Last-minute arrangements were quickly approved for a seat-of-the-pants trip to Austin from Tehachapi, Calif., to attend the Cardano Community Event at Consensus 2022, where crypto and blockchain techies across the globe gather to discuss all matters of this fast-growing industry. I wanted to be a part of it, and that required an appropriate ride—my Euro dual-sport bike with knobbies wasn’t going to get the job done. The BMW R 18 Transcontinental touring motorcycle, loaded with amenities and the latest technology features expected in today’s luxury cars, got the nod.
It would be a six-day trip with the first leg dedicated to making it to Austin ASAP, which meant no time to explore. The shortest route involved Interstate 10 and riding across the desert during one of the hottest weeks of the year.
It started at 5 p.m. on a Monday evening—through the wind turbines behind Mojave, through Palmdale and picking up Interstate 10 in San Bernardino, riding the BMW R 18 Transcontinental past Palm Springs for a stay in Blythe on the Colorado River, which marks the California/Arizona border.
I arrived in Blythe at 9:30 p.m. to escape the blistering daytime desert heat. The Transcon’s lighting is fantastic at night. The lower driving lights light up a good portion of the road immediately ahead, while the headlights focus in the distance, while not blinding the drivers ahead—head-on or in their rearview mirrors.
The next stayover would be Fort Stockton, Texas—over 800 miles away. Nothing is exciting about I-10 through Phoenix, Tucson, and El Paso, so it was all about staying on the throttle and in the seat.
In Texas, the speed limits are 70, 75, and 80 mph, including semi-trucks. I didn’t want to get passed by them, so the pressure was on to keep up speed, while also dodging discarded tire treads and roadkill. It required my complete focus on what might lay ahead, so my first two nights into late hours in the dark were nerve-wracking.
From Ft. Stockton, it’s an easy six hours to my destination near the Texas state Capitol. But let’s backtrack a bit.
My trip started on Monday morning. Picking up the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental at BMW’s fleet center in the South Bay area of Los Angeles didn’t start off smoothly—like I was being given signs to not go on the ride. Bad luck got me there two hours late, and I needed to get out of town to avoid fighting stop-and-go traffic on a very large machine that was new to me.
For me, the bigger the bike, the steeper the learning curve and more skill required to negotiate my way out of crowded metropolitan Los Angeles, and the near half-ton BMW demanded it.
The first thing I notice about the R 18 Transcontinental is lifting it up off the kickstand. I felt its weight instantly. I’m 6-foot, 180 pounds, and have 40 years of riding experience, and my first thought was this is a Big Man’s bike. I wrestled getting it pointed in the right direction, out of the fleet center driveway, and toward the notoriously busy San Diego Freeway.
Pushing the start button of the 1802cc Big Boxer, you feel the gyration of those two big-inch jugs shifting back and forth. It’s nothing like a V-twin sensation, where the vibration is in line with the frame. The R 18 requires your legs as sturdy outriggers. The low 29.1-inch seat height helps with this, and at stops in search of hard ground.
I’ve ridden the taller GS bikes of smaller displacement and always had trouble with the boxer heads as intrusive. However, the Transcontinental is stretched farther between seat and engine. The space between the cylinders and floorboards initially feels a bit too tight to slip a boot into the heel-toe shifter and brake levers.
Eventually, it becomes a naturally learned movement. I would still try to shift up with my boot between the floorboard and front rocker shifter from habit, ignoring the convenient heel shifter. You must learn these simple steps quickly in busy big city traffic.
Taking off is easier, with a smooth yet balanced surge forward and up through the gears. Too much throttle and the electronics step in to manage the torque. The Big Boxer produces 91 horsepower and 117 ft-lbs of torque, so there is plenty of pull on tap.
Approaching stops and moving with stop-and-go traffic is the challenge. The low-slung weight helps, but the side-to-side engine gyration at idle can spook at times.
Fortunately, I succeeded. I got home in time to load up a week’s worth of clothing and mount my Samsung phone to the handlebar, giving me the needed hours to make my tight schedule.
After a couple days of fuel stops and rehydration, you get the confidence needed to ride the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental; 1600 miles into my ride, I felt I had it down.
After a Tuesday night in Fort Stockton, took I-10 east before peeling off on eastbound U.S. Route 190, which features rolling hills, oil fields, and green trees through the historic towns of Eldorado and Llano.
The average range between fuel stops is around 200 miles, with an early low fuel warning arriving when dropping below a quarter-tank. I like to take it to fumes, and once I did, out of curiosity. I got worried that I’d be waving people down for a shot of gas, so I stopped to search for the nearest gas locations. Google Maps told me to backtrack a bit.
Getting off interstates in Texas is highly suggested. I viewed an antelope-type animal crossing at a safe distance, and the roadside plant life is groomed very wide to help prepare to dodge the wildlife. Texas work trucks are all outfitted with grille guards.
I arrived in Austin in time for a nap, shower, and Uber ride to the Palmer Events Center, overlooking the beautiful cityscape of high-rises and Austin’s Colorado River. After a night’s sleep, it was another three days on the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental to return home—this time with less pressure.
I loaded the trunk with clothing and quicker access to sunblock, eyeglasses, and water. The same box stores the helmet for overnight security. The ample trunk and hard, double-lined plastic side cases are automatically locked from the right handlebar control buttons, or the remote control—no need to fiddle with keys.
Also located in those cases is the rear Marshall speaker system. Even if they went to 11, you still wouldn’t hear your music recognizably at 50+ mph. I thought that’s what street riding was all about—wind through my hair, er, helmet, and the music of my life.
My route choice out of Austin avoided I-10 altogether. It took me to Flagstaff, where I was met with monsoon rains and temps that dipped in the 60s on rain-drenched I-40.
The day began from Austin on U.S Route 290 westbound. It took the Transcontinental and me through Fredericksburg, northwest on U.S. Route 87 to Midland, and crossing into New Mexico for a night in Roswell.
The next day included photos at historic stops in Lincoln, Capitan, and around the White Sands Missile Range. It continued through Pie Town, then into Arizona to Show Low, and heading north to Interstate 40 for the ride home.
I avoided the high temps on this scorching heat wave with route planning and night riding—I never saw temperatures over 101 degrees. I wore a dirt bike helmet with a peak to protect my eyes—the windscreen made this possible. I wore sunglasses and kept sunblock on my cheeks, nose, neck, and wrists. My high-collar button shirt provided maximum flow and sun protection. Riding jeans and slip-on boots completed my wardrobe. I was set to experience 116-degree weather in Needles, Calif., but I arrived from Kingman before sunrise.
Given the high temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised that heat at the shins never proved annoying. Airflow from deflectors keeps air directed through the deep fins of the air-/oil-cooled heads and off your body.
A great feature in modern cars is the forward vehicle sensing while in cruise control, and it was essential for this ride on the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental. When you reach the rear of a vehicle you are approaching, it slows the motorcycle to keep you at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. Hit the throttle to pass when needed and drop back to your set speed.
I rarely use cruise control on my own vehicles to avoid surprises, but BMW’s radar technology makes long drives safer. You forget you’re locked in until it slows you down, prompting you to consider overtaking. Long straight runs on the Transcon demanded cruise control, as the function relieves your throttle hand from the constant battle to keep a smooth speed and a firm grip.
The Transcontinental is beautiful and luxurious looking in Manhattan Metallic Matte with just the right amount of chrome, except where you need it least—on top of the fuel tank cap cover of the 6.3-gallon tank. It makes a great sun reflector targeted at your eyes. I would spray that with a rattle can of flat black.
The windshield can get a little distorted near the edge. At times, it displayed the colors of a prism—my sunglasses may have been the problem. The mirrors could be a little larger. I had to lean forward for wider viewing.
The digital dashboard kept me informed with fuel range, trip mileage, time, and not much more. The performance mode was kept in Rock the entire ride. Roll was not needed, and I forgot about Rain when at the times I should have invoked it.
BMW has a proprietary power jack that I didn’t have, so I couldn’t power my Garmin Tread GPS. The BMW navigation system was going to require more time to learn. For this trip, my cellphone did the navigating.
I fiddled with settings and finally got to listening to music as I moved closer to home. I had spent my time learning the more important features and functions first with my tight schedule.
Braking is the usual—dual front discs and a single rear. Luckily, no scares were experienced requiring any hard binding
I had a few close calls along the way. I came within a foot of a chair lounging between lanes on I-40, just west of Flagstaff, in heavy traffic and on wet pavement. Earlier, while I was still in my own town, I dodged a car turning unexpectedly while I was fiddling with controls. Plus, I was constantly scanning for shed tire retreads in high temps and roads with heavy truck use.
Remember my mentions of signs urging me to not take the trip? They continued each day. A hearse was parked next to me at a gas station, and I swear it was the same one that crossed my path earlier.
Still, I made the 3130-mile trip home and safe with just a slight case of monkey butt. The seat is great, though I would add a bit of cushion across the cheeks. Thanks to the safety features of the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental, I won’t be needing that hearse just yet.
Photography by Damon Powell
2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental 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
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlecruise H50
- 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
- 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 Prices: $24,995 base MSRP. As tested w/ Select ($950) and Premium ($3225) Packages, plus Manhattan Metallic Matte paint ($500): $29,670 MSRP