“Combining a racing aesthetic and function with a custom style,” Roland Sands explains, “this is what we are probably best known for. We like to make stock machines perform better.” A builder of over 200 custom motorcycles, Sands has directed his attention to the new BMW R 18. The result is the BMW R 18 Dragster by Roland Sands Design.
Roland Sands’ father Perry was both a drag racer and a custom motorcycle builder, so the idea of a custom drag bike is inarguably in the younger Sands’ blood. In 2012, Roland Sands built his Harley-Davidson KH-9 V-Rod Night Rod Special—a custom dragster powered by a turbocharged V-Rod powerplant. So, perhaps, this latest exercise in stylish performance, boosted by nitrous oxide, was as inevitable as genetics.
Initially, Sands’ inspiration for the R 18 came from the world of four wheels. “With an engine that’s so visibly the centerpiece, I immediately thought of muscle cars,” Sands explains. “My family has always been into going fast and my dad was a drag racer, so I thought it made sense to strip the bike down to the essentials and shape it to go fast on a straight track.”
The team at Roland Sands Design in Southern California went to work on turning the big boxer cruiser into a rip-snorting quarter-miler. While the rake didn’t change on the R 18, the back end of the BMW received the dragster treatment, including a seven-inch-wide flat-profile slick tire.
For the stability and wheelie-resistance needed for drag racing, the frame was modified and the rear suspension jettisoned—both made easier by the removable subframe on the stock R 18. An RSD custom seat by Saddlemen locks the rider into position. While it looks like a passenger could utilize the seat, there is only one set of footpegs—set next to the rear disc.
An inverted fork from the R nineT was employed to beef up the front end for dragstrip velocities. Braking is courtesy of an S 1000 RR superbike, supplemented with an RSD radial-pump master cylinder on the clip-on.
The nitrous means that quite a bit more air will be flowing through the enormous opposed-twin. RSD created a hand-made stainless-steel twin megaphone exhaust system, with milled aluminum highlighting the tips. There is no muffler in sight.
As always, there were challenges along the way during the nearly four-month build. “The electronics were definitely the most difficult task we had to deal with as we put in nitrous oxide, stripped out the stock exhaust, and changed the intake drastically,” according to Sands. “It was a bit of an experiment, but we dialed it in! The final product is impressive and characterized by a high level of craftsmanship, as can be expected from BMW Motorrad. Right from the beginning, I couldn’t wait to get customizing!”
Many parts were retained from the R 18, allowing it to maintain its identity. The stock headlight is supplemented by an RSD headlight bezel, while the fenders are modified pieces from the production model. The fuel tank survived the transition, with the R 18 Dragster getting paint by Chris Wood of Airtrix fame.
“Every bike needs different sources depending on the build—special materials or parts,” Sands acknowledges. “Every new bike concept is a bit of a learning process, even after having built over 200 bikes. We always want to understand the genre of the bike we are building in. It’s the key to keeping it authentic and functional.”
One source, of course, was RSD. Sands dipped into his company’s milled parts design collection, using 2-Tone-Black levers, wheels, valve covers, breastplate, and gauges. Although not used on the BMW R 18 Dragster, RSD has a wide array of parts for the R 18—from wheels to filler caps—dividing them into the Machined and 2-Tone-Black lines.
With motorcycling hard-wired into his DNA, Roland Sands could not have taken any other career path. “Riding a motorcycle to me is like becoming one with the machine,” he says. “My motorcycle is my life, it’s everything, it’s what I do.”
We understand completely.
BMW R 18 Dragster by Roland Sands Design Photo Gallery