bikes do best. Both the R 18 B and the Transcontinental have impressive stability at speed. It takes no effort to keep them in a straight line and road imperfections hardly disturb the bikes.
Suspension comes by way of a telescopic fork and a cantilever suspension strut with an automatic load-leveling system. This suspension soaks up bumps like a luxury car and even potholes don’t result in a jarring hit.
Standard, either bike comes with Dynamic Cruise Control. In this system, you set a speed and the motorcycle will maintain that speed, even while doing down a steep grade. It uses a mix of the bike’s brakes and engine braking to keep you at the speed you set. Go for the optional Active Cruise Control and not only will the motorcycle maintain a set speed, but it’ll actually keep distance and brake in traffic, too. Active Cruise Control uses a front-mounted radar to measure distance in conjunction with a preferred following distance set by the rider.
The system works well, even during a group ride. It’s fantastic for those types of situations where highway traffic varies in speed, and the system doesn’t disengage for shifting, either.
The Transcontinental is even better fit for cruising. It soaks up bumps even better than the R 18 B and it comes with a windscreen high enough to deflect most wind away from the helmet of riders of an average height.
A curb weight that starts at 877 pounds may not inspire confidence for handling, however both of these motorcycles feel like they weigh only 600 pounds or so at speed. Throw a canyon curve at either bike and they run out of lean angle before they run out of ability.
I often found myself scraping the floorboards as I carved curve after curve. Handling is predictable and they turn in easy. Both motorcycles come with a linked braking system, too. If you pull the front brake, you get 70 percent front braking and 30 percent rear. Hit the rear and you get 70 percent rear and 30 percent front.
The Transcontinental hustles its way around corners better than you’d expect a motorcycle a few hundred pounds shy of a kei car to. The R 18 B bagger may be only 64 pounds lighter, but you can feel the difference when you’re dancing through mountain roads. The R 18 B is a little more agile and feels just a little more at home in the curves.
They’re not just good for road trips. Go ahead and scrape those boards, the bikes will happily handle it.
The engine gives you that perfect mix of style and a pleasing soundtrack. I often found myself staring at the thing during break stops. Its baritone exhaust notes entice you to grab a fistful of throttle just to hear that flat twin. The engine sounds unrefined, but I think that’s a positive in this application.
I averaged 47 mpg during my rides and I wasn’t trying to be economical. Given the tank’s six gallon capacity, this would give me nearly 300 miles of range.
Ride comfort is phenomenal. It’s rare that I find a motorcycle like this, that I can ride for a whole day without having some sort of pain. Both motorcycles have seats that are plushy, but firm enough that you can feel secure throwing it around. And if it’s not comfortable enough, BMW offers a comfort seat option for a more comfortable ride. You can even adjust everything from the levers to the shifter.
Large bikes sometimes have heavy levers that wear out your hands in traffic, but that isn’t the case, here.
At the end of the long day of riding I had very little fatigue. I felt that the bike was so comfortable that I asked BMW if I could ride one the 1,100 miles home instead of flying back.
BMW nailed it on the technology front. The display is clean and crisp, with vivid colors and critical information in big, easy to read font. Sunlight also doesn’t wash the screen out to the point where you cannot see it.
BMW’s Adaptive Cruise Control is also pretty brilliant. It works better than the ACC that I’ve used in some cars and reacts quick to changing environments. While Harley-Davidson and Indian are reportedly working on the technology, BMW has it right here, right now.
The motorcycles also come with a nice amount of storage.
The side cases are good for up to 27 liters of volume each while the top case fits up to 48 liters.
The navigation portion of the bikes’ onboard system requires you to download the BMW Motorrad Connected App to your phone and connect it to your bike. BMW has provided a nice, ventilated compartment to store your phone for your rides.
Unfortunately, this compartment doesn’t fit phones taller than 6.3 inches or wider than 3 inches. That nixes many large phones from fitting, even without a case. The space barely fit my iPhone 11 Pro.
The Marshall sound system performs well at low and moderate volumes. Sound output at these volumes is clear with rich bass; so much of it that you’ll feel a good thump behind you.
However, in order to hear this system on the move with a full helmet on you’ll need to crank up the volume. The speakers don’t perform so well at high volume as the subwoofers seem to get easily overwhelmed and the rest of the speakers have high amounts of distortion. Classical music can get so distorted that you may not be able to identify what is playing.
I’ve tried to alleviate this by playing around with the system’s equalizer options, but no setting really helped. I was not able to test out the system’s Bluetooth function for in-helmet sound, but that will likely be the better option for tunes on the road.
If you enjoy a tactile feel from your controls like I do, then you may need to wear lighter riding footwear. While the shifter has plenty of feel, the rear brake pedal is relatively soft.
I wore a pair of Alpinestars Sektor shoes for this ride. These are among the thinner riding shoes on the market and even then, there were times that I had to make sure that I wasn’t riding the brake. That’s how little feel there is in the pedal.
If you wear thick boots you may not feel the pedal at all while you’re braking.
These bikes are also married to their cases. The side cases are bolted on and if you remove them you’ll lose the Marshall subwoofers and your brake lights. BMW considers these parts permanent and does not recommend trying to remove them to get more of a naked look.
Harley-Davidson and BMW Motorrad are going back and forth entering each others’ markets and the results are interesting. The Motor Company has an answer for the BMW GS while Motorrad now has a pair of compelling cruisers. The BMW R 18 B starts at $21,945, just barely undercutting the Harley-Davidson Street Glide and Indian Chieftain. Meanwhile, the R 18 Transcontinental starts at $24,995.
These motorcycles follow the same grain as their targeted American competition but with some extra technology and flair. That engine is a work of art and its adaptive cruise control can be a road trip gamechanger. They’re solid bikes for a rider looking for a little more tech or a little more of that retro style.
I would probably choose the R 18 Transcontinental. It’s one of the few motorcycles that I’ve ridden that could be ridden all day without making me want to collapse into a bed somewhere. Both of these machines are asking to be taken on a great American road trip.