While the 2021 BMW R 18 was released to great fanfare and anticipation, the follow-up R 18 Classic bagger was quietly dropped onto the marketplace. It was again overshadowed by the 2022 R 18 Transcontinental and R 18 B touring models. We finally got our hands on the Classic, and it might just be our favorite of the quartet. Yes, you deserve an explanation, so here’s our 2021 BMW R 18 Classic review.
Although the 2022 BMW R 18 Classic is quite similar to the standard R 18, there are significant differences. The frame, suspension, and motor are identical, though the Classic has different mufflers—no fishtails, as the bags would hide them.
A notable change is the R 18 Classic’s 16-inch front wheel, rather than the 19-incher on the standard R 18. However, rake, trail, and wheelbase are unchanged due to the high profile of the Classic’s front tire.
Add-ons are what make the Classic a bagger. To get Classic status, a windshield, saddlebags, passenger accommodations, heel/toe shifter, floorboards, and a pair of additional LED headlights.
While it may have touring accouterments, the Classic does not have the revised chassis or large fairing deployed on the B and Transcontinental. The result is that the Classic weighs 73 pounds less than the sidebags-only B. At the same time, the Classic’s extras make it 43 pounds heavier than the standard R 18.
Starting the Big Boxer motor is one of life’s pleasures. You awaken the R 18 Classic by tapping the power button, and then fire it up with the start button. I suggest you pay attention to the task at hand because the Big Boxer’s 901cc cylinders deliver a hard side-to-side weight shift on startup. Even when you’re prepared, it always seems to be a bit more violent than anticipated. It makes the motorcycle feel alive, setting the tone for the ride.
The 1802cc twin is not overwhelmed by the Classic. While we loved the Big Boxer on the standard R 18, we felt like it just didn’t have enough puff on the touring B and Transcontinental versions. Without the extra weight and wind resistance of the touring R 18s, the R 18 Classic is more than happy to do some high-speed touring runs. We flew across the desert at extra-legal speeds, and when it came time to pass a slower vehicle, the Classic was a willing participant. If you’re the type who likes to cruise at 80 mph all day, the Classic stands happy to indulge your desire to risk a ticket.
BMW didn’t make the Big Boxer aggressive, even in the Rock mode. Yes, the R 18 Classic has the gimmicky-named Rock, Roll, and Rain modes. For most people, most of the time, the Rock mode is the power mode of choice. You’re not likely to feel the need to tamp down the throttle response of Rock—the motor is smooth and predictable. But, Roll is there if it works for you. The peak of 116 ft-lbs of torque comes on at 3000 rpm, making roll-on passes easy. You’re not likely to need to shift down from 6th gear to overtake, unless you have a passenger or are on a steep grade. You have to spin the motor up into a buzzy range—4750 rpm—to hit the 91-horsepower peak. As with any big twin, performance is about torque, not horsepower.
The Classic’s windshield makes all the difference at speed compared to the standard R 18. While the R 18 has the power to haul down a high-speed rural highway, the seating position invites an air blast that can’t be ignored. The Classic’s windshield is not enormous—it doesn’t intrude on your view—yet the difference is substantial as speeds increase. Your body gets a huge break from the wind, putting you into a nice still-air pocket, plus there’s relief for your head and arms.
The stability at touring speeds, and beyond, is impressive. With a wheelbase a touch over 68 inches, a generous 32.7 degrees of rake, trail measuring nearly six inches, and a steering damper, the Classic is imperturbable. Semis barreling by at a 150+ closing speed on a two-lane rural highway is not a concern. The long, low chassis refuses to have its feathers ruffled. The 16-inch front tire’s 130mm width grasps the pavement authoritatively. Cruise control is standard, intuitive, and effective.
The urban-focused suspension works for touring, if you like a feel for the road. This isn’t a plush setup that floats down the highway. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the Showa fork and, especially, the Sachs shock. The good news is that the suspension does a great job of taking the edge off hits. It may not be smooth, but it’s also not jarring. Really, it’s the right feel for this style of motorcycle.
Remarkably agile for its size and geometry, the 2021 BMW R 18 Classic has just one thing holding it back on rural twisties. Limited cornering clearance and the abrupt engagement of the floorboard feelers to the pavement curb your enthusiasm when cornering. This was a problem on the standard R 18, and we chalked it up to the footpegs. As it turns out, the Classic’s floorboards aren’t much of an improvement. The fat Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 tires will take the Classic to the feelers without even the slightest protest. Once there, the metal-on-pavement interface is unpleasant, and you’ll end up riding around it. Either BMW or an aftermarket company needs to come to the rescue on this, as it detracts from the Classic’s excellent handling.
The floorboards are an essential part of the Classic’s touring credibility. It’s inarguable that the Big Boxer’s jugs restrict foot placement, and you can’t stretch out as you can on V-twins. Still, the Classic’s short floorboards do allow a decent amount of range for your feet. I can tuck my toes under the cylinders to relax my knees a bit, and move them back to keep the joints active. Again, you aren’t going to get that roomy feeling, yet it’s not as constricting as the footpeg-equipped standard R 18. This is a very personal issue—some riders, like me, won’t mind, while others will find it to be a dealbreaker.
Heel/toe shifting is part of the BMW R 18 Classic experience. The setup feels a bit awkward at first. However, after some seat time, it starts to feel natural and appealing. The two levers are independently adjustable. If you prefer to upshift with your toe, you can move the front lever to accommodate that. However, downshifting will require more foot movement to accomplish. I’m a heel/toe fan, as it puts me in the right frame of mind for cruising—either in-town or when touring. The BMW execution of the method is superb.
The Classic’s ergonomics are spot-on outside of the restricted foot position. The wide, low handlebar bend is relaxing and provides the leverage needed to move the 804-pound motorcycle around without hitting the gym. The seat is appealingly firm and, like the floorboards, allows some room to move around and reduce fatigue on long rides. This is a comfortable motorcycle. Oh, and it has one of the longest kickstands in existence.
Medium-sized bags remind you that the 2021 BMW R 18 Classic is a short-hop bagger rather than a long-distance tourer. You’ll have to pack smartly for weekend trips, especially if you have a passenger. Only the most spartan riders will be satisfied with the sidebags alone for coast-to-coast runs.
The R18 Classic loses none of the R 18’s urban appeal. The motor is a blast around town, and the stretched chassis is excellent for dealing with traffic. If you’re lane-splitting, the bags don’t get in the way. Because the windshield is relatively low, it’s not a nuisance in the city. That’s a good thing, because it’s not easy to remove it—consider it permanent. The fat tires help gobble up any city’s abused road irregularities, giving the suspension some welcome assistance.
Braking is urban-soft, though it will ramp up if you have a good grip. Initial engagement of the front 300mm discs is very soft, so you’ll never get jolted by the brakes. If you want serious deceleration, make sure your hand is up to applying the pressure. Engine braking is significant, and there’s an electronic function designed to prevent skidding the rear tire on hard downshifts. Unobtrusive ABS rounds out the standard braking package.
Instrumentation is minimal—adequate for city dwellers, though a bit lacking for touring folks. You get a single round analog-style clock that does a good job of telling you how fast the Classic is going. You can scroll through the choices of additional info and pick what you like, as long as you’re not looking for a fuel gauge or range–those aren’t available on the Classic. After you’ve had the Classic for a while, the tripmeter will have to suffice. We got about 40 mpg on the Classic, riding fairly aggressively in mountainous terrain, so you should reliably get 150 miles out of the 4.2-gallon tank.
We tested the First Edition iteration of the 2021 BMW R 18 Classic. As the name suggests, you won’t be able to get this chrome-accented version in 2022. The upgrade we like most is the pinstriping on the Black Storm Metallic tank. In comparison to the First Edition, the standard R 18 Classic looks a bit plain.
As you can likely tell, we’re big fans of the 2021 BMW R 18 Classic. It is arguably the most versatile of the four flavors of R 18, without suffering the faint praise often directed toward a jack of all trades. We love it around town, as we can carry our leftovers home after a meal, and when the spaces get wide open, the R 18 Classic is a solid performer. Yep, it’s a classic.
2023 Yamaha XSR700 plus Steve Rapp, Daytona 200 Winner
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In this week’s first segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams and I discuss the new Yamaha XSR700. That’s the retro-styled version of the MT-07 that comes in any color you like—as long as it’s black. Actually, it looks really good with the gold accents on the gas tank and the matching gold wheels. Teejay tells us whether there’s a decent bike lurking under all that flash.
In our second segment, I chat with Steve Rapp. An ex-factory Suzuki and Ducati rider in the Moto America race series, Steve, among many other accomplishments won the prestigious Daytona 200. He also competed with real credibility in a couple of MotoGP races for Richard Stanboli of Attack Performance.
After retiring from professional road racing Steve became a commercial pilot, flying A320s out of LAX for Alaska Airlines. I suspect he’s the only Airline Captain that’s also an ex-professional motorcycle racer. Steve’s calm, matter-of-fact delivery when talking about his high-speed escapades was interesting to say the least. Very impressive guy indeed.
So, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode.