“I’ve never seen a BMW that big.” I’m in Alamosa, Colorado and a gentleman at the fuel pump across from me has been eying my BMW R18 Transcontinental loaner for the last couple of minutes. Once he finally says something, I take my earplugs out and ask him to repeat himself. “I can’t believe BMW built something that large,” he confirms.
I paused for a moment, reflecting on the BMWs I’ve loved over the years before coming up with an underwhelming response: “I can’t, either.”
When I got the opportunity to ride the BMW R18 a few months back, I liked the engine and the styling but I struggled to understand why it had been created in the first place – I thought it was too weird for cruiser fans and too cruiser-y for BMW fans. I concluded the review by saying, “I think this platform makes a lot more sense with bags and possibly a fairing, so I look forward to seeing what BMW has planned next on the R18 chassis.” Looks like it’s time to find out.
What I don’t like:
VerdictAs someone who does not care for cruisers, let me put it this way: BMW has built one of the greatest couches of all time. Problem is, it’s not a very good motorcycle. I’m trying to keep my mind open and look at this from the perspective of a bagger buyer, but sloppy lever controls, difficult access to the pedals, and a general lack of riding engagement make me doubt that this BMW can tug at the heartstrings of Harley-Davidson/Indian buyers enough to poach sufficient sales to make the new platform worth it. I think BMW is going to have to settle for existing fans that want a taste of cruiser life but still want the roundel on the tank, and that’s not a large group of people. Check out the 2022 BMW R18 Transcontinental!
First Ride Review – 2021 BMW R18
Photos by Kevin Wing.
Wit that in mind, my focus in this review is on what differentiates the R18 Transcontinental from the base bike, not to rehash basics about the platform (if you’re not familiar with the standard R18 I’d ask that you check out my First Ride here). On top of that, we’re going to do things a little bit different this time: BMW flew us all in to Denver to give us a 185-mile day with the Transcontinental and the B/Bagger (more on the latter at the end of the story) in Colorado. They also gave us the option of skipping the flight back and riding home. You already know which option I chose, and I’m going to blend my review thoughts in with a bit of a travel log.
Any time I hit the road, I try to bring back Vy a snack (usually chips) that can’t be found in Los Angeles. We didn’t expect to find any unique chips in the Mile High City, but Vy discovered a specialty soda shop that she was intrigued by because they had flavors like Prickly Pear, Black Cherry, and Elderberry. Because of that, my first stop was at Rocky Mountain Soda Company. I walked into their headquarters, only to find out that it was the manufacturing plant and they didn’t have any retail sales. But a kind employee told me two things:
1.) They offer 12-pack samplers (one of each flavor) with free shipping, which presented a much more efficient option than taking 12 bottles home in the Transcontinental’s trunk.
2.) They just finished a run of Elderberry and there was a bottle that was poorly labeled, and I could take that as a thank you gift for coming by.
The top-loading side cases fit 27L and the trunk fits 48L, however those numbers decrease to 26.5L and 47L respectively with the Marshall speakers, which I assume just about everybody will be ordering. The bags are obviously waterproof, and BMW offers custom-fit canvas inner bags as an accessory. You’ll want them, because unlike with most BMW bikes, the luggage on the R18 Transcontinental is not designed to be easily removed and brought in with you. This is because the brake lights/turn signals are integrated into the trunk and mounted to the saddlebags.
One concern is the the capacity and shape of the top case, as this seems to suffer from the same problem as the 2018 Honda Gold Wing – I wasn’t able to fit my helmet and Vy’s helmet in it at the same time.
On the positive side, the bags are very intuitive to use, barely seem to shake while in motion, and they can be locked with a button the right hand controls.
Then the gentleman walked outside while I was looking up directions to my next stop and he said a third thing: “Wow, that’s the new BMW? Looks just like a Street Glide!” I suspect BMW would be glad to hear that, and I do think that BMW has created a fine looking machine in their efforts to steal away Harley-Davidson and Indian buyers.
Soda sourcing established, I started the trip in earnest. The problem is, my original plan was to head west, but the Caldor Fire and the air quality issues it was causing made me think that was a mistake. I instead headed south, but now I had to improvise. So I pulled up Google Maps to see if there were any fun roads that would keep me off the interstate, and Route 67 looked promising. I started with a little bit of boring slab on Route 25, and within a couple of miles I had a tail from the Aurora Police Department. I wasn’t speeding but I kept checking the mirrors (which offer a great view but vibrate too much) for some flashing lights behind me. They never came, and after 4-5 miles the officer pulled up along side me, started at the side profile of the R18 for a few moments, and gave me a thumbs up. I guess he approved of the styling, as well.
In addition to the bags and the fairing, the new bikes get cast wheels and integrated passenger seats. The Transcontinental also gets spot lights, trunk, taller windscreen, highway bars, and a chrome lip on the front fender.
The view is also dramatically different from the rider’s seat, with the gigantic fairing dominating the rider’s field of view. The fairing features a 10.25″ TFT screen, four gauges, and Marshall speakers.
From left to right, the four gauges are the fuel level, speedometer, tachometer, and quite possibly the most useless gauge ever placed on a motorcycle – the “Power Reserve.” It’s lifted from Rolls Royce automobiles to presumably class up the joint, but it’s pointless and I wish they used the space for a coolant temp gauge (or nearly anything else) instead.
I finally hop on State Highway 67 and I’m rewarded by long sweeping corners, beautiful views, and excellent pavement…until the pavement stops. I double check Google Maps to make sure I haven’t gotten lost (or just lost my mind). Nope, even though it’s a state highway, the road has become dirt. I slow to a relative crawl – it’s not that the R18 is awful to ride on this well-graded surface, I just really don’t want to have to pick it up if it tips over. At least I’m still being graced with beautiful views!
A few moments later, I see a caution sign warning me of a 15% grade. I kill the engine and leave the bike in first gear to get a photo of the angle, then realize it’s a perfect place to test BMW’s hill hold functionality: with the bike in neutral, quickly pull the front brake lever all the way. The bike automatically applies pressure to the rear wheel to keep it in place so your hands are free to do whatever you please, like get a photo of the road in front of you while on a steep grade. The Hill Hold system works flawlessly.
My dirt adventure ends just a couple of miles later, and then I’m following the Platte River on the unsurprisingly-named Platte River Road. I’ve got tunes blasting on the Marshall sound system, loud enough so I can enjoy them but hopefully not loud enough to disrupt the shocking amount of angler fisherman wading in the river.
While the R18’s exhaust sound is pleasant enough, the star of the audio show is a Marshall Amps audio system based on what’s currently found on the R1250RT. All of the Bs and Transcontinentals gets standard 25W speakers in the front fairing, though you can upgrade to get 90W subwoofers in the side bags and 25W speakers in the trunk for a total of 280W. I had to play around with equalizer profiles a bit, but in general the speakers work well. There’s distortion at max volume if you’re trying to hear tunes while doing 90+ (not that I would ever do such a thing) but that seems understandable.
State Highway 67 continues through Deckers, Colorado, and it’s impossible not to spot a group of about 20 bikes parked at a restaurant called Decker’s Corner. The smart thing for this story would have been to stop and see what they think of the newest BMW, but I’m on a tight schedule for my one commitment of the day – a virtual info session for the Yamaha Tracer 9 GT, which I ended up riding a few days later.
So I pulled into Woodland Park, Colorado, found a lovely music-themed bar with outdoor seating called Rhapsody, and set up shop with a spicy margarita and some fancy bruschetta while learning everything I could about the Tracer (First Ride Review comes on Wednesday). The bar is named after Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, so here it is if you want a soundtrack for the rest of the story:
Though my original route was to head west on the way home, the change in plans allowed me to check off something I’ve wanted to do on a motorcycle for years – Pikes Peak.
This seemed extra appropriate with my current ride, because these bikes are BIG. The B weighs 877 pounds, while the Transcontinental weighs a hefty 942 pounds, making it the second heaviest bike you can buy right now (1st place goes to the 963-pound Yamaha Star Venture). You feel this getting the bike off the kick stand, approaching a stop light, and while maneuvering at walking speeds – there’s just no way to hide bulk like that, but it’s also what comes with the territory of big twin-cylinder touring.
So that’s the “big” – but there’s also bad news about the “foot.” The base R18 had footpegs but the B and the TC have floorboards, and they don’t leave enough room to get your foot comfortably under the shift lever or on top of the brake pedal. Problem is, if you adjust the former up then there isn’t much room to downshift because of the gigantic cylinder heads. There’s also a heel shifter to help with the upshifts – it’s far back enough that it doesn’t interfere with my size 12 boots when I’m trying to sit in comfort but that means it’s also quite a reach to get to it. Overall, the heel shifter is a net positive, but it was frustrating that I had to rely on it so often because I had several instances of missed 1-2 upshifts when I couldn’t get enough leverage on the toe shifter.
Despite its increased mass, the R18 Transcontinental is easier to maneuver in tight situations as the rake is significantly steeper (now 27.3° from 32.7°). Such a change is not made in isolation, and in this platform it yields a few other positive benefits: shorter wheelbase, taller ride height, and more lean angle. The turning radius is better than expected, but walking speed maneuvers or coming to a stop without putting your feet down are made more difficult because of the giant cylinders firing away side to side. As you’d expect, things are more stable at higher speeds and it isn’t until you’re well and truly breaking the speed limit that you get any sort of wobble through long sweepers. You can obviously get the floorboards to drag pretty easily but it’s predictable. It’s just not a very engaging bike to ride, though that’s a 900+ pound bagger thing and not a R18 Transcontinental-specific thing.
The increased weight may also be causing another issue: the clutch on this bike occasionally slips. Not in a I’m-trying-to-set-a-record-0-60-time kind of slip, but if you take off from a dead stop 10 times, you’ll get 6 different experiences from the clutch lever. I realize this sounds absurd, but the engagement point fluctuates. I cannot figure out why that is, but it’s incredibly disconcerting and it makes me wonder how long it’ll last before it needs to be replaced. To be frank, it’s a dealbreaker for me.
As I got closer to the top, the temperature started to drop towards the mid 40s. I found solace in the R18’s heated grips and seat, both of which are very toasty (BMW does heated grips better than anyone) but suffer from a UI problem as you can’t just hit a button to turn them on, you have to go through multiple levels of menus in the dash with the jog dial. I found this to be very inconvenient, though the warmth was worth it. What makes it more annoying is that the passenger gets a simple physical switch for their heating needs – the rider should have been given this, as well.
Up at the summit, I encountered an unexpected touring platform – a Polaris Slingshot.
I also encountered some of the competition – one from Harley-Davidson and one from Indian. In the press presentation, BMW said that the worldwide market for the Transcontinental’s segment (full dressers) in 2020 was 18,080 sales, 76% of which were sold in the US. Model wise, the split (again, worldwide) was 53% H-D Electra Glide Ultra Limited, 28% H-D Road Glide Limited, and 13% Indian Roadmaster. As discussed above, I think the styling is on point. But we’ll have to find out together if H-D and Indian buyers will take the German seriously.
Leaving the summit, an employee told every single vehicle to keep their transmission in first (or “low” gear). About 7 miles down, there’s a checkpoint where another employee uses a laser thermometer to check the temperature of your brakes. If they’re too hot, you have to park in a nearby lot (conveniently located next to a gift shop) and let them cool down. I was curious to see what he’d do with the R18, and a little disappointed that he simply said “you’re good” and waved me by.
The fully linked brakes were a requirement for BMW’s fancy cruise control system, which I’ll get into later.
Pikes Peak conquered, I had to decided between heading south towards Albuquerque or west towards nowhere in particular. I chose the latter, and figured that Durango was a safe destination for the night. Then I hopped on Highway 160, and it was another beautiful road that made me want to move to Colorado. In a way, this was my highlight of the trip – the high speed sweepers were where the R18 felt most at home, there’s enough power to pass cars on two lane roads without having to plan too far ahead, and the 6.2 gallon fuel tank (up from 4.2 on the base R18) yields plenty of range so you can cruise at leisure. On roads like this I was seeing an easy 45 miles per gallon, which works out to 279 miles in a tank – though I saw more than 300 miles in a tank twice on this trip.
As the sun set, I had the opportunity to try out the Transcontinental’s fancy LED lighting system. The standard bike gets LED lighting, while the Premium Package comes with a LED light in a ball bearing mounted frame that can rotate 35 degrees in either direction when you’re leaned over. The Premium Package also gives you some adjustability to the high beam, which can swivel up or down 2 degrees depending on your lean. BMW says it has the “widest spread of light of any current BMW motorcycle,” and while I wasn’t able to get any pictures while riding (sorry) I confidently say that I believe them – it’s a wall of light that’s complemented by the two LED auxiliary headlights that have a classy fade in/out when you turn them on or off.
What’s also quite apparent at night is the screen, which is beyond impressive.
It’s just too much, and I think BMW should have gone with a touch screen because that would have helped with some controls tremendously (but then someone would complain about how it’s distracting from riding). There might not be a way to win here, though I did find Apple CarPlay in the Gold Wing to be much easier to use overall.
One other note about the phone-based navigation – it has a lot of promise (and it’s awesome when it works), but it frequently picks routes different to what Google Maps or Apple Maps recommend. In addition, if you want the map-based navigation you have to keep your phone on (as in, not in sleep mode). The BMW app has a screensaver mode for this but it’s going to be a battery drain/heat sink and it’s just weird to me. At least it’s free? BMW has a stash space for your phone with a standard electric fan for ventilation and an optional right angle plug for charging. It appears to be quite secure but my iPhone X from years ago (not nearly as big as they get) does not fit with an OtterBox case on it, which is a silly oversight.
Someone asked about the built-in GPS vs Garmin in my “What Do You Want To Know” post and my short answer is that the Garmin/BMW Navigator solution is a better one, though it’s going to be tough to find space to mount it on this bike.
I wasn’t sure what to do with my second day on the road. I had roughly 800 miles to cover to get home, and my hope was to split that up over another three days or so. But Vy had just wrapped up a month-long shoot on a movie set and I had a lot of work to do for some charity auctions Iconic is running with Honda (more on that later, but here’s the listings if you’re curious: 2005, 2007, 2009), so I decided to really put a test to the Transcontinental’s long distance/highway chops and knock it all out in one day. With that said, I still had another 310 miles of Hwy 160 before I got to Interstate 40 – and I had a pleasant surprise in the next major city!
About an hour into my day I was riding through Cortez, Colorado when I noticed someone pulling out of a motel parking lot…in a BMW R18 B. Turns out it was Evans Brasfield of Motorcycle.com, who was also riding back to Los Angeles (but wisely taking more than two days). Note the cosmetic differences (beyond the obvious lack of a trunk) – Evans was riding a regular B, while I happened to be on a First Edition.
Just like with the R18, the Transcontinental (and the B) get a $2,150 First Edition option that’s available for the first model year, and it’s visually differentiated with white pinstriping, contrast cut wheels, “First Edition” lettering on the side bags, and a lot of chrome: the engine covers, levers, pedals, mirrors, floorboards, front brake calipers, and auxiliary light housings are all slathered in it.
Once in New Mexico, the roads became straighter and faster, and I found myself getting a little frustrated with the seat on the Transcontinental, which has slightly less room for the rider than the stock seat of the B. Funny thing is, it’s actually all due to the engine. Because the cylinders get in the way, you can’t stretch your feet out to a full forward control position. The way to make up for this normally would be sit a little further back, but the scalloped Transcon seat didn’t afford me the room my 6’2″ frame needed when I wanted to stretch out after 45 minutes in the saddle or so.
This is also when I fell in love with the R18’s ACC – or as BMW would prefer I call it, Adaptive Cruise Control. The Germans are not the first to bring this technology to motorcycling, as Ducati debuted it with the V4 Multistrada. However I have a friend who owns a V4 Multistrada and he says that it wasn’t approved by the feds when Ducati first started selling the bike here so he has to take his bike into the dealership in a couple of weeks to get it turned on. Anyone else have a V4 Multi that can comment on that? Regardless, it was my first experience with the technology, and I am simply blown away by it. I’m not going to buy a bike just because it has ACC, but I was stunned by how well it worked and I’m going to make a short YouTube video for you soon to show you how it works on the road. For now, you’ll have to settle for my written description:
Those of you that are familiar with BMW’s regular cruise control (what I personally think is the most intuitive in the market) will already know 80% of this. But if you’ve never used it, there’s a sliding switch to turn on the system and then a front/back toggle to set/resume speeds. The difference with the ACC is that you now have radar guidance. So if you set your desired speed at 75 but you come up on a car that’s doing 62, the system will automatically slow the bike down (first with engine braking, then using the actual brakes if necessary) to maintain an appropriate following distance. There are three levels of following distance, and they can be changed on the fly with the button to the left of the hazard switch. If you change lanes and there’s nothing in front of you, then the bike will automatically accelerate up to 75 again. If you work hard you can confuse the system slightly but it’s really impressive how well ACC works in the real world with all kinds of variables. I also appreciate that the cruise control will stay engaged if you change gears (to help going up a hill, for example).
Remember how I mentioned that I couldn’t stretch out as much as I wanted to on the Transcontinental on longer stints? Well, I started sitting on the edge of the passenger seat to give my legs some more room, and then I kept exaggerating it for testing’s sake. Eventually, I was completely in the passenger seat with my hands off the bars and my feet on the passenger floorboards. I don’t officially sanction this behavior but I have to commend this bike as it’s so stable and the cruise control works so well that I was able to do this for longer than I was willing to admit in writing.
In a few years, all the bikes that currently have cruise control are inevitably going to get this system. But it will make you do one thing that I normally don’t bother with on long road trips – clean your bike at every gas station. I’m one of those people that waits till I get home to worry about giving the bike a wipe down, but that will change if I have more bikes with radar-guided cruise control. I had the system set at 70 mph near Kayenta, Arizona when I gradually came up on a slower car. The system gave me the three car lengths of following distance I had asked for when all of a sudden the bike clamped down on the brakes with what felt like full force for approximately a third of a second, then released them. Once the shock wore off, I saw a warning on the TFT screen:
When the radar system fails, you can still use regular cruise control, which is a nice backup. But I was surprised and confused about what happened until I pulled into the next gas station and took a look at the sensor. Turns out that a bug massacre had screwed with the sensor, presumably making it think that the car in front of me was only about a millimeter away. I cleaned all the bug guts off and the system was back to normal within 5 minutes.
Oatman is a popular biker destination, and it was there that the the R18 got more attention than it had all trip. After I had parked in front of the town’s restaurant, a lady in a Toyota 4Runner drove past me, stopped, reversed back, and asked who owned the R18. Someone else admiring the bike pointed at me, and she said, “what a beautiful bike! It reminds me of my old R69.” Then she blew me a kiss and drove off. Immediately after, a couple came up to get a closer look and the husband said he’d buy this over a Harley-Davidson any day because “Harleys are all image.” I’m not sure this bike is much different, though his words did remind that BMW’s earned a bit of a reputation of building practical, well-thought out bikes that they might be partially tarnishing with the R18 lineup. As I mentioned in my R18 review, the R nineT did a good job capturing the heritage while still being a blast to ride, and I don’t get that feeling from the R18s.
Thankfully, the R18’s engine doesn’t put off much heat. But there’s not much you can do about 122°! From an airflow management standpoint, the Transcontinental has two extra wind deflectors, leg shields, and a taller windshield. The first two things are fine but I have serious gripes about the windshield: it puts airflow right at my visor, the leading edge is right where I want to look down the road, it introduces buffeting around 60 miles per hour, and the biggest sin of all: it’s not adjustable, so I can’t address any of the earlier issues. I simply cannot understand why this bike would not get an adjustable windshield (don’t care of it’s powered or manual) considering they have it on all of their other touring bikes. It’s a significant and frustrating omission.
When I finally got home after stewing in 100+ degree heat for 8+ hours, all I wanted was a shower and a beer. BMW thankfully had me covered with the latter, and it gave me the time I needed to reflect on what I thought about both bikes.
The B weighs “just” 877 pounds, though that’s still about 50 pounds heavier than a Harley-Davidson Street Glide or an Indian Chieftain. Pricing starts at $21,945, but BMW North America has perfected the art of getting riders to pay more with option packages and I’d be stunned if the average R18 B buyer walked out of a dealership without spending at least $24k before taxes. It is a tiny bit more nimble due to the weight difference, but it’s all relative in this class, anyway. I personally preferred the shorter windscreen (less buffeting) and the seat (more room for longer-legged riders) of the B model, and if I wasn’t worried about having Vy on the back then this is the version I’d get.
Speaking of Vy, I took her for a couple of rides on the Transcontinental and she was less impressed than I thought she’d be. It looks like a throne back there, and Vy loves being in the passenger seat of the K1600GT. But on the R18 Transcontinental she felt lots of vibration in her feet and she thought the ride was harsh. This bike has an auto-load-leveling rear suspension but with two people and gear it has to cope with about 1,300 pounds of mass. In addition, the seat is secured in a very stupid way – the mounting points are only in the middle, so you can physically rock the seat on the edges. It makes no sense.
ConclusionAt the end of the day, you either appreciate cruisers or you don’t. I personally do not, but I tried my hardest to evaluate this bike from the perspective of someone who would while keeping the competition in mind. I personally would rather tour on a R1250GS, but the customers that BMW are targeting (Harley-Davidson Street/Road/Ultra Glide, and Indian Chieftain/Roadmaster buyers) obviously look at it differently. I understand why BMW would want to get themselves a slice of this market (the timing of Harley-Davidson taking on the GS with their Pan-America is humorous but completely coincidental), I just don’t know if this was the bike to do with it. It absolutely looks the part, but it doesn’t feel fully fleshed out.
I took this crap photo on my road trip, and I later decided it was an appropriate metaphor for the R18 Transcontinental: I was riding near Mancos, California as the sun was coming down and I saw what looked like plenty of sunflowers in a dirt parking lot that I thought would make for a great photo. I got closer and realized that there were barely any flowers in the frame and it probably wouldn’t look good, but I felt like I had committed to this scene so I took the photo anyway…and now you’re looking at an image that’s sort of pleasant but very underwhelming. As they stressed in the launch of the original R18, BMW wanted to make a cruiser “their way”, meaning they committed to it with a giant boxer motor. I’m a boxer lover but it brings no advantages to this segment, it just gets in the way of the foot controls and restricts comfort because you can’t stretch your legs. Add in the slip-happy clutch, disappointing brakes, and massive weight and I don’t see many reasons to buy this over an Indian Roadmaster.
Curiously, one of the reasons may actually be price. The Roadmaster starts at $29,999, while a Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited starts at $28,699. The BMW starts at $24,995, so even when you add the inevitable $2,500 in options you’re still undercutting the competition. The technology package is impressive and ACC is absolutely fantastic, but no one buys a bike for the tech (I hope). They buy it because it’s fun. As I see it, the R18 B and Transcontinental are only going to be purchased by BMW nuts who want something different. They just aren’t compelling enough to steal sales from Harley-Davidson or Indian.
In my effort to blend a review with a ride report, there’s a couple of things I left out. Have any questions? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll respond as soon as I can!