CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Cruisers have become an important part of motorcycle manufacturers' line-ups. Once the domain of Harley-Davidson, the cruiser specialists, recently we have seen models from Indian and Victory, as well as from the Japanese companies, who have been at it for some time, too. Triumph has also entered the fray.

But now BMW has decided to have a go at cruising, simultaneously evoking tradition, heritage and nostalgia with modern technologies like fuel injection, LEDs, digital instruments (apart from the analogue speedo) and ABS. All sounds fair and reasonable, with looks harking back to the BMW R5 from as far back as 1936. This means black paint with white pin-striping ... all painted by hand, too. Add an exposed shaft drive (in shiny stainless steel), hidden rear shocks to provide that hardtail appearance, a teardrop fuel tank and tons of chrome, and you’re good to go.

Six-speed gearboxes are all the rage so we’ll have one of those, plus a single dry-plate clutch. Why? Because it fits, that’s why. But what to do with the engine? Flat four, in-line four, boxer flat twin of 1 000 cc capacity? No, it must be special and stand out from the bike crowd. So, how about a flat twin (it’s part of the BMW heritage) and make it a similar size to the larger Harley? Why not 1 800 cc?

So, that is what BMW did. Two pistons of 900 cc capacity each with air cooling making the cylinders even larger, finished off by a pair of drain pipes for exhaust headers. The fish-tail exhausts are works of art and hark back to the days of Velocettes and other British marques.

Taking a much appreciated feature from Milwaukee, self-cancelling indicators are fitted. The LCD instrument panel is clearly legible, even in bright light, and provides a rotation of time, date, oil temperature, average speed, trip meter and fuel consumption. Conspicuous in its absence is a range-to-empty readout. A missing fuel gauge could perhaps be understood, as long as the remaining range is there. This necessitates having to calculate your fuel consumption and expected range and then keeping a close eye on your trip odometer. 

We traversed just about all the passes round the Cape peninsula over two days. Hell’s Hoogte, Franschhoek pass, Houw Hoek pass, via Kleinmond over the spectacular Clarence Drive, Bain’s Kloof pass, Mitchell’s pass and finally, Du Toit’s Kloof pass.

The trickiest was the narrow Bain’s Kloof. The R18 is large and heavy, with a long wheelbase so quick turns are not easy. Ground clearance is also limited. The front suspension offers good travel but the rear is quite firm, so the numerous bumps on the way up the pass from Wellington made for an uncomfortable experience. Realising the descent had the really tight, twisty bits saw us gather all our faculties but it turned out to be far more fun than anticipated. The slower speeds, lack of wind and extreme natural beauty of the mountains had us smiling all the way. Fortunately, no approaching bakkies strayed into our narrow lane, so all was well that ended well.

Three modes are available; rock gives a sporty throttle response, roll needs more wrist twisting for progress and rain should be reserved for slippery conditions. Stability control is likewise adjusted. The feel of the torquey engine is very similar to that of the Harley; loads of character and low frequency shakes with a pleasant sound that’s not too obtrusive. At higher speeds, some higher frequency vibes set in due to a slight inbalance of the offset crankpins.

A reverse gear is optional and makes use of the starter motor in reverse, while a dual seat with rear foot pegs is a further extra. Customisation is possible with various seat and handlebar options. Want a little more? Well, a "classic" version has just been announced, adding a screen, extra spot lights and panniers for longer distance cruising.



FAST FACTS

Model: BMW R18
Price: R319 900 
Engine: Flat twin, air-cooled, OHV (1 802 cc)
Power: 67 kW @ 4 750 r/min
Transmission: 6-speed