BMW R18 review - Pure Retro Joy

James Wong
5 Oct 2021

Its 1,802 cc engine is a polite nonchalance to the electric revolution now upon us...

The R 18 is the sort of motorcycle that will be in the limelight anywhere it goes. Its looks are inspired by the BMW R 5 of the mid 1930s, so it instantly feels “WWII” even though one might not be aware of the era which its design was inspired from. Whether parked at the showroom or cruising on the road, it just commands immense presence with its low-slung stance, extremely long wheelbase and its gargantuan boxer twin that extrudes out of its sides like muscular elbows. 

 A key visual treat often missed by observers is the exposed driveshaft, a carry-over from classic bike design, which looks amazing on the move as it spins. The double-loop steel tube frame, telescopic forks encased in fork sleeves, wire-spoked wheels, mid-mounted foot pegs, tear drop tank and rear swingarm bolted to the rear axle transmission are also design cues from BMW Motorrad tradition. The other prominent visual eye-catcher is the chrome exhaust that runs almost the entire length of the bike; it is artistic as it is functional. 

If you wanted a bike that looks vintage with none of the pains of an actual old bike, the R 18 really hits a home run. 

From The Saddle 

One gets a first taste of the R 18’s size when getting the bike off its side stand, feeling all of its immense unladen weight of 345 kg. However, that’s about the only time you feel the bike’s heft. 

It was definitely comforting to get onto the R 18 for it felt a lot less scary than it looks from afar. Surprisingly, the protruding engine doesn’t get in the way of the seating position at all, but it does obscure the gearbox pegs from the feet so it is occasionally difficult to get in gear properly. 

The handlebars are set for a relaxed cruise, so controls are all within easy reach and feel very well-built. There is only one instrument binnacle and that’s all you need - going back to motorcycle essentials was the brief for the R 18. Distractions are few and far between, which contributes to the good vibes of riding this beast.   

The Ride

Although the R 18 looks intimidating to ride, its civility on the road will really surprise. It isn’t nimble, but it isn’t cumbersome either. It is wieldy enough around traffic that it genuinely feels quite usable every day; does reasonably well around corners and my fears about U-turning were unfounded. It just feels exceptionally well-mannered and incredibly relaxing to ride. The R 18 rides slightly stiff for a cruiser, but for most instances it does the job well enough that you won’t notice it as an issue. 

 There is plenty of torque from the most powerful 2-cylinder boxer engine ever used in motorcycle series production, and that’s what matters most for a cruiser. From 2,000 to 4,000 rpm there is 150 Nm on tap, which means upshifting early is the order of the day. In fact, with peak power arriving at only 4,750rpm, there is rapidly diminishing returns if you try to rev it out to the redline at 5,750 rpm - so don’t. Just ride the surfeit of torque. 

If you hit the sweet spot of that boxer twin, which is probably around 3,000 to 4,000 rpm, the R 18 sounds like it's bringing thunder to where it is headed. The exhaust note feels so vintage you can almost imagine traveling back in time, sounding like a good old propeller plane. There is a good turn of speed and you’d never feel the R 18 is slow. With a tug of the throttle on idle you can feel the bike pulling to one side as a sign of slight unevenness at low revs. What character! 

Our Thoughts

The R 18 is a refreshing hark back to the past - especially for someone like me who loves anything vintage. Its 1,802 cc engine is a polite nonchalance to the electric revolution now upon us, full of warm-as-honey soul and rare big displacement joy. It calls to be enjoyed, not caned. 

With BMW Motorrad quality and engineering, the R 18 feels far more approachable than expected, yet brings upon precious feelings of nostalgia and longing. It really appeals; its pedigree and history really makes it not a mere cruiser but a proper choice for the connoisseur.

In Summary

We Like

Full-bodied soul and spirit. Jaw-dropping looks and a feel-good ride.   

We Don't

Can feel heavy at low car park speeds.   


A proper retro machine with a distinct and lovable character of its own.   

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