Published on June 17th, 2023 | by Boris0
THE 2023 BMW R18 – A THIRD OPINION
WORDS & IMAGES BY AARON CLIFTON – except the really good one, which is by Nick Edards.
When a good mate suffers a personal loss and is caught without transport, lending him a hand, or indeed a bike, is how things need to roll.
Of course, me lending mates bikes I have been entrusted to review is a rare thing and contingent upon several things.
One: I need to know you CAN pay for the entire bike if things go bad. Two: I need to know you WILL actually pay for it. Three: I know where you live and where you work. Four: You’re not as good at fighting with knives as I am.
Aaron ticked those boxes, and truth be told, I was very curious as to how a very fast sportsbike rider would find the R18.
Here’s what he thought…
My wife’s grandfather, Colin, had recently passed away. He was one of the last known cases of polio in Australia and spent his life in a wheelchair. He was devoted to his job at the local hospital where he worked as a Chaplain and, of all things, also gave the Pink Ladies a hand. He was just good like that, and talking people through some of life’s darker times was what he loved.
And despite his handicap, he also had a love of motorcycles and rode a Can-Am Spyder, slightly modified to suit the wheelchair.
He rode as often as he could with a small group of mates from Port Macquarie, and one of their most frequent rides was the run from Port up to South West Rocks to the riverside tavern.
This particular weekend in late March was the day Colin’s friends and family gathered to say our final goodbyes to him. A memorial ride was planned to South West Rocks where a small service was to be held and his ashes were to be released near the lighthouse overlooking the ocean.
As his grandson-in-law, I was set to ride with his mates in his memory…
I’m from the land of sports-bikes; Fireblades and ZX-10s, and I also race motocross. I’ve spent countless weekends and dollars massaging Bridgestone and Dunlop rubber into the tar on the Putty Road, weekends away on rides like the Oxley, and many a long day at Eastern Creek shaving lap times – well, trying to.
But this weekend was not one suited to any sportsbike – and the one I had was not operational, anyway.
Happily, Borrie offered me the BMW R1800 Classic, I’d ridden when we went out to Goulburn not long ago.
“You have to wash it, guard it with your life and write down your thoughts,” he said. “And I know where you live.”
As you’ve already figured, the R18 is worlds removed from the sort of machinery I normally perch on. I have ridden the odd cruiser before, but this was the first time I was able to do some decent miles and properly acquaint myself with the feet-forward concept. And I was really rather keen.
Why was I so keen, you ask? Well, it was something different for me, and there’s something about two 900cc pistons flying out sideways like sledgehammers just in front of your shins that has a somewhat of a ‘bad arse’ appeal to it.
And I’m a mechanic. Big engines make me smile, and I spent a lot of time thinking how I’d love to hear this thing with a set of pipes on it… that sure would be something.
But my wishes and desires aside, it has been said to me this bike is “All about the engine” and while that is true and I really like the engine, the rest of the bike is certainly noteworthy and BMW don’t seem to miss much. Over the weekend I did roughly 650k on this thing and it didn’t disappoint.
My first stint on the Friday evening was into the darkness of the Pacific Highway. I know that road quite well, and it would be torture on a sportsbike, but not so much the R18. The riding position is very comfortable, and the seat-footboard relationship seemed to suit me. The seat cupped my arse in with what was obviously a true and loving embrace. BMW obviously considers comfort a high priority.
The ergos just work, even for taller humans, and contrary to social media mumblings, you have lots of room even with those two cylinder heads in front of your legs.
And no, you don’t get heat off the engine to burn your shins. It was around 35-degrees on this particular Friday and I felt absolutely no super-heated legs.
The lights on the R18 are some of the best I’ve seen. Bright with a wide spread, they lit up the side of the road exceptionally well, which was comforting. I had at least a fair chance at spotting any demon possessed vermin that might decide to hurl itself my way.
The next morning, as we were set to leave Port Macquarie for South West Rocks, the weather was not at all what we had hoped for. It made no difference. We were riding.
But it began to look like a slow ride, as monsoon-like rains hit the mid north coast. Yesterday, I had come to realise the R18 was a very stable machine even when I got all spirited and started levering it into open sweepers at the 140-mark. Rock solid, all the way.
And it was no different in soaking wet conditions. I was a little unsure, being on an unfamiliar bike in far less than ideal conditions, but the big Beemer was flawless.
It was apparent the bike was far more user-friendly than I’d credited it. Sure, jumping off a sportsbike and onto it, the weight is confronting. Then there’s the throw of the crankshaft and that engine torque that twists the bike even at idle can also confront some folks, but BMW have worked this thing into a package that was somehow super-friendly on the road, and the more time I spent with this bike the more I warmed to it.
After Colin’s memorial service, there was a wake at the Riverside Tavern, and I was there for a good hour or two sharing memories of Col with family and mates. I had decided to leave a little earlier as I wanted to spend some time on some twistier roads along the coast and take some photos of the bike.
As I was leaving, Cols mate’, Bob, followed me out to have a closer look at the R18. His first comments were mildly critical.
“The tank seems small,” he said. “You’d be stopping every 200k for fuel”
“Quite the opposite,” I smiled. “I just turned out 260Ks before fuelling up, with no fuel light on.”
He then sat on it, lifted it off the stand, and looked surprised. “That weight is amazing so much better than my V-Star.”
I agreed. “They so seem to have the weight balanced in the right places.”
As we spoke, I realised the R18 was attracting more people who came over for a look. It certainly turns heads, both young and old, and you can see why – big display-piece engine, lots of chrome against black, the lines, shape and angles – it’s all uniquely eye catching.
I set off and headed toward Trial Bay Gaol, and the road in is winding. I never imagined I’d enjoy a twisty road on a cruiser. But this bike was revealing a world to me I never knew existed. I was smiling! On a winding rode! Aboard a cruiser! How is that possible? I’m not pulling 10,000rpm, my knees were never going to contact the tar, corners weren’t approaching me at bullshit rapid pace…yet I’m smiling, truly enjoying corner after corner and then actually disappointed when the corners ended and I arrived at the old gaol.
What really stood out was the suspension. I’d now ridden it in in the rain, in sunshine, on highways and byways, smooth and not-so-smooth roads, and in each situation the R18 was sure-footed. Not once did it give me a moment and considering the amount of torque that 1800cc thrusts at the back wheel that’s saying something.
It’s not the same sort of feeling you get on a litre sportsbike that hurls you forward at eye-watering pace. The R18’s torque rotates the earth beneath you – and the suspension handles it all, and the R18 behaves as it should.
The ride back to port Macquarie was not so splendid the rains had returned. Invest in Held wet weather gear is all I can say…
After an overnight stay in Port and some time spent with Samantha’s family I left early the next morning and arrived home around midday. And part of the deal was to wash the bike, so I did, and then stood staring at it all clean in my driveway.
“Why don’t I hate it?” I said to myself. “I should hate it, I expected to hate it…but I don’t hate it.”
I went over it again, searching for the reason I, as a dedicated sportsbike rider, didn’t hate it. The engine? All torque and heaps of it everywhere in the rev-range. The suspension? Spot on-stable and predictable. It has the most effective rear brake I’ve ever used on a motorcycle. The seat? Brilliant. Ergonomics? Great. Lights? Sensational.
I searched for a negative…saddle bag pannier things! Saddle bags are stupid! Right? Not these ones. They endured flogging rain and stayed bone dry and I had plenty packed into them.
The only negative I could come up with is that I couldn’t see the handlebar switches lit up at night and hit many wrong buttons playing around with the dash display but that’s it…and that’s mostly me being unfamiliar with it.
Before returning it to Boris I took my wife Samantha for a ride. She quickly started going on about how cool this bike was, so she clearly enjoyed sitting on the back.
“I really like it,” she said when we got home. “I want one!”
I’d taken her on many other bikes and she has never once said this.
“Why do you want one?” I asked. “You don’t even ride.”
“I want to learn to ride so I can ride this one,” she replied
I stared at her in silence for a bit.
“We can have the conversation later, “I finally said. “When you’ve put your gear away, please pick me up from Boris’ place in about 20 minutes. He knows where I live. I’d rather go to him.”