Taste or attraction can be a peculiar thing, and that might explain why I basically ignored BMW Motorrad’s lineup of R 18 bikes for almost three years. Now, upon rumination, I find them irresistible. I think my penchant for sport and sport-touring bikes fogged my vision, and it took some saddle time to overcome this and discover a new world in BMW cruisers.
Years in the saddle with my hair on fire have been fun, and I still like sporty rides—I own a BMW R 1250 RS. Yet, since my late-to-the-party introduction to the R 18 range, I’ve developed a great fondness for that style of motorbike. Something’s got a hold on me, and I can’t withstand my latest urge to cruise.
The BMW R 18s generate complex feelings of mindfulness and grace as they shuttle their pilots into a world of occasionally slower and more meditative riding while, at the same time, allowing a deeper connection to the world one travels through.
I’ve ridden many different cruisers from different manufacturers and always enjoyed them, to a point. However, I find the R 18 and the Big Boxer motor to be unique animals worthy of passion. I’ll not make comparisons to other marques in this story. Instead, I’ll discuss the spiritual and mechanical nature of these beasts.
Simply starting the motor and settling into the seat is a pulse-pounding experience. Gobs of torque skew to bike a bit to the left when revving without the transmission engaged, but that disappears once moving.
One guy told me recently that he didn’t like them and admitted he had only sat on one in a showroom. Well, not everyone can be a true convert.
The start of this metamorphosis occurred when I was assigned to cover the 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane launch in Bavaria. The Roctane is the fifth member of the R 18 family and may be BMW’s most vigorous effort to get Big Boxers into the hands of those who might otherwise look for more traditional brands of cruisers.
The two days and 350 miles on the Roctane was my introduction to the R 18 platform, making it responsible for this polar shift in my attitude. I was immediately captivated by the unique-to-cruisers layout, with that giant 1802cc air-/oil-cooled motor. It’s an imposing and unique look, even in this world of 100 years of BMW boxer-powered motorcycles.
The 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane has the looks, feel, power, quality, and an inescapable outrageousness. Then there’s BMW’s distinctive design, build, way of doing things, and the attendant experience is like no other. I was smitten and don’t mind admitting it.
Upon returning home, I procured a 2023 BMW R 18 Classic, as it is similar in appearance to the Roctane. The Classic has soft faux leather bags to mimic the Roctane’s hard and permanent cases, and the windscreen is removable. The Roctane will have a 21-inch front wheel and 18-inch rear (versus 16-inch for both ends of the Classic and 19-/16-inch combos on other models), no windscreen, and mid-rise handlebars. As with all the R 18s, the drivetrain is the same.
The Classic I’m testing is painted in BMW’s stunning Option 719 Galaxy Dust / Titan Silver Metallic. It’s a $1600 optional colorway with a changing-color effect dependent on the light and the angle from which it is viewed. It can look blue, and then violet/purple with a lot of metallic glitter thrown in. The paint is stunning, attracting attention wherever I stop. While BMW motorcycles look great in black with white pinstripes and chrome tank sides, this colorway is nothing short of showstopping. Combined with the titanium silver, it is dreamy to behold. Its seductive tank shape reminds me of much older models but brought up to date.
The R 18 is a hoot to ride and handles well. Belying its 805-pound curb weight, it can be a pussycat once underway. Yet, it can stretch a rider’s arms with a twist of the throttle. I’ve ridden it in every possible condition, from doing the ton for a short stretch on the highway to taking on technical twisty roads to a rain run. Extreme switchbacks may demand first-gear riding while utilizing the better part of the lane to get around; that’s no different than any other heavyweight cruiser.
Power and delivery on the 2023 BMW R 18 Classic are controlled by three riding modes: Rock, Roll, and Rain. Rain mode needs no explanation—even when riding in the rain, I did not select that. Roll mode is a big step up in performance from Rain, though I found myself riding in Rock mode almost all the time. Rock increases throttle response and actually smooths engine vibration.
Speaking of vibration, yes, the Big Boxer does produce a bit, though mostly at lower speeds and in lower gears. I found vibration mostly exhibited through the floorboards. The frequency resembles a pleasant foot massager, almost disappearing at cruising speeds. The handlebars are less affected, and the stalk-mounted round mirrors stay sharp.
The 116 ft-lbs of torque minimizes the need to downshift as that power is available anywhere above 2000 rpm. The Big Boxer most likes running at 2300 rpm and higher. On the highway at 80 mph in 6th gear, the tachometer reads just 2800 rpm. Horsepower is rated at 91, but don’t let that fool or disappoint you. The R 18 Classic rockets through the gears to just about any speed one desires.
The six-speed transmission is smooth as any I’ve experienced. You hear a solid engagement upon gear selection, though it’s not clunky in any way. Gear changes snap into place precisely as the rider would like, and the heel/toe shifter is easy to use.
The shifting mechanism on the 2023 BMW R 18 Classic is two pieces, so a rider can adjust them independently. I found the rear upshift lever to be one notch too high for my liking. After dropping it down, I no longer need to lift my left heel excessively for upshifts. I could also raise the front lever to allow upshifts with the top of my boot but didn’t—there is enough clearance. Power is sent through an exposed chromed driveshaft to the rear wheel. It is smooth-running and exhibits no shaft-jacking or other detrimental tendencies.
The single-disc dry clutch action is smooth and firm, with good feel throughout the launch; gear selection has no grabbing or hesitation. It can, and likes to, bolt out of the hole from a stop with alacrity.
The Classic’s exhaust note is a rich and booming baritone. It does not sound particularly impressive when blipping the throttle at a stop. However, under load, it produces a wonderful bass note. Although many of my personal bikes have had aftermarket exhaust systems installed for a richer sound, I would not bother on this R 18.
The floorboards are hinged to allow travel whenever they touch down. As with most cruisers, this can happen when riding aggressively. On spirited rides, I like to get into a groove that allows me to float the floorboards just above the pavement without touching down. The floorboards are mounted only slightly forward of where one might imagine footpegs would be placed—just ahead of the hips.
Even with those mammoth jugs jutting out, there is still plenty of room for large boots; I have about six inches or so of space to slide my feet around to allow for position changes on longer rides. Naturally, the opposed cylinders make it harder for those riders who want to place their feet on forward highway pegs. There are some aftermarket assemblies to expedite this, but I have no need or desire for this riding position.
The seat height is 28 inches, which should accommodate almost any rider that possesses the strength to pick the bike up off the sidestand. The optional $250 719 seat is beautiful, though I find it a bit narrow for long hauls.
I really like the removable standard windscreen on the Classic. While other screen heights are available, for my six-foot frame, most of the airflow hits the very top of my helmet or glides over it with minimal buffeting. I also like riding the bike locally without the windscreen for the look and the airflow on hot days.
Stopping this beast is accomplished efficiently by utilizing its twin 300mm discs and four-piston calipers up front. There’s another 300 mm disc on the rear wheel, and ABS is standard. The brakes have a good feel—front and rear—with a nice initial bite and follow-through. For harder braking, the hand lever requires a firm grip to get the job done.
Years of riding BMWs with linked brakes put me in the habit of using only the front lever almost 100 percent of the time. On the R 18s, braking is smoother and more effective when adding the rear disc to the mix. The rear brake is remarkably powerful; when all three discs are used together, they are extremely good.
The instrumentation on the Classic is encapsulated within the round unit. The touring-oriented R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental offer BMW’s more informative and robust fairing-mounted dashboard, yet everything needed is available in this LCD display.
I do miss a fuel gauge; a low fuel warning light comes on when one gallon is remaining. There are two trip odometers. I use one to keep track of the day’s mileage, and the other to help me plan fill-ups, which it needs after about 140 miles of operation. The R 18 Classic has a 4.2-gallon fuel tank, and I averaged 42 mpg.
The tank wraps over the chassis backbone, which is right under the fuel cap, so the fuel filler nozzle can only penetrate the tank by about one inch. Riders will need to be careful as the final few ounces come up fast. In California, where we have vapor recirculation hoods on the nozzles, riders will always need two hands to pull back the hood to fill up. This model has a key-locked fuel cap.
Other features I enjoy on the 2023 BMW R 18 Classic are the self-canceling turn signals, and a 600-watt alternator that gives me enough power to run heated gear and accessories (check out my radar detector test).
All R 18 models are built in Berlin, and prices range widely due to each model’s nature and equipment loadout. The base R 18 comes in at just under $15k, and the flagship Transcontinental starts at $24k. BMW is known for having numerous options and packages that can add to the cost. For instance, the 2023 BMW R 18 Classic has a base price of $17,995, and the MSRP of this test bike is $21,455.
If I were to order an R 18 Classic for myself, I would add hill hold control, reverse gear, and tire pressure monitoring. Hill hold is great at stoplights and hills. I rarely need reverse, but it is good to have in a pinch. Tire pressure monitoring is safer and saves time every week or two climbing under panniers and rear fender to check.
The BMW R 18 models had flown under my radar, and I suspect some American riders may have had the same experience. Given my experience riding the Roctane in Germany and Austria, combined with many miles in the United States on the 2023 BMW R 18 Classic, I am excited about reacquainting myself with the new Roctane and riding it in and around California. Cruising BMW’s R 18s is a unique experience that should not be missed by those who feel the attraction.
Action photography by Don Williams
Static photograph by Jonathan Handler and Don Williams
2023 BMW R 18 Classic Specs
- Type: Horizontally opposed twin
- Displacement: 1802cc
- Bore x stroke: 107.1 x 100mm
- Maximum power: 91 horsepower @ 4750 rpm
- Maximum torque: 116 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm
Maximum speed: Over 111 mph
- Compression ratio: 9.6:1
- Valvetrain: Pushrod-actuated OHV w/ two camshafts; 4 vpc
- Cooling: Air and oil
- Transmission: 6-speed (w/ optional reverse)
- Clutch: Single-disc dry w/ slipper function
- Final drive: Shaft
- Frame: Steel-tube double-loop
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 49mm Showa fork; 4.7 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Cantilevered spring-preload adjustable Sachs ZF shock; 3.5 inches
- Wheels: Wire-spoked
- Front wheel: 16 x 3.0
- Rear wheel: 16 x 5.0
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlecruise H50
- Front tire: 130/90 x 16
- Rear tire: 180/65 x 16
- Front brakes: 300mm discs w/ 4-piston Brembo calipers
- Rear brake: 300mm disc w/ 4-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard w/ linked braking
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 68.1 inches
- Rake: 32.7 degrees
- Trail: 5.9 inches
- Seat height: 28.0 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons
- Curb weight: 805 pounds
- Color: Black Storm Metallic
2023 BMW R 18 Classic Price: $17,995 MSRP; $21,455 as tested