BMW's Big Boxer is On the Way

John Burns
by John Burns

The production Cruiser will be here next year

When I learned I was off to Austin last week with just a couple days notice, on a mysterious mission to see something BMW wanted to unleash on the public, somebody showed me a picture of the Custom Works Zon bike from Japan, “Departed.” When I looked at it I LOL’d oh ho ho!, and said no way is BMW building anything remotely like that. And especially no way on the Japanese custom’s oversize boxer Twin, complete with pushrod tubes. You gots to be kidding me.

Surely that engine is some kind of mock-up representing an electric motor with two small saddlebags? In fact, the Departed is BMW enough that BMW brought it to Austin to show off at the Handbuilt Show.

When we got to the big unveil in Austin on the Thursday night before the US MotoGP, though, what did the giddy German BMW execs roll out but another custom barely containing that same giant boxer Twin, this one built by Revival Cycles in Austin. In the “Birdcage,” that flat Twin looks even bigger than it does in the Custom Works Zon bike, which already can’t help but make you think of a thin woman with huge, ahh, cylinders, even if you are suffering from low T.

Another angle of the Departed really gives the Big Boxer some scale; the rear wheel is a 26 incher.

In Austin, we were allowed to see the engine, but BMW didn’t want to tell us anything about it other than it displaces about 1800cc, is air- and oil-cooled, and yes the pushrod tubes contain pushrods. If I’d been paying attention (or if MO’s news section had been displaying properly), I wouldn’t have been surprised; Dennis had already spotted the R18 two weeks earlier and determined its legitimacy.

Timo Resch, BMW Motorrad’s VP of Sales and Marketing, says we’ll see more of a “direction in a couple of weeks,” which another exec let slide means the Villa d’ Este Bike Show, on the shores of Lake Como, schedjed this year for May 24-26 (and conveniently enough, sponsored by BMW). Even crazier, Timo says there will be a “serial bike” by 2020, which I believe is German for a production model. Say, that’s only nine months from now.

Revival’s design brief from BMW was to build a bike that really shows off the engine. I’d say the nearly transparent titanium Birdcage does that successfully, even if its machined covers also disguise it. Wheels are 23 inches at both ends. People kept offering it cocktails but it doesn’t drink.

In fact, a press release I got after the kick-off makes it more than idle chatter: “Timo Resch, Vice President Sales and Marketing BMW Motorrad… ‘We will also be showing a BMW Motorrad developed concept bike featuring this engine in the first half-year of 2019. BMW Motorrad will present a series production motorcycle with the Big Boxer for the Cruiser segment in the course of 2020.’”

Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles in Austin is the guy BMW picked to showcase the Big Boxer, so why not weld up a birdcage frame out of titanium? His first birdcage, his first experience with a titanium frame – and also he says this is the first time he’s sat on the bike. Behind him stands Luciana de Oliveira Francisco, BMW’s National Marketing and Brand Manager straight outta São Paulo, Brazil.

Strange but not unprecedented. Before BMW launched the K1600B a couple years ago, there was a vinyl wood-panel adorned Roland Sands custom that appeared at the Long Beach show after it had been unveiled earlier that year at Villa d’Este. That bike appeared to be a stretch even for Roland, but it entered production not long after. With its inline Six, the K1600B was something of a compromise but we’re told it sells reasonably well; as a result of its success, BMW has been champing at the bit to get back into the real cruiser market; they’ve apparently been at work on the Big Boxer for quite some time. Now the company line is that the failed R1200C of 1997 was ahead of its time, a fact proven by its ascendant collectibility. If you say so.

Maybe not so much in the US for the last few years, but everywhere else in BMW’s realm the big cruiser/ sport tourer bike market is growing and very profitable; BMW says its big touring bikes have experienced record sales years for the last seven in a row (the R1200 GS Adventure being its biggest seller in the US, just supplanted by the plenty-big-for-me R1250 GS). BMW’s new scooters are said to be doing “extremely well” globally, the new G310s are selling better than expected (the R actually outsells the GS), the company’s very proud of its new S1000RR… in short, BMW Motorrad is feeling its oats, striding across the planet lately with a Colossal can’t-lose attitude. Timo Resch fairly lights up describing introing the K1600B at Sturgis two years ago – along with the C evolution scooter and various “urban mobility solutions.”

Others within the company are less certain about what’s being called “the Big Boxer.” Is it ironic that BMW would get into the huge Twin biz just when Harley-Davidson is downsizing into smaller displacement liquid-cooled engines and electrics? Probably it makes perfect sense. BMW’s also already doing small and electric, and even if the Green New Deal begins tomorrow, the heavyweight motorcycle market definitely has some years to run. BMW spokespeople laugh at the idea of converting Harley riders, but it’s more of an aggressive laugh: It makes perfect sense to rush into that hole now that Indian and the President of the United States are both leading interference. (Though nobody knows what might happen with tariffs on $25k German motorcycles. BMW isn’t too worried.)

I personally love the K1600B’s bike’s Jekyll and Hyde personality – by day a cruiser and by night a two-wheeled Formula 1 car (or is it the other way round?). But even in MO’s own Big Dam Tour comparison last year, which the BMW won, more than a couple of the kids thought a bike with an 8000-rpm 160-horsepower six-cylinder just can’t be considered a legit cruiser.

Well it’s certainly no Harley, said Joopy Jaswinski.

To counter that, maybe BMW decided it needs a thing that doesn’t just go like hell, but one that also throbs like only a thing with a pair of 900 cc cylinders can do. If that’s what the barbarians want, we’ll give it to them.

An 1800cc boxer ought to do the trick, and if you’re concerned any bike with this engine will have compromised cornering clearance (eyeballing it, I bet it’s four inches wider than the latest 1250 boxer), maybe you’re speaking the cruiser language again – though it’s hard to picture BMW ever going down the scraping-cylinders road. Maybe they can source some really long footpeg feelers from Honda’s suppliers. In the spy photos at Motorrad, it appears the engine’s just mounted that much higher in the frame.

Pushrods make perfect sense in this behemoth, since using a cam-in-block design makes each cylinder head protrude slightly less. And since a thing this big usually isn’t going to exceed 6000 rpm, overhead cams just aren’t necessary. BMW’s latest R1250 Boxer displaces 1254cc via an oversquare bore and stroke of 102.5 x 76mm, and makes a claimed 105 lb-ft of torque at the crank, but not until 6250 rpm. That just won’t do for a big American style cruiser.

Yamaha’s Eluder had the biggest Twin in last year’s Big Dam Tour comparo, 1854cc, and it gets there with a bore and stroke of 100 x 118mm. The next-biggest Indian “Thunderstroke” 111 cubic-incher (1811cc) measures 101 x 113mm. On the Dynojet, both of those bikes made 105 lb-ft of torque at just 2800 rpm (105.8 for the Yamaha). The Yamaha’s all done by 4500 rpm, and the Indian signs off not many rpm later. Harley’s 114 cubic incher (1868cc; 102mm x 114.3mm) made 104 lb-ft and 82 horses on the dyno in a 2018 Fat Bob, also at less than 3000 rpm.

There’s really no telling how BMW will play it, but the Germans do seem out to prove a point lately. At 4500 rpm, the longest-stroking giant v-Twin out there Yamaha Eluder has a piston speed of 3484 feet per minute – not all that high. Even with a pair of 4-inch pistons, there’s room for more rpm and more power. Personally, I’d rather see something like one-quarter of an oversquare 454 Chevrolet V-8 – 113.5 cubic inches – with bore and stroke of 108 x 101.6 resulting in a pushrod-rattling boxer easily capable of 6000 rpm, monstrous low-rev torque and well over 100 horsepower. Why not? They tell me the Big Boxer is an all-new engine that shares no parts with any previous Boxer. If we’ve reached peak boxer, why not do it right? Can we get some titanium connecting rods?

Stulberg says the engine in his Birdcage is really loud, but he wouldn’t start it up for us, and has anybody heard Departed run? I think not. Maybe BMW is still thinking about how bad it wants to embarrass all the other manufacturers? As for us, we’re down with an 1800cc Big Boxer cruiser. Just please don’t put it in a GS Adventure and expect me to ride it in the sand. Our times are exciting enough already.

John Burns
John Burns

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  • Jeff benson Jeff benson on Apr 19, 2019

    Didn't the German police raid BMW looking for LSD users shortly after the 1200C was released? Here's hoping the new cruiser won't be as hilarious.

    On the other hand not having the stupid forward controls is a plus. Please God they don't come with apes either.

    • Gruf Rude Gruf Rude on Apr 25, 2019

      Don't know about the German police, but the dealers practically threw rotten eggs at it during the unveiling at the annual sales meeting.

  • Ryan Davis Ryan Davis on Apr 20, 2019

    Hope they fix the clutch issues this time. I own an R1200CL and only have thoughts of upgrading the powertrain. get compliments everywhere I go. The bike handles if you know how to handle the wait.