by Dustin Wheelen from https://www.rideapart.com
A Tour(ing) De Force – Conquering California’s coast with a Bavarian bagger.
BMW made no bones about moving in on the Harley-dominated cruiser market when it launched the R 18 in April, 2020. Drawing from the Motor Company’s Softail Slim, the Bavarians literally took a page out of Harley’s book to attract buyers. BMW then returned to the well in October, 2020, introducing the R 18 Classic. Equipped with leather bags and a large windshield, the variant shared more than a moniker with Harley’s Heritage Classic.
That first offensive wasn’t BMW’s endgame, however. To truly hit the Harley where it hurts, the company went after the Bar and Shield’s bread and butter: the grand touring segment. Released in July, 2021, the R 18 B added long-distance comfort and convenience to the platform’s repertoire. BMW did more than just slap on a full-size fairing and hard bags though. The House of Munich re-engineered the chassis to suit the cruiser’s new touring ambitions as well.
A 19-inch front wheel steps in for the R18’s 16-incher, the rake tightens to 27.3 degrees, and the wheelbase shrinks to 66.7 inches. That revised double-loop frame not only accommodates two-up touring but also lightened the standard model’s heavy steering. BMW addressed another common R 18 complaint when it increased the bagger’s rear suspension travel to 4.7 inches while adding position-dependent damping and hydraulically adjustable ride height.
The advanced technology doesn’t stop at the tail end though. The new front fairing houses the IMAX of all motorcycle displays, a 10.25-inch-wide, HD resolution (1920 x 720) TFT dash. On the left switchgear, BMW’s trademark WonderWheel makes its R 18 debut, allowing riders to scroll through the bike’s diagnostics, settings, and available navigation. The Marshall stereo system encourages users to jam out to local radio stations or Bluetooth-connected media while the optional radar-assisted adaptive cruise control outfits the R 18 B for the long haul.
Improved geometry and cutting-edge tech may lead BMW’s latest charge, but the Beemer still has to stand up to the class benchmark: the Harley-Davidson Street Glide. With that gold standard in mind, we set out for a 1,100-mile trip up the California coast to test whether the new BMW R 18 B is a checkmate in a brewing battle of the baggers.
Despite all the changes that went into the R 18 B, the big-bore boxer remains unchanged. The air/liquid-cooled, 1,802cc opposed twin still produces 116 ft-lb of torque (at 3,000 rpm) and 91 horsepower (at 4,750 rpm). For that reason, the Beemer shines between 3,000 rpm and 4,000 rpm. Within that range, the bagger pulls like a freight train, but as the torque curve dives, the R 18 B’s direct throttle response trails off as well. Beyond the 4,000-rpm mark, the burly boxer still chugs up to its 5,500-rpm redline, but without all the gusto found in the mid-range.
Though the R 18 B idles at around 1,000 rpm, riders have to coax the 1.8-liter engine up to 2,000 rpm, or else it stutters and bogs away from the line. Lean fueling (due to modern emissions standards) may be the root of the issue, but riders can manage takeoffs with a conservative clutch hand and a liberal right wrist.
The narrow powerband may be a limiting factor, but the mid-range also dampens the boxer’s raucous vibrations. In the lower gears, the vibes are most prominent, buzzing through the bars and mini-floorboards. At highway speeds, however, the sensation is much more tolerable.
At 70 mph in sixth gear, the R 18 B lumbers along at a steady pace, though throttle pick up slightly lags. As a result, I regularly cruised at highway speeds in fifth gear to stay within the 3,000-4,000-rpm sweet spot, which yields the best passing power for emergency situations. While the power pulses and delivery presented challenges, the optional adaptive cruise control (ACC) smoothed out all the rough edges.
The Bosch-developed system operates similar to standard cruise control, but with a following distance button at the right switchgear, the rider remains in control of the semi-automated functions. Even in the closest setting, the three-second buffer between the BMW and the vehicle ahead leaves enough time for the evasive maneuvers. If that following distance is too close for comfort, two additional settings enable users to extend that cushion to a more cautious gap.
On the open road, ACC proved invaluable. Those familiar with motorcycle cruise control systems know that the technology not only covers ground in the most efficient manner but also provides much-needed rest for the rider’s right wrist. With ACC, on the other hand, the user is even freer to set it and forget it. Gliding down the road at 75 mph, I regularly let the system take me along for the ride while I added intermittent steering inputs. Even when a car cut into my lane, the R 18 B throttled down to a comfortable 65 mph in a matter of seconds to maintain my buffer zone.
In those situations, ACC kicked in immediately but not abruptly. I never felt like I (or the system) was out of control. Of course, pulling in the clutch or brake lever disengages the cruise control, but users can also override the system with extra throttle if they need to escape a hairy situation. The ACC is also quite intuitive, slowing to the set speed after a throttle burst or ramping up once the vehicle ahead switches lanes.
The system not only accurately distinguishes between cars in neighboring lanes, but if the fairing-integrated radar detects a vehicle ahead picking up speed, it proportionately adds throttle as well. In its category, BMW’s R 18 B is the first to adopt the Bosch-developed ACC and that gives the Bavarian bagger a definite edge in technology. However, there’s more to touring than gizmos and gadgets, and the R 18 B brings its own bag of tricks to the party.
Every Twist And Turn
While the standard R 18 favored a stance and style perfect for bar-hopping, BMW had to outfit the touring variant for cross-country travels. To make the handling more responsive, the firm steepened the bagger’s rake by more than five degrees. The 19-inch wheel may seem counterintuitive to those goals, but the R 18 B changes direction with the slightest input at the handlebars.
Shod in Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 tires, the larger front wheel and 49mm fork did a commendable job of communicating the differing road surfaces. From super slab interstates to gravel-strewn backroads to tar-snaked twisties, I always understood the bagger’s available grip. At lean, the front end was just as accurate, providing predictable feedback and response. However, it’s hard to shower the rear suspension with similar praise.
The R 18 B’s updated monoshock certainly improves on the standard model’s harsh rear end. With just 3.5 inches of travel, the original shock sent each bump and pothole straight through the rider’s back. To atone for that oversight, BMW jacked up the bagger’s back end to 4.7 inches of travel, delivering an ultra-plush ride. The Beemer practically negates all road irregularities as a result, smoothing out even the hardest hits. Unfortunately, the soft rear end and direct front fork don’t always get along.
At tip-in, the R 18 B is planted and predictable. Conversely, if the rider deviates from the original line or encounters mid-corner bumps, the rear wallows with a slight undulating action. As a result, the feel out back becomes vague and disconnected. If you select and stick to a line throughout the curve, the bike plows right through without so much as a wobble. Unfortunately, unforeseen adjustments quickly expose the buoyant back end. Of course, we don’t expect a bagger to hustle around corners, but a manually adjustable monoshock could go a long way to addressing the issue.
It’s a similar story with the brakes. The dual four-piston calipers and twin 300mm front discs provide enough stopping power in the end, but they don’t provide much in the way of initial bite or feel. For those that favor the front brake, BMW’s system distributes a portion of braking power to the single four-piston caliper and 300mm rotor out back as well. The linked brakes help shed speed more efficiently, but you can also feel the system borrowing braking power at the lever. That’s a disconcerting sensation when you’re descending a steep hill. Luckily, the rider aid only intrudes in select situations and heavy braking zones.
Even if the R 18 B’s bag of tricks is a mixed bag, the infotainment system draws from BMW’s industry-leading interface. Unlike the R 18’s stripped-down controls and throwback circular speedometer, BMW throws the kitchen sink at the bagger’s new fairing. Four analog gauges report remaining fuel, speed, rpm, and voltage while the 10.25-inch TFT boasts enough room for a dual-pane layout. Using’s BMW’s intuitive Wonder Wheel and menu button, the user can access trip data, local radio stations, smartphone media, navigation, and bike settings.
While the system puts endless options at the rider’s fingertips, navigating those options with the Wonder Wheel and menu button can become cumbersome. Accessing certain submenus requires punching the menu button while others involve a lateral press on the Wonder Wheel. With practice, your left thumb develops the muscle memory necessary for jumping through the folders quickly, but a simplified interface would also speed up the process. Additionally, the turn Wonder Wheel is located next to the turn signal switch, and I embarrassingly pushed the wrong control during many a left-lane change.
As for the infotainment system’s performance, the Marshall speakers deliver crisp, clear audio. With two fairing-mounted speakers and optional subwoofers in each bag, the sound literally envelopes the rider. During testing, the system worked seamlessly with Apple iOS devices but frequently encountered connectivity issues with Android smartphones. Upon connecting, the interface offered full operation of the phone’s media, but functionality would suffer after a second startup. Disconnecting and reconnecting the device restored full control to the rider, but I eventually switched to the radio to avoid the hassle.
The rest of the R 18 B’s cockpit prioritized comfort and convenience as well. With wide buckhorn bars sweeping back to the rider, the upright position suits long-distance road trips. The broad fork-mounted fairing mitigated buffeting but the short windshield left turbulent air dancing on the top of my helmet. A taller windscreen from BMW’s catalog will easily remedy that situation for taller riders, but anyone under five foot, eight inches will be just fine with the stock shield.
Further back, BMW raised the seat 1.1 inches over the standard model’s saddle to relax the bend at the rider’s knees and the adjustment worked. Due to the massive outboard cylinders, the bagger’s legroom hasn’t increased over the R 18, but the taller seat does help relieve stiff knees during long journeys. On the other hand, extra padding on the touring seat would have gone a long way as well, but my bony back end typically endured the 225 miles between fill-ups.
The features that I can’t praise enough are the heated seat and hand grips. During my travels, I hit spots of rain and heavy winds. The chill temperatures eventually receded by the afternoon, but the five-level heated accessories allowed me to maintain my mileage quota in relative comfort. The premium features made the long stints in the saddle more enjoyable than ever, but they all come at a price.
Bringing It Home
Starting at $21,495, the 2022 BMW R 18 B slightly undercuts the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide’s MSRP ($21,999). However, BMW’s Premium Light Package (hill start assist, adaptive headlight, reverse assist, and Marshall subwoofers) tacks on $2,300. The Select Package (alarm system, locking fuel cap, heated seat, tire pressure monitor, and electric bag locks) adds another $1,275 to the price tag. Throw in Roland Sand Designs milled cylinder covers, an engine housing cover, a two-tone black wheelset, and Vance & Hines slip-ons, and the asking price swiftly approaches $30,000.
Many riders will opt for the base package, but a fair share will also order the works, and for good reason. Features such as the tire pressure monitor system, heated seat, and Marshall Gold Series Audio amplify the R 18 B’s touring chops. However, it’s a solid package in stock trim. No, the new Beemer isn’t a death blow to Harley-Davidson, but it’s a worthy competitor. At 877 pounds, it has 22 pounds on its main rival, but it’s also the only bike in the category to offer adaptive cruise control and a 10.25-inch TFT display. The R 18 B may not be BMW’s endgame either, but it definitely changes the game for bagger customers.