BMW cannonballs into the retro pool with the R 18

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Photo by BMW

Retro design has been an growing trend among motorcycles and cars alike, but some brands have embraced the approach far more than others. BMW has erred on the conservative side of this phenomenon, until now. The R 18 is a new bike dripping with vintage flair, but it is an attractive addition to the BMW lineup for plenty of other reasons.

BMW r 18 motorcycle front three quarter
BMW

With a sales pitch like “soul is all that matters,” it is clear from the start that the R 18 stands apart from the rest of BMW Motorrad’s stable—and that is before you even get a good look at the machine. Once you lay eyes on the long-and-low motorcycle, all the small vintage design influences begin to manifest. The stamped-appearance exhaust and gas tank shape are flagrantly plucked from the R-series bikes of decades ago. The side silhouette is surprisingly reminiscent of an R/5, an accomplishment that is impressive in a time where so many retro-modern machines end up looking like a slightly over-inflated version of their former selves.

The R 18 is also the first true cruiser in BMW’s stable. The R9T, launched in 2014, was more of a city scrambler, one that nonetheless paved the way for this new R 18. It wasn’t quite a cruiser, neither did it fit into the sport touring, superbike, and adventure segments. The R 18 is categorized alongside R9T currently, but the power and style disparity renders the delta between them rather large.

BMW R 18 engine detail
BMW

The power plant is also worth talking about, since motorcycles are more than styling exercises. The 18 in R 18 is a nod to the 1.8-liter twin cradled in the double-loop steel frame. BMW claims it as the most powerful boxer-twin it has produced, churning out 91 air-cooled horses and 116 pound-feet of torque. That power is transferred to the rear wheel using an open-running shaft drive, which is styled to give the bike a hardtail look while still maintaining a relatively standard-for-a-modern-cruiser 3.5 inches of rear suspension travel.

BMW R 18 gas tank detail
BMW

The cruiser market is a crowded space, with Harley Davidson, Indian, Honda, Moto Guzzi, and more all competing in the same arena. The R 18 certainly looks the part, but time will tell if this new model will hold up as well as its styling. Buyers have higher expectations than ever from motorcycle manufacturers, so the R 18 will need to deliver on its performance promise. From where we sit though, this is great-looking bike with a real shot at making moves in the segment.

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