Our first tryst with the big Bavarian bruiser turns out to be a torrid affair
Aristocracy is often looked upon with derision for its hold upon societies. It can, however, be hailed for its ability to efficiently carry forward culture for generations. And this is something that struck me while riding the BMW R 18. Most bike makers are trying to forge new trends in the retro-modern segment but in stark contrast to the trend, BMW went almost a century back, to its 1936 R 5 for inspiration. A timeless design is a privilege a few can attain and the BMW R 18 has it. It also has oodles of charm, a trait that always makes a motorcycle special. Back in April last year watching the R 18 get unveiled felt like watching one of those red carpet royalty that you never expect to meet in real life.
We knew BMW will bring the R 18 to India, so I did have hopes. And BMW India has launched the more exclusive First Edition. Unlike the base R 18 the First Edition gets dollops of chrome – on the engine heads, crankcase cover, mirrors and other bits and bobs. Culture is present via hand-painted pinstriping on the tank and rear fenders and also the First Edition badges that the R 18 wears like a brooch on the side panels and seat. The chromed fishtail exhausts hark back to motorcycles of yore and look very distinctive.
All the chrome contrasts well with the motorcycle’s shining black hue. After all, the colour black is associated with royalty and it suits the R 18 well! Look closely and you also notice the attention to detail like the hidden cables, the aeroplane-propeller shaped headlamp DRL, old-school enamel badge on the tank and exposed chassis that looks like a hardtail frame but hides a monoshock under the seat. In my books, the R 18 is a design study with its clean lines and minimalism. Thanks to its gleaming black paintjob, chrome and low, long profile it also commands attention. Many onlookers also did a double-take on noticing the humongous and unconventionally mounted boxer engine – the two large lumps jutting out nearly a feet out of the motorcycle on each side look unreal! Air-cooled motors boast gorgeous architecture and here you can see more of the engine detail without craning your neck. The way the exhaust manifold connects the engine to the fishtail exhausts deserve mention too. Despite the old-school, minimalist attitude the cruiser gets features like keyless ignition, all-LED lighting, a semi-digital instrument console, three riding modes, engine drag control, ASC, MSR and hill-start control. Surprisingly it misses out on cruise control, a fuel gauge and distance to empty indicator, so you have to rely on the low fuel warning indicator. It does get an optional reverse gear that should help in reversing the hefty motorcycle out of a parking space.
Starting her up is an occasion too. Thumb the starter and you are greeted with a firm shake, almost like a firm handshake from someone in a seat of power. The unique shake is due to the motion of the crankshaft, a by-product of the longitudinally-mounted, massive boxer twin motor. The engine settles into a gentle rocking rhythm making you aware of the large pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft moving together in an anti-clockwise motion. The engine displaces 1,802cc and given the large, long-stroke motor configuration it doesn’t rev high. The redline sits at just 5,500rpm. Power output is 91PS while peak torque produced is a prodigious 158Nm, of which 150Nm is available between 2,000rpm to 4,000rpm!
And in typical BMW fashion, the final drive is a shaft. The shaft sits exposed to the elements, though BMW says it has been sealed and is properly weatherproof. It is akin to showing a little skin, a visual treat for the mechanically inclined. At 345kg the R 18 is heavy but the only time you feel the weight is when getting it off the side stand or while executing slow speed U-turns. Of course, the motor is more than capable of melting the weight away from your mind with its performance. There’s ample in reserve to surprise middleweight sportsbikes at traffic lights, but then, the R 18 isn’t about traffic light drags.
It is all about long highway rides with the boxer twin settling into a melodious rhythm, allowing you to surf the large wave of torque. It is also about enjoying that right to left roll courtesy the engine, like slow waltzing together to the tunes of Johann Strauss. To switch to a more energetic tempo you can simply swap between the riding modes, aptly named Rain, Roll and Rock. The last one is my favourite! Besides sharper responses you can also hear the boxer change its tune from a smooth thrum to a bratty note in Rock, complete with pops and bangs! The switch feels like dancing with your partner to the high energetic beat of some Cuban salsa music suddenly. When riding fast, the R 18 will allow some leeway but try throwing it into corners and you will end up scraping metal on the tarmac. It isn’t one to lean into corners too much, as the footpegs are rather quick to dig in. However it feels very composed around corners. So while the R 18 does live up to the expectations you’d have from a BMW in terms of handling, the bike is limited by its clearance issues. The suspension is firm, so less than ideal road surfaces can be a bother but things never get out of hand.
The R 18 gets linked brakes, meaning the front brake lever lets you clamp down on the dual front and single rear brake discs together. Front fork dive under hard braking is well-contained thanks to the rear-biased brake setup and braking is progressive so the R 18 stops well for its size. Still, we feel a set of more upmarket brakes with stronger bite will be more reassuring. In a nutshell, the R 18 is a bike you’d rather barrel down an open highway than go corner-carving in the hills on. And it does a really good job of gobbling down miles – given the torque delivery, you barely need to downshift. Of course, sustaining speeds above, say, 130kmph is a challenge given the lack of wind protection. Clutch action at the lever is also surprisingly light for a large cruiser equipped with a hydraulic clutch, while the gearbox is ultra-slick, adding to comfort and ease of riding. In the city, you really have to be aware of the cylinder heads sticking out, especially when cutting through traffic. The large motor also generates significant amounts of heat in stop and go traffic and can be felt around your ankles. That said, dissipation is quick on the move. Ground clearance looks deceivingly low but not once did the bike scrape its underbelly on speed breakers in town.
The BMW R 18 is not your typical girl next door. Not even the next YouTube sensation. In a world of generic cruisers, the R 18 feels like a high born. She promises to take you back to a world of black and white and deliver an analogue experience untethered by overpowering electronic intervention. At Rs 22.5 lakh ex-showroom she commands a premium, as all great things in life do. The R 18 delivers the essence of motorcycling, to grin, huff, clench your teeth and laugh out loud as you ride into the horizon. It’s like a midsummer romance come alive.
BMW R 18 First Edition
Engine: 1,802cc, Boxer twin-cylinder, air-cooled
Power: 91.1PS @ 4,750rpm
Torque: 158Nm @ 3,000rpm
0-100kmph: 4.8 seconds (claimed)
Price: Rs 22.55 lakh ex-showroom, New Delhi