The 2021 BMW R18 Cruiser Is a Bavarian Harley-Davidson

Usually, adventure bikes are the first things that come to mind when thinking about BMW motorcycles. But the German company also offers sportbikes and some scrambler look-alikes. And for a brief period, it had a cruiser, too. But despite starring in a James Bond movie, the R1200C wasn’t particularly popular. However, the company is taking another go at the cruiser segment with the 2021 BMW R18. And it might be enough to make Harley-Davidson worry.

What does the 2021 BMW R18 offer?

1998 BMW R1200C with yellow tank, sitting parked on gravel road
1998 BMW R1200C | BMW

Whether or not a motorcycle is appealing is entirely up to the viewer. However, from a design perspective, the 2021 BMW R18 is significantly more traditionally cruiser-like than the R1200C, reports. Not only are all the necessary cables and wires hidden away, but even the spark plugs are also covered up, Cycle World reports.

The black-and-chrome-trimmed 2021 BMW R18 First Edition
2021 BMW R18 First Edition | BMW

Speaking of spark plugs, arguably where the BMW R18 departs the most from the typical cruiser formula is its engine. Harley-Davidson’s and Indian’s bikes have V-twins; several affordable Japanese cruisers use parallel- or inline-twin engines. However, in keeping with the classic BMW motorcycle formula, the R18 has a 1802cc boxer-twin engine, RideApart reports.

A close-up of the 2021 BMW R18 First Edition's driveshaft
2021 BMW R18 First Edition driveshaft | BMW

It’s the biggest boxer the company has ever made, and it makes 81 hp and 103 lb-ft at the rear wheel, Cycle World reports. At the crank, it makes 91 hp and 116 lb-ft, Revzilla reports. And again, like many classic BMWs, that power goes to the rear wheel via shaft-drive, not belt- or chain-drive. It’s routed there via a 6-speed transmission which also has an optional reverse gear.

The BMW R18 needs that reverse gear, though, because it’s not exactly light. With all its fluids, it weighs 761 pounds. But that’s due to all the real-metal parts. Luckily, it has ABS-equipped Brembo brakes to help slow it down. The cruiser also comes with multiple riding modes, a slipper clutch, traction control (called ‘stability control’ by BMW), and engine-drag control. That last feature helps control rear-wheel traction when you’re decelerating. There’s also an optional hill-start assist available.

The speedometer and LCD screen in the 2021 BMW R18 First Edition's gauge
2021 BMW R18 First Edition gauge | BMW

The BMW R18 only has one gauge, a speedometer with an LCD screen. The latter displays the odometer, trip meter, RPM, and time. However, there is no fuel gauge, only a low-fuel light.

What’s it like to ride?

The 2021 BMW R18 next to its R5 predecessor
2021 BMW R18 (left) with BMW R5 | BMW

Part of the cruiser appeal is the ‘long and low’ design, and the 2021 BMW R18 nails that. Its seat is 27.2” high, which Revzilla notes is almost 3” lower than the Honda Grom’s seat. The stock seat itself, though, may not be comfortable for everyone. Revzilla and Cycle World reviewers noted that it grew uncomfortable over long rides. However, RideApart didn’t report such an issue.

As with other cruisers, the R18 doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance or suspension travel, notes. At the rear, it only has 3.5” of travel; at the front, there’s 4.7” of travel. However, Cycle World notes the front travel “is plenty,” while the rear travel “is enough.” But, RideApart and Revzilla note, the relative lack of ground clearance limits the lean angle. Go into a corner too sharply, and you’ll likely scrape the pegs.

When you’re stopped, the R18’s weight can be an issue, especially for smaller riders. But at speed, the cruiser turns in surprisingly well. Plus, the brakes are very effective, especially because the brake lever is ‘triple-linked.’ The brake pedal only controls the rear single disc. However, the brake lever activates both the rear and the dual front discs. The clutch is also easy to pull, and the transmission shifts smoothly.

The view of the black 2021 BMW R18 from the saddle
2021 BMW R18 handlebars | BMW

Because of the boxer engine’s design, the BMW R18 has mid-mounted foot controls; the typical cruiser standard is forward-mounted ones. Ergonomically, though, that’s not an issue, Cycle World reports. And though the reach to the handlebars may be long for some, you’re not overly stretched-out. Also, if you’re worried about leaving your feet so close to those cylinders, Revzilla reports heat isn’t an issue. However, vibration at high RPMs might be, though it’s unlikely most cruiser riders will find themselves there.

How does the 2021 BMW R18 compare to Harley-Davidson’s cruisers?

The 2021 BMW R18 starts at $17,495. The limited-production First Edition Package costs $2150 extra and adds extra chrome trim, a metal-embossed seat, a white tank pinstripe, and a tool kit. If you want heated grips or that reverse gear, though, those cost extra.

BMW targeted the Harley-Davidson Softail line when designing the R18, reports, especially the Softail Slim. It has a 1753cc V-twin, rated at 110 lb-ft. At 671 pounds, it’s lighter than the R18, Cycle World reports. Plus, it has more front suspension travel, only 0.1″ less rear travel, and an even lower seat. Also, with a $15,999 base price, it’s noticeably cheaper; ABS adds just $795. However, its belt-drive requires more maintenance than a shaft-drive, and it only has one front disc brake.


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Or, for just $500 more than the BMW R18, you can get the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S. Its 1868cc V-twin makes 119 lb-ft, and the bike itself weighs about 70 pounds less than the R18. It has more suspension travel than the R18, Cycle World reports, and its seat is about 0.7” lower. And it’s a fairly sporty bike, RideApart reports, with ergonomically-friendly mid-mounted controls. However, while it has ABS, it’s only on the front wheel.

Ultimately, deciding between these bikes will come down to your level of comfort behind the handlebars. But it’s safe to say that at the very least, the R18 makes a worthy Harley-Davidson rival.

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