BMW Unveils Concept R18 Motorcycle

New BMW Concept comes closer to the final production cruiser

The long tease, the heightened anticipation, and the long parade of concept bikes are over at last. The wait is done, and BMW’s new 1,800cc bike is here. Sort of.

We say "sort of" because it's still a concept, but it is an official one. Making its world debut at the Concorso d'Eleganza on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, this weekend was BMW's Concept R18, "official" because the engine has been packaged in multiple other concept bikes, such as last year's Mooneyes-winning "Departed" build as well as the Revival Cycles Birdcage BMW, but this one wears full blue-and-white BMW badging.

BMW Concept R18 in a park
The BMW Concept R18 is the closest thing we’ve seen to the incoming production model based around the 1,800cc powerplant.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

Was the wait worth it? Well, if nothing else, the anticipation that's been building for close to a year now can finally morph into a concrete sense of…inevitability? Either way, it’s got the BMW stamp on it, so that’s reason enough to pop the cork.

BMW Concept R18 in the sunset
In the right light, the Concept R18 looks like the R5, which first premiered in the 1930s.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

A first glance will tell you BMW played things pretty conservatively with the new design. It looks much like an updated bobber, in a classic style that riffs heavily on the old R5 model from the ’30s. Indeed, the R5 Hommage bike from the 2016 Concorso was pretty close in style and intent, bridging the gap between new and old. BMW plays to its strengths on this Concept, but it doesn’t bash you over the head with them: Here’s the signature boxer jug on either side, here’s the chrome shaft drive (exposed), over here’s the loop frame and, of course, the classic black paint with hand-laid double pinstripes on the teardrop fuel tank. (Although that color scheme looks traditional, it isn't entirely old-school; a special membrane is incorporated into the different layers of paint creating an odd sense of depth. Look at the shots with light hitting the surface.) It even looks like BMW went to great pains to make Concept R18 look like a hardtail, but a closer peek uncovers a cleverly tucked-in solo shock riding under the saddle.

BMW Concept R18 right side
Minimal styling allows most of the focus to fall on the Concept R18’s massive engine.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

It’s touches like that that give Concept R18 a sort of BMW elegance. You don’t see any wigged-out flourishes, just the basics done in solid, well-balanced proportions and a continuous, subtle line from the steering head to the enclosed rear-axle cover. You can barely pick out any electronics; this is the anti-tech BMW.

BMW R5 unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este
Supercharged BMW R5 unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este a couple of years ago.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

It’s all eclipsed by that massive boxer engine, the centerpiece of the Concept R18. The newly developed flat twin-cylinder engine with a 1.8-liter capacity benefits from a modern air-/oil-cooling system, but really, that looks about it; BMW went hard on the classical appearance, using wire spoke wheels, a solo seat and covered fork legs, and having the glass-blasted, matt surfaces of the engine block and gearbox contrast with the glossy polished aluminum parts.

A 21-inch spoked front wheel with inverted fork and dual front disc brakes on the Concept R18
A 21-inch spoked front wheel with inverted fork and dual front disc brakes on the Concept R18.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

BMW has been hinting for years that it wanted to return to the cruiser arena in a big way, and this Concept R18 may be the first shot at reconnecting an old-school form with clean, modern custom style. Will this one make it into production? Maybe, but the Concept R18 is also definitely a concept. “We have used the Concept R18 to demonstrate what an update of a 1960s boxer could look like today as a purist custom bike,” explained Edgar Heinrich, head of BMW Motorrad Design.

BMW Concept R18 dual fishtail pipes
Dual fishtail pipes sounded mean as the bike was ridden into the Concorso d’Eleganza.Courtesy BMW Motorrad

"It's exciting to see BMW pushing to do something new with cruisers. We've seen European brands putting out new retro-inspired scramblers and café racers, while the cruiser market remains relatively unchanged. It's hard to say how much of this concept design will make it to market, but it's great to see that BMW's designers are focusing on what I would say are the right things: minimal design with a focus on the powerplant, and a strong emotional connection to the bike—visual and otherwise," said Morgan Gales, Cruiser's Editor-in-Chief.

Retro detail on the BMW concept R18
While the exposed shaft drive is a risky move for a production bike, it’s an awesome retro detail on the concept.Courtesy BMW Motorrad
BMW Concept R18 intake pipes underneath the rear shock
Two long intake pipes lead to the carburetor behind the engine, underneath the rear shock.Courtesy BMW Motorrad
BMW concept R18 loop swingarm
The loop swingarm is reminiscent of the BMW R5’s rigid axle plates.Courtesy BMW Motorrad
The BMW Motorrad Concept R18 shows how a forward projection of a 1960s boxer engine could look like today
“The BMW Motorrad Concept R18 shows how a forward projection of a 1960s boxer engine could look like today as a purist custom bike in combination with all the classic design icons of BMW Motorrad design.”Courtesy BMW Motorrad
The unique headlight on the BMW Concept R18.
The unique headlight on the Concept R18.Courtesy BMW Motorrad
BMW Concept R18
The BMW badge worn on the Concept R18 just stokes the flame of our excitement for the final production model.Courtesy BMW Motorrad
BMW Concept R18 swingarm
The swingarm-mounted fender reminds us of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber. Will the production R18 be similar to the niche Triumph cruiser?Courtesy BMW Motorrad
BMW Concept R18 license plate mount
A license plate mount hints that the Concept R18 is ready to be registered and hit the road. We can’t wait!Courtesy BMW Motorrad