Sauerkraut, bratwurst, red cabbage, Bavarian beer, German engineering. If it is German, I like it. My mother came to America in her 20s from Bavaria, met my father, and the rest was history. For my entire life, I was fed a steady diet of everything German. I grew up in love with German cars and later motorcycles.
My current long-distance touring motorcycle is a BMW R 1250 GS. It is my second wasserboxer-driven bike, so I know the engine configuration well. I appreciate most that German manufacturers develop a product, and then they keep refining and improving it until it is as perfect as they can make it. It is why BMW is a perennial leader in the big adventure bike category, for example.
So, a few years ago, when BMW announced it would be developing a motorcycle for a category that someone else perfected, the heavyweight air-cooled cruiser market dominated by Harley-Davidson and Indian for a century, I wasn’t so sure about it. Now, BMW would be quick to say that it has been making their air-cooled twins almost as long as its American rivals. But if you have ever ridden a boxer against an American twin, you know they were as different as sauerkraut and coleslaw.
To close this disparity and deliver the visceral experience the American heavyweight cruiser buyer wanted, BMW developed the all-new air-cooled Big Boxer for the R 18 that debuted last year.
Now BMW is upping its game by launching two new faired variants of the cruiser—the R 18 B (bagger style) and R 18 Transcontinental full dresser. Both have the same engine as the original R 18 and come with waterproof hard-case panniers, an impressive fairing housing a dash with analog gauges and a 10.25-inch TFT screen, as well as a host of standard features such as cruise control and heated grips.
The bagger weighs in at 877 pounds wet and has a shorter windscreen, while the Transcontinental adds more wind protection, a large top box with passenger backrest, highway bars, auxiliary lights, and heated seats, increasing the weight to 941 pounds.
Both new touring R 18s have higher capacity gas tanks—6.3 gallons up from 4.2 gallons—larger front wheels (19 inches, up from 16 inchers), revised chassis, more aggressive geometry, and suspension tuned for touring. While these are “global” models, there is little doubt that BMW has the US market and the American touring bikes in their crosshairs. Coming off some quality time on some big cruisers in the last few months, I was sent to Denver to see how my German brethren did.
They say that the big cruiser market is about presence. Well, the folks at BMW got the message! No amount of prepping or reviewing photographs can prepare you for the 1802cc Big Boxer engine in person. It looked like someone found the engine design of the Bismarck battleship and decided to use it. It is freaking enormous.
While the displacement is in the same class as the big American V-twins, it looks significantly bigger. The horizontal cylinders stick out so much that driving it on the narrow Bavarian country roads must feel as dicey as lane-splitting LA traffic. In reality, the cylinders are still inside the handlebar ends and the hard cases. In addition to being immense, the engine is also a beautiful piece of work with many ways to customize the look.
Air-cooled boxer engines have some very specific characteristics. They are torquey and powerful early in the rev range, with the power trailing off pretty quickly as the revs rise—often replaced with increased vibes in the grips, pegs, and seat. For most applications, this makes for a quick and fun riding experience. However, supersizing the boxer to 1.8 cubic liters to handle roughly 900 pounds of cruiser works differently.
Below 3000 rpm, the engine is torquey and reasonably smooth and powerful. As you get above that, especially above 4000 rpm, power drops off significantly. Lots of vibes start in the grips, and quickly move to the floorboards and seat. Suffice to say, you won’t spend much time above 4000 rpm.
The R18 has three ride modes—Rock, Roll, and Rain. I experimented with Rock and Roll, hunting for more zip, but didn’t find a huge difference. I left the R18 in Rock, the most aggressive setting, for the rest of my ride. The power delivery is very smooth and easy, so I doubt I would ever need the Rain mode, unless it’s actually raining.
Unfortunately, no amount of fuel mapping can overcome insufficient power for high-speed passing and highway situations. Planning and patience are required to allow the speed to build. The bike, particularly the heavier Transcontinental, is just too heavy for the motor at speed on the open highway. While the lighter R 18 B is a bit better, it just feels like too much is being asked of the engine.
What the R18 tours lack in motor is compensated by the chassis, suspension, and excellent handling. As I started to get used to the weight and feel of the big R, I began to lean into the mountain road curves with more confidence. As I pushed harder, the chassis responded well.
The tighter the turns got, the more I found myself working the Transcontinental’s heel/toe shifter looking for optimal power. This turned out to be more difficult than expected due to limited clearance between the floorboards and the shifter—my big American toes just didn’t fit. Fortunately, a BMW technician showed me that both shifters are independently adjustable—problem solved.
As the morning progressed, I eventually found the Transcontinental’s limit as the boards started to drag on aggressive turns. While the touch down is a bit harsh, it is predictable, occurring just about when I expect. Both the B and Transcontinental have a new frame compared to the standard R 18, a shorter wheelbase, and slightly more aggressive geometry designed to help offset the added heft when maneuvering the bike.
With a generous 4.7 inches of wheel travel in the front and back, along with a new, load-leveling rear suspension, the motorcycle floats over bigger bumps beautifully without sacrificing control and feel in the twisties.
While it is difficult to call these two R 18s nimble, I enjoyed taking the sweeping Colorado turns, particularly on the lighter B. Although 64-pound may not sound like a lot on a motorcycle in the 900-pound weight range, much of that increased weight is higher on the Transcontinental, making the bike feel noticeably heavier.
My lunch destination for the ride was the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. I entered the town at a good clip when suddenly and unexpectedly, the ride leader was hard on his brakes. This caused a minor/major panic, as I immediately realized I had to bring my huge Transcontinental to a stop very quickly to avoid hitting the leader or the enormous elk that was casually crossing the road in front of us. Luckily, my Bavarian friends had my back.
The R 18 Transcontinental (and B) has three 300mm brake discs, each with four-piston fixed calipers. The brakes are linked, actuated by either the front brake lever or rear brake pedal. This stopped me in plenty of time, and with minimal front fork dive.
In a bit of smart and nifty engineering, the motorcycles change the amount of front and rear brake actuation based on which brake actuator you use. Pull the brake lever, and most of the slowing is done by the front brake, allowing you to preload the front fork for turns or stop more quickly. Step on the brake pedal, and the reverse occurs. This allows you to drag the rear brake through turns to adjust your line if you want. Brilliant.
The plush seats and excellent positioning (especially on the Transcontinental), 29-inch seat height, mid-foot controls, floorboards (optional on the B), and ideal handlebar position all come together to make for a very comfortable experience.
The Transcontinental has very good wind protection thanks to its higher touring screen and adjustable vents on the body. The R 18 B has a bit more wind hitting the helmet due to the shorter windscreen. Unfortunately, for my height—six-foot with a longer torso—neither windscreen fit me.
While the wind protection by the Transcontinental screen is great, the top of the screen was right in my line of sight. The R 18 B screen, on the other hand, is about two inches too short, creating wind noise and some buffeting. This is easily fixed by making the screens adjustable, which BMW has not done for the R 18s.
Wind protection is very dependent on individual preferences and rider height, so I am sure the screens work for plenty of other people. The B and Transcontinental screens are interchangeable, allowing some customization. The Transcontinental comes with adjustable wind vents on the sides to regulate air directed to the rider—convenient as temperatures approached 90 in Denver.
The dash of the large fairing has four classic and attractive analog gauges—two large clocks in the middle for speed and rev count, plus smaller gauges on the sides for fuel and the unusual Power Reserve readout apparently borrowed from BMW’s Roll Royce subsidiary. This gauge tells you how much power you have in reserve, which I found useless.
Below the four traditional round gauges is a huge TFT screen. The screen is easy to use, with a combination of the menu button and the now-traditional BMW multi-controller wheel on the left grip.
Phone pairing is easy, and I was blasting ’70s classic rock quickly. I am typically not a person who cranks loud music on a motorcycle, but there is something oddly appealing about riding a heavyweight cruiser with AC/DC blasting. BMW partnered with world-renown Marshall Amplification in Milton Keynes, England, to create a terrific-sounding system. AC/DC’s Malcolm Young played guitar through a Marshall 1959SLP amp and 1960AX and 1960BX speakers.
There are two speakers in the fairing on the base package. The R 19 B with the Marshall Gold Series audio system—included in the $2800 Premium Package—consists of upgraded 25-watt speakers in the fairing, plus a 90-watt subwoofer in each side case.
The Transcontinental ups the ante with the Marshall Gold Series 2 system, a $3225 Premium Package component. The Series 2 adds two 25-watt speakers to the top case, for a total of six speakers and 280 watts of amplification. While there is plenty of power to overcome road and wind noise, the superb sound quality is best experienced at a standstill or slow speeds.
Unfortunately, the infotainment system does not have a dedicated GPS. Instead, it requires a connected smartphone and a BMW app for that function. I did not have the opportunity to try that feature, but I am continually surprised by manufacturers not facilitating the use of whatever mapping service I choose on my phone through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Also, having a dedicated GPS navigation system onboard is extremely valuable if you are out of cellular range.
Both motorcycles have two roomy 27-liter panniers and a phone holder on the tank. The thorough folks at BMW also added a fan and USB-C port in the phone storage to keep your phone cool and charged. The Transcontinental adds a large 48-liter top box and integrated backrest for maximum carrying capacity. Both the top box and panniers have central locking with the keyless fob.
On a long stretch of high-speed roads, I was feeling lazy. It was time to test BMW’s optional Active Cruise Control—part of the Premium Package—which uses radar installed in the front fairing to manage speed relative to the vehicle in front of you. ACC is also cornering-aware and automatically reduces speed in corners providing the best speed for a safe banking angle.
I tested it in several situations and speeds, and it worked terrifically. I only found one flaw. When riding in the correct offset positioning behind other motorcycles, the radar does not see the bike directly in front and to the side of you in your lane—only the motorcycle or car in front of them. Another unusual aspect that initially I didn’t like was the cruise not disengaging when I pull in the clutch. Once I adjusted for that, I quickly realized the benefit, I could change gears without having to reset the cruise. Regardless, ACC is handy on open roads.
I will admit, I am a bit conservative with my preferences in motorcycle colors. The black metallic paint, with white pinstriping and chrome engine parts included in the $2150 First Edition option, looks amazing to me and has that great vintage feel.
That being said, BMW threw in a few style curveballs, including the Galaxy Dust Metallic paint job—a $2400 upcharge from the base. It is pretty fantastic looking. In addition, there are several appearance upgrade options by BMW and Roland Sands Design that add beautiful chrome or black accents to the engine, plus Vance & Hines pipes for a little better soundtrack.
Despite my love of all things German, the 2022 BMW R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental didn’t quite check all the boxes for me. Motorcycling for me starts with, of course, the motor, and I wasn’t inspired by the Big Boxer in this heavier, higher-speed configuration. That said, for many, comfort, features, and a relaxed pace are just the ticket, and these two big tourers from BMW are an interesting alternative to the American V-twins.
- Helmet: Shoei Neotec II
- Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Wayfarer II
- Jacket: The Idol by Cortech
- Gloves: Tourmaster Deerskin
- Jeans: The Ventura by Cortech
- Boots: The Executive by Cortech
2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental (and R 18 B) Specs
- Type: Opposed twin
- Displacement: 1802cc
- Bore x stroke: 107.1 x 100mm
- Maximum power: 91 horsepower @ 4750 rpm
- Maximum torque: 116 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm
Maximum speed: 111 mph (99 mph fully loaded)
- Compression ratio: 9.6:1
- Valvetrain: Pushrod-actuated OHV w/ two camshafts; 4 vpc
- Cooling: Air and oil
- Transmission: 6-speed (w/ optional reverse)
- Clutch: Single-disc dry w/ slipper function
- Final drive: Shaft
- Frame: Steel-tube double-loop
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 49mm fork; 4.7 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Cantilevered spring-preload adjustable shock; 4.7 inches
- Wheels: Cast aluminum
- Front wheel: 19 x 3.5
- Rear wheel: 16 x 5.0
- Front tire: 120/70 x 19
- Rear tire: 180/65 x 16
- Front brake: 300mm discs w/ 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 300mm disc w/ 4-piston caliper
- ABS: BMW Motorrad Full Integral
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 66.7 inches
- Rake: 27.3 degrees
- Trail: 7.2 inches
- Seat height: 29.1 inches
- Fuel capacity: 6.3 gallons
- Curb weight: 941 pounds (R 18 B: 877 pounds)
- Black Storm Metallic
- Manhattan Metallic Matte (+$500)
- Option 719 Galaxy Dust Metallic/Titanium Silver 2 Metallic (+$2400)
- First Edition (included in First Edition Package)
2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental Base Price: $24,995 MSRP
- As tested: 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental w/ First Edition ($2150), Select ($950) and Premium ($3225) Packages: $31,320 MSRP
2022 BMW R 18 B Base Price: $21,945 MSRP
- As tested: 2022 BMW R 18 B w/ First Edition ($2150), Select ($1275) and Premium ($2800) Packages: $28,170 MSRP