Why Did BMW Build an 1800cc Boxer Engine?

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

Earlier this month, BMW and Japanese builder Custom Works Zon presented a rather industrial-looking retro-styled roadster at the 27th annual Mooneyes Show in Yokohama, Japan. The bike itself, christened the “Departed” by builders Yuichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda, was an interesting combination of vintage styling and modern production, making use of a lot of milled aluminum, steel piping and sheet metal and drawing inspiration from the bikes ridden by racer and landspeed record holder Ernst Henne in the ’20s and ’30s.

But what really drew people’s attention was the engine, a brand new, gigantic prototype air/oil-cooled Boxer engine from BMW. Like the rest of the Departed, the engine drew elements from the past in the push rods on the top side of the opposed cylinders, a familiar sight on BMW bikes built up until the late ’60s.

BMW provided few technical information about the engine, though we surmise a displacement of about 1800cc from the “R18” printed on the back of the seat. We do know BMW has plans for this new engine, which the company makes clear is a prototype. BMW says it will have further details about the engine and what it could be used for at a later date.

The R18 is a clue that the prototype engine displaces around 1800cc. The K1600B in the background may another clue that the engine may eventually be used in a line of heavyweight cruisers and tourers.

The obvious use for a nearly two-liter Twin engine (albeit a Boxer instead of a V configuration) is for a new heavyweight cruiser or touring motorcycle. That BMW left a K1600B casually standing in the background of some of the photos in the press kit is unlikely to be a coincidence. The K1600 models have served as BMW’s heavyweight touring models for quite some time now, though they don’t exactly represent what one would call traditional cruiser styling.

A new Boxer engine, however, may end up forming the platform for new, more classically-styled line of BMW cruisers, baggers and tourers. It’s unlikely these air-cooled big-Twin bikes would replace the liquid-cooled inline-Six K1600 models. It’s more likely the two lines would run alongside each other, similar to what BMW did with the air-cooled R NineT models and the R1200 bikes with the water-cooled heads.

BMW has suggested that there won’t be any more R NineT models introduced, calling the line “complete” with the R NineT, R NineT Pure, R NineT Racer, R NineT Scrambler and R NineT Urban G/S. The focus may now be on a new line of “heritage” models based around the R18 engine.

We’re going to have to wait for BMW to release more details, but at the moment, the evidence suggests the prototype engine will eventually be used for a new line of heritage-style cruisers.

Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the Motorcycle.com team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

More by Dennis Chung

Join the conversation
2 of 14 comments
  • Buzz Buzz on Dec 12, 2018

    Remember the last time BMW designed and built a cruiser? Ugh!

    Top 5 ugliest motorcycles ever made.

  • Mark D Mark D on Dec 12, 2018

    Well that's one way to make sure you meet emissions standards with an air-cooled engine; trade compression ratio for displacement, trade 4 valves and high-revs for 2 valves and good torque.