When BMW introduced the BMW R 18 cruiser, the German brand hinted that more variations would arrive sooner rather than later. It took just a year for the R 18 family to grow to four members—three of them equipped with bags and ready to go touring. The flagship model is the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental fully dressed tourer. We put on our Sunday best and went on some long rides, though we didn’t quite go coast-to-coast yet.
BMW didn’t take many shortcuts when turning the standard R 18’s chassis into the Transcontinental. The R 18 Transcontinental is more than an R 18 with a fairing, bags, and a top case. BMW gave the Transcon a new frame and a 19-inch front wheel, giving the dresser 28.3 degrees of rake and a stability-enhancing 7.2 inches of trail. To keep the Transcontinental from becoming too cumbersome to ride in anything but a straight line, the wheelbase was tightened up by 1.5 inches to 68.2 inches. The new frame also allowed for a new gas tank that holds a rangy 6.3 gallons—an increase of over two gallons compared to the urban-friendly R 18. The Big Boxer motor is unchanged, though it does get a less flamboyant muffler.
In the transformation of the R 18 into the Transcontinental, the platform gains 181 pounds—and that’s before you add cargo and a passenger. The Big Boxer’s 116 ft/lbs of torque at 3000 rpm make short work of the extra poundage, though the modest 91-horsepower peak at 4750 rpm means the motor runs out of puff at high speeds.
Starting up the Big Boxer requires your attention. When those 901cc combustion chambers fire up and the gearbox is in neutral, it throws the R 18 to the side demonstratively. I haven’t tried it because I don’t want to drop it, but if you pushed the start button and didn’t have your hands on the grips, you might find the motorcycle and you on the ground—especially if your focus is elsewhere. However, when you’re ready for it, it’s an exhilarating experience.
The R 18 motor has three modes, but it needs only two of them. As with the other R 18s, you get the focus-group titled Rock, Roll, and Rain modes. However, the R 18 Transcontinental is no hotrod, and the Rock mode doesn’t rock much harder than a Gayle playlist. When you back it down to Roll, the motor starts to feel lazy, and there’s an increase in the intervention of various traction control functions. Rain mode behaves as you’d expect, and you want everything padded down if the pavement is wet.
The 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental’s Big Boxer is not happy at speeds we prefer for long-distance touring. When we can make time on long, empty highways, we ramp up the velocity. Once you hit 80 mph on the Transcon, the Big Boxer starts intruding on the fun. Vibration invades the grips and floorboards, spreading to the seat at 85 mph. While you can ride for a few minutes at those speeds—BMW says the Transcon’s top speed fully loaded is 99 mph—you won’t want to spend much time going that fast. Below 80 mph, the vibe of the horizontally opposed twin is pleasant, so you can ignore this Fast Fact if high speeds aren’t on your to-do list.
The fairing offers adjustable wind protection. There are a couple of two-position wind deflectors below the fairing edge on either side, and they make a huge difference at speed. In the open position, they’re great around town or at casual highway speeds, adding some enjoyable airflow. However, at about 60 mph, the wind sweeps up from below and causes turbulence behind the fairing, and air rushes up into your full-face helmet at an uncomfortable rate. There is a fix—move the wings to the deflecting position. It makes a huge difference in airflow, completely calming things down in the cockpit. They’re easily adjustable by hand, and experienced riders can flick them back and forth while riding.
The windscreen height is fixed. At 5-foot 10-inches, I have to sit bolt upright to see over the screen, and it is always prominently in my field of view. On long rides, I can get a little slouchy, and looking through the windscreen alerts me to that. Fortunately, if you don’t like the windscreen’s height, BMW has various screen options.
Backroads are the natural habitat of the Transcontinental. With its 941 pounds carried low, handling is quite good. The small floorboards don’t touch down inordinately early, so you can ride it as you would a fully dressed cruiser-based tourer. The leverage of the wide, high handlebar makes riding the R 18 Transcontinental a low-effort proposition once underway.
Turn-in with the 19-inch wheel is natural. The 120mm Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 puts plenty of rubber on the road for confident turning. It is improbable that you’ll light up the rear tire, and there is more than enough edge grip for the cornering clearance provided.
The suspension knocks off the rough edges without being vague. Handling a half-ton of motorcycle in motion is a thankless job, yet the 4.7 inches of travel at both ends get the mission accomplished. There are no damping adjustments, and the shock’s spring preload is automatically set. The Transcontinental’s shock is longer-travel than the standard R 18, which gives it more cornering clearance while it does a superior job of minimizing road irregularities.
You can’t go touring without being comfortable, and the Transcontinental is a cush ride. The ergonomics feel somewhat odd at first if you’re not familiar with high bars. However, once you settle in, it all works. The cupped seat offers some lower back support that helps on longer stints in the saddle, with just the right foam density. BMW offers both a taller and shorter seat, for those who want to change the rider triangle and distance to the pavement.
The issue of legroom on a boxer will never be settled. V-twin adherents will bemoan the two jugs jutting from the cases, which prevent you from stretching out without tapping into your inner contortionist. Everyone’s different, and I found the movement available on the abbreviated floorboards to be adequate to keep my joints happy, though mine are in pretty good condition—your body’s mileage may vary. Occasionally, I’ll put my leg out and hold it there for a few seconds, which does the trick for me. BMW offers highway peg options if you don’t mind putting your boots even closer to the valve covers.
With floorboards comes heel/toe shifting. BMW wants you to relax on the Transcon, and that includes slowing down the shifting process. Although downshifts are straightforward, the heel-actuated upshifts require a very deliberate movement of your foot—this is not a setup for someone with a limited range of motion in the ankle. Depending on the size and shape of your boot, you can upshift by nudging the front lever. However, it’s not as sure as the heel shifting, so we stuck with the heel. Fortunately, the R 18’s transmission is smooth, and we never missed a shift in either direction.
The Transcontinental is gentle on the brakes and clutch. Engagement is very soft for the front and rear brakes, while the clutch engages smoothly over a good range, making the Transcon pleasant to ride. The front brakes ramp up progressively, while the somewhat awkward rear brake pedal never feels as strong as you would expect. Those huge master cylinders on the handlebar make the clutch and hand brake low-effort for an engine with plentiful torque.
When it comes time for that long trip, there is a moderate amount of storage. The side bags can take on 27 liters each, while the top box has a capacity of 48 liters, though you can only fit one helmet in at a time—okay, maybe two half-helmets. The three cases latch and lock securely, with remote locking an option.
Our test 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental had two Packages installed—Premium and Select. Premium adds $3225 to the Transcontinental’s $24,995 MSRP, and Select tacks on another $950. Add in $500 for the Manhattan Metallic Matte paint, and our test bike’s MSRP is $29,670.
The Premium Package has one essential feature, along with some worth-having goodies. You get Reverse Assist, which can be a big deal if you are forced to park with the nose downhill. Radar-enhanced active cruise control is a nice touch, though not something we often rely on. We do like hill start assist, and BMW integrates it effectively. The Premium Package upgrades the headlights—DLRs and cornering-aware lighting—which is helpful if you ride after dark. We weren’t impressed with the Marshall Gold Series 2 six-speaker audio system. It doesn’t sound good when turned up. Because the bar-mounted master cylinders sit right in front of the fairing speakers, this feature doesn’t give the feeling of being thoughtfully integrated. Whether this is all worth $3225 is up to you.
The Select Package focuses on security. You get a central locking system and locking gas cap, plus an alarm system. Seemingly out of place, yet welcome, is the tire pressure monitoring system—a valuable safety feature.
Helping the rider manage all the 2022 BMW R Transcontinental’s features is a stunning widescreen 10.25-inch TFT display and four round analog-style dials. An array of buttons on the left, plus BMW’s proprietary Multi-Controller dial, make the daunting job of navigating through the screens and options reasonably intuitive. The ability to monitor the Transcon’s systems is impressive. Running navigation and personal audio requires pairing your smartphone to the bike via Bluetooth. Conveniently, there’s a compartment on the tank for your phone with a USB-C power port.
The far-right analog clock has the oddest job in motorcycling—monitoring the motor power output, so you know how much you have in reserve. Someone will have to convince me that the Power Reserve indicator is anything other than a gimmick. According to the Transcon’s owner’s manual, “The power reserve indicator helps the rider estimate acceleration capability or proceed with gear selection to the best possible effect, for example when riding on mountain roads.” If you’re relying on that to make critical decisions, you probably need more seat time.
BMW puts the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental in its Heritage range, rather than including it in its Tour lineup. That’s telling. If you’re serious about long-distance touring on a BMW, look to the K 1600 line and the R 1250 RT. Despite its name, the Transcontinental is more about lower-speed regional touring, where style and comfort are your priorities.
Note: Action photos by Kevin Wing are of the First Edition, which was part of this extended test of the R 18 TranscontinentalStatic photos by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!