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As the new Transcontinental makes its way into the bagger market, the BMW R 18 is leaving its mark in another Harley-like way. And that’s the ability to serve as an excellent donor motorcycle for a variety of custom builds. Roland Sands, for example, turned the R 18 into a nitrous-injected dragster, while Revival Cycles enshrined its engine in a titanium birdcage. And now, Shinya Kimura has transformed the BMW R 18 into a friendly whale of a cruiser.

The father of Zero Style, Shinya Kimura, makes more than choppers these days

Shinya Kimura on his chrome-and-green 'Faster Son' Yamaha MT-07 custom bike
Shinya Kimura on his ‘Faster Son’ Yamaha MT-07 custom bike | Yamaha

Even if you don’t know Shinya Kimura’s name, you might be familiar with his past work. The Japanese builder is synonymous with ‘Zero Style’ choppers primarily built around Harley-Davidson frames and/or engines. Inspired by the Japanese concept of ‘wabi-sabi,’ which is about the beauty of imperfection, the Zero Style moniker stems from the shop Shinya Kimura founded, Zero Engineering.

But while he earned an international reputation for his choppers and bobbers, Shinya Kimura builds other styles of bikes these days. After building “several hundred low-ridin’ choppers,” he left Zero Engineering and came to California, Bike Exif reports. There, he founded Chabott Engineering in 2006 and continues to take on several projects each year. Recently, for example, he customized a Yamaha MT-07 as part of the company’s Faster Son campaign. And like fellow Japanese ex-pat and motorcycle builder Go Takamine, Kimura is a fan of vintage flat-trackers.

But while he’s no longer tied to Zero Style machines, wabi-sabi principles continue to guide his work and working style. Shinya Kimura also doesn’t sketch or mock-up his builds in CAD, Bike Exif notes. Instead, he gets hands-on with the metal and goes from there. And often, his finished builds have some insectoid qualities, as he studied entomology in college.

His recent BMW R 18 build, though, is named after a very different creature.

Shinya Kimura has ‘Wal’ and truly left his mark on this custom 2021 BMW R 18

The bronze-and-black 2021 BMW R 18 'The Wal' by Shinya Kimura on a California mountain road
2021 BMW R 18 ‘The Wal’ by Shinya Kimura | BMW

BMW approached several customizers about modifying the R 18 as part of the company’s SoulFuel series. Roland Sands’ Dragster is part of this series, as is Kingston Custom’s ‘Spirit of Passion.’ And Shinya Kimura just added the third R 18 build: ‘The Wal,’ which is German for ‘whale.’

As noted earlier, Kimura has a hands-on approach to building bikes. So, before he started doing anything to the donor BMW R 18, he first rode it “for several hundred kilometers to get to know [its] character,” he says. Plus, like Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox, Kimura typically works on vintage machines. So, he needed to get acquainted with “all these computerized systems and wiring,” he says.

And after a series of conversations with BMW employees, he started shaping the R 18 into the kind of motorcycle he’d like to ride.

How Kimura turned a Bavarian cruiser into a mile-munching steampunk whale

The rear 3/4 view of the bronze-and-black 2021 BMW R 18 'The Wal' by Shinya Kimura on a California mountain road
2021 BMW R 18 ‘The Wal’ by Shinya Kimura rear 3/4 | BMW

The first step was modifying the R 18’s cruiser ergonomics into something better-suited for long-distance riding. To do that, Kimura made the handlebars narrower and mounted them lower, and moved the footpegs back. He also installed a new subframe to accommodate the repositioned and redesigned bucket seat. And speaking of the seat, Japanese shop Backdrop Leathers reupholstered it.

After tweaking the riding position, Shinya Kimura then started shaping the custom BMW R 18’s styling. He hand-hammered a new larger fuel tank that supports the bike’s modified riding position; the new tail section is hand-beat, too. Ditto the Wal’s front fairing with its whale-baleen-inspired grille, though the windshield is a BMW R nineT part, Bike Exif says.

However, that grille didn’t inspire the name; it’s the other way around. “Thanks to its mighty engine, the bike is wild and has almost inexhaustible power on the one hand, yet it is completely good-natured on the other. Just like a whale,” Shinya Kimura explains. And seeing as the BMW R 18 is a German bike, he went with the German term for ‘whale.’

Although the Wal looks very different from a standard BMW R 18, it’s mechanically stock. Underneath the bronze-powder-coated bodywork, new side covers, and black-painted exhaust is the same 1802cc air/oil-cooled boxer engine with 91 hp and 116 lb-ft of torque. And like the standard R 18, the Wal has a six-speed manual and shaft drive. However, its stock instruments are mounted on a custom bracket, due to the new fairing.

Can you get a BMW R 18 whale of your own?


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Unfortunately for potential buyers, the Wal is a Shinya Kimura one-off. And given that it’s likely now BMW’s property, it’s probably not for sale.

However, there are aftermarket seats that mimic the Wal’s seat’s curved shape. And the custom bike’s exhaust is the stock BMW R 18 system, just painted black. Admittedly, shaping sheet metal isn’t an easy task. But then, Kimura would likely tell prospective builders to embrace the prospect of imperfection.

So, while this white—er, bronze whale will likely elude rides, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to make your own.

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