2021 BMW vs. Harley-Davidson: R 18 Classic vs. Heritage Classic 114

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.” The Eagles song is running through my head on a bright and surprisingly cool day. I am blasting down a ruler-straight desert highway chasing Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams. He’s on a 2021 BMW R18 Classic; I’m on a 2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114. Having been bitten by the cruiser bug in the last year, I am on a quest to find the perfect one for me. When Don asked if I wanted to compare a Harley-Davidson and BMW back-to-back, I was all in!

BMW vs. Harley-Davidson Baggers: R 18 Classic and Heritage Classic 114

One of the first things to know about cruisers is that they are as varied as the riders who buy them. There isn’t one best one for the masses, just the best one for each person. There are broad categories that these bikes tend to fit in, such as classic naked, bagger, and touring, each catering to different riding styles and preferences. 

The BMW R 18 Classic and Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114 are crossover cruisers. Both are built on their brands’ city-oriented cruiser platforms rather than touring chassis, yet they entice you to go on trips with their classic windshields and saddlebags. These two motorcycles are lighter than their touring counterparts, providing better power-to-weight ratios and more maneuverability.

Still, it’s a battle of heavyweights; a 728-pound American trading blows with a German weighing in at 804 pounds—think Louis vs. Schmeling. 

BMW vs. Harley-Davidson Baggers: Prices

The two motorcycles match up closely on paper. Both are “Classics” with retro design cues, wire-spoked 16-inch wheels, and leather-skinned saddlebags. They have approximately the same size air-cooled engines—1802cc for the BMW and 1868cc for the Harley—with comparable torque peaks. At 116 ft-lbs for the BMW and 119 ft-lbs of torque for the H-D, we’re talking the margin of error.

However, all this similarity comes to an abrupt halt the minute you throw a leg over, start the engines, and get moving.

Cruisers about style and presence, and both bikes deliver. The Heritage Classic has the traditional Harley-Davidson feel to it—all V-twin, chrome, and fenders. The BMW is all about the Big Boxer with its gorgeous enormous cylinders sticking out each side of the engine case, right in front of the rider’s shins. Fit and finish of both bikes are terrific, with the BMW First Edition paint job and engine aesthetics edging out the more-, perhaps too-, familiar Harley-Davidson. 

2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114 Price

Climbing aboard, you start to feel the differences in each of the bikes. 

The Harley-Davidson feels just like you would expect—a big comfortable seat, natural height and reach to the highish grips, an approachable seat height, and a relaxed knee bend when your feet are on the roomy floorboards. 

Sitting on the Heritage Classic feels like being in a cockpit rather than sitting on top of a bike, but without feeling too low to the ground. I have ridden a couple different H-Ds recently, and not all fit me equally well—that is not the case with the Heritage Classic.

The BMW is a very different experience. While the R 18 Classic has a low center of gravity, more upright seating position, and easy reach to the grips, which sit much lower than on the Harley-Davidson; it feels more like you are on the R 18 than in it. Complicating the matter are the big cylinders that prevent your legs from stretching out. Also, the heel/toe shifter and brake pedal are tucked almost under the cylinders. That took some adjusting for me. 

2021 BMW R 18 Classic: MSRP

I am six-foot even with a 32-inch inseam, and I just didn’t quite fit the BMW right. I found the BMW leg space to be a bit cramped, unlike the recently launched BMW R 18 Transcontinental version, which is roomier due to a slightly higher seat and longer rear suspension travel. 

The Harley-Davidson ergonomics, despite me not being a huge fan of forward controls, fit my body perfectly, and the well-cushioned and supportive seat provided all-day comfort. The R 18 Classic’s seat is comfortable, but feels spartan compared to the Heritage Classic’s saddle.

Both motors fire up with a nice low thunder and rumble, but the BMW’s huge, opposed cylinders create a side-to-side rocking reciprocating mass effect in neutral that is startling. As a BMW R 1250 GS owner with a boxer engine, I’m used to this, but not with 1.8 liters of force! It is still quite an experience at start-up, even when you’re anticipating it. Once running, the BMW settles into a smooth purr while the Milwaukee-Eight 114 lets you know it is a Harley-Davidson with a whirling burble and more aggressive sound. The 114 also makes its presence known in no uncertain terms at startup. 

2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic Motor

Riding through the streets of Los Angeles and the mountains and deserts north of the urban sprawl, we switched back and forth between the bikes on an unlimited variety of roads. Say what you like about the cost, politics, and lack of water, California is still a motorcyclist’s paradise! 

Riding around town for hours, both bikes felt right at home—they are cruisers, at heart, remember. Low centers of gravity and abundant torque available right away make the motorcycles fun and remarkably easy to maneuver. 

The R 18 Classic retained its smooth engine vibe all day at city speeds while providing plenty of juice when needed. The Heritage Classic also stayed true to its ethos, with a rumble and bark you’d expect. While I tend to lean towards a smoother engine sound and feel, the Milwaukee-Eight 114 has an amazingly direct connection between the throttle and the engine. 

2021 BMW R 18 Classic: Motor

Unlike the BMW, the H-D does not have ride modes that alter the fueling and responsiveness of the engine—it does not need them. No matter what speed I was running or gear I was in, a twist of the throttle translated to an immediate, precise, and strong V-twin engine response. Harley-Davidson engineers have this dialed exactly right. 

The Heritage Classic delivers power to the rear wheel with a belt, while the BMW gets power to the rear wheel via a glorious, exposed shaft drive. However, the final drive choices don’t impact performance or feel.

BMW gives the Big Boxer a smoother-shifting gearbox than the Cruise Drive chained to the Milwaukee-Eight 114 motor. While the BMW’s heel/toe shifter initially feels odd and uniquely German, you’ll likely grow into it as long as you resist the temptation to use your left toes for upshifts. The R 18 Classic uses two levers for shifting, and they are individually adjustable to taste. The Harley-Davidson gearshifting arrangement is fully intuitive, and many riders will appreciate the sure feel of the engagement of each gear.

While we didn’t find many urban curves to test the handling, the rough LA city roads did reveal another difference in the bikes. With only 3.5 inches of rear travel versus the Heritage Classic’s Softail chassis’ 4.4 inches, the R 18 Classic did not handle the bigger bumps and road imperfections as well. This is in contrast to the R 18 Transcontinental, which has 4.7 inches of travel and is quite plush. Fork action is about equal.

Once we left the city limits, the performance differences became more apparent. Right off the bat, we were into some fantastic curvy canyon roads and switching between the bikes frequently. Don showed me many long desert straightaways, and some obscure steep and tight mountain roads. We finished with a couple hours’ sprint home on U.S. Route 99 and Interstate 5. With abundant torque and stability, these two motorcycles are made for dueling with balky uphill traffic on the Grapevine.

As we became more comfortable with the bikes, we began to push them more and more, dragging the floorboards through tight turns and winding out the engines on the straightaways. 

As conditions became more challenging, the R 18 Classic’s smooth and capable vibe began to show its limits. In the narrow canyons, the BMW feels incredibly agile, considering it weighs over 800 pounds. Turning in requires little effort, despite the chassis stability. However, BMW leaves quite a bit on the table, as its floorboards touch early and abruptly. Although the initial interface of the floorboard to the asphalt isn’t as jolting as on the footpeg-equipped standard R 18, it’s still unnerving enough to make a rider gun-shy when diving into a corner. We ended up counterweighting to keep the BMW more upright—not very cruiser-like.

Despite being lighter, sporting a shorter wheelbase, 30mm-narrower rear tire, steeper rake, briefer trail, and lower seat height than the R 18 Classic, the Heritage Classic 114 is less at home in the twisties. That’s a reminder that you have to ride motorcycles to judge them, rather than simply pontificating based on a spec sheet. 

The Heritage Classic is willing to change direction, but you have to put more effort into it—we attribute that to the V-twin’s higher center of gravity. When you reach the cornering clearance limit and the H-D’s floorboards start scraping, they do so in a pleasant way that is a gentle reminder rather than a panic-inducing gouge. That difference alone gives the Heritage Classic a distinct advantage over the R 18 Classic on twisting roads, even though the BMW is the superior handler.

2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic MSRP

On some of the rougher roads, the Harley-Davidson’s suspension causes the Heritage Classic to lose its otherwise excellent composure in turns compared to the BMW R 18 Classic. On steeper sections and passing situations, the powerful and torquey engines made short work of the tasks, showing why big-inch, twin-cylinder, air-cooled cruisers are so fun to ride. 

Braking is something of a mixed bag. The initial bite of the BMW’s front brakes is so soft that it feels like the Harley-Davidson brakes are more muscular. However, as more pressure is applied, the R 18 Classic’s twin front discs linked to the rear disc clearly gives it the Heritage Classic’s one-disc-per-wheel arrangement. ABS is transparent in both.

Given that neither motorcycle is an aggressive cornering machine, the tires were more than adequate. Harley-Davidson goes with its proprietary Dunlop D401s, with BMW tapping Bridgestone for a pair of Battlecruise H50 tires. Both motorcycles have 130/90 front tires, with BMW going fat with the R 18 Classic, which has a 180mm rear rubber, compared to 150mm on the Heritage Classic 114. All four wheels get 16-inch hoops.

2021 BMW R 18 Classic: Price

Speeding across the desert straightaways and California Central Valley highways at high speeds, both bikes feel great with impressive wind protection, stable rides, and intuitive cruise control. The Big Boxer pulls powerfully off the bottom, but loses a bit of its punch at higher revs. In contrast, the Milwaukee-Eight 114 has a terrific linear throttle response and wants to produce more power as it spins up—66cc has its privileges. We did almost all of our riding on the R 18 Classic in the most aggressive Rock power mode, which is never unmanageably responsive. We welcome the Rain mode should the road be wet, and didn’t have any pressing need for the medium Roll mode. 

While we didn’t scientifically assess mileage and fuel economy, the Heritage’s slightly larger gas tank didn’t seem to translate to a materially longer range, as it always took a few more tenths of a gallon at fuel stops.

Vibration is interesting on these two big twins. The Big Boxer is smooth at lower revs, picks up some vibes as it hits the midrange, then smooths out again on top. Harley-Davidson likely doesn’t want to tame the Milwaukee-Eight 114’s thump, and you feel it. It’s not as buzzy as the BMW in the midrange—instead, you get the vibe everywhere. The 114 isn’t as smooth as the 107, again, likely by design. Remember, these motorcycles are cruisers with touring accessories, so they aren’t long-distance or high-speed machines at heart, so they aren’t as smooth as their pure-touring cousins.

BMW vs. Harley-Davidson Baggers: MSRP

Lacking a fairing to house a touring-friendly infotainment system, both motorcycles have traditional-style analog gauges, supplemented with essential bits of LCD-delivered digital information. The Harley-Davidson gauge has a bit more information, including fuel level, which the BMW inexplicably lacks. Both rides have traditional leather-covered semi-hard plastic saddlebags, with the Harley’s providing more storage and the advantage of being lockable. The Heritage Classic’s windscreen comes off quickly—no tools needed—for riding around town naked runs, while removing the R 18 Classic’s windshield requires tools and time to remove.  

Finally, I have to mention the kickstands, as they’re so different. The BMW has a long kickstand that requires a stretch of the leg to retract. Harley-Davidson is sticking with its unique Jiffy Stand. It always takes a few stops to get used to its spring-loaded action, but it always did its job of holding the Heritage Classic up.

BMW vs. Harley-Davidson Baggers: Touring Comparison

Although the BMW R 18 Classic and Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114 are both quasi-touring V-twins based on cruiser chassis, they are two distinctive motorcycles. There are too many differences to recount, and you just read them and have probably already gotten an idea in your mind which is best for you. One isn’t better than the other—they are different, and the collective needs of each rider is singular. If you listen to your heart, with a bit of input from your head, it will tell you which of the two belongs in your garage.

As I mentioned, I am a BMW owner and tend to value smooth purring power delivery, and high fit-and-finish. That being said, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114 is still the clear winner for me. While I am less a fan of the rough and tumble feel and sound of the Milwaukee-Eight 114, the performance, ergonomics, suspension, and handling edge out the 2021 BMW R 18 Classic’s beauty, smooth engine character, and agility on my scorecard.

Photography by Don Williams

RIDING STYLE            


2021 BMW R 18 Classic

2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114



Horizontally opposed twin

45-degree V-twin




Bore x stroke

107.1 x 100mm

102mm x 114.3mm

Max. torque

116 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm

119 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm

Compression ratio




Pushrod-actuated valves w/ two camshafts; 4vpc

Pushrod-actuated valves w/ single camshaft; 4vpc


Air and oil



6-speed (w/ optional reverse)



Single-dry w/ slipper function

Wet multiplate w/ assist function

Final drive





Steel-tube double-loop

Tubular and rectangular mild steel

Front suspension; travel

Non-adjustable 49mm Showa fork; 4.7 inches

Non-adjustable Showa Dual Bending Valve 49mm fork; 5.1 inches

Rear suspension; travel

Cantilevered spring-preload adjustable Sachs ZF shock; 3.5 inches

Spring-preload adjustable shock; 4.4 inches




Front wheel

16 x 3.0

16 x 3.0

Rear wheel 

16 x 5.0

16 x 3.0


Bridgestone Battlecruise H50

Dunlop Harley-Davidson D401

Front tire

130/90 x 16

130/90 x 16

Rear tire

180/65 x 16

150/80 x 16

Front brakes

Dual 300mm discs w/ 4-piston Brembo calipers

Single 300mm disc w/ 4-piston calipers

Rear brake

300mm disc w/ 4-piston caliper

292mm disc w/ 2-piston floating caliper


Standard w/ linked braking




68.1 inches

64.2 inches


32.7 degrees

30 degrees


5.9 inches

5.5 inches

Seat height

28.0 inches

26.3 inches

Fuel capacity

4.2 gallons

5 gallons

Curb weight

804 pounds

728 pounds


$19,495 MSRP (First Edition tested: $21,870)

$20,449 MSRP


2021 BMW R 18 Classic vs. 2021 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic 114 Comparison Photo Gallery