BMW R18 Transcontinental price, comfort, features, engine, luggage capacity: review – Introduction

A German take on the American Grand Touring concept, this behemoth is all about luxury on two wheels.

Two hundred kilos make for a heavy bike. Cross the 300 mark and you’re talking about a real behemoth. But 427? That results in the heaviest production motorcycle that money can currently buy in India, which is exactly what you’re looking at here. The BMW R 18 Transcontinental is a magnificent machine of monstrous proportions, but how does all this luxurious excess fit into our chaotic mess?

BMW R18 Transcontinental: engine & performance

Beneath those expanses of bodywork lies a platform that’s actually quite endearing. The original R18 offered a pared-back big cruiser experience that was refreshingly different to the typical American V-twin heavyweight. Its 1,802cc boxer twin was the star of the show, bursting with character and inherently nicer to use in our staccato riding conditions than a big V-Twin. That motor transfers over to the R18 Transcontinental unchanged.

The Transcontinental is a whole 82 kilos heavier than the naked R18, but this hasn’t seemed to have significantly dulled its punch. Power stands at an unremarkable 91hp, but it’s the 158Nm of peak torque that really hits home, especially since 95 percent of that is available from 2,000rpm onwards. It won’t win any races, but whack the throttle open and the unnatural sensation of something this big being hurtled down the road with such urgency will widen your eyes.

But there’s so much more to it than just the speed. Consider the incredible impact of that clean, gigantic engine block when viewed from the side. It gives the bike some much-needed sense of identity, because the round headlamp and large fairing looks pretty standard for a bike like this. Then there’s the great big judder and shake as that huge longitudinally installed crankshaft spins to life on engine start up. It rocks the entire motorcycle to the left, which can be alarming if you aren’t expecting it. Weirdly enough, it’s one of those things that’s unpleasant and yet also something you start looking forward to. Like the wasabi peas of the motorcycling world. 

Neat tank-mounted storage for your smartphone.

I also love the deep, guttural and raspy growl this bike produces and the volume out of those pipes is just right – loud, but not too loud. The occasional bang and burble under deceleration is another aural indulgence, but what makes this motor nicer than a V-twin is its flexibility. While those engines will get quite cranky below 2,000rpm, the boxer allows you to dip under 1,500rpm without protest and  that makes life a lot easier in heavy traffic.

BMW R18 Transcontinental: handling, manageability

Still, easy is not a word you’d use to describe the Transcontinental. It’s all well and good once you’re on the move, but you’ve got to have your wits about you when setting off, or coming to a halt. Confidence and planning is key in these situations because this is when the tsunami of all that top heaviness comes bearing down on you. It can get particularly hairy when trying to stop on a loose, gravelly surface especially when you’re lightly on the brakes and can feel the entire front-end feeling skittish over small pebbles.    

Jumble of wires below headlamp the only eye sore.

As you’d imagine, tight U-turns are no fun either, but this BMW has a trick up its sleeve if you find yourself working against gravity in a parking lot. Pushing a small metal lever near the engine down (be careful, it can get really hot!) engages a reverse mode. With the engine on and the transmission in neutral, you can then push the starter button to engage an electric drive that reverses the bike for you. It’s a little too jerky for comfort on such a gargantuan bike, but with small, repeated stabs of the starter button the R18 will extricate itself from a tight parking spot, even if there’s an incline involved. And that’s a big help.

Big cylinders make the foot control area feel tight.

Let’s assume that you’ve broken free from the city and found some wide and flowing roads. As with the giant Harleys and Indian cruisers, this is where it all starts to make sense. The R18 flows down the highway in a beautifully serene manner at 80-100kph, but it can also blast past 180kph if the need arises.

Because of the two giant cylinders sticking out in front of you, a full-on feet forward riding position is not possible, and on our terrible roads, this is good news for your lower back. The riding triangle is upright, highly comfortable and with a natural reach to the handlebar. The only complaint is that with its large floorboards, the feet area is a little cramped with it almost feeling like the gear shifter and brake pedal lie under the engine (they don’t). You soon get used to it though.

BMW R18 Transcontinental: handling & features

The seats are just as exquisitely comfortable and supportive as they look. All day comfort is very good thanks to the pleasantly plush suspension set-up that deals with average road imperfections quite well. The 280-watt, six-speaker Marshall sound system belts out tunes loud enough that every bystander will look for the source of those ‘sick beats’ – if you’re into that sort of thing. More relevant though, is that it’s powerful enough for you to enjoy your music at speeds up to 90-100kph without the wind blast drowning it all out.

Those seats and six-speaker Marshall audio – luxury!

On that topic, the wind protection is incredible. There was an instance when a sudden downpour caught us out, but I could see that the cloud would pass in a few minutes so I decided to continue. With an ever so slight duck, the bike kept me entirely dry so long as I held the speeds above 80kph. This kind of an enveloping cocoon is why these bikes have such expansive bodywork, but that can get way too hot in a climate like ours. Where the BMW scores here is in two openable flaps along the side that do a superb job of directing some much-needed cooling air at your torso.

Openable deflectors direct plenty of air to the rider.

It’s not all perfect though and tall riders may find that the border of the windscreen slots right in the middle of the line of sight. And if you happen to be riding on one of our dirtier highways in the rain, the muddy spray off a vehicle in front of you does an exceptional job of making the windscreen impossible to see through. Since these bikes are already so car-like, maybe a windscreen wiper isn’t such a bad idea? For now, situations like this will demand some contorted Ace Ventura style riding positions so that you can see around the windscreen. 

Things get spicy when 500 kilos slam into the tarmac.

Occasionally, you might encounter a set of corners, at which point the Transcontinental will surprise you, quite literally. With the low-slung weight of that motor, the bike tips in faster than you’d expect and this takes getting used to. Once you do, it takes little effort to scrape the floorboards, which sets off a shower of sparks that makes for some cool photographs. Through all this, the bike remains unshakably stable and confident. As for the brakes, the hand lever needs a strong squeeze, but the actual performance is measured, reassuring and trustworthy.

Ground clearance is usable enough – with caution!

What you will surely encounter more frequently is a stretch of bad roads. Again, this needs a cautious yet confident approach where you select a line carefully and commit to it with some momentum. If you need to come to a stop, be sure to pick a point where you can securely plant a foot. Once you figure this out, you’ll find that the bike chugs along and there’s even just enough ground clearance for bumps and speed breakers of most shapes and sizes.

BMW R18 Transcontinental: luggage & creature comforts

Luxury is the name of the game here and only one fully loaded model is available in India. In addition to the magnificent sound system, this bike brings in things like the reverse function, keyless ignition and central locking for both the panniers and the top box, not to mention the usual bevy of rider aids. It even comes with radar-based cruise control, although that wasn’t on our test bike, which was imported for display purposes before the launch.

About 100 litres of lockable storage space in all.

What added to the sense of specialness was the almost car-like rider’s point of view with four old school round gauges that sit atop a very modern-looking, 10.25-inch TFT display. In fact, the black backing material behind the gauges even use a soft material, just like a nice car’s dashboard.

One of the most car-like POVs you’ll find on a motorcycle.

BMW R18 Transcontinental: verdict

Overall, the R18 Transcontinental is one of the more memorable motorcycles I have ridden, but a hefty chunk of those memories will be associated with its sheer size and bulk. There’s a time and place where these kinds of bikes are a unique pleasure, but finding that mix in India isn’t easy. Still, you can’t discount the fact that at Rs 31.5 lakh, the BMW is both frighteningly expensive, but also vastly more affordable (and better equipped) than the likes of the Rs 40.5 lakh Harley Road Glide Special. If it were me though, I’d probably look at a more manageably sized R18 – that Roctane does look cool.

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