2021 BMW R 18 Review: The Germans’ First American Cruiser Is a Promising but Flawed Start

Polaris’ resuscitation of the iconic Indian Motorcycle brand a few years back was successful, however. Its deep corporate pockets allowed Indian to not just survive but compete with Harley. As a result, Indian hit the ground running with fantastic products such as retro cruisers to the attractive FTR streetfighter that satisfied customers and lived up to the name. 

With regard to the BMW, there’s no denying the obvious. The R 18 is rather late to the whole “custom cruiser” game. That genre peaked long ago, and riders who wanted one then probably already have one in their garage now. Heck, if the R 18 had been released 15 years ago, it would have enjoyed colorful, red-faced discourse from Paul Junior and Senior about its legitimacy on “American Chopper.” Alas, that time has passed.

In a genre historically dominated by lookalikes and one-upmanship, the R 18 proudly stands on its own. The fact that you can ride a cruiser so distinctive straight off of a dealership lot is impressive; the fact that you can do it for under $20,000 is even more so. In this sense, it certainly has a chance to compete with Harley-Davidson and Indian.

A Shifted Market

Regardless, the R 18 is gonna be a tough sell at any price, so its success remains unclear. The American motorcycle market has sputtered in recent years and what remains has changed significantly. Despite a pandemic bump over the last year or so, new street-bike sales have plummeted in the last decade. Consumers are overwhelmingly choosing smaller, lighter, and more affordable bikes. Or opting to buy used.

Still, BMW Motorrad tried something different here. The R 18 is a tasteful nod to the past and a welcome addition to the cruiser segment. Its biggest hurdle remains in finding a target audience. Are its buyers American cruiser riders or BMW aficionados looking for a different type of motorcycling experience?

If you’re an open-minded cruiser rider with some cash to spare, certainly give the BMW R 18 a test ride. It’s that much fun, it looks that cool, and the cost of entry is relatively friendly. Just be sure to hit that next gas stop because you’re going to need to stretch your legs, anyway.

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