The Iron Throne of Westeros. Morbius’ red leather wingback chair. The command chair on the U.S.S. Enterprise. These iconic thrones all have one thing in common: they are designed to convey and instill pure power.
The geniuses at BMW have bottled and packaged that same feeling in their latest offering, the 2021 BMW R18; a soulful behemoth of a bike that makes you feel like royalty while providing enough power to hurtle you through time and space faster than a Tardis.
Every aspect of design, build and performance has been crafted to instill a sense of majesty. From the moment you swing your leg over this chariot of solid steel, you feel it. The wide stance and grip. The laid-back sitting position. The generous and ample seat. The sturdy floorboards. You feel comfortable, grounded and confident.
Time to let it loose
But don’t let this comfort fool you. This isn’t a La-Z-boy recliner, this is the Millennium Falcon and the R18’s 1802cc engine is ready to take you to warp speed. With the largest engine displacement ever produced by BMW, the R18 has the power to make every ride a heart-stopping thrill.
If there’s one thing the R18 doesn’t do well, it’s sit still. At a stop, it’s like a caged and strapped horse at a rodeo as the twin boxer engine lurches laterally from side to side. The bike abhors being stopped and will buck under you until you let it loose, which makes city riding a bit of a chore. Get this bike out on the open road though, and BMW’s luxury touches will keep you wanting to stay in the saddle all day long.
Luxury at an economic price
In my time with the R18, I was lucky enough to ride under various conditions: dry, wet, warm and cool, in city and out in the open. This is where the R18’s three standard ride modes proved their worth.
While in the city, ‘Roll’ provided just the right amount of power and brake response to handle constant stops and jockeying for road position.
When I was hit by a surprising (and very heavy) rainfall halfway between the middle of nowhere and somewhere I’d never been, ‘Rain’ instinctively softened the throttle and brake response, smoothing out any of my sharp reactions and helping to instill a sense of calm to carry me through the worst weather.
But the R18 really shines in ‘Rock’ mode, when throttle response is immediate, powerful and heart-lurching-towards-your-spine exhilarating. My best moments on the bike were among the traffic-free open roads far north of the city. Along those sweet stretches of asphalt, I don’t think the smile ever left my face.
An endlessly customizable motorbike
Add to this BMW’s keyless start and quality finishes and you have a bike that looks and feels luxurious while still absolutely kicking ass.
But BMW doesn’t stop there. The R18 is endlessly customizable with accessories and additions. Bells and whistles on my demo ride included the aforementioned floorboards, heated grips, reverse assist and cruise control (which, for the record, is absolutely divine).
BMW has even introduced pre-packaged models for 2022 to appeal to individual tastes. From the nostalgic lines and stripped-down windscreen of the Classic to the ultra-luxurious wide-fairing and hard-bagged Transcontinental.
And at an MSRP of just under $21,000 CAD, BMW is offering the R18 at a reasonable price for an exceptional amount of bike.
It’s hard to miss the R18, the twin-cylinder Big Boxer engine creates a wide profile which dominates the road. The bike’s long lines and distinct engine growl add to its distinctive look and feel, an echo of BMW’s famous 30’s boxer.
Wherever it goes, the R18 demands attention. My ride day included a stop at a popular biker hang out north of Toronto, where as I arrived a group of 30 or so riders had just pulled into the local coffee joint (Higher Ground Café in Belfountain – do yourself a favour and check it out, the coffee is great, sandwiches delish and there are treats galore). The R18 had everyone in its thrall. I spent most of my visit chatting with other riders who just couldn’t get enough of the bike’s iconic cruiser styling and lines.
However, despite looks which would make a rider feel guilty for wanting to cheat on their bike, the R18’s style puts me in mind of one of my favourite Shakespeare quotes, “rich, not gaudy.” The overall feel is powerfully impressive but not overly ostentatious.
It all comes at a cost
The R18 is a fabulous ride. It is sheer beauty in motion. It is also one heavy-ass bike.
At a whopping 760 lbs wet, it is frustratingly heavy for a small rider like me. I suppose that heft is important. When you crank the throttle, that formidable weight is likely the only thing keeping you from hurtling into the stratosphere. But managing the bike once stopped or, gods forbid, on uneven ground, is a chore. A few times during my day, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it off it’s kickstand because the bike was leaning far enough over that I could barely get it up right. It was like wrestling a musk ox, or the Borg. Futile.
And call me old fashioned, but I prefer a definitive and hearty ‘clunk’ when I drop my shift lever from neutral into first. It helps me to feel instinctively that the bike is ready to go. On the R18, that first shift is imperceptible. I had to keep looking down at the display for confirmation. And compared to the ample floorboards of my test model, the gear shift is ridiculously small and easy to miss. There’s a fine line between subtlety and practicality and here, I think BMW missed the mark.
I suppose that these are all quibbles, idiosyncrasies that one could ‘get used to’, but they diminish an otherwise spectacular ride.
In the end, though I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the R18, it’s not the bike for me. I prefer dexterity over strength, look for a bike as equally comfortable within the confines of the city as on the open road and which doesn’t outweigh me by nearly 600 lbs.
But that doesn’t make the R18 any less regal.