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Meet the BMW R 18 cruiser

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Following the world premiere of the new BMW R 18, BMW Motorrad has unveiled the cruiser in South Africa. Our motorcycle journalist Bongiwe Didiza attended the event and shared her first impressions on the cruiser.  

Settling snuggly into my window seat on board the flight to the launch venue – Cape Town, I mused over memories of when I first straddled the R 18 prototype at the media handover of the S 1000 XR, F 900 XR and the F 900 R.  At first glance I had been bowled over at the sight of the sleek low-rider and as airplane cruised closer to the Mother City, I was all but salivating at the thought of actually riding the new cruiser. 

The fact that BMW Motorrad had elected to host the motorcycle media at Lanzerac Wine Estate wasn’t lost on me because similar to fine wine, BMW had certainly taken their time in developing the R 18 model series – I am guesstimating 83 years.  It was roughly in 1935 when BMW first created the R 5, a cruiser which was powered by a 494 cc, 4-stroke, 2-cylinder horizontally opposed boxer engine with a 4-speed transmission.  The R 5 boasted 17.9kW of power, had a wet weight of 175kgs, and a fuel tank capacity of 15L.  

Fast forward to 2020 and BMW Motorrad’s considerable motorcycle manufacturing expertise, resulting in the R 18, was about to be scrutinized in microscopic detail by little old me!

Approaching my-wheels-for-the-day, I was apprehensive about the 345kg weight of the bike in comparison to my body frame and height.

– Bongiwe Didiza, Biking in heels

Day 1

Upon arrival at the award-winning wine estate, we were welcomed by the sight of a shiny, chromed BMW R18 cruiser in all its highly polished splendor. The butterflies in my tummy did a happy dance and I grinned mischievously under my mask. Registration done, I reacquainted myself with journalists I was familiar with and met new friendly faces.   I barely remember chewing my food because I was so eager to jump onto one of the bikes!  Calming myself sufficiently I stopped fidgeting long enough to pay attention to the route briefing then, it was time to gear up and pick a ride.  

As with most BMW bikes fitted with boxer engines, firing up the ignition of the R 18 was an exhilarating, yet fleeting thrill. 

Approaching my-wheels-for-the-day, I was apprehensive about the 345kg weight of the bike in comparison to my body frame and height.  Thanks to the keyless start feature I tucked the cruiser keys safely into my motorcycle leg bag and promptly forgot about them, but was jolted back to reality when I tried to awaken the 1802 cc cruiser which is equipped with the most powerful BMW boxer engine of all time – the Big Boxer.  

As with most BMW bikes fitted with boxer engines, firing up the ignition of the R 18 was an exhilarating, yet fleeting thrill.  As the oil flows from one side of the air-cooled boxer engine to the other, the cruiser physically reverberates, giving the rider an involuntary jiggle which, I quickly learned is best experienced with both feet firmly on the ground.  Anything else could result in an unceremonious descent and severely bruised ego! 

As the convoy of motorcycle journalists and I clutched out of Lanzerac, I felt the customary ache of strained facial muscles and realized I had been grinning from the time I straddled the bike.  Twisting the throttle I heard the roar of the engine as 67kW of power rocketed me towards the renowned scenic beauty of the Cape.  Within minutes, my mind was completely settled about the weight of the R 18 and I confidently rode in formation along with my colleagues. 

The R 18 cruiser comes standard with three riding modes (Rock, Roll, and Rain).  Feeling the admiring glances of other road users I decided to Rock it (like Jon Bon Jovi) for the first leg of the ride.  I made a mental note to Roll (like Mick Jagger) later in the day.   

To show off its cruiser capabilities, BMW Motorrad had us journeying along some of the most breathtaking mountain passes Cape Town has to offer.  Much as I enjoyed soaking in the majestic views I was continually jolted back to reality by the scraping sound of the foot-peg kissing the tarmac each time I leaned into a curve.  In keeping with the BMW Motorrad philosophy, the new BMW R 18, features a laid back positioning of the foot-rests – so-called “mid-mounted footpegs”.  

I had focused so much on the scraping sound that I hadn’t noticed how numb my bum had gotten from the saddle.

– Bongiwe Didiza, biking in heels

This classic position behind the cylinders is designed to enable a relaxed and active riding position for optimum vehicle control. For me, however, it was rather disconcerting and I was frightened one of the pegs would break off at each turn. The unsettling sound made by the scraping footpegs was one of the main discussions by the group when we arrived at our first comfort break.  I wondered if my background on superbikes and dual sports bikes made me lean more than necessary into each curve given that the cruiser is a much lower ride.  I decided to ignore the scraping sound and hope for the best.  

Back in the saddle and heading towards our starting point, I began to get a better understanding of the dynamic lean angle of the cruiser and there was less foot-peg scraping. 

I had focused so much on the scraping sound that I hadn’t noticed how numb my bum had gotten from the saddle.  As comfortable as it looks, the seat is rather firm and I hope BMW has included different seat options in its conversion style design package so that one can choose a more plush accommodation for the buttocks. 

On our way back to the estate for the last time, a malfunctioning traffic light abruptly turned red and I had to dig sharply into my brakes. 

– Bongiwe Didiza, biking in heels

Day 2

I took a differently styled R 18 cruiser which was fitted with a reverse assist function, something I absolutely agree is needed on a beast of this weight! 

Heading out for more riding on the windy mountain passes once more, I was more familiar with the machine and spent more time savoring my surroundings – residents of Johannesburg’s concrete jungle will understand what I mean!  

On our way back to the estate for the last time, a malfunctioning traffic light abruptly turned red and I had to dig sharply into my brakes.  Until then, I had not had any intentions of testing the ABS and Automatic Stability control functions but the BMW braking system did not disappoint.  Having to apply the brakes that sharply reminded me of a conversation I had had with a friend who had commented that the braking system of a cruiser is not enjoyable because one has to anticipate slowing down, otherwise the bike would not come to a comfortable stop. I won’t say which cruiser he has had that experience on but I’ll be sure to let him know that this is not the case with the new BMW R 18 model. 

Environmentally conscious motorists will be pleased to learn that the R 18 only emits 129 g/km, proving once again that bikes are better for the environment than conventional cars.

Much as I enjoyed the BMW R 18 cruiser, there were two big let downs which I found quite difficult to ignore.  Firstly, the reverse function seemed a tad tricky to operate.  I am not sure it was simply a malfunction on the bike the demonstration was conducted on or if it is a problem across the R 18 range. Regardless, it seems that when operating the reverse function, the rider is required to firmly push down and hold the reverse gear in place while simultaneously pushing the bike backward for the function to kick in and automatically reverse the bike.  In practical terms, this means you only have the use of your right hand to steer the bike until the reverse function kicks in. As you can imagine, this isn’t ideal and it would be best that you balance yourself very well while in reverse mode, or else! 

The other let down is the absence of a fuel gauge which I found completely bizzare!

– bongiwe didiza, biking in heels

When following up on this problem with BMW Motored after the launch, I was happy to learn that my experience with the reverse function should be considered an isolated event and that the standard operating methodology is much simpler and safer. In reality, when engaging the reverse function, the rider is only required to lock the reverse gear firmly into place (as you would in a car), then gently open the throttle to allow the cruiser to start reversing. The rider would ordinarily have both hands on the handles. When I do get the R 18 on test in the coming weeks, I will be sure to try out the reverse function first.

I’m quite impressed that the carbon emissions of R 18 is relatively lower than that of other bikes.

– songo didiza, green mobility guru, driving in heels

The other let down is the bizarre absence of a fuel gauge which I found completely weird. Of course at the launch, our bikes were refueled over night for us, but as a customer, I think it may take a few embarrassing jogs to the nearest fuel station with an empty coke bottle in hand before one learns how many kilometers can comfortably be covered before having to refuel.

Environmentally conscious motorists will be pleased to learn that the BMW R 18 is a relatively emitter of carbon emissions at only emits 129 g/km, proving once again that bikes are better for the environment than conventional cars. “For a bike of this size and engine capacity, I am quite impressed at it’s carbon emissions of 129g/km, which is relatively lower than that of smaller bikes. Bikes such as the S 1000 XR emit 144g/km and similarly, the S 1000 RR emits 149g/km,” says Songo Didiza, Green Mobility Guru for Driving In Heels and Founder of Green Building Design Group.

The new BMW R 18 is offered as an exclusive R 18 Classic First Edition is priced at R319 900-00.

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