Before climbing aboard the R18, you should rid your mind of all preconceptions, for within minutes it had more than dispelled mine.
Press go and the bike roars into life, shuddering ferociously. Revving it, even with the clutch engaged, results in a powerful bar tug to the left caused by the stroke – a startling surprise initially. And while it may look to all intents and purposes like a cruiser, the R18 certainly doesn’t ride like any I’ve met before. There’s no lumpy, agricultural torque here, instead the 1,800cc, air-cooled boxer delivers it like an upturned pot of velvety cream. It idles at around 900rpm, and as soon as you drop into first and creep above that, the torque is instantaneous, providing a smooth and progressive delivery up to a peak of 158Nm at 3,000rpm. However, more than 150Nm of this is available from as low as 2,000rpm, and up to 4,000rpm – an impressive breadth that is both tangible and useful. In cruisers such as this, horsepower very much takes a backseat, and in the case of the R18, while it’s a respectable 92PS at 4,750rpm, it wains noticeable higher up. Our test bike was fitted with a reverse gear (a £930 option), which while slightly faffy to engage, proved useful when it came to manoeuvring the 345kg behemoth.
Through the smooth gearbox and long ratioed gears I rode (clutchlessly shifting), with our test route comprising everything from narrow country roads to motorways. It’s hard to put into words just how much torque there is on tap, with the R18 cruising at motorway speeds at around 2,700rpm with still plenty more at your fingertips. Third was the sweet spot for much of the B-roads, with the breadth of torque allowing it to pull marvellously.
The three modes of Rock, Roll and Rain offer distinct riding experiences, adjusting the throttle response accordingly. Rock is furious, with an acceleration that flings you back in the sculpted (albeit slightly firm) single seat and threatens to rip your arms from their sockets. Roll, meanwhile, is slightly more refrained but so smooth, perfect for crawling through town or for a more relaxed jaunt. Rain mode is so flat and underwhelming that it’s barely worth your time.
At motorway speeds, it cruises at around 60-70 mpg, dropping to 30-40mpg in traffic and wallowing in the low teens under heavy acceleration. The exhaust seems a tad quiet, but that could soon be fixed post-purchase.
Despite its laid-back rake and long, low chassis, the R18 rides more like a modern classic, turning into corners precisely and dancing nimbly. Unfortunately, the footpegs drag upon a slight lean, meaning you can’t throw it into bends quite as you would a taller machine. The double loop steel-tube frame hides the ‘softail’ cantilever rear, which offers 90mm of travel, while R5-esque sleeves encase the 120mm travel forks. This firm ZF suspension set-up takes no prisoners, and it is at high speeds where it makes the most sense.
In terms of stopping power, the twin-disc set-up at the front and single at the rear feature BMW’s own four-pot callipers. When you squeeze the front it automatically applies a little at the rear, bringing you to a gentle, level stop. Stomp on the rear however, and the rear wheel will lock up, the ABS making a feeble attempt at intervening. Hill start control (a £100 option) serves its purpose, but could be a lot smoother when it comes to pulling away.