After nine years of solid growth BMW are hoping 2020 will become their tenth with important new bikes such as the F900XR, but they’re also pinning their hopes on the soon to be fully revealed R18. Markus Schramm, BMW CEO and a fanatical biker, thinks this could be the machine that really takes it to the folks in Milwaukee.
"We have proven in the past that we can enter new segments we have not been in before," Schramm told MCN. "Take the S1000RR in 2009 - we were not part of the superbike world and now we are one of the leaders on superbike sales.
"It’s important for us to bring an emotional bike for BMW – we are not copying anybody. I think we have a good opportunity to grab a big slice of this huge segment. It’s 350,000 out of 1 million bikes above 500cc and the feedback we’ve had to the R18 concept is very promising."
Even for their new markets and going right back into BMW history, the marque has always been about performance first and foremost, so the R18 seems like a departure; style over substance. Schramm isn’t concerned.
"It’s a different mindset. Our core business is about pace and performance, but we also look at convenience and connectivity with our scooters and then we have heritage with the R nineT. The difference between nineT and cruiser is not that far – it’s all about customising, purity, simplicity. That’s where we are strong. We are looking forward to it."
Of course BMW will not be the first to attempt to take on Harley – their last attempt the R1200C failed as badly as others from outside the US. So what’s changed?
"I think coming from the heritage perspective – not just technically but also in design. The shape of the tank and frame come straight from our history. Ten years ago we weren’t really part of the custom scene but these days it’s very different.
"We’re not just going after Harley. We want to present biking as an analogue island in a digital world."
BMW say they will launch the R18 in the latter half of the year, possibly at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the USA.
Torque of the town? BMW working on an R18 cruiser with serious twist
BMW are working on a second R18 engined model that will place a big cruiser version alongside the naked bobber they have been teasing us with for some time. Although MCN first spotted a full-dress touring model months ago (ahead of the bobber, in fact), all of BMW's teaser campaign has been focussed on the bobber – with nothing more than 'no comment' about a Harley-Davidson rivalling traditional tourer.
But this is the first time we have seen a bagger test mule that appears to be almost production-ready. The spy shots also reveal that while the styling is typically American-traditional bagger, it's actually bristling with the very latest modern technology.
At its heart is the same 1802cc flat-twin boxer that BMW have already unveiled, which we know produces 89.8bhp @ 4750rpm as well as an earth-pummeling 116.5ftlbs of torque. We also know its mated to a six-speed gearbox for effortless cruising and that there will be an optional reverse gear that uses the starter motor to help riders paddle the bike backwards from standstill (rather than actually acting as a mechanical reverse). The twin chrome exhausts elegantly sweep from the heads back to their exit with straight-through style serenity – an optical illusion that masks the under-engine collector with shielded pipework that snakes in and back out again, just like Triumph's T120s
Like the rest of the the BMW's heritage R-series machines, the R18 engine uses a shaft final drive, although it's fully exposed on both R18 models, rather than enclosed. The chassis of this bagger version also appears to be the same as – or at least very similar to – the concept R18 bobber we’ve already seen, using a steel cradle main frame that holds the engine in the middle. The back-end uses a ‘softail’ arrangement to keep that authentic heritage feel, with an integrated final drive – just like the original 1930s bikes. The large swooping back mudguard effectively forms the rear subframe.
Where this tourer really begins to differ from the naked machine is the addition of full-dress bagger parts. Up front there’s a huge batwing-style fairing that's packed full of the latest tech. As well as a pleasing quartet of large, round clock units that presumably show speed, revs, temperature and fuel load – there’s an absolutely huge TFT screen. This will act as the infotainment control and display centre, handling navigation duties as well as music and other multimedia functions.
This could even see the firm debut a CarPlay connection, as first seen on two wheels on Honda's current Gold Wing (and now Africa Twin, too). Flanking the huge screen are a pair of equally enormous speakers (none are visible in the pannier lids), while the visible switchgear reveals that BMW will continue to use the set-up seen on the majority of their big bikes, including the intuitive command wheel on the left-hand switchgear
But look closely at the front of the fairing above the headlight and there’s a telltale little box that suggests the bagger will boast adaptive cruise control – and possibly other radar-driven safety benefits – which will slow down the bike in traffic, then gently resume cruising speed when the way ahead has cleared. Talking of the headlamp, the large single LED unit appears to have a perimeter ring DRL, and be backed-up by twin spotlights nestling each side – another definite nod to this bike's American market aspirations.
Meanwhile, the rear lighting duties are all carried out by two pannier-mounted LED clusters that incorporate running lights, brake lights and indicators in each unit – with no single central rear light.
For more long-distance comfort there are a pair of lower leg fairings, as well as a large rider and pillion seat. The bagger has two top-loading hard panniers fitted as standard and we would fully expect there to be luggage rack and top-box options available. The side bags must be hard-mounted, as removing them would also remove the bike's rear lighting.
With all this tech we wouldn’t expect to see much change out of £20,000 and a fully-loaded version could conceivably stretch well beyond that to rival Harley's £24,695 Road Glide Limited and Ultra Limited.
There’s been no word from BMW on when we can expect to see either this model or the R18 bobber variant, but their accelerating campaign around the bobber – including private screenings of a near production-ready concept at MCN's London show earlier this month – suggests it could be unveiled as early as July, ahead of the Sturgis motorcycle rally in America, which starts on August 7.
Whether this bagger version will come at the same time is unclear, but with this test mule looking so close to being production-ready, we wouldn't bet against both models being unveiled simultaneously.
As ever, keep an eye out on MCN for more news as it happens. Watch out for the BMW R18 review coming soon...
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