Living Off the Slab Blog
Reacting to the BMW R18B and Transcontinental | Easy Rider on a BMW?

We all saw it, yesterday BMW released two new models in the R18 line. The R18 Bagger and R18 Transcontinental Tourer. Both bikes are based on the immensely large 1802 CC Boxer Engine that delivers 91 HP and 116 Foot Pounds of low-down torque.

When the original R18 was released, like many I thought it was a beautiful piece of motorcycle engineering harkening back to bikes like the R32 of 1922 or maybe the 1960’s R50. Whatever it’s heritage, the R18 is one over the top motorcycle and that is what makes it cool.

However, even with the retro factor in high gear, the R18 is not a very practical bike and surely does not look like it would be comfortable rolling down long stretches of tarmac.

Well now we have the R18B Bagger and the R18 Transcontinental Full Dressed touring bike, and even though neither of these bikes are not originally named, they certainly do offer a unique take on the standard American touring bike.

With all that said, I do have a couple of question for the BMW design and marking team. Just exactly what is it that you see in the American market that suggests this type of premium cruiser can go up against the iconic American brands (Harley and Indian) and be successful?

Harley Davidson sales have been down for the last 10 years, and they are moving toward new designs and new markets in an effort to recapture past glory. Sure, sales are up during the pandemic, but that is just a blip which will most likely correct itself over the next couple of years. With the Baby Boomers getting long in the tooth, where do you see this bike fitting in?

Secondly, I must be honest and tell you that when I saw that two-minute video of the new bikes riding through the American Southwest, I openly laughed. I mean really, BMWs riding in staggered formation, guys and girls in leather, blue jeans and work boots, fist bumping and dancing in the seats. And of course, let’s not forget the obligatory image of the guy with his feet draped over those big horizontal jugs.

I am sorry for laughing, but the thought of BMW’s riding in formation to the sound of blues rock, just struck me as funny and a bit ironic. Here is the stoic German brand known for high performance and precision, using the tired imagery repeated over and over again by Harley, Indian and even Kawasaki to reach the US cruiser buyer. Come on…all of these desert riding scenes are direct rip-offs from the opening sequence of Easy Rider. We just need Steppenwolf to hit a few power cords.

Doesn’t anyone ride their touring cruiser in the mountains or at the beach? Is there no other imagery or marketing concept that appeals to the American buyer? Or are we that predictable?

I road a Victory Vision for 10 years and it took me all over this country. I am also, now a BMW owner with a 2018 K1600 GTL in my garage. I love the bike, the way it handles, the performance and the technology it offers. I am not ragging on BMW because they are not a great company that produces amazing machines. They certainly are and at least from a visual perspective, I like the new R18 variants.

I simply lament that no company can figure out a way to reach the American buyer without trying to out Harley, Harley. It has not worked for the Japanese manufacturers; it did not work for Victory, and it is questionable how successful it is being for Indian.

Ironically, Harley Davidson is now lead by a German and looking to break into markets that have typically been ruled by brands such as BMW. At the same time, BMW is looking to expand their market into big American cruisers.

In the words of Bill Murray as Doctor Peter Venkman, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!" The apocalypse is upon us…

Ride safe my friends!
--Craig Ripley

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