Fresh from its eighth consecutive record year of sales in 2018, BMW Motorrad is now getting ready to go head to head with Harley-Davidson and Indian on the American giants’ home turf, by developing a range of Cruiser models as a means to help achieve the coveted status of World’s No. 1 in the premium motorcycle sector.
It’s not the first time that the German manufacturer has tried to grab a slice of Harley’s business, after manufacturing 40,218 examples of the R1200C Cruiser model between 1997 and 2004, including a few thousand examples of the smaller engined version, the R850C produced from 1997 to 2000. But both C-models were killed off by Herbert Diess when he took over as President/CEO of BMW Motorrad in 2003, citing as a prime reason for discontinuing them the apparent unsuitability of the Boxer twin engine to compete with Harley in a marketplace segment where a V-twin engine was practically ubiquitous. Strangely, despite the sheer volume of overall Cruiser sales numbers at a time when Harley was selling well over 300,000 bikes a year, the dynamic Dr. Diess (now heading up the VAG Group, and thus ultimate boss of Ducati) chose instead to develop an in-line four-cylinder Superbike with chain final drive to compete with the Japanese in the Hypersport sector, rather than create an equally out of character (for BMW) narrow-angle pushrod V-twin to take on Harley. Wonder if he’d make the same decision today?
Over a decade later despite – or perhaps because of – Harley’s sales sinking (partially thanks to a fierce product-led challenge by a revitalised Indian, now the property of cash-rich Polaris Corp.) in 2016 Diess’s successor but one as BMW Motorrad CEO, Stephan Schaller, decided to inaugurate another assault by BMW on the Cruiser market – and once again chose to attempt it with a Boxer engine. But this time around he took the wise decision not to try to do so by adapting the company’s existing 1200cc dohc liquid-cooled twin-cylinder motor, as with the R1200C, but instead to develop an all new Big Twin design which moreover would further ingratiate itself with US customers via its air/oil-cooled pushrod ohv format. Capacity? Well, BMW is being strangely coy at revealing this, perhaps because the decision hasn’t yet been finalised as to precisely how big it should be – especially with Euro 5 on the horizon. But the prototype motor made its public debut last December at the unlikely venue of the 2018 Hot Rod Custom Show in Yokohama, Japan, having been loaned to local bike builder Custom Works Zon to power their distinctive creation known as The Departed. This carried the designation ‘R18’ on its seat to seemingly indicate it was an 1800cc bike…
But by then Schaller had resigned as the head of BMW Motorrad, to be replaced by in May last year by Dr. Markus Schramm, who immediately before assuming his new role was previously responsible for Corporate and Product Strategy Planning for the entire BMW Group. He would therefore have been involved in BMW Motorrad’s decision to re-enter the Cruiser sector, before taking over leadership of the company’s motorcycle division, and implementing that decision! Under Schramm’s guidance BMW has intensified its preparations to do just that, with the 2020 Intermot show opening in Cologne on September 30 next year the likely venue for unveiling its first such model – or models. For Schramm’s right-hand man, BMW Motorrad VP Sales & Marketing Timo Resch, has indeed confirmed the arrival next year of such a 2021 model year bike.
In the meantime, BMW entrusted another Big Twin prototype motor to Austin, Texas-based Revival Cycles for its owner Alan Stulberg to create the Revival Birdcage, a light fantastic Custom model built from a myriad small titanium tubes. This achieves very well Stulberg’s stated objective of bringing the BMW prototype motor out front and into the limelight, for all to see clearly. Displayed in public for the first time at the annual Handbuilt Show staged over the MotoGP weekend in Revival’s home base of Austin, Texas, the Birdcage’s appearance has intensified interest in BMW’s plans to enter the Cruiser segment with its own Big Twin Boxers, and the display at the Villa d’Este Concours on the shores of Lake Como at the end of May of BMW Head of Design Edgar Heinrich’s own concept for a future BMW Big Twin Cruiser, will only intensify the debate.
BMW Motorrad executives are always careful to describe the category they’re on the verge of entering as the Cruiser Touring segment. By way of confirmation of their reasons for that, a Big Twin-powered prototype full dress Tourer complete with Batwing fairing and side panniers, plus a top case, has already been captured on film being ridden on German roads. It’s clear that BMW will be taking the fight to its American (and Japanese) rivals with a full range of products powered by the Big Twin motor.
WORDS: Alan Cathcart