One easy thumb press on the starter button with the fob in my pocket brings to life the familiar roar of the massive Big Boxer powerplant. Its unmistakable sound, accompanied by the left tugging torque surge of the engine, reminds me right away that this motorcycle is another R 18 variant featuring the colossal 1802cc motor. The new 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane will take me on a two-day ride through southern Bavaria, with a bit of the Austrian Alps thrown in. The weather predictions this week call for some rain, and that only adds to the mystique and the adventure factor. I can’t wait to feel what this machine can do for me.
I journeyed to the launch of the model in Munich and joined the BMW Motorrad Heritage Ride, which coincided with BMW Motorrad’s 100th-anniversary celebration. The excursion begins on the Autobahn, then over hill and dale through mostly small Bavarian villages, many of which sport Maibaum in celebration of spring. It’s a May tradition dating back to Roman times, around two millennia ago, and still a big deal here.
The star of the show is BMW Motorrad’s R 18 Roctane, my magic carpet ride through the hinterlands south of BMW’s world headquarters in Berlin. The Motorrad company’s DNA, especially that of the 1936 R 5, is seen and felt throughout this vehicle, yet it is unique. By looks alone, I’m already thinking the Roctane is the best version of the R 18 range. This model’s differences offer a vast change in dynamics and personality versus its siblings.
The sun is shining, and the weather here is better than what I left in SoCal.
Once fired up, I snick it into gear with the heel-and-toe shifter, smoothly heading out onto an Autobahn pointing toward environs far from the city. Gear and clutch engagement is light and smooth, with no clunk when engaging first, or any, gear. Throughout the journey, this transmission shows itself to be nothing if not smooth as silk. Absent are any inclinations to crunch or become recalcitrant.
Its 825-pound fully fueled weight disappears once underway. It feels lithe and agile, immediately belying its 67.7-inch wheelbase and ultra-relaxed 34.7 degrees of rake—it’s amazing what a low center of gravity can do.
While the claimed 91 horsepower peak doesn’t read as terribly impressive, the 116 ft-lbs of torque stretch my arms. I’m in Roll mode—the intermediate power setting that starts with Rain, then Roll, and finally Rock. Roll seems only slightly sportier than Rain; I’ve yet to discover that the Rock mode, which remarkably increases power, smooths engine vibration, and morphs the 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane into a motorcycle that seems greater than the sum of its parts.
And, yes, the big motor vibrates. However, like all modern boxer powerplants and that is a very good thing. Cognoscenti know that these opposed twins offer a mellow thrumming vibration that is more like a gentle massage than a disturbance. The simple round mirrors on tall stalks, a design that can be prone to vibration, are completely unaffected and remain steady at all speeds, thus illustrating my point.
Our stint on the “freeway” isn’t too long before we exit onto two-lane roads. These turn into one-and-a-half lane roads through farmland. There are few towns and predominantly villages that consist of homes and small businesses that might extend back off the road for a few blocks. They are clean and quaint.
Despite some cobblestone surfaces, most of the German backroads I explored are neat and smooth. I didn’t see a pothole in 300-plus miles of riding.
The 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane is entirely at home in this environment. It laps up pavement changes, slow roundabouts, surface material transitions, and fast sections. That latter is when the Rock mode immediately attacks. The short floorboards do touch down occasionally, but only just a bit. None of the hard supports make landfall, so there are no jarring screeches. It’s the perfect transport for a mixed environment such as this, and probably lots of places back home.
Our gang is led into the lakeside hamlet of Dießen am Ammersee—population 10,000—for a coffee break. It is sunny and warm; a more picturesque village cannot be imagined. We hang out for a bit, enjoying espresso and some gelato as good as one might expect in the best Italian shops. I open the vents on my jacket and don my lightest gloves as we continue.
As the miles accumulate, I become one with the machine. It responds in exact proportions to the inputs I provide. The power delivery in all modes is precise, and I’m especially enjoying Rock-ing the Roctane to its full potential.
The scenery is stunning. I find myself giggling in my helmet at times at the sheer beauty and diversity of the countryside and the smooth ride I am given. We fly through mile after mile of scenic landscape bursting with produce; the main crop appears to be grass or hay. We see many herds of local white and brown cattle. Later, I find that this is a major dairy area within the country. We are often riding along the right edge of the roadway to allow the huge German trucks hauling mostly hay as much room as we can give them.
Further south, logging replaces farming as the big industry, and the big trucks now carry wood. There are miles of forests of tall, straight-growing trees, and I see stacks of logs in piles in many places. I don’t know why.
The Roctane slots in near the base model R 18 rather than faired or windshielded B (bagger), Transcontinental, and Classic. As I mentioned earlier, the Motorrad company took its influence from the styling cues of earlier models. Representatives tell of BMW’s goal to produce a streamliner-type design to deliver an emotional experience through a retro feel borne by modern engineering and technology. I believe them to be successful in this endeavor.
It’s time for lunch, so we stop at Auf dem Auerberg. I’m told this is the Bavarian equivalent of California’s Rock Store or Alice’s Restaurant. This picturesque guesthouse and restaurant-café lies atop a hill, overlooking a vast countryside. I’m invited to climb to the top of the old castle above the restaurant to get an amazing view but, alas, everyone gets ready to move on, and I’m too full to climb.
This built-in-Berlin R motorcycle differs from its brethren by custom-style 21-/18-inch alloy wheels (versus 19/16 on the R 18), a mid-rise handlebar, an instrument cluster integrated into the headlight bucket, nicely painted side cases (27 liters each, lockable, and non-removable) with integrated turn signals, blacked-out engine and drivetrain, and a dark chrome exhaust system. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank looks to be from the R 5, as does the exposed chrome driveshaft. These changes, especially the wheels, give the 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane a new and unique look. The differences and new features make this variant an R 18 like no other. I particularly like the dark chrome exhaust, as I’ve never been a fan of some of BMW’s bright chrome torpedo-like pipes.
Post-lunch is more of the same—seemingly endless two-lane roads to the border and into Austria. Snowcapped Alpine peaks surround us, and the valleys are wide and lush springtime green. The topography curves down from the roadway and then up the other side of the valley to more mountains. This remains the same for the short time we are in Austria. We curve back into Germany for the final sprint to our hotel—Das Burghotel Falkenstein.
First, we must get up to the top of the peak upon which it is situated. To do this requires navigating a single-lane approach road so narrow and steep that there are signal lights at the top and bottom, allowing only one-way traffic. To meet someone going in the opposite direction would be madness here. There are quite a few switchbacks on the poorly paved road that require one’s A-game, especially aboard an 825-pound, eight-and-a-half-foot cruise missile.
Fortunately, I did not have time to be worried. Helpfully, the R-bike, like any fine horse, simply ate it up. The next thing I knew, our group was enjoying adult beverages and hors d’oeuvres on a balcony overlooking an immense valley thousands of feet below us.
Das Burghotel Falkenstein is unlike any I’ve experienced, and the suite was glorious after a long day. There’s a reason it was named Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice 2023 Best of the Best.
Far in the distance, one can faintly see Neuschwanstein Castle, built from 1869 to 1884 by Mad King Ludwig, and from which Disney modeled their castle. The cost to build New Swan’s Home, as it translates to English, nearly bankrupted the monarchy. After his mysterious death in 1886, it was opened to visitors to pay off the debt.
Back at Burghotel Falkenstein, dinner was served. Glorious motorcyclist conversations happened, thus ending our first day of riding. It was certainly one upon which fond memories are made.
Up bright and early after a fitful night trying to sleep nine hours earlier than my body craved, the breakfast was typically high-end European. The buffet area was crowded with yummy delicacies, too numerous to name. The coffee was superb and consumed in copious quantities.
It’s 0900, and we must leave on the dot, as the downhill green light switches on at that time. Going down the access road elicits far less heart-pumping drama than on the way up. We head out and follow another route toward Munich, enjoying nice weather until a mile or two after the last stop. There, our guide pulls over and tells us to don our rain gear—a prescient decision.
It had rained for about 20 minutes on the way down yesterday, but the sky looks ominous, and we’re in for a drenching. Fortunately, the weatherman forecasted rain far enough in advance that everyone had a rain suit.
Sure enough, five minutes later, the rain burst out of the sky in earnest as we headed to a typical Bavarian lunch. It’s the short spring season for weißer Spargel, a German favorite consisting of white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and boiled potatoes; it’s quite tasty.
Meanwhile, it’s raining cats and dogs outside, and has been pouring down for some time. We reluctantly gear up and head out to ride the last leg to the BMW depot in Munich. I tried Rain mode, and it’s fine. I experiment with the modes and try to spin the rear wheel to see the traction control light illuminate, succeeding in all modes in first and second gears. Hey, even rain riding can bring out the inner hooligan.
The Metzler ME 888 Marathon Ultra tires turn out to be excellent on all road surfaces and in the varying weather. I end up keeping the bike in Rock mode, in spite of the rain. I’m old school, so my traction control is in my wrist, informed by the seat of my pants. I prefer the sharp response of Rock, even in the rain.
We finally get back on the Autobahn for the shot into Munich. Apart from all the talk of no speed limits on the Autobahn, those sections are getting few and far between. Eventually, we hit traffic that reminds me of home. Meanwhile, the rain is still just gushing down, continuing until only a few miles from our exit and destination.
And, like magic, as we roll into the depot, the rain abates, and the sun is shining strongly. I pull off my steaming rain gear, and all is well with the world. The 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane has successfully completed its mission and delivered the entire group home without any problems and little drama.
Do I have any gripes about the Roctane? Well, there’s no fuel gauge—only a warning light—so I must reset my trip odometer to monitor the fuel level like a 20-year-old Italian bike. And there’s no thermometer, as I like to quantify my misery in too-hot or too-cold weather. Yet there is a date function, which I find less than useless. Given all that this R 18 offers, this list is more nitpicking than criticism of any substance.
There was some talk among the ride participants about the market and potential buyers on which this bike is focused. The natural thought is that it is a competitor to the Harley-Davidson Road King Special, and that comparison was bandied around the table more than once. Some of the BMW staff will be taking the Roctane to Sturgis this August, confirming this notion.
Only time will tell what kind of reception it will get from devotees of American brands. It is a switch for riders with an open mind to consider, though the choice may be akin to asking an iOS devotee to change to Android, or vice versa.
Have you ever been in close proximity with someone or something that you weren’t necessarily interested in before and all of a sudden find that you are captivated? Well, this happened to me with BMW’s R 18 lineup. I am now a big admirer of the 2024 BMW R 18 Roctane and hope to put more miles on it when it arrives in America in late 2023.
Photography by Jonathan Handler, Markus Jahn, and Jörg Künstle for BMW
2024 BMW R 18 Roctane Specs
- Type: Opposed twin
- Displacement: 1802cc
- Bore x stroke: 107.1 x 100mm
- Maximum power: 91 horsepower @ 4750 rpm
- Maximum torque: 116 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm
- Maximum speed: 111 mph
- Compression ratio: 9.6:1
- Valvetrain: Pushrod-actuated OHV w/ two camshafts; 4 vpc
- Cooling: Air and oil
- Transmission: 6-speed (w/ optional reverse)
- Clutch: Hydraulically actuated single-disc dry clutch w/ slipper function
- Final drive: Shaft
- Frame: Steel-tube double-loop
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 49mm fork; 4.7 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Cantilevered spring-preload adjustable shock; 3.5 inches
- Wheels: Cast alloy
- Front wheel: 21 x 3.5
- Rear wheel: 18 x 5.5
- Tires: Michelin Commander
- Front tire: 120/70 x 21
- Rear tire: 180/55 x 18
- Front brake: 300mm discs w/ 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 300mm disc w/ 4-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard w/ linked braking
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 67.7 inches
- Rake: 34.7 degrees
- Trail: 7.3 inches
- Seat height: 28.3 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons
- Curb weight: 825 pounds
- Black Storm Metallic
- Mineral Gray Metallic Matte
- Manhattan Metallic Matte
2024 BMW R 18 Roctane Price: $18,695 MSRP
2024 BMW R 18 Roctane Test Photo Gallery