Custom BMW R 18 Inspired by 1950s Lead Sleds Is How You Really Make Harley-Davidson Sweat

4 months ago - 19 January 2024, autoevolution
Custom BMW R 18 Inspired by 1950s Lead Sleds Is How You Really Make Harley-Davidson Sweat
Ever since its arrival on the market back in 2020, the BMW R 18 cruiser motorcycle has positioned itself as a rival to Harley-Davidson.

Because neither Harley nor BMW like to share detailed info on their performance on the market, we don't have a clear picture of how much of a dent the German bike has put in Milwaukee's dominance of the segment.

But it’s clear things are not as easy as they used to be before the R 18 era got here. Not only are the Bavarians chasing Milwaukee machines in a bid to win the minds and pockets of buyers of new motorcycles, but BMW is making a hell of an effort to upset Harley in the custom bike segment as well.

Ever since the model's introduction (it is now a family true and true, with no less than six versions on the table) BMW has tried everything it could to support custom garages in adopting the R 18 as a base for their projects, to the point that it even held a sort of build-off competition.

Back in 2023, we didn’t get as many Motorrad-backed R 18-based builds as we would have liked, but there are hopes 2024 will be a little different. After all, with just a few weeks into the new year BMW has already pushed under the spotlight the first custom ride based on the model.

The bike in its modified form is called R 18 One Eight C and, despite being quite hard on the tongue when you try to speak its name, it more than gets the job done at having rival Harley all sweaty and nervous.

The build is the work of Paul Yaffe, one of the biggest names in the custom motorcycle industry and the man behind the mighty Bagger Nation It is based on the R 18 Transcontinental, and it was imagined – how else? – as a one-off build that blends hot rod cues with enough BMW elements to make it stand out.

A simple look at the ride will immediately make it obvious no corners were cut and no effort spared in trying to make a big-wheel bagger like few others out there. That's because it was made to be reminiscent of 1950s Mercury lead sleds, production cars with heavily modified bodies.

And a heavily modified body is what we get here as well. I mean, just look at that huge front fairing, the massive (but stock) fuel tank, and the impressive bags at the rear.

We'll start at the front, where all the magic of that huge front wheel happens. Rather simple in design, it is a 26-inch piece made from a solid block of aluminum and wrapped in a 180 mm wide tire.

To make it fit the builder had to modify the frame a bit, stretching and raking it to allow for the installation of the wheel. On top of that, special triple trees have been designed for the task.

Above the wheel sits a steel fender that was made from scratch, and above that the R 18's original fairing. You might no longer recognize it as such, as it was cut and rebuilt, but it is there.

Even higher the eyes of the people looking at the ride fall upon Yaffe monkey bars made specifically for this project.

The rear end of the ride is no less spectacular. Although it may not look like it, the saddlebag lids you see pulled over the bags at the rear are the original ones. True, they are no longer as they were because they got stretched, but they are there. The rear fender is the original one as well, but it, too, got the same treatment.

The bike suffered not only visual and handling modifications but deeper mechanical ones as well. There is an air suspension system in place, with the tanks, compressor, and controls hidden beneath each saddlebag.

The engine, BMW's mighty Big Boxer, remains in place, but it was treated to a new exhaust system built around the original pipe. It is still there, but with the catalytic converters replaced by a perforated high-flow baffle system. The pipe ends in a 3-step muffler system and a wide-open megaphone for “classic hot rod sound.”

When work on the R 18 was over, the bike was treated to a gloss black finish for a rather toned-down look. A perfect contrast to all the blackness is provided by the deep red (something that's known as ochs blood) that can be seen on the upper side of the fairing and on the seat. The same color can be spotted on the front brake calipers.

The BMW R 18 One Eight C is presently on the floor of the MBE motorcycle show taking place in Verona, Italy. We are not told what will happen to it once the show ends, nor are we given any hint as to how much it cost to build. 

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