BMW's big-block Concept R18 motorcycle takes Villa d'Este back to the 1920s

The boxer-twin-powered concept bike harkens back to BMWs of the past, while looking squarely at the future.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
3 min read
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BMW's Concept R18 uses a massive modern prototype engine to look back at Motorrad's incredible history.

BMW Motorrad

has developed something of a reputation for debuting amazing concepts, often with a decidedly historical bent, at the Villa d'Este concours in Lake Como, Italy. This year's offerings proudly uphold that tradition, but where things start to wander somewhat off the path is the fact that one of this year's concepts only has two wheels.

Yep, that's right. BMW Motorrad wasn't content to let the car guys have all the fun, and as such announced its R18 concept bike on Friday. BMW does the heritage thing exceptionally well, and that's evident in this two-wheeled masterwork. It has all the hallmarks of BMW's most classic motorcycle designs, including a steel cradle frame, a twin-cylinder boxer engine and shaft drive.

"For me, motorcycles like the BMW Motorrad Concept R18 are a response to a growing need among the motorcycling community: instead of technology, the focus here is on simplification, authenticity and transparency," said Edgar Heinrich, head of BMW Motorrad design, in a statement. "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 together today with the current technology."

That twin-cylinder boxer engine we mentioned is a special one. It's a prototype that we also saw in the Birdcage bike from Revival Cycles, and it's packing a massive 1.8 liters of displacement. If you're not into bikes, 1.8 liters might not sound like much, but in the land of two wheels, that's gigantic.

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The R18 derives its name from the huge 1.8-liter carbureted boxer-twin that lives in its cradle frame.

BMW Motorrad

The bike's unique stance is reminiscent of BMW's motorcycles from the 1920s, and that's accomplished in part by its staggered wheel setup. The R18 concept's front wheel is a colossal 21-inch spoked affair, while the rear wheel sizes in at 18 inches. For context, those are wheel sizes more often associated with dirtbikes than low-slung road bikes.

Other unique touches that harken back to BMWs of days long past are the exposed chrome-plated driveshaft. BMWs have had shaft drive since forever, but nowadays the prop shaft is safely encased in a cast-aluminum swingarm, away from things that it could catch on and destroy. The fuel tank is also reminiscent of BMW's early R-series bikes, with its sleek, teardrop shape and unique black-on-silver paintwork.

Modern touches, apart from the giant engine, are seen throughout the bike. One of the most significant concessions to modern motorcycle design comes from the braking system. Gone are the sketchy-but-gorgeous drum brakes of days of yore, and in their place are modern, highly capable disc brakes that will actually stand a chance of slowing the bike down more than once.

Lighting is another area where technology is employed, thankfully. There are no candle-dim incandescent 6-volt bulbs to be found on the R18. Everything uses modern, bright and highly power-efficient LED units.

We've often found ourselves wondering where BMW would go next with its heritage motorcycle division, with the R NineT series having reached the likely limits of its capabilities. Now we know, thanks to confirmation by BMW representatives that there is a production version of the R18 set to come out in the latter half of 2020. Time to get excited.

BMW's R18 concept motorcycle debuts at the Villa d'Este concours

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