The long-awaited BMW cruiser is nearly here. Alan Cathcart talks about the latest project in the Concept R18 and speaks with designer Edgar Heinrich. Make no mistake: this is a big deal for BMW
At the prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza held in Italy on May 25 at the elegant Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como, BMW Motorrad unveiled its own Concept R18 interpretation of the Custom Cruiser theme, signaling a first step in taking on Harley-Davidson on home turf soon.
Stripped down and raked out, the long-wheelbase retro-styled Concept R18 is a statement of what BMW’s designers are capable of.
Motorcycles like the Concept R18 are a response to a growing need among the motorcycling community, explains Edgar Heinrich, head of BMW Motorrad Design. Instead of technology, the focus here is on simplification, authenticity, and transparency. I observe an almost romantic yearning for real mechanical engineering. Our aim with this Concept bike is to address this need and turn it into an analog statement in a digital age. We have a rich history of iconic motorcycles, and they all bear the same design characteristics. We believe that this can still work well today together with current technology.
The BMW Motorrad Concept R18 shows how a modern projection of a 1960s Boxer engine might look today as a purist Custom bike in combination with all the classic design cues of BMW Motorrad design.
With its clear aesthetics openly on display, the Concept R18 embodies for me what motorcycling, at its core, is really about, says Heinrich. It’s all about feeling instead of thinking, and not using technology for self-staging, instead giving space for imagination. This concept bike appeals to something deep down—you just want to just get on it and ride off. But when you get off it again, you don’t just put it in the garage and walk away—you turn around again and give it a final parting glance.
BMW says that this retro-themed Cruiser is a tribute to the original 1936 R5, its first customer superbike. The 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels give it a classic stance and visually balance the dominant flat-twin power unit. The bike’s balanced proportions convey a timeless beauty which comes from reducing the motorcycle to its bare essentials. The frame and tank create a common line all the way from the steering head to the rear wheel hub and lend a flowing elegance to the side view.
The heart of the Concept R18 is BMW’s all-new 1800cc Big Twin OHV Boxer motor—the largest capacity twin-cylinder motorcycle engine the German manufacturer has yet conceived. The engine cases and transmission are made of glass bead-blasted aluminum castings, providing a stage on which to present the hand-polished aluminum components, as well as the valve covers and open-to-view final drive shaft.
The engine badge bears the name of the Concept bike and the Solex dual carburetors (not EFI—at least on this concept bike) fitted, similar to those used in the late-’60s BMW 2002 sports sedan, reflect BMW’s sporting history, and add further to the bike’s authenticity.
The R18 is replete with stylish touches like the teardrop tank, polished rocker covers, cantilever suspension, open carbs and a tiny LED light nestled between the fork legs. Similarly, the electronics of the concept bike are reduced to no more than a starter and lights, underlining its purist design.
We’ll have to wait until next year to find out how close BMW’s first-gen Custom Cruisers will be to the Concept R18—but for sure its management won’t have wasted an opportunity like this to clinic one possible design solution to Villa d’Este onlookers and the rest of us around the world.
Edgar Heinrich Speaks: The BMW Motorrad Concept R18 is a Mechanical Sculpture
Edgar Heinrich, 59, has spent most of his career working for the Bavarian-based company, with a first stint from 1986 to 2009. There, he was responsible for the styling of the then-radical four-cylinder K 1200 S and K 1200 R, the HP Megamoto off-road model, and the Paris-Dakar off-road racers.
He also worked on creating the R 1150 GS and R 1200 GS two-wheeled cash registers which continue to represent BMW’s gateway to growth and profitability and was head of the S 1000 RR Superbike design team.
After the debut of that model in 2009, Heinrich moved to India to be Vice President of Product Development at the country’s second largest manufacturer, Bajaj Auto, where he worked alongside R&D engineers from its sister company KTM, today BMW’s rival for supremacy among European manufacturers.
But in July 2012 Heinrich re-joined BMW Motorrad as Head of Design in the wake of the abrupt departure of his predecessor, David Robb. One of his first duties was to assume leadership of the team developing the R NineT retro model, and its succession of spinoff variants—a kind of introduction to the challenges of developing a range of twin-cylinder Cruisers powered by the Big Twin engine. The chance to speak to him one on one gave some hints about the direction these will take.
Edi, the Big Twin Boxer engine, which will form the basis of the future range of BMW Cruisers, has now been officially released in public. But you presumably must have designed the way it looks some time ago, because the engine is the focal point of any cruiser model, and it’s especially prominent in a BMW Boxer. True?
Definitely. I mean, you have seen the Big Boxer, and this is obviously for us also very interesting because you know the industry is pretty small and people know each other, and of course there’s a big interest from the custom guys in this engine. And we were happy to provide a couple of motors, one to Japan and the other one to Texas, to get this thing growing a little bit, and to make people aware of what we’re working on.
How did you make sure that the customizer’s bikes weren’t going to be a copy of what you were doing yourselves?
We didn’t want to control what these guys were doing, definitely not. But we also wanted to make sure that they didn’t inadvertently do a copy of our bike—that wouldn’t make any sense. So, we brought the Americans over to Munich—the Japanese were too far advanced for it to make sense to do so with them—and they saw our bike, or basically a 3D model of it. We wanted to show them what we were doing, so we could say, “Don’t do that! Anything else is fine, but please do something different from this.” And so they did! But otherwise, they had complete freedom to do whatever they wanted.
So at the Villa d’Este show at the end of May, what you showed is something along the lines of what you expect to put into production?
Yes, and it was interesting to hear the responses to it. Because this bike is at a different level of, let’s say, production-focused refinement from what you’d seen from Japan or Texas. You can tell that it’s at a different stage of evolution, as well as also a decidedly different design direction from what those guys did with the same engine.
In designing a future BMW Cruiser, what were your parameters? Number one, must it be a Boxer?
I would put it this way. If we go into this segment where we haven’t really been before, it definitely has to truly be a BMW, and it must be absolutely recognizable as a BMW, and not perceived as a copy of anything else, from whoever else. So absolutely no V-twin, for example. This means that what we did, of course, was to take a very close look at our BMW heritage, which is very rich—there’s lots of stuff in there. If you have a close look, you can discover lots of very typical BMW iconic elements that you can use or refer to, and this is exactly what we’re going to do with our cruiser family of bikes.
But I repeat, presumably, you had to design the aesthetics of the engine first, because that takes longer to develop to production-ready condition. What were your objectives in doing that? Presence? Because it’s certainly very visually arresting!
Of course, the sheer presence of a big twin is a very interesting issue. Because if you look at the really iconic motorbike concepts, basically the iconicity is essentially derived from the engine—it’s the mechanical sculpture which defines the bike. Look at all those machines like the American V-twins, the Ducati desmo L-engines, the Japanese in-line fours, the Boxers, the Guzzi transverse V-twins, the Triumph triples—these are what determine the truly iconic bikes out there.
And of course, the engine is always center stage in a custom cruiser, too. So, we did look very deep into our history of Boxer engines, and I’m certain this will be a very interesting engine, and a nice platform for customization, too.
Aesthetically it’s very arresting visually—it immediately gets your attention.
Oh, yes—definitely! The engine sticks out a long way, so you know it’s very large displacement. It’s a big engine, but I’m not afraid of this, because it won’t be a small bike, either. I think the balance will work very nicely.
What I always feel is important is that you need to see the semantics in a bike, and the Boxer engine produces this very nicely, because you have an airbox, you have something going from the airbox inside the engine, you see something is working in there, you have these kinds of rods, and then you see the exhaust coming out. And even without any understanding of the internal combustion engine, you can see the flow of whatever’s happening inside there. It’s exciting! And it’s also visually unique, which is always important when you’re trying to build a bike that doesn’t look like anyone else’s! CN