The American dream is alive and well in Berlin right now, as BMW Motorrad has pushed itself into the American touring market with two heritage-based motorcycles for the 2022 model year: the BMW R18 B bagger and the BMW R18 Transcontinental dresser.
Built around an air-cooled boxer-twin platform, these two machines are built for one purpose: to take some marketshare off of Harley-Davidson – the company that defines the category.
Many brands have attempted this exact feat, and few (if any) can lay claim to success, which makes the entire R18 lineup a bold move from the Bavarians, and one that has our focused attention.
Ready to see if the Germans can learn to speak American, we headed to Denver, Colorado to ride both the R18 B and the R18 Transcontinental on the open roads of The Rockies.
After a long day in the saddle, and with nearly 200 miles on the trip computer, the result? A mixed report card. Come read our review, and let me explain.
By the Numbers
When it comes to describing the technical aspects of the BMW R18 B and BMW R18 Transcontinental motorcycles, the cheat sheet version would be to just describe the R18 cruiser, and then add bags and maybe a top case.
Crude as this description may be, it is very accurate.
The entire R18 platform shares the same engine, without change, which means that all of these bikes have a 244 lbs air-cooled boxer-twin engine that produces 90hp / 116 lbs•ft of torque from its 1,802cc of displacement.
While the horsepower figure might not impress, that torque curve is flat, with most of the grunt on-tap between 2,000 and 3,500 rpm – roughly a quarter of the bike’s rev range.
Only the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 lineup offers a smaller engine in this category than the BMW machines, and that translates pretty well on the performance side.
In the rare air of Denver, Colorado (elevation 5,130 feet in elevation), the BMW R18 tourers feel downright anemic in their power delivery, though the same would like be said for any 100hp motorcycle that tips in around 900 lbs.
At lower elevations, the broad and linear torque curve of the R18 motor would probably shine a bit brighter, which makes our location a curious one for a press launch, if one is trying to put their best foot forward.
Many of the basic components are shared throughout the range as well, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise as the four available iterations of the R18 family were developed alongside each other back in Berlin.
For the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental though, BMW saw fit to use a modified chassis, which has been reinforced for the added weight that comes with touring with a passenger.
The bikes also have a shorter rake, but with their forks set behind the steering stem, rather than in front of it. This cleverly adds stability at high speeds, while keeping things spry for low-speed handling.
Of course, the big numbers are the weight figures for both bikes, as the BMW R18 B is the heaviest bagger on the market with a base weight of 877 lbs.
Similarly, the BMW R18 Transcontinental is at the heavier side of the equation as well, tipping the scales at 942 lbs wet and ready to go.
The Good, The Bad…
Some of the heaviest and least powerful tourers on the market, the BMW R18 lineup has to make up for their spec sheet in other ways…and that they do.
If there is one thing that can be said that is glowing about each of the BMW R18 motorcycles it is that they have nailed the heritage look and feel that the American touring market demands. These are handsome motorcycles.
The massive boxer engine might tower from each side of the motorcycle, but the look of the air-cooled cylinder heads only helps add to heritage look and feel.
I have yet to take a ride on the R18 cruiser that’s in my garage and not have someone compliment its look or enquire more about it, which is something few motorcycles can boast.
BMW has done well too to keep a number of the hard parts made from metal instead of plastic, which only adds more authenticity to the heritage theme, while also aiding a strong report card on fit and finish.
You can complain about the fact that our BMW R18 Transcontinental as tested retails for nearly $30,000 MSRP – but the bike feels like a bike worth $30,000.
The modern looking controls on the handlebars might look out of place, once you get closer to the machine, though they should look familiar to any regular BMW rider.
Maybe not the vintage look one expects, but switches still look and feel good, and honestly we don’t know what BMW would replace them with that would be a better choice.
Sitting in the cockpit, you see another blending of new and old, with four analog gauges at the top showing your fuel, speed, rpm, and available horsepower from the engine (more on this item, in a minute).
Below, there is a bright and vibrant 10.25″ TFT dash that handles the more demanding information and entertainment needs.
In the saddle, the riding position is akin to sitting at the dinner table, ready for supper to be served one apex at a time.
The position is neutral, and while there are softer seats on the market, the cushion for the pushin’ is comfortable enough for a couple of hours of riding at a time.
Both bikes provide a fair amount of wind protection to the rider’s body, though the R18 Transcontinental is the noticeably more protected ride.
This can border on being too much, as the bike’s larger front fairing blocks some of the wind necessary to keep the engine heat at bay, but BMW does include some clear wind deflectors that let you play around with directing wind at or away from your body.
While the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental do a good job of blurring out the world so you can focus on the road ahead, the details on these BMW motorcycles are worth noting as well.
The first of which are the Marshall Amplification speakers that come as an optional item (though we suspect you’ll be hard pressed to find an R18 tourer without them).
Not a name you would expect to see partnering in this space, we were pleasantly pleased with the British company’s foray into the two-wheeled audio space. The sound system packs enough punch to hear it over the highway, though some distortion does come in the low-end as you push the speakers to their max.
Adding the Marshall package will reduce your pannier volume by half a liter on each side, while the top case will lose a full liter of volume because of the embedded speakers.
And while in a moment I will spend some word chastising BMW for the massive bulk that comes with their heritage touring lineup, some credit has to be given for making these bikes as nimble as they are.
Even with a broken shoulder, this author was capable of handling both the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental in low-speed maneuvers, though it does take some trust that close to half a ton of motorcycle isn’t about to fall over on you.
The turning radius can smartly be done with two lanes of road, which might surprise some, until you point them to police bike gymkhana videos.
Low-speed turn difficulties in this category are primarily a rider issue, not a bike issue…though a lighter bike would certainly lower the learning curve a bit.
Of course, not everything is sunshine and unicorns, and many of the blemishes that come with the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental appear once you begin riding the motorcycles.
The first thing that will strike you, quite literally, is the windshield. On the BMW R18 Transcontinental, the edge of the windshield sits right in the rider’s eye line.
You can solve this problem by swapping the windshield for the lower one on the R18 B (they are interchangeable between the two models), but then that creates a new issue of too much wind buffeting, as the windshield shape disrupts the air flow too much for riding comfort.
For my taste, I would have preferred no windshield to what BMW Motorrad was offering – the buffeting was that strong on my tall 6’2″torso – though perhaps the taller touring screen in the accessories catalog provides a clearer solution to this problem.
Like on the R18 cruiser, both the R18 B bagger and R18 Transcontinental suffer from incredibly weak and spongy brakes, which not only underwhelm on outright braking power, but also on feel and modulation.
The added weight of these touring models only adds to my ire in this regard, and on such a premium-focused machine, I would expect more for my blogging dollars when pulling on the front brake lever.
It should also be noted that the brakes are also linked, front and rear, which causes a bit of lever movement when engaging both the front brake lever and rear brake pedal at the same time – something that takes some getting used to.
A similar carryover from the R18 cruiser is the low ride height and minimal suspension travel. The low-riding aesthetic that comes with the R18 lineup comes with a consequence, and this is it.
While the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental boast an extra third of an inch in ride height, both machines have a knack for their hard parts finding the pavement.
That being said, the ride quality from the suspension isn’t as bad as you would expect. You still feel the bumps of the road, but BMW has smoothed out the harsher movements.
Still, I would prefer to at least seeing the BMW R18 Transcontinental with a couch-like performance in the suspension department, though both bikes would benefit from an inch or two more of suspension travel, not only for road comfortable but cornering clearance.
While we are at it, both bikes could benefit from a weight loss program (not unlike much of the two-wheeled motorcycling press, this author included).
Though on the heavier side of the spec-sheet compared to their competitors, both the R18 B and the R18 Transcontinental are in the realm of what is considered “normal” for the American touring category.
That being said, it’s the 21st century now…and while this category is a throwback to a post-WWII aesthetic, surely some modern engineering could bring the motorcycles’ mass to under 800 lbs.
One last item, as I promised to cover it earlier – the fourth analog gauge on the dash, which shows the “power available” from the engine, is one of the more ridiculous and useless things I have seen on a motorcycle.
Its only purpose seems to be to keep the symmetry of the dash layout, and to make sure that the R18 has the same number of dials as the Bar & Shield cockpit.
And The Ugly
If you caught where we were going with the section headlines, then you likely suspect where things were headed.
BMW Motorrad is not a brand that gets major items wrong on a first-generation machine, but with the R18 platform the Germans have had more than a few stumbles.
The first gremlin comes in the form of the infotainment system on the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental.
From the outset, our press launch was told not to pair our phones to the bikes, despite the long day of riding, because our swapping at bikes at lunch could lead to riders’ phones connecting to the wrong bikes- heaven forbid I should have to listen to the smooth jazz alto sax of Kenny G that Abhi Eswarappa jams to on his two-wheeled shredding adventures.
Not exactly a practical concern, the issue seemed more likely to be that BMW didn’t want us to notice that various bugs still persist in the software package, or so the speculation went during post-ride conversations.
This is because more than a handful of riders on our launch complained about how the audio system would only play one song at a time (you would have to toggle each successive track with the rocker on the left handlebar), with even less support for music apps like Spotify and Pandora.
The ability to use the navigation was almost non-existent as the compartment for keeping and connecting one’s phone was too small to fit a standard iPhone and plug – instead a special plug with a right-angle connector would have to be used.
Here, the Germans were clever enough to foresee putting a fan in this compartment to keep one’s phone cool during use and on hot days, but yet failed in their basic measurements of how much space would be required to use a smartphone effectively.
At the end of the day, my common lament that motorcycle manufacturers make lousy technology companies seems to hold water. All riders really want at the end of the day is the ability to mirror their phone’s screen and interact with it effectively.
While BMW’s infotainment system looks very nice (especially on the bright 10.25″ TFT screen), and its menus are easy to navigate, integration with Apple CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto would have been a more practical approach.
If that covers our ears and sense of direction, then the next item at task has to be the sensation in our hands and feet. That is to say, every bike in the R18 lineup rattles quite noticeably.
On the R18 cruiser and R18 Classic, you might forgive these vibrations as signs of character, but on the touring models, where long durations on the road are expected, they become a detriment.
Buzzing hands and feet continued even after our R18 B and R18 Transcontinental machines were turned off, and the vibes come throughout the rev range. Once you get above 3,000 rpm the handlebar vibrations become very noticeable, but even cruising at 2,000 rpm will have a lasting effect.
The touring models in the R18 lineup were co-developed with the cruisers, so one can perhaps see why these bikes share this common trait.
I wouldn’t normally see vibrations and engine chatter as reasons to shy away from a motorcycle, but on a touring bike, where long days and many miles of road are just part of the basics, the intensity of this seems like it should be a deal-breaker for many riders.
We save the biggest issue for last, however. Early reports on the BMW R18 cruiser showed the bike to have issues with its clutch slipping, which BMW Motorrad then rectified with changes to the throttle settings.
Unfortunately, the issue persists – at least for the BMW R18 Transcontinental model. Several journalists on our press launch had bikes with clutch slipping issues, including yours truly, which would see the clutch slip in a variety of situations.
One rider reported slipping in higher gears – 4th and 5th – while my own issue occurred in the lower gears, especially when launching from a stop, where the clutch friction point seemed to be a constantly moving target.
Of note is that none of the BMW R18 B motorcycles had this problem, which could be just random luck, or the fact that those machines weigh 65 lbs less than the Transcontinental model.
Could the extra 180 lbs that the dresser has over the cruiser be the culprit (whereas the extra 100 lbs on the bagger is not)? That’s impossible for us to say.
We do know that mechanically there is no difference between the engines on the R18, R18 B, and R18 Transcontinental – and that includes the gear ratios and clutch assembly.
This has us worried about how the clutch on the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental will fare once loaded up with a passenger and luggage – as not all the rides these bikes will see will include solely overweight keyboard warriors.
Yeah, But Would You Buy It?
If the previous section of this review was any indication, then it should go without saying that fairly serious mechanical issues on a motorcycle during review would preclude us from recommending that bike to our readers, and such is the case with the 2022 BMW R18 Transcontinental.
The clutch issue we (and others) experienced on the BMW R18 Transcontinental is enough to make us give pause on the BMW R18 B as well, though that model had no issues during our press launch.
In either case, our official stance would be at the very least to wait a model year to see if BMW Motorrad plans on addressing what seems to be a fundamental problem with their clutch design on the R18 platform.
For the more intrepid riders though, we have some further thoughts, and again it is a split decision.
Regular readers will know of a simple test I like to perform when reviewing a bike, and it can be reduced down to whether or not the machine beckons to me from the garage to ride it again.
What feeling does one have at the end of a nice ride? Do you long for more, or has your time on the bike satiated your need for its two-wheeled offering?
At the end of the day, the BMW R18 Transcontinental is one of those bikes that I was fine to walk away from once parked, and handover the keys to the BMW personnel.
An interesting ride, a unique bike, and I’m fine with the volume of experience it generated…but onto the next motorcycle, please.
The American touring category is ripe with machines that can haul two people in comfort, along with their earthly belongings, and the BMW R18 Transcontinental offers very little of anything new to this space. It is a machine without superlative – good in some areas, not so good in others, but not great in any.
In fact, the BMW R18 Transcontinental falls into my general thoughts on the entire R18 family, where BMW has seemingly excelled at creating a bike with character and charm, but failed in the areas that involve just being a motorcycle.
Too heavy, too buzzy, not enough power and torque, weak brakes, and the ability to scrape hard parts everywhere you go…these are basic items of complaint that you wouldn’t expect from the German brand, but yet exist when talking about the BMW R18 lineup – and the Transcontinental in particular.
Yet, BMW Motorrad have nailed the much more difficult items like the aesthetic, look and feel, character, and heritage of the R18 line.
The BMW R18 platform looks the part – it feels classy and elegant (when it is not shaking you senseless), and there is a strange connection between human and machine that so, so many brands are incapable of conveying.
It is bizarre that a brand like BMW can succeed in the most difficult aspects of making a fine motorcycle, while simultaneously failing on the basics, and that is the R18 lineup in a nutshell.
And so, I doubt that anyone at the Bar & Shield brand will be losing too much sleep over the BMW R18 Transcontinental when it hits dealerships, but the BWM R18 B should give them some pause.
It seems strange that this should be the case, of course, as there is very little that is different between the the R18 B and R18 Transcontinental. The difference is literally the top case and the 65 lbs difference that comes with it.
This simple piece changes a lot on the R18 though, especially when you consider that weight loss is occurring high above the center of gravity.
As a result, the BMW R18 B is less of a chore to manhandle in tight situations, has a bit more zip in its step, and ultimately is a more enjoyable machine to ride.
Hot, tired, and sore at the end of our full day of riding, the BMW R18 B still sang a Siren’s song from its parking spot in front of our hotel, enticing us for another quick rip around the Denver skyline.
Between the two models, there resides a tipping point of too much and just enough, and the R18 B is on the latter side of that balance.
While the BMW R18 Transcontinental gets a “pass” on our recommendation list, the BMW R18 B is worth a look and a test ride, especially if you are looking at what’s on offer from the Bar & Shield brand.
Is the BMW R18 B a Harley-Davidson Street Glide killer? I am not so sure about that, but it is a strong alternative, especially if the Germans can iron out some of the first-iteration kinks.
Photos: © 2021 Kevin Wing / BMW – All Rights Reserved