I personally don't believe there is a motorcycle that will serve as a "Harley-killer". So, to be fair the title is a little click-baity in that way, so sorry (not sorry). The majority of Harley customers have an attachment that goes beyond logic. It’s an emotion and feeling, and much like politics and religion, you're going to be hard-pressed to convince a "Harley Guy" to switch to another brand or type. I believe that the most likely scenario of Harley dying will be a combination of them failing to adapt to change fast enough, and others stealing from their potential base.
And the choices will only grow for said potential-customers, as BMW is set to release a production cruiser in 2020 and, admittedly, my interest is piqued. So, let's take a look at the prototype of next year's production model: the Concept R18.
Not a lot of specific details, aside from the materials and design points, are published on BMW’s website. What BMW has definitely made clear, though, is that the R18 is “the highest capacity boxer motorcycle ever produced”.
To be completely frank, I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetic of BMW’s Boxer engine, but after riding a few bikes that feature the oddly shaped horizontally-opposed twin motor, including the RnineT and the R1200R, I am definitely a fan of the performance. And, Side-note, on the R1200R, the engine served as an effective wind-blocker, and made for a more comfortable ride.
In an article on motorcyclenews.com, Karl Victor Schaller, Head of Engineering at BMW Motorrad, teased that an air-cooled 1800cc engine (or about 110ci respectively) was used to build the prototype around. They know that to compete with the likes of Harley and Indian, they’d need to go bigger than anything they’d produced before. In the article, Schaller explains that, like the other two big cruiser-makers, engineering took a backseat to style.
"In this case the designers took the lead and we tried to fit the technology into the design idea. In this segment it’s all about styling – no one cares about power. We started with the looks and tried to make engineering parts fit. The real bike you will see is not very far away from the concept."
That statement only added to my intrigue, because the R18 is such a fresh take on the modern cruiser. The concept has an “Open shaft-drive” with “cantilever rear suspension” and though it may seem like your standard big cruiser at a glance, it is not. And, as raw and bare as this motorcycle looks, there is a lot to take in upon closer inspection. Small touches like polished aluminium cylinder covers, subtle color treatment to the motor, a teardrop tank and fork with inverted front suspension, and areas of pin-striping with golden yellow flake that shimmers in the daylight, that's complemented by a layered paint treatment. It’s a machine that pays absolute homage to the past.
Like I mentioned before, when the production version of this bike is released next year, it will not cause the collapse of Harley or Indian. As an optimistic person, I am excited by a future where we have more options in this segment of motorcycle. We’re nowhere near an over saturation in this market, and I’m encouraged by this offering from a large company, like BMW.
Some might argue that because the demand for cruisers have been on the decline, and the numbers certainly back that up, that another model isn’t even warranted. But, maybe what the market needed was something to shake things up. Will the Concept R 18 be that agitator, that stirs up enough intrigue and excitement to draw more riders to the cruiser market? Time will tell.