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R18 Custom : The Whale

The BMW R18 continues to draw attention from the pro custom community. This time round, it’s re-imagined by a legendary Japanese builder.

BMW has collaborated with renown customizers on the development of its R18 cruiser since the bike was launched in April 2020. Even before then, BMW provided just the engine to at least a couple of builders to get the ball rolling. Roland Sands had a go at an R18 project, as did several European customizers. Now it’s in the capable hands of Japan’s legendary builder, Shinya Kimura, who calls his R18 custom treatment, “The Wal.”

Kimura re-interprets the spirit of the big cruiser as a sport touring bike. It is undoubtedly a unique vision blending a touch of steampunk with real blacksmith skills and a sculptor’s intuition. The resulting creation isn’t  a highly polished work of art best viewed from a comfortable distance but rather a fabricated transformation from one genre of motorcycle to another. Kimura reportedly uses no sketches, blueprints or firm objectives when starting a build. While the idea exists in his head, the vision may change midway through the process, which only results in a more unique final product. 

Wanting to ride the finished bike for more than the occasional jaunt around the block, Kimura acknowledged it was unlikely he could improve upon the technical aspects of its suspension and drivetrain. He focused instead on the bodywork and the myriad changes required to make the cruiser something more akin to a sportbike. The journey was long and necessitated both large and small adjustments.

A sportbike rider requires quicker steering response so the handlebars are a whopping eight inches narrower than stock. A sport touring rider prefers a forward canted riding position so the bars are six inches lower. The fuel tank is extended into the seat area and has an additional four-litre capacity. It is nothing like the stock tank but rather a squared-off unit with deep cutouts for the rider’s knees.  

The seat itself is a short sculpted unit followed by a raised hump to accentuate the solo nature of the ride and pay homage to the cafe racer spirit. The footpegs have been moved backward by two inches. A custom round tail light accentuates the end of a very long body. Kimura chose to keep the stock exhaust while painting it black as nothing is shiny on this bike.

While looking as though it has been bronze-plated, the finish on this R18 custom is actually a bronze powdercoat. With the intentional hammering of the metal work, the surface of the bike has a texture perhaps like the rough uneven skin of a great beast.  

A sport touring bike needs a fairing and The Wal has one complete with asymmetrical headlights and a grill of vertical fins. In an unusual styling feature on an already unusual machine, the fairing is braced by a strut that runs from the filler cap to the apex of the small windscreen. The mirrors are not on the fairing but mounted low and just above the massive cylinder. 

“Wal” translates to whale in English from its German origin. Perhaps the name is tongue-in-cheek, or in reference to the baleen like appearance of the fairing or the dimpled rough textures of its skin redolent in lines and vaguely organic scars. Perhaps it is in simple acknowledgment of the bike’s size. To the artist alone is the answer to that question.

Does it work? Kimura obviously designed it with his own vision and no one else’s. He built this R18 custom entirely for himself. He says, “What I like best about my version of the R18 is that I was able to change the style and seating position to my liking without destroying the excellent original functionality of the R18. But drastically changing the seating position and adding my own style and taste was a big challenge.” 

Responses will vary greatly. Pretty? Not necessarily. Interesting? Definitely.

John Molony Canadian Biker Issue $357


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