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BMW R 18 B (2021) launch review | Rock n’ Roll bagger!

BMW R 18 B 2021 review

Turn speakers to 11, flick into Rock mode and fill the German countryside with heavy metal. We review the BMW R 18 B bagger at the international press launch! 

Details
Manufacturer:
Category:
Modern Classics
Price:
£ 21500
Overall
Not rated

Bringing more Euro flair to a traditionally American cruiser segment, BMW has this year released updates to the R 18 with the R 18 B & R 18 Transcontinental (which we didn’t get to try out). Willkommen to Frankfurt, Germany, for the international press launch. 

With updates to the frame and chassis, new front fairing & panniers, plus modern gadgets, does the Berlin-built-bagger turn it up to 11? Does the boxer engine make this the best cruiser on the market?

Built around the brute of a boxer engine nestled within, it’s a tad intimidating when you muscle the nigh-on 400kg lump off the side stand for your maiden voyage. But get rolling with tunes blaring from new built-in Marshall sound system, and you begin to understand the appeal of this big bagger. 

What’s new on the 2021 BMW R 18 B?

Visually you’ve now got a full bat-wing fairing and panniers, Marshall speakers integrated into the fairing (and Gold Series 1 subwoofers in the panniers as optional extra here) with huge 10.2” TFT display. 

Dive deeper and this Bagger has a steeper 62.7º front fork with negative steering head offset, shorter 1695mm wheelbase & stiffer reinforced steel double-loop tube frame chassis to accommodate for the added 50kg weight.

Plus cruise control as standard, automatically adjusting spring preload and travel-dependent damping, and a host of other little details & extras - like locking side-stand, & smartphone compartment with its own little fan. The Transcontinental adds further wind protection (wind flaps and high screen), a pillion backrest & massive top box.

Price and availability

Prices start at £21,500 for the 2021 R 18 B, but we were riding a specced up ‘First Edition’ on the day; including Adaptive Cruise Control, Hill Start assist, SOS button, reverse gear and Stage 1 Marshall audio system (extra subwoofers) - taking the price of the model I tried to an eye-watering £26,995. 

That may be in the ballpark of other cruisers on the market - a 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special starting from £24,995 & Indian Chieftain Dark Horse from £23,995 - but for the general rider like me, that’s a big chunk of cash.

The American-influenced European bagger is available in UK dealers now, and you can spec up a model on the Motorrad site.

Engine

Let’s get right to the meat of it and work our way around - the 1802cc air-oil cooled boxer proudly sits as the focal point on the bike (with its own ‘1800cc’ emblem). As the biggest boxer twin in production, this powerplant puts out 91bhp at 4750 rpm and 158 Nm (116 ft-lb) of torque at 3000 rpm with overhead valve train, side control valves and pushrods within. 

It’s an engineering masterpiece, really, and 150 Nm of torque is at hand practically anywhere in the rev-range, put to the rear wheel via exposed shaft final drive. Perhaps it could do with more ponies to spruce up the spec sheet and decrease the 6 second 0-60mph time, but it doesn’t feel like it is lacking on the road - and would miss the whole cruiser point.

Speaking to BMW & Roland Stocker who was behind the development of the R 18 family: this range was initially trialled with the 1200 boxer unit, but it was said to not invoke enough emotive riding and felt too small. This 1802cc block was developed specifically for the R 18 with power that feels just right to propel the battleship along the road. Enough gusto to have a laugh, but not overkill. 

Ride

At your disposal are three rider modes - Rock, Roll & Rain. The most fun is to be had in Rock mode, unleashing the full boxer experience. Throttle response is audibly instant, especially in lower gears, and the exhaust note is sublime with pops and bangs when decelerating through sleepy German villages. 

Roll & Rain do subdue the character from the engine - dulling the characteristic throw of the motor when twisting the throttle at a standstill - with rain mode removing it almost entirely. Riding in Roll mode will provide less engine braking and less engine pickup, so I was in Rock for the majority of the day, aiming to push the behemoth through successive corners. 

Roaring along at speed the Bagger feels planted, assured and comfortable. Top speed is said to be 111mph, but on a guided ride we didn’t push that far on the Motorway. The self-reinforcing clutch is light and easy to use with an anti-hopping function, and the 6-speed gearbox is superb to click through. I found myself in 2nd for a lot of the twisties for that boxer pull, but 3rd will still drag you out of a sharp corner.

Tweaked chassis dynamics (shorter wheelbase, stiffer chassis and steeper rake) gives a surprisingly nippy dynamic without sacrificing stability on motorways stints. Initial tip-in to corners is good, and the suspension keeps you in control mid-corner with constant feedback.

The smaller ‘problems’ appear when pushing the brute hard. Pegs will quite literally scrape on the majority of corners if you’re going for it. Fine on smooth roads, but could lead to hairy moments on uneven surfaces or if you need more lean angle to scrub off speed and round a tightening corner. 

Counter-steering is a must to manage the 398kg weight, and you have to really be in the right mood & conditions to get the most out of a ‘spirited ride’. Touching the throttle tends to really stand the bike up, resulting in some fights around long bends rather than smoothly sailing along - but you could put that in the ‘character’ box. Other riders in the group were happy to sit back and enjoy cruising in roll mode, so it varies on your riding style.

Low 720mm seat means the bike is accessible to all (even Toad would be able to flat-foot it), but opting for the reverse gear is essential for otherwise challenging low-speed manoeuvres. Note: It’s really rapid going backwards, so only tap the button!

Comfort

Speaking of the saddle, it’s a relatively comfortable place to be. Neutral riding position with arms reaching out in front left me with no complaints post-ride, the only detraction is having nowhere else to put your feet as the real estate is naturally taken by the boxer. Heated grips and heated seat options will make touring a breeze, but you may have a bit of a numb arse after long hours. 

Pillions beware, the tail section slides off into nothingness and there’s little to grab on to - but other groups were riding two-up all day without the benefits of Transcontinental sofa seat and kitchen-sink-esque top box.

The full fairing does pose a question for shorter riders that may find it interfering with their line of sight, but at 6’3”ish I was able to comfortably see over it and enjoy top visibility, well-placed mirrors and the cocoon-like wind & weather protection. 

Features and tech

Plenty of features to talk about here. We’ll start with the 10.2” TFT display mounted to the fairing with analogue dials sat above. Navigating around with scroll wheel & up/down button, the display is a really nice system when you get your head around it. It’s customisable, so you can choose a big map & small music combo, or ride info & any of the BMW app interface panels (or any mix of these) is great - but you can also keep it minimal and rely on the dials.

Marshall speakers are quite literally the party piece with superb audio quality. Great fun, and I think I could be the first person in the world to ride through Hausen vor der Höhe blaring Oasis - Don’t Look Back In Anger. Maybe not.. but it’s a nice thought. These would be perfect for a meet at an event, maximum volume is outrageously loud - so steady on when you come rolling to a stop in town!

Stage 1 Marshall audio package adds subwoofers to the panniers, subtracting on some of the available storage space. I could fit a practically empty rucksack in one, and in the other, a few bits of detritus - camera equipment, bottle of water, emergency snack (no bacon roll this time, if you are thinking of my Tracer 9 GT review).

To make the most of the superb navigational system and full TFT features, you’ll need the BMW Motorrad app - but you’ll have to make sure your phone fits in the fan-cooled compartment too. My iPhone 12 Pro Max didn’t, but the smaller iPhone does. Perhaps an Android/Apple interface would be nice here but not required, and it takes a minute to fire up the BMW app and connect (if it wants to).

Last up is the cruise control. Missing on the R 18, now there is cruise control as standard with optional ‘Adaptive Cruise Control’ as an option on the B. Arm the cruise control and set the follow distance and it’ll keep behind cars or bikes in front, smoothly applying brakes and throttle. Great for long tours.

24 Litre tank, by the way, with claimed 5.8 l/100km (40 mpg) giving a 250-mile range in theory.

Suspension & brakes

Huge (monstrous) telescopic 49mm forks with 120mm travel here, but they have to be sizeable to accommodate for so much weight. Jump on board and the suspension will automatically adjust the spring preload, making the headlight always level and theoretically giving you the same riding experience regardless of baggage and pillion situation. I didn’t notice it doing anything, but I suppose that’s the point.

Really enjoyed the suspension on this, soft over bumps yet firm enough to give you good feedback in corners, and no sign of wallowing mid-corner or jumpy feedback. Just as well, really; It’s a lump and you have to engage your brain when cornering enough as it is.

Stopping power is provided by twin 300mm Brembo discs up front with single rear 300mm disc. Soft on initial bite, with a full level pull giving a sharper stop. BMW Integral ABS also, I found a full press on the rear lever will give some resistance in the front lever when you reach for that.

Both suspension and brakes have to put up with a lot here, but they do the job just as well at the start and end of the day.

Style and colours

As mentioned we were riding the First Edition, complete with pinstriping and badging. Other variants available are Option 719 ‘Galaxy Dust/Silver’ (+£2,880) and ‘Manhattan Metallic Matt’ (+£460) which looks like Khaki. Black Storm Metallic is the standard colour, and looks the best in my opinion.

It’s a nice looking bagger, sculpted well and emphasising the boxer unit; BMW placed an R 18 in the centre of a room and ran ‘heatmap tests’  to capture what people notice first when the blindfold comes off. They found the chromed engine to be the first & most gazed upon feature, and everything revolves around that boxer as a result.

Chrome galore, fake chromed exhaust shrouds, exposed shaft final drive, and BMW badging (that is said to accommodate original R5 badges with identical dimensions and screw sizes) give an air of premium finishing. The more you look, the more you find - like the Rolls Royce ‘reserve power’ gauge. 

There’s also plenty of genuine accessories to pick from to make this bagger your own, but you’ll need deep pockets. On display at the event were some custom wonders built with just OEM parts. Maybe I’m just skint, but I like it as it comes with no added bits - I’ll put a photo below of the accessory wall. Rolan Stocker had a lovely BMW leather jacket that they developed with this bike in mind, to be fair.

So what do we like & dislike?

Like

  • Adjustments made to handling - it’s vital that a big bike like this handles well when moving, and the tweaks have resulted in a really natural experience. It’s surprising how much you can push this
  • Marshall speakers. Top speakers, great fun, and accompanies the blaring boxer engine beneath you. These really surprised, and would be perfect on a long trip - consider if you want subwoofers or more luggage space, mind.
  • Gadgets, particularly the Adaptive cruise control. Lovely feature if you pay the extra for it, or get it thrown in with the Transcontinental. Plus the auto levelling suspension, super clear navigation through the vibrant TFT display adds modern cruiser elements the R 18 analogue style.

Dislike 

  • Scraping for days. Yeah we love scraping pegs, but it gets a bit much on every turn, and I dread to think what happens if you’re on uneven terrain scraping along. Could unsettle the already involving ride, and you can’t scrub off speed with more lean (you’ll just scrub off the pegs instead). Wonder how much new peg-ends cost, it’ll be worth ordering some in bulk.
  • Price tag. Spec one up fully and you’re nearing £30k, if you are really wanting a fully specced ride. Although in the age of PCP and finance, it’s probably not that bad for most riders this’ll appeal to.
  • Weight. It’s contentious as all of these cruisers are hefty, but the heavy weight will put some off at low speed. Yes, the (rapid) reverse gear helps manoeuvres, but it’s a heavy ol’ bagger. Short riders will be appeased with the 720mm seat, but you might want to hit the gym.

Verdict

The R 18 B is great fun when you flick into Rock mode, turn the Marshall speakers up, and fill the roads with the sound of heavy metal and enjoy the journey. We were riding on sublime roads, (very) wide and empty, but even the twistier sequences were handled brilliantly. It surprised me how rewarding the R 18 B was to push - and how much it seemed to beam when pushing me.

It’s weighty, there’s no getting around that, but get it rolling and you start to understand the philosophy of the BMW engineers. They weren’t after precise, logical riding (a surprise for German engineering), much rather they were after an emotive riding experience that fully involves you in the ride. It’s a step away from the clinical here, opting for an involving ride that gives character some may say are lacking in these German-built machines.

If the goal was to step away from perfection in favour of character, I don’t think BMW could do much else with this big boxer synonymous with early 90s BMW Motorrad. The Berlin team is extremely proud of what they have developed here, and they are genuinely aiming for the #1 spot in the premium American cruiser motorcycle segment.

Riders after an easy, laid back ride with a bike that does what it’s told may look elsewhere, but those who are looking for a cruiser with a seriously involving ride (and have a back pocket full of spare footpegs), give this a test ride and see how you get on. I came back with a big smile on my face, others were hoping for more subdued cruiser riding - but our route was certainly a ‘bikers dream’. 

Is there another R 18 evolution on the way? Probably not for now. BMW told me that the 4 bikes in the family (R18, Classic, B, Transcontinental) were always developed with one another in mind. They’ll see how the sales go and take it from there, apparently.

Thanks to BMW Motorrad for having us along for the Rock n Roll ride! More spec and details on their site

Watch the BMW R 18 B (2021) review: 

New BMW R 18 B (2021) Review | Meet the official Rock N' Roll Cruiser! | Visordown.com