BMW Motorrad is showing off the latest custom R18 commissioned for its “SoulFuel” series. After Roland Sands and Dirk Oehlerking brought their flair to the big R18 cruiser, Japanese customizer Shinya Kimura reworked the bike into a cafe racer he calls “The Wal.”
“Wal” means “whale” in German, with Kimura gifting the R18 its nickname after riding the bike in stock form, and learning its friendly disposition. The R18 really is a gentle giant, that myself and fellow staff writer, Mercedes, experienced first hand during our rides. The big boxer engine in the R18 has plenty of power, making 91 horsepower and 116 lb-ft of torque, but this ride never hits you over the helmet with its output.
The R18 is happy just cruising on the highway. So, Kimura kept long-distance comfort in mind, while adding a sporty feel to the friendly cruiser. The frame, suspension, brakes, tires and wheels were left alone, along with the exhaust system, although it was painted black. Kimura also designed a larger fuel tank, to give the bike an extra gallon of fuel capacity. He then added a half-shell fairing, along with a longer seat and rounded tail.
The cafe racer fairing has two asymmetrical headlights and a “set of teeth.” I think these look more like baleen plates than sharp teeth, but still easily fit in with the nature of the R18. The rearview mirrors are asymmetrical, too, with the right mirror on the handlebar and the left further below, closer to the engine. I wonder if it’s very useful at speed, because I feel it might be too blurry see out of when the engine’s at full throttle.
The foot rests also sit a little further back on the frame, just by a couple of inches. Together with the lower handlebars, Kimura says the movement produced a natural posture that he preferred.
BMW claims Kimura fabricated and customized the bike without any “sketches, drawings, blueprints or mock-ups.” The Wal is entirely hands-on, per BMW. That was never really in question, but I want to think of its construction like an exercise in accepting what we get and maybe even about coming to terms with imperfections.
Rather, his hands-on work comes across like the opposite approach to measuring twice and cutting once, which for me is usually more like measuring ten times and tentatively cutting, all the while feeling the crushing anxiety of irreparably fucking up set against the backdrop of an indifferent universe.
That’s not to say that Kimura’s design and construction isn’t deliberate or careful. Maybe just unperturbed and good-natured. Happy. Like the bike itself.