Better late than never? After several years of studiously avoiding re-entering the cruiser market, BMW has finally picked up the glove and is going after Harley-Davidson and Indian in their core Big Twin segment with the R18 flat-twin now appearing in dealerships around the world. Game on! And here’s why.
In 2019, BMW Motorrad sold 175,162 motorcycles worldwide, a 5.8 per cent increase on the previous year, to mark a ninth successive record year for Europe’s number one in terms of €€€ volume (KTM sells more units annually, but each predominantly at much lower cost). However, the R1250GS/Adventure models accounted for around a third of all motorcycles BMW sold in 2019, with 59,000 units leaving dealerships around the world.
Okay, the German company’s motorcycle division isn’t exactly a one-trick pony — but it is heavily dependent on the GS for its profits, and in 2019 its USA and Canada dealers managed just 15,116 combined sales, while in the USA alone just 13,000 bikes were sold in 2018, a mere 8 per cent of BMW’s total production in the Western world’s number one market. That was the only disappointing note for the company’s performance, the reason for which BMW Motorrad CEO Dr. Markus Schramm was only too well aware of.
‘The American market is big, and our market share is small,’ he told me in an interview last year. ‘Why is our market share small? It’s because the single biggest and most dominant segment there is the cruiser one, so we are no longer just sitting back, and looking at how big this segment is! We are coming with our own very emotional, very attractive and completely authentic BMW solution to this segment. I think we must try doing this our own BMW way — we never copy anyone, and that applies for this segment as well. It must be an authentic BMW.’
Markus Schramm and his men are finally taking care of business via the development of a series of models scheduled to hit the marketplace on a regular basis from here on, powered by the largest-capacity flat-twin motor the company has ever produced. BMW has specifically termed the model sector the Big Boxer engine was designed to serve as a ‘cruiser touring’ segment, which gives a clue to the range of several different variants on the same basic platform it plans to make using this engine.
But first cab on the rank is the R18, on which I spent a 300-km day riding through the hills and valleys of the Bavarian Alps SE of BMW’s Munich home base, including some serious high-speed running on derestricted autobahns, heaps of hilly twisty stretches, down to going with the flow in Friday afternoon Munich traffic, and simply cruising chilled-out and free to roam along Bavarian country roads on the most unexpectedly capable motorcycle I’ve ridden for a good long while. BMW presents this as a cruiser, but it’s much more than that. This is a good old fashioned cubed-up roadster, with many strings to its bow. After riding it I can see how well this will serve as the platform for a range of diverse products, each powered by that meaty, mighty Big Boxer motor whose middle name is Torque.
The First Edition version I was riding, costing €22,800 ( ₹19.70 lakh) in Germany including 19 per cent local tax, is the only variant yet available in any country except the USA, where the baseline R18 model costing $17,495 ( ₹12.82 lakh) is also on sale alongside the First Edition retailing at $19,870 (₹14.56 lakh). The price difference gets you hand-painted pin-striping on the retro-shaped fuel tank, plus various badges and other accoutrements — essentially, you’re just paying extra to jump the queue, and let everyone know it via the classy-looking paint job on your gas tank!
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