A look at the star of Villa d’Este: BMW’s Concept R18

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
It’s no secret that BMW Motorrad has a big-bore cruiser in the works. And the teaser campaign has been inspired—with spectacular scratch-built bikes from Custom Works Zon and Revival Cycles showcasing the mighty new powerplant.

The Germans have finally revealed their own prototype: the BMW Concept R18. It’s long, low and devastatingly beautiful.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
BMW invited us to Lake Como to watch the Concept R18 reveal at the prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este. It’s a classy affair, with seersucker jackets and Panama hats for miles. But even in the midst of high fashion and exotic classic cars, the R18 shone brightly.

When we first heard that BMW were working on a cruiser, we immediately had visions of the BMW R 1200 C Montauk—and shuddered. But thankfully, BMW didn’t look to the American market for design inspiration this time.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
Instead, they cast their eyes back to their own past. “There is so much history in BMW,” says design head Edgar Heinrich, “we just don’t always use it. What you see here is one hundred percent BMW—even if it’s a segment we have not been in before.”

BMW drew most of their inspiration from the iconic R5—a bike that Edgar cites as one of his all-time favorites. There are hints of the R50 and later R60/2 too, but looking at the lines and details of the Concept R18, it’s the R5 genes that dominate.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
It’s not just pitched as a retro though; BMW’s hope is that it’ll stand alone as a timeless motorcycle in its own right. The lead designer on the project, Bart Janssen-Groesbeek, says: “Not everyone can be nostalgic about the 30s.”

That whopping boxer motor is a standout feature. BMW are tight-lipped on specs, but we do know that it’s air- and oil-cooled and has a capacity of 1,800 cc. And it’s beautifully finished, with a mix of glass bead-blasted and polished bits.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
A production version of the R18 would need an air box, but on this concept, two polished intakes supply air via a pair of lust-worthy Solex carbs.

And even without an air box or complex electronic package, the motor still looks complete.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
You can see clear shades of the R5 in the Concept R18’s faux hardtail frame; an elegant design that shows off the rear shock without ruining any lines.

The exposed drive shaft is another killer touch—which will make it onto the production bike—along with the interface between the final drive hub and the rear of the frame. And with a 21” front and 18” rear wheel, the stance is just perfekt.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
The hits continue: a classic teardrop fuel tank, a solo seat, and neatly abbreviated fenders. The paint scheme is spot on too—the classic Bavarian combo of piano black and double white pin stripes. Except here, there’s a little flake in some sections of the paint, which Edgar says was to give the bike “a modern edge.”

BMW parked the R18 next to an R5 at the event, and it was uncanny how many details matched up. The BMW Roundels on the tank and engine breastplate are of the vintage variety, and the exhaust is a killer modern take on the fishtails of old Beemers. The grooves in the R18’s headlight lens faintly mimic those on the R5, and even the bend of the handlebars looks similar.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
Finishes are top shelf throughout—but that’s to be expected. Because even though BMW generated the design, it was Ronna Noren [below, second left] of Unique Custom Cycles in Sweden who physically built the bike. Bart actually made fortnightly trips to the UCC workshop to stay close to the project.

Edgar and Bart say that the emphasis was on building some simple and analog—a motorcycle where everything is in full view and nothing’s tucked away.

Ronna Noren of UCC and the Concept R18
A production version of the Concept R18 is expected to roll out in the second half of next year, and obviously it’s going to look a little different. We do know that the motor and frame are production-ready as they stand, but there’s sure to be a little more clutter.

That said, Edgar [below] is adamant that the homologation items that go on the R18 will be easy to take off too. The man’s passionate about customs, and refers to it as the sort of bike he’d build while tinkering in his garage (and wishes it could ship with the Solex carbs attached).

We grabbed a few minutes with him, for a deeper insight into BMW’s thinking.

BMW Motorrad head of design Edgar Heinrich and the Concept R18
EXIF: Did you deliberately set out to design a bike for the American market, or is this a thoroughly ‘pure’ BMW?

Edgar: From the marketing side there is this request: ‘There is a huge market, and for a long time we haven’t really put a foot in the American market with our bikes.’ I mean there is the GS and there is the RR, but in the big chunk where the cruisers are, we don’t have the right bike.

Then there are different ideas on what to do—maybe we do a bike like this, or like that, and we find out that it doesn’t work. If we want to interfere with this segment, we need to do it in our way. That was pretty clear.

Ronna Noren of UCC and the Concept R18
There were several ideas to do something like a Harley, but that that’s not our way. So either we do it in the right way, or we don’t do it at all. That was about the time we did the R nineT. And I think we also got a bit more confident about this thing, because we saw the nineT really works well.

We started with this big boxer engine, and we looked back in our history. We condensed the icons, and took those icons with ‘very BMW’ DNA, and transferred them into these modern types.

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este
You mention the R5 as an influence, but there are clearly shades of bikes like the R50 and R60/2 here too. Was it a combination of a few bikes that led to the Concept R18 design? Basically, yes. But the R5 to me is kind of a hero bike, I don’t know, I just love it. This is why, three years ago, we did the R5 Hommage, when the bike turned 60 years old.

To me, the R5 nowadays is still a very modern concept. It has everything which is still valid in the, let’s say, cruiser segment. You have this very typical triangular frame, you have the teardrop tank, and of course there’s the fork, which was new in those days for the R5.

The proportion, the gesture, the basic elements, they were all there. This is why I love the R5 so much, and we really tried to achieve similar DNA, and the similar feeling of it.

Design sketch for the 2019 BMW Concept R18
It’s quite clear from the line of the frame, and the ‘fake’ hardtail layout, that this is an all-new frame design for BMW. Was that an interesting challenge? Everything was interesting. Not only the frame, but also putting in the linkage, and the engine itself. If you take elements off the bike—like the frame, the engine, the tank, and the fenders—the rest still has to look good. Not like some part is missing. So it’s a very different design.

If you do a modern bike, it usually has an integrated, flowing line. Like a GS, for example. Take one part out, and something is missing. On a bike like this, semantics are very different. A ‘tank’ is a tank, an ‘engine’ is an engine, a ‘seat’ is a seat.

It must look like you can take something out, and you can put something else in. So this customization idea is always present in the bike. So you talk of single units making up a bike, and not of an integrated form.

New BMW 1800cc boxer engine-12
Did this particular motor start with all the extra bits you’d need for production (like an air box) already on, and then get stripped back for the project? That’s exactly how we did not do it. If you put the engine on a stand, it has to look like a masterpiece of metal. And then you add the other stuff. And that was intentionally done with the carburetor thing—we wanted to show that this engine looks in itself as a holistic thing.

You can take stuff off and it still looks good. That’s intentionally done.

Ronna Noren of UCC and the Concept R18
UCC did the actual construction for you, but did Ronna have any design input? Definitely. We’ve known Ronna for a long time and he’s a super expert, so of course we have chats. I have to give great credit to Ronna, I love working with him, and he also appreciates working with us. Because he has freedom.

We sit together and discuss how could we do this, how could we solve that. He has great influence and cool ideas. He’s an expert on the custom scene—he’s in the middle of the ‘in crowd,’ basically. I’m super happy we have him in the team.

BMW Motorrad | Concept R18 story page | Facebook | Instagram | Unique Custom Cycles

The BMW Concept R18 motorcycle, star of the 2019 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este

UPDATE April 3, 2020: The BMW R18 cruiser has now launched.

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