top of page
  • Sachin Sen

BMW's Unforgettable R 18 First Edition

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

BMW R 18 First Edition
BMW's stunning R 18 First Edition

A cruiser radiates calmness. Everything about it, individually and together, is conceptualized for a relaxing riding experience; the laid back riding position, the gentle and tractable engine inducing the rider into taking it easy. The design language is smooth to let the motorcycle breeze through the air, rather than sprint through it.

A well-made modern cruiser displays mechanical brilliance in the way it functions and looks. The sophistication is in the finesse, the fit-n-finish, and the overall build quality. It’s about how the engine is turned into a core visual element of the motorcycle’s design. In some cases, the engine is beautiful enough to be a visual masterpiece on its own.

But, of course, it has to perform. Like any good motorcycle, everything has to be in sync to deliver a riding experience that remains in your memory long after the bike is gone. The clank of the gear shift, the drivetrain, and the pure mechanical sound of the engine without clatter. Does it flow through the corners? You’d hope it does. A motorcycle that is built right, goes like a dream, and sounds genuine, can define motorcycling for you. And some motorcycles are just so much better at that.

This is how the BMW R 18 has made me feel.

BMW R 18 First Edition
You can't help but look at the R 18 in admiration

I mean, just look at this motorcycle. Look at that engine. It is a mechanical piece of art; a machine designed to charm the rider and doesn’t make it easy to snap out of.

BMW’s first ever retro cruiser that is modern in all the right places and oldschool where it matters. The R 18 is nothing like I had imagined it to be. Let’s just say that more than one international review had me convinced that the R 18 was an incompetent, and, at best, average modern-retro cruiser that was unsuccessfully trying to do what Harley Davidson has mastered over the decades.

I carried this impression in my mind until I rode the R 18 myself, and, I mean, what a load of bollocks. Here’s how the story unfolded…

BMW’s Wonderful R 18

BMW R 18 First Edition
Enviable level of detailing

I walked toward the R 18 with mixed feelings, as I hadn’t yet seen the bike in person. But that’s not because I was worried that it wouldn’t look good. No. I was worried that being a cruiser powered by BMW’s biggest boxer engine, the R 18 would be a bit too big for my liking. But the German’s expertise was apparent from the moment I laid my eyes on it.

The R 18 is a compact big bike. It is tightly packed, but never ever looks busy. The motorcycle has perfect cruiser proportions with phenomenal road presence. Few motorcycles command the level of attention that the R 18 does. Only the Harley Davidson Fat Boy has such faultless proportions for a cruiser, but the R 18’s magnetism remains unmatched.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Smooth and beautiful. Faultless white striping and paintwork. That's the BMW R 18

And, it is a beautiful motorcycle. Every adjective is valid to describe the R 18’s visual appeal; beautiful, stunning, smart, sexy, etc., and etc. The level of fit-n-finish, the overall build quality, and the entire craftsmanship are so good that the bike is worthy of investment. Easily one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. The quality of the paint is remarkable. This particular model is the R 18 First Edition; the black paint with white strips and chrome on exhausts, handlebar, rearview mirrors, and cylinder heads are among the best I’ve ever seen.

The R 18 is a modern reinterpretation of BMW’s iconic R 5 which was released in 1936. And BMW has been absolutely truthful in recreating the classic; the overall design, the chassis with the hardtail look, and the open shaft drive.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Simple, old-school, and yet, modern. Down to essentails. Connecting to the spirit of motorcycling

I had this motorcycle for three days in Delhi, and I rode it in all lighting conditions; early morning, all throughout the daylight, and in the night, as well as in typical tight traffic situations; and given the level of pollution here, I am beyond amazed to realize how clean the bike remains by itself. As if, it self-cleans! Not that it doesn’t get dirty, but it didn’t require much dusting from my end, which is astonishing given how much I rode it during the time I had it. I think that says a lot about the high paint quality.

You can’t help but touch the R 18 in admiration. This, possibly, might be the best way to describe how beautiful that motorcycle is.

The R 18 is inviting purely due to that massive boxer-twin. You’d want to sit on it. There’s a temptation to lift it off the side-stand and see how it feels. At 1802 cc, BMW’s biggest boxer-twin wakes up, jolting the bike to the left. Like a beast wanting to come out of the cage. It’s the nature of the boxer-twin to shake sideways when given the throttle. It emanates power. That engine is everything.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Rarely a motorcycle engine is as captivating and mesmerizing as the R 18's 1802cc, air-cooled, boxer-twin.

It’s one of the things I like about this engine; the way it’s made. And that’s because it is designed to be in a cruiser. It looks industrial, but like a well-engineered and well-finished machine. It feels mechanical, but maintains sophistication. This is the sort of engineering freedom you can take while developing a cruiser. In any other form of motorcycle, this engine wouldn’t be like this. Take the BMW’s own R 1250 GS; it has a boxer-twin too, has great character, and yet, entirely different from the R 18’s humongous unit. GS’s engine is smoother, has an overhead cam architecture, and focused more on performance.

The R 18’s boxer-twin has a traditional push-rod architecture, and it is the only engine currently in BMW’s lineup to be built this way. It generates a fantastic rumbling sound at idle and low speeds with gentle throttle. The push-rod setup ensures that you get more feel out of it than anything else.

BMW R 18 First Edition
It shows, but goes too! Plenty of effortless pulling in there.

The bike is not devoid of performance though. It produces 90 horsepower and has loads of torque, 158 NM of it, and a rear wheel that’s nicely connected to the tarmac. So you’ll always have easy and instant acceleration whenever you want.

For the first time, the handling takes a bit of getting used to. The nature of a boxer engine is such that it generates reciprocating force which pushes the bike to the left. And you’d feel that affecting the bike’s handling at very slow speeds, like in the parking lots. You will have to fight it a bit. But that is not a flaw, it is how that engine works and affects the chassis. It is a reminder that you’re riding a big motorcycle with a big engine.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Unforgettable handling dynamics

That said, the R 18 handles beautifully once you’re fast enough to lift your feet off the ground. The bike is a confident handler with a communicative and a responsive chassis. When you understand how the bike handles at slow speeds, the overall handling becomes predictable. It is brilliant.

And there are more than one highlights to the R 18’s handling. It is surprising how impressively the bike cuts through traffic. Almost unbelievable. It hardly falters, and the confidence and ease it displays in Delhi's tight traffic situations is both remarkable and shocking. The bike’s manoeuvrability is completely opposite to what its bulk and weight will have you believe. And that’s what makes it a memorable ride.

BMW R 18 First Edition
One of the most memorable aspects of the R 18, its handling!

We also took the R 18 to ridge areas in and around Delhi that have some decent twisty roads with tight and long corners. The R 18 was involving throughout such sections and rode through all kinds of corners without upsetting itself or the rider. It has good cornering capability, and though it's not a challenge to scrap the pegs on a cruiser, it doesn’t happen early enough on the R 18. You have good cornering clearance to enjoy the lean angles.

The engine complements the spirited handling in nature. As the revs climb up, the rumble changes into a nice, mildly loud throaty exhaust note. It sounds quite glorious. You never have a dull moment riding the R 18. Never. And while you’re having fun, commuters on regular vehicles, two wheels and four, clearly appear to be shocked seeing how such a motorcycle can move through traffic with such relative agility. It adds to the fun of riding.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Good braking setup gives you the confidence to ride the bike spiritedly. The R 18 has that setup

Another important thing that allows you to ride the R 18 spiritedly are its brakes. You can push the bike in traffic and on the highways knowing that its brakes are really good. The twin brake setup at the front gives good feedback, has good bite, and feels progressive too. Whether or not the R 18’s brakes are the best in its category is irrelevant as long as they do their job well. And they do.

I also expected to feel some good amount of heat given the layout of the engine. Surprisingly enough, that didn’t happen. I never noticed the heat enough to make me uncomfortable, especially in tight traffic situations. And the rest of the time, I didn’t even have to think about it. With three days of intense riding, I guess that says a lot about how good the heat management system is in the R 18.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Glorious in the blistering sun

The R 18 is a great cruiser, and a fantastic motorcycle overall. The way it handles, goes, and sounds, is a display of solid engineering by a company who knows what it’s doing. The R 18 is challenging some of the finest Harley Davidsons available today, and the new HDs are great motorcycles. Especially the new Softails, with the new chassis and suspension, have responsive handling and their best push-rod v-twins with 4-valve per head.

After riding the R 18 extensively for nearly half of the week, I am convinced that BMW knows whose playground they’re trying to enter and they’re doing it confidently.

BMW R 18 First Edition
Phenomenal road presence at any time of the day!

Riding the R 18 also reassures me that big cruisers can be ridden and enjoyed like other motorcycles on the road; in the city and, of course, out of it. Chassis development has come a long way. Combined with better suspension components, better brakes, newer engines, and smoother fueling, a number of new cruisers can be enjoyed on a daily basis in regular commutes.

Companies like Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycle have been battling for far too long in the big cruiser market. And recently, they’ve been making some really enjoyable motorcycles that even the people who traditionally do not like cruisers can also enjoy.

BMW R 18 First Edition
If you can afford it, you'll never regret it

According to me, regardless of how the R 18 is, it’s never going to be easy for BMW to disrupt Harley Davidson’s market. At least, the German company has made a motorcycle that is capable of doing just that.


bottom of page