BMW’s R 18 platform is the German company’s first foray into the large-displacement, traditionally styled cruiser segment. To showcase the platform’s versatility, BMW has partnered with some of the top names in motorcycle customization. The latest R 18 custom is called “The Wal,” and it was designed by well-known Japanese customizer Shinya Kimura and is the third R 18 build in BMW Motorrad’s “Soulfuel” collaboration series.
The first R 18 custom was unveiled in late 2018, when BMW and Japanese builder Custom Works Zon presented an industrial-looking custom called “Departed” at the Mooneyes Show in Yokohama, Japan. Enormous cylinder heads covered in cooling fins jutted out from each side, providing the first look at what would come to be known as the “Big Boxer” engine – a flat opposed Twin that is all buy synonymous with the BMW brand.
In April 2019, Revival Cycles pulled the covers off The Revival Birdcage at the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas. The minimalist custom bike, with a delicate-looking “birdcage” frame wrapped around the Big Boxer made the engine look even bigger, and BMW confirmed it would eventually power a production model cruiser.
A month later, at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, BMW presented the BMW Motorrad Concept R18. It was done in-house, and lead designer Bart Janssen Groesbeek drew inspiration from classic BMW models such as the R5, R50 and R60.
Next, in late 2019, came the Concept R18 /2, a classic cruiser in design, with modern flowing lines, a small headlight cowl, and a slightly bobbed rear fender. It had cast wheels – 19-inch front, 16-inch rear, Brembo brakes, and a gorgeous Candy Apple Red paint job. BMW confirmed that the Big Boxer displaced 1,800cc – by far the largest boxer Twin offered by the company.
BMW finally announced the production R 18 in early 2020, but due to the pandemic we didn’t have a chance to test it until later that year. The standard R 18 cruiser was soon joined by the R 18 Classic, which added a windshield and saddlebags.
The first R 18 custom in BMW’s “Soulfuel” collaboration series came from Roland Sands Design. Called the R 18 Dragster, a long and low hot rod with open exhausts and a fat drag-racing slick out back. We had a chance to see – and hear! (what?) – the R 18 Dragster at the Americade rally in September.
The second Soulfuel build was announced in January 2021. Called the BMW announced the R 18 “Spirit of Passion,” it was an Art Deco-style custom built by designer German Dirk Oehlerking. It was followed by two new R 18 production models, the R 18 B bagger and the R 18 Transcontinental tourer.
The third Soulfuel build is Shinya Kimura’s “The Wal.” Known for customizing older motorcycles and the originator of the “Zero Style,” Kimura has recently devoted himself to projects involving modern bikes.
“The basis is the R 18, powered by the latest and greatest engine I have ever worked on,” said Kimura. “It all started with a visit with the BMW Motorrad R 18 development team in Germany. I got to know the unbounded passion and innovative power that prevails at BMW Motorrad.
“Finally, in February 2021 in California, I rode the standard R 18 for a few hundred kilometers to get to know the character of the bike. Following a whole series of conversations, this eventually led to my personal interpretation of the R 18, in which I applied the entire range of my activities as a customizer.”
Shinya Kimura’s approach to craftsmanship is “hands on” – there are no sketches, drawings, blueprints, or mockups during the building process.
“I built the R 18 entirely for myself,” he said. “When I rode the production R 18, I thought it might suit my build and riding preferences better if I designed it to be a little more front-facing with a fairing.
“I decided to adopt the frame, wheels, and tires as well as suspension elements and brakes because I didn’t feel the need to change them after I had ridden the bike. I also wanted to be able to ride for long distances with my R 18 while feeling and enjoying the legendary boxer engine.
“It was very important to me to preserve the two characters of the R 18 as I experienced them when riding. Thanks to its mighty engine, the bike is wild and has almost inexhaustible power on the one hand, yet it is completely good-natured on the other. Just like a whale, hence the German animal name for this R 18, which for me is something like a ‘Sports Endurancer,’” Kimura explains.
“The Wal” has a redesigned fuel tank that is larger than the original, an elongated, rounded seat hump, and a half-shell fairing.
“I also moved the footrests back about 2 inches to have more flexibility for positioning the legs,” Kimura said. “At the same time, I lowered the handlebars and changed the seat to my liking. The seat cushion was also designed by me and then handmade by Backdrop Leathers in Japan. It all added up to the very natural posture that I like.”
The semi-shell fairing houses two asymmetrically arranged headlights that almost look like eyes and, with a little imagination, give Kimura’s R 18 the appearance of a whale together with a set of teeth underneath. The color scheme and coarsely textured paintwork also match the whale theme.
“What I like best about my version of the R 18 is that I was able to change the style and seating position to my liking without destroying the excellent original functionality of the R 18,” Kimura explains. “But drastically changing the seating position and adding my own style and taste was a big challenge in my interpretation of the BMW Heritage. Besides, all these computerized systems and wiring were quite new to me, and I learned a lot.”
Facts about the BMW R 18 “The Wal”:
Handlebars: 8 inches narrower, 6 inches lower.Fuel tank: Made longer to move the seating position rearward and gain additional fuel capacity of about 1 gallon for longer trips.Seat pad designed by Kimura himself, handmade by Backdrop Leathers in Japan in bucket style for more bottom support.Seat designed so that it creates a natural flow from the seat cushion and leads to the round rear light.Semi-shell fairing for comfortable handling at high speed.The side covers have been designed in such a way that they do not destroy the look of the original frame.Special paint finish in the form of a bronze powder coating, after the components have previously been hammered to give the surface texture.After Kimura had completed all the bodywork, he decided to keep the classic symbolic shape of the standard exhaust system but painted it black.