There’s a saying in Colorado: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.” Today I do like the weather. It’s dry. Thunderclouds are forming quickly overhead as we gear up and I mount the Galaxy Dust R 18 B that will be my steed for the first half of the day.
This 877-pound behemoth is half of BMW’s second play at the American cruiser and touring market following the initial launch of the base model R 18 and the subsequent R 18 Classic. The B and its counterpart, the 942-pound Transcontinental, are big, heavy, and look about as American as a Kraftwerk album. In the Colorado Rockies, we are about to find out how BMW does grand American touring.
We meander slowly through Denver’s dense traffic. It’s overcast, muggy. We’re in a hurry to outrun impending weather, but the city isn’t letting us out just yet. Along stop-and-go six-lane highways and zipping down open side streets, the B’s handling is surprisingly neutral; the bike is easy to ride. Despite weighing 116 pounds more than the 761-pound R 18 (claimed weights), low-speed handling is much improved on this model.
This improvement is credited to the modified touring chassis, which received two major changes. A thicker double-steel backbone accommodates the added weight and larger gas tank, and rake angle has steepened from 32.7 degrees to 27.3. This not only reduces the bike’s trail and wheelbase, but because the front suspension components are identical to those on the R 18, the bike’s ride height and available lean angle have increased. As we putt from stop sign to stop sign in the low revs, power is readily available and the weight of the bike is easily forgotten, for a while.
We turn on to Highway 6 at just the right time. Dark clouds stay behind us as we roll toward Golden. It’s 85 degrees with a cool wind, and the world’s problems disappear. The seat is comfortable, ergonomics are surprisingly perfect for my 6-foot-4 build, and at 75 mph in the Rock (most aggressive) power mode, the engine pulses pleasantly while effortlessly turning 2,650 rpm.
I hit the button for Active Cruise Control and another to set my top optimal speed. It works flawlessly in both Dynamic and Comfortable modes, adjusting the bike’s rate of acceleration back to optimal after sensing that slower automobiles in front of you have moved. The system allows you to pull in the clutch and even shift without disengaging as long as you don’t drop below 20 mph, at which point it will automatically return control to the rider.
At our pre-ride meeting the group was discouraged from pairing our phones with the bike, so navigation and music through Bluetooth are unavailable for the time being. I scroll over to satellite radio and Missy Elliot comes on. Is it worth it? Let me work it. I crank up the volume as we continue down the straight. It feels appropriate.
The four Marshall Series I speakers installed in the fairing as part of BMW’s Premium Package ($2,800 for the B) deliver excellent sound. Crisp highs and deep lows are clearly audible, even with my helmet’s visor up at highway speeds. The eight Series II speakers on the Transcontinental are even more impressive, with their surround sound capabilities. Unfortunately, getting your personal music to play through the speakers proves to be more difficult than pairing and hitting play.
The 10.25-inch screen sits below four analog gauges in an attempt to balance out the modern feel with a dose of classic aesthetic. It sort of works. With an analog speedometer, tachometer, and fuel gauge, I wanted to use the screen for navigation and entertainment, which requires pairing your phone with the BMW Connected app open. Later, after repeatedly pairing my phone, then unpairing and re-pairing my phone, and then having my playlist stop after every song, I understood why this was discouraged. If you owned this bike and rode it day after day, I imagine you’d figure out the kinks and this process would smooth out. But now, compared to competitive models with similar systems, the app adds an unnecessary and complex step to the user experience. And what if your phone dies?
With the owner’s phone being such a key part of this riding experience, it’s only natural that BMW places a phone storage compartment within reach. Indian and Harley-Davidson do this on the Chieftain and Street Glide’s fairings; BMW does it below the gas cap. The compartment is sealed, has a USB-C port, and includes an internal fan to help control temperature. It is small and flat with a few pieces of plastic to hold your phone in place, making it tough to use a normal charging cord; if your cord doesn’t attach to your phone’s base at a 90-degree angle, you have to flip your device upside down to make it work. This would have been a perfect application for wireless charging, but instead you get a crammed little compartment that offers barely enough room, creating more questions than it answers.
I give up on Bluetooth music and navigation for the time being as we continue from Golden to Boulder, where we stop for a coffee at Full Cycle Bikes, a large bicycle shop with a friendly vibe and well-stocked cafe. With almost 30 baggers lined up, the parking lot looks more like a local Bike Night than a local bicycle shop. The Galaxy Dust paint ($2,400) has a June bug-like iridescent effect, changing from green to purple depending on light and the angle. It’s something you wouldn’t expect to see on a BMW, which is sort of the point: It’s far out. It isn’t garish, just different in the best way. The bike’s lines are clean and attractive, its black engine finish downplaying the size of its massive 244-pound engine.
The all-new fairing, like many aspects of these new touring models, seems caught between two worlds. The exposed bolts and rubber bushings on the fixed windshield look and feel like a Vetter fairing from the ‘70s, yet they sit right above the radar for Active Cruise Control. The B’s lower windshield created buffeting right at my nose level, and the taller Transcontinental shield fell right in that inconvenient zone above the horizon where my eyes tend to be while riding long distances. BMW has other models with electronically adjustable windscreens, but this is one area where it unfortunately decided to lean into the design ethos of classic cruiser models. This is an area where BMW should do BMW.
Now refreshed and with no thunderheads in sight, we remount the bikes and point them toward the Rocky Mountains, specifically the town of Estes Park. Perfect asphalt weaves between the mountains, but patches of dirt mean you have to be aware of your line. The B holds its intended path perfectly while dodging debris at speed, never losing composure or coming unglued.The 49mm fork and shock that were so plush on the highway are just as comfortable here in the twisties.
The rear suspension on both models automatically adjusts preload using load sensor, ride-height sensor, and a small servo motor on the spring. Neither front nor rear suspension is manually adjustable by the rider in any way, but the system performed well in our testing, never feeling as if it required human adjustment intervention.
Feel at the front brake lever is adequate, taking a significant squeeze to get a strong reaction, but providing good stopping power with the right input. With BMW’s fully integrated ABS, braking is linked. So while the toe of my right boot has to touch the cylinder to wedge in between it and the brake pedal, I can also avoid that by primarily using the lever if I so desire.
I was expecting this canyon portion of the ride to be painfully limited by available lean angle, as the R 18 had been. But as we hit the first turn, I’m pleasantly surprised to find substantial improvement. The new front end geometry provides more stability and responsiveness at higher speeds. And the increased rear suspension travel, from 3.0 to 4.7 inches, improves lean angle from a claimed 32 degrees on the R 18 to 35 on the touring models. You’ll still see some sparks on a spirited canyon run, but those three degrees make a significant difference in the bike’s capability and fun factor on mountain roads.
It is here, however, that I start to notice a big problem. Attempting to accelerate out of an uphill turn in third gear, I notice the revs climbing indepently of my bike’s acceleration. As the ride continued, so did this issue. I would shift and let out the clutch only to watch the revs climb while the bike coasted; then the engine speed would drop as the clutch engaged and the bike picked up speed. Clutch slippage was an issue in early R 18 models, and BMW alleviated it by retuning throttle maps. As the touring models were designed at the same time as the initial R 18, faults and criticisms of that model, including this major issue, have not been addressed. Even on the Transcontinental, which adds 183 pounds to the R 18′s identical Big Boxer engine, there have been no mechanical changes to the clutch.
In time we come around the road’s final bend and into the town of Estes Park, known for the Stanley Hotel, made famous as the hotel in The Shining, today’s lunch spot. Cars slow as we pass a family of elk, who couldn’t be less bothered by our exhaust rumble.
The Stanley’s iconic carpet patterns are immediately recognizable. Access to the movie’s iconic Room 217 is blocked off. A hedge maze has been constructed outside of the hotel to further evoke images of the famous garden scene, but it’s dry and some parts only stand a couple feet high. This place plays the “Redrum” card to the hilt.
After lunch, the R 18 Transcontinental in First Edition trim waits to take me back to Denver, where the storm is now in full effect. Approaching the bike, I notice the passenger floorboard was folded up and covering the chrome R 18 badge. I throw a leg over the bike to sit down and the seat rocks beneath me, so I hop off to investigate. The Transcontinental has a larger and more padded seat than the B, though both have built-in heating. Both seats attach at only two points (front and rear) but the edges of the Transcontinental seat can rock up and down with roughly 2 inches of freeplay. With the kickstand down I sit on the back seat to see if it may feel better while laden. It does not. The seat rocks and the seat pan flexes while I shift my weight side to side. As I point the bike at the thunderclouds, I accept that the more enjoyable part of the day’s testing could be behind me.
The ride back down the mountain on Highway 34 is relaxed and enjoyable. The radar’s scan is not wide enough to pick up the motorcycle in front of me, so I manage my own throttle; just imagine that. The 65 extra pounds over the B model are essentially just the top case and its mounting system, and the high placement of that weight means it’s impossible to ignore as we carve down a mountain. Some of the improved handling qualities present on the B remain, but the larger bike takes more muscling through the turns.
The added storage on the Transcontinental is a great bonus. Two full-face helmets easily fit in the top case, a handy thing indeed; but most people would choose this bike over the B for its passenger amenities. BMW has added passenger controls for heating on the seat, though one suspects the lack of stability will overwhelm any passenger impressions before they get a chance to look for the switch. While shifting is smooth, clutch feel on both bikes is lacking, and quickly shifting this torque-rich Big Boxer in canyons or traffic will inevitably lead to jerking your passenger around a bit. It’s a wonder why BMW wouldn’t make its Shift Assist Pro an option here.
The road back to Denver is long, and the bikes begin to heat up as traffic slows down. Temperatures are in the low 80s when the rider next to me approaches and points to his TFT screen with a grimace. A large orange alert covers almost the whole screen, reading “Engine too hot! Continue driving at low speeds to cool engine.” This comes as sort of a shock on a contemporary bike, even though I can feel my own engine’s heat on my toes beneath those iconic protruding cylinders.
The Big Boxer engine has seen no changes for this application. As dyno-tested in the R 18, the engine put out less horsepower and torque than a Milwaukee-Eight 114. The clutch has clear and obvious failures; today, in warm weather and moderate traffic, it is unable to cool itself efficiently. That thunderstorm is moving the same direction we are, but now we’re hoping for the rain.
When we pull up to the hotel, it seems every rider is 5 feet from their bike by the time I can get my helmet off. I know the feeling.
BMW has leaned into certain things that previously defined the American touring experience: sound, size, feel of the engine. But some critical elements of BMW’s brand identity have been left out, elements that would have elevated the bike to the level expected of the “Berlin Built” badge. Fit and finish on the initial R 18 were praised, but the Transcontinental takes a hit with floorboards that cover the badge and an unforgivable passenger seat. BMW went modern with some aspects and classic with others, but understanding the logic behind its choices in this area is as much of a challenge as picking up one of these bikes if it were to tip over.
The R 18 B feels like the best and most suited usage of the Big Boxer yet. It sounds great, it looks good, and the updates to the chassis geometry yield great results. But the lingering clutch issue should have been fixed with more than a retune in the year between the R 18 and the B’s launch. The Transcontinental feels more like an accessory package than a thoroughly developed model with its own identity.
With these models, BMW is entering a market that’s been dominated by Harley-Davidson since the debut of the 1969 FLH with its fairing and hard bags. The bar was set high then, and it’s only been raised over time. Had BMW retained more of its own brand identity in key parts of the machine, the results would have been a more refined motorcycle, and the company would have found greater success based on engineering merits. But if it is going to play the emotion game against Harley-Davidson, it’s up against a hell of a home-field advantage.
Helmet: Arai Signet-X
Jacket: Aether Draft Mesh
Gloves: Spidi X-Knit
Boots: RSD x White’s Boots Foreman
For more detailed photos of the 2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental, check out our First Look here!
|2022 BMW R 18 Transcontinental||2022 BMW R 18 B|
|Engine:||Air/oil-cooled, horizontally opposed twin; 2 valves/cyl.||Air/oil-cooled, horizontally opposed twin; 2 valves/cyl.|
|Bore x Stroke:||107.1 x 100.0mm||107.1 x 100.0mm|
|Transmission/Final Drive:||In-unit 6-speed/exposed shaft||In-unit 6-speed/exposed shaft|
|Claimed Horsepower:||91 hp @ 4,750 rpm||91 hp @ 4,750 rpm|
|Claimed Torque:||116 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm||116 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm|
|Fuel System:||Electronic fuel injection w/ 48mm throttle bodies||Electronic fuel injection w/ 48mm throttle bodies|
|Clutch:||Dry, single disc||Dry, single disc|
|Engine Management/Ignition:||BMS-K+ electronic engine management w/ overrun cutoff and twin-spark ignition||BMS-K+ electronic engine management w/ overrun cutoff and twin-spark ignition|
|Frame:||Double-cradle tubular steel||Double-cradle tubular steel|
|Front Suspension:||49mm telescopic fork; 4.7 in. travel||49mm telescopic fork; 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Steel swingarm w/ central shock strut; automatic preload adjustment w/ load and ride-height sensors; 4.7 in. travel||Steel swingarm w/ central shock strut; automatic preload adjustment w/ load and ride-height sensors; 4.7 in. travel|
|Front Brake:||4-piston fixed calipers, twin 300mm discs w/ linked ABS||4-piston fixed calipers, twin 300mm discs w/ linked ABS|
|Rear Brake:||4-piston fixed caliper, 300mm disc w/ linked ABS||4-piston fixed caliper, 300mm disc w/ linked ABS|
|Wheels, Front/Rear:||Cast aluminum; 19 x 3.5 in. / 16 x 5.0 in.||Cast aluminum; 19 x 3.5 in. / 16 x 5.0 in.|
|Tires, Front/Rear:||120/70R-19 / 180/65B-16||120/70R-19 / 180/65B-16|
|Wheelbase:||66.7 in.||66.7 in.|
|Seat Height:||29.1 in. (at curb weight)||28.4 in. (at curb weight)|
|Fuel Capacity:||6.3 gal.||6.3 gal.|
|Claimed Wet Weight:||942 lb.||877 lb.|