Published on March 29th, 2023 | by Boris0
EPICNESS ACHIEVED – THE RUNNING OF THE BIMMERS
EPIC IMAGERY BY NICK “DO NOT VIOLATE THAT DEAD KANGAROO” EDARDS
& with the invaluable assistance of Aaron and Duncan Clifton
This is what happens when you take an R18 Classic, an R18 Highline, and a large professional photographer along for a ride
The concept was simple…
Take professional snapper, Nick Edards, a pair of righteous BMWs, and two mates in case terrible things happened, and spend a weekend blasting some great roads.
The result would be epic images of magnificence and glory.
BMW Motorrad liked the concept, but probably because I did not tell anyone there about the likelihood of terrible things happening, and promptly sent me a pair of 2023 R18s.
One was the R18 Classic – which I immediately allocated to Nick because it had saddlebags where he could carry his cameras, and a screen to assist in him being less wind-blasted.
I took the other one – the Highline, dubbed so for a few reasons, and not just because it had a bigger front wheel. It also came with a lockable fuel cap, hill start control, and Headlight Pro (which includes Adaptive Headlight and Daytime Riding Light), as well heated grips, reverse gear, cruise control, an anti-theft alarm system, a high passenger kit (710mm), and footboards. And to sweeten it even further, mine had the option 719 wheels.
Obviously, BMW let’s you deck your base R18 out with all sorts of goodies, and not just the ones mine and Nick had fitted – so make sure you spend some quality time with the catalogue when you set out to buy one.
I love me some bling. And having ridden all the R18 iterations over many miles, I knew this larger-diameter wheel would make an appreciable difference in corners. And it was also decked out in this killer matte gray-green paint scheme (called Manhattan Metallic, no less), boasted burnished alloy rather than the chrome on Nick’s Classic, and fielded a pair of Akrapovic mufflers with clever little end-caps designed to look like the BMW propellor logo. But of all the things it had, it also had nowhere to strap a bag on.
Obviously, Nick’s camera gear took priority over a change of clothes, wet-weather gear, a healing bottle of whiskey, and all the usual things a man needs with him when he goes motorcycle-riding for two days. So I put what I could fit into a small back-pack and reconciled myself to the way of the pack-mule for 1000-odd kilometres. Just quietly, I hate backpacks. They are stupid, and dangerous in an accident. I can’t quite put my finger on when they became a thing, but they are now quite popular, presumably because people are too dim to grasp the wisdom of the ocky strap, and bike manufacturers don’t always provide a model with anchor points for luggage.
Given I ride all kinds of bikes, I am forced to occasionally use a back-pack. But I always ensure it has nothing hard and nothing heavy in it, so that if terrible things happen, my spine has a chance of making it through.
Nick arrived at my place the night before departure and cast his jaded, Speed Triple- and Fireblade-riding eye over the R18 Classic. Nick’s a big, tall man with crap knees and no great love for cruiser-type bikes, so I was very keen to see how he’d deal with the R18 for 1000 kays.
“You might hate me quite a lot an hour after we leave tomorrow morning,” I said to him as he sat on the bike, trying it out for size.
“It may not take that long,” he grumbled, but avowed the seat was quite comfortable.
Happily, BMW had fitted both bikes with the “comfort” seat – a thicker-padded affair that helped deal with a less-than-sensational rear suspension, which I had interestingly only encountered on the very first variants of the R18 I rode.
As it turned out, the suspension on these latest versions is, put simply, spot on. It’s great. When I asked BMW if it had upgraded the suspension, I was told it had been “sorted” rather than upgraded. The first models released had not been optimally set-up, and while the suspension was adequate, it was not great. And now, as we discovered, it was great. In fact, Nick was full of praise for the suspension.
The next morning we collected Aaron (Yamaha FJR) and Duncan (Kwaka ZX-10), and set off for Goulburn. The route was Singleton, Putty Road, Bells Line, Jenolan Caves Road, Duckmaloi Road, Oberon, Black Springs, Abercombie River, Goulburn. It’s a beaut ride, but one which I have not done in a while, and it would offer Nick many chances to spaff forth gigalitres of photographic creativity so as to achieve full epicness as per my instructions.
“So what am I shooting?” he asked.
“Epic stuff. Glorious vistas. Righteous men contending with the road. General awesomeness and splendid magnificence. Vast skies, endless roads, and majestic panoramas.”
“And you have to be in it?”
“Most of the time, yes.”
“What about the bike I’m riding?”
“Aaron will ride it for the photos.”
“Think National Geographic.”
That’s really all the briefing one needs to give to a professional photographer. They only hear every third word you say anyway, and will invariably do what they want to do, and tell you later it’s what you wanted the whole time. I am wise to them.
Halfway down the Putty, it was obvious to me the R18 Highline was somewhat quicker through corners than Nick’s Classic. We’d enter a corner at the same speed, and as Nick hit approached the apex, a cascade of spark would fan out from his footboard. There would be no sparks from mine. So obviously the ground clearance was improved on the Highline. And with greater ground clearance comes faster corners.
Nick brought up the scraping issues at the first petrol stop.
“I’m very worried about wearing away the footboard,” he said. “The hero-knobs are halfway along, and after that it’s all footboard.”
“You just carry on,” I told him. “BMW knows full well what appalling swine bike reviewers are. Some of them don’t even ride the bikes they’re given. At least when BMW looks at ours the people will know we have been trying.”
We made if off the Putty and onto Bells Line of Road, which was once one of the great riding roads of NSW. It is now rubbish. Not only is it packed with tourists driving 20km/h under the limit as they seek a coffee/bag of apples/fruit-picking experience in one of the many orchards along its length, but it’s also redolent with Highway Patrol cars – some obvious, some rather well-hidden. Thankfully, we got flashed by a truck and dropped the pace back a touch.
About the pace then – as you can imagine, the ZX-10 can get a wiggle on. As can the FJR. I was genuinely curious how the R18s would go in comparison. I am very pleased to tell you they were remarkably able to keep pace. A solid riding pace for me and my mates is usually around the 140 mark. Sure, the Kwaka would gap us when the road got very twisty, and Duncan can certainly motor when he’s of a mind, but Australia has very few roads where the R18 won’t be able to maintain a solid, manful pace.
There’s a lot of integrity in the R18. It works, despite the way it’s styled. Nick was actually impressed.
“It’s actually very good at doing what it does,” he said to me when we pulled over for a bout of epic photography.
“So you don’t hate me?”
“How did you draw that conclusion from what I just said?”
“How about we put the bikes in front of that tree over there? It’s a nice tree.”
“You do what you want with the bikes. I’m not taking any photos of them near that tree.”
We ate lunch in Oberon, and had a further discussion about epic photography.
“How about the next corner you pick to take pictures on isn’t a potential death-trap?”
“I do light. If you crash then I’ll photograph that in great light.”
“No, I mean the turn-around points either side of the corner. That last one had me doing U-turns over double-lines and praying a truck didn’t come over the rise.”
“The light was really good.”
We left Oberon and started heading towards a purple-coloured sky that promised us nothing but soggy everything. I stalled pulling over as long as I could, hoping the road might just skirt the rain that was certainly coming, but eventually pulled over.
Duncan put on his wet-weather gear. Aaron put on his wet-weather gear. Nick put on his wet-weather pants. I just stood on the side of the road and stared at them.
“Did you not bring any wets?” Aaron asked.
“Do you see me putting any on?”
I was wearing a beaut Held jacket lined with GORE-TEX, and it was summer, so I figured my suffering would be minimal. I suggested Nick take some epic images of the impending Rainmageddon.
“The light is wrong,” he said.
We rode on, and very soon the light left altogether to be replaced by rain. A lot of rain. An entirely epic amount. Visibility was down to metres, and it was clear no photos could or would be taken while this was happening.
Which was a shame, because the run from Oberon to Taralga and Goulburn is very scenic. It runs past pine forest plantations, and along ridgelines with stunning views of rolling, gently-hilled, and golden-coloured country Henry Lawson wrote poetry about.
The road surface itself was a lottery. The recent heavy rains had eaten the tarmac in many places, and we did our very best to thread the needle between potholes. But now and again, we failed. We initially failed because we were rain-blind. We later failed because the dappled shadows on the road hid many holes. There were times I was sure I’d done a rim, but the R18 just motored while my spine healed itself.
Quite honestly, no suspension on earth can deal with such potholes. You’re gonna take a hit no matter what you’re riding. Still, the way the R18 dealt with what I threw it into was very impressive. BMW really has sorted the suspension out.
The sun came out just as we were approaching the descent to the Abercrombie River. The vistas were grand and majestic, so we stopped to do some photos and dry my private parts. You’ll recall I was the one without wet-weather gear.
“I just saw a deer,” Aaron said, pointing up the road we’d just ridden, as Nick busied himself with epicness.
“Sshh! He’ll hear you,” I said to Aaron. “If he hears you, he will want to photograph it, and we could be here for hours.”
Nick, if you don’t know, is one of the greatest bird and animal photographers I have ever seen. His bike stuff is so good because he cut his teeth photographing all sorts of winged and clawed vermin that moves in unpredictable ways. Bikes are easy by comparison he tells me.
“How you finding the ergos?” I asked him, convinced his six-foot-three frame and porridge-filled knees might have had enough by now. I was fine, but I spend a lot of time addressing the squat rack and associated iron precisely so I can do things like this without weeping. But I needed my photographer uncrippled until all the epic there was to capture was captured.
“You know what?” Nick said, “It’s surprisingly good. I’m not at all uncomfortable and I fell into the same potholes you did. We were belting along at about 140-150 back there and it was fine.”
“So no hate for me then?”
“Not as far as the BMW is concerned, no.”
By the time we got to Goulburn it was hot and sunny. We were all smiling and our motel was clean. The sheets smelled of soap rather than trucker-sweat and call-girl, and there was a place quite close by that sold ribs lathered in a delightful sauce.
I only like Goulburn when its full of ASBK racers and fans. The rest of the time it’s got far too many police academy recruits and mean-eyed sheep farmers to have any appeal. We had a few pre-dinner beers at the Empire (it was as far as we wanted to walk) and it had little to recommend itself. Sure, there was a table of champions drinking away a decent poker-machine win, but that was about it on that Saturday night.
We were away early the following morning, and I was keen to get the images the rain stopped us from getting the day before.
We stopped a few times, Nick did his sorcery, and it was just after noon when he declared all the epic there was to be photographed, had been photographed.
All that was left to us now was a hot and mindless drone back along Bells Line of Road, which was now filled with Sunday tourists – who, as you know, are many times worse than Saturday tourists, and even more cops.
We made it all the way to Bulga, sweating and weary, the temperature hovering in the high thirties, only to be told the road ahead of us into Singleton was closed.
Apparently, a bike rider in his later years had been belting along at about 140 on his Freedom Eagle, and was setting up to overtake a car. Just as he was about to gun it past, a police car came along the other way. Old mate, for reasons only known to himself, chose to turn his head and see if the police car was going to do a U-turn and pursue him. Which is when he hit the back of the car he was going to overtake.
Which in turn hugely inconvenienced those of us who don’t do such dumb stuff.
But a 20km detour later, and we were home being kissed by air-conditioning and wives. Well, I was. Nick still had a two-hour drive back to Sydney.
He sent me the images a few days later and once again, they blew me away. I trust you’ll enjoy them, as much as I enjoyed banging the R18 Highline around for a weekend. They are a remarkable motorcycle, in my view, and one which BMW has every reason to be proud of.
Nick’s second opinion of the R18 follows, as do a few exchanges he and I had over the two days…
Me: “What about that gate over there?”
Nick: “You want me to take pictures of the gate?”
Me: “No, I was just telling you about the gate in case you wanted to walk further into that field to get more of the sky into the picture.”
Nick: “I have lenses that do all of that.”
Me: “Is there enough epic here?”
Nick: “Do you plan on violating that dead kangaroo?”
Me: “The pine trees are awesome. It looks like Bavaria.”
Nick: “It looks nothing like Bavaria. And the light’s wrong.”
Me: “Shoot it anyway.”
Nick: “The light’s actually not too bad.”
Me: “I told you!”
Nick: “ You said it looked like Bavaria.”
Me: “We should get some shot in front of the Police Academy.”
Me: “I’ll just pull up at the front gate, drop my pants, and…”
WHAT NICK THOUGHT
So here it is, a cruiser review by someone who doesn’t rider cruisers…
I ride an old round-eye Speed Triple and an older FireBlade so 1000km on the BMW R18 was always going to be a combination of “oh, now I get it” and “I really don’t get this” moments.
To be fair, the former outweighed the latter so on balance, it won me over. Sort of.
First impressions. It’s huge and aesthetically, it’s all about that motor, two skull-sized cylinder heads poking out from either side and everything about the bike IS meant to focus your attention on just how huge they are. The rest of the bike, even the engine casings themselves are stripped back and unremarkable to look at. So, you look at the engine and that has all the remarkable you need.
And then I had to ride it. The first couple of hundred kays were not what I would call a pleasant experience. I just couldn’t feel what the bike was doing, what gear it wanted to be in or what incantations I needed to recite to make the front brake do something akin to slowing the bike down.
The brake thing was fairly easily resolved, I’m used to being able to get a bike slowed down with one finger on the front brake and ignoring the rear unless things get fraught but, with the R18, you need at least two fingers, and preferably all of them, on the front lever and you need to use the rear [I did say you have to use the rear brake, but what do I know? I know you only hear every fourth word when I speak that’s what I know – Boris]
Once I got the hang of that, slowing down became less of an issue, although there were a couple of times when I went back to just covering the front brake with one finger and then found less happening than I would’ve liked when I pulled on the lever.
The engine really feels like it was designed to have a propellor and not a drive shaft attached to it. To call it lazy is an understatement, 100km/h in sixth is 2500rpm and it pulls like a train in most gears from idle. It just took a while for me to figure out which gear it wanted me to be in. Generally the answer was ‘any of them’ as there’s torque everywhere.
Gear change is a heel-and-toe job [It doesn’t have to be. I told you that too, but you were once again not tuned to my channel – Boris]. Up-changes with the heel, easy, slick, no need to use the clutch and invariably accompanied by a little bit of a torque induced twitch that was never unsettling. Downshifts were slightly more fiddly as the toe shift is under the back of the left cylinder and just a little awkward for people with troll-sized feet like mine to get to [Did you hear the bit when I told you I know a surgeon who can sort that? – Boris].
A couple of highlights. The seating position was actually pretty comfortable. I’m six-three, so I’m used to feeling cramped on most bikes, but the R18 fitted me pretty damned well. Foot position is slightly constrained by the cylinders and I would’ve liked to have stretched my legs a little at times but anyone shorter than me, which is about 98 per cent of you, wouldn’t have had an issue.
The other highlight was the suspension. The roads we travelled were a mess, the road surfaces were rutted, lumpy, uneven, scarred, and generally crap, but the R18 soaked it up and kept on trucking even when it was being ridden in a way probably more suited to a Speed Triple than a cruiser. The comfortable riding position and effective suspension meant I didn’t feel like I’d been beaten with a meat mallet at the end of either day’s riding. I didn’t expect that. I thought I’d be totally wrecked.
My biggest issue with the bike was ground clearance or lack thereof. In fast sweepers, no issue, but the tighter the corners got, the earlier I’d be grinding away the hero knobs to the point, after two days on the road, the hero knob was gone on one side and I was grinding away the footplate. On twisty roads like Mother Putty, the tighter corners became very wearing, especially after a long day in the saddle, as so much speed would have to be washed off to get around the corner and the slower the speed, the heavier the bike feels [There is a reason I didn’t let you ride the Highline with the extra ground clearance, and yes it has everything to do with my cruel and impish nature – Boris]. But in fast sweepers where only moderate lean-angles were required, it was actually quite entertaining to ride, and it was hard to upset its balance so long as choosing a line and getting the braking out of the way was done early enough.
Did I fall for its charms? Not entirely, but that’s more a function of the fact I’m not a cruiser-guy than any fault of the bike. It acquitted itself far better than I expected it to even when pushed quite hard. It is way more capable than it has any right to be, and that monstrous engine, the focus of the whole bike, does deliver an experience that’s way different from any other bike I’ve ever ridden and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to give it a proper run out in the country.
Bravo BMW, I was a hard nut to crack but the impressions the R18 left with me were a lot more positive than I expected them to be. But can I have an M1000R instead please?