Who dragged you up? Roland Sands creates custom Dragster from BMW R18

Automorbit, Motorcycle – The latest custom designer to be given free rein with BMW’s R18 cruiser is Roland Sands, and this muscle car-inspired Dragster is the result.

With a pared down design that makes a show-piece of the 1802cc Big Boxer engine at its heart, the Dragster transforms the R18 from laid-back cruiser to mean-looking, nitrous oxide-breathing straight liner.

Starting from the front, the forks are taken from an R nineT and paired with the brakes from an S1000RR. The fuel tank is retained from the donor bike albeit with a custom, pinstriped paintjob, and the exhausts are replaced with twin stainless megaphone pipes.

From the engine backwards, the modifications become even more extreme. The frame has been heavily modified to do away with rear suspension, a new custom seat has been fitted and drag bike footpegs have been added just in front of the rear spindle.

“With an engine that’s so visibly the centre piece, I immediately thought of muscle cars,” said Roland Sands of the creation. “My family has always been into going fast and my dad was a drag racer, so I thought it made sense to strip the bike down to the essentials and shape it to go fast on a straight track.”

A drag bike is only as good as its engine and so Sands and team set about finding ways to pep up the R18’s 89bhp powerplant. “The electronics were definitely the most difficult task we had to deal with as we put in nitrous oxide, stripped out the stock exhaust and changed the intake drastically. It was a bit of an experiment, but we dialled it in!”

The Dragster features a host of bits from BMW’s milled parts design collection; the levers, wheels, valve covers, breast plate, headlight and gauges all come from the R18’s 2-Tone-Black extras catalogue. The front and rear fenders, though, were modified from stock to retain the bike’s silhouette. Sands added: “We always want to understand the genre of the bike we are building in, it’s the key to keeping it authentic and functional.”

‘Revival Birdcage’ custom hints at new BMW boxer cruiser

If you thought the air-cooled BMW boxer engine was destined to eke out its final days powering the existing R nineT range of heritage offerings, with no chance of further development in the face of ever-toughening emissions regulations – think again.

Hiding in plain sight on a radical custom creation unveiled in Yokohama, Japan, at the end of 2018 was an all-new air-cooled BMW engine – supplied direct from BMW Motorrad in Germany to be the heart of this Custom Works Zon crazy special build.

This was no R nineT derivative, it was an all new engine – and the ‘R18’ name carried on the original bike’s tailpiece, as well as the huge physical size of the crankcases and heads, suggested this could be an 1800cc boxer twin built to directly attack Harley-Davidson and Indian’s dominance of the big-capacity air-head market on their home soil.

Now, around four months later, a second custom machine has been revealed featuring the same large-capacity boxer engine, with Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Timo Resch, revealing in a statement that: “BMW Motorrad will present a series production motorcycle with the Big Boxer for the Cruiser segment in the course of 2020.”

Known as ‘The Revival Birdcage’, the bike was created by American custom house Revival Cycles and was revealed for the first time last Thursday evening at the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas.

Resch then went on to say: “Naturally we want to keep growing. One step we will take to do so, certainly in the US market, is to enter the Cruiser segment. BMW Motorrad is consistently pursuing its growth strategy with the clear aim of becoming the number one in the Premium Big Bike Segment.”

Inspired by German motorcycle racer, Ernst Henne’s record-setting machines from the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Birdcage uses a titanium frame, designed to give maximum exposure to the ‘Big Boxer’ engine.

Alongside this, many of the parts, including the handlebars, footrests and carbon suspension components were all individually crafted, to create an additional layer of exclusivity. The entire build took around five months to complete.

Speaking about the project, Head of Revival Cycles, Alan Stulberg, said: “The frame came together very well in the end and we are very pleased with the result, as it accomplished the goal of being nearly transparent.

“We wanted to focus attention on the engine and that is precisely what we achieved with this completely unique frame we designed. You can easily view the engine and the drivetrain from all angles,” Stulberg added. “I have always been a fan of the boxer engine, but the pure physical size and aesthetic appeal of this prototype really inspired us.”

Custom Works Zon project

The first custom build boasted a radical minimalist street-tracker style and was the first build revealed with the new engine, which BMW confirmed as an all-new unit at the time.

All-new air-cooled BMW engine

BMW say the engine is still in the prototype stage, and that: “The external geometry and visible elements such as the push rods running above the cylinders in chrome-plated protection ducts recall BMW Motorrad boxer engines that were built until the late 1960s – but with an evidently larger capacity and a modern air/oil cooling.

“Further details about the engine and its possible future use will be communicated at a later point in time.”

BMW have long been looking at options for a serious large-capacity air-cooled platform to help them break into the lucrative American V-twin market – even experimenting with an upright W3 cylinder configuration to solve the feet-forward issues caused by the boxer’s head position.

But it seems they’ve decided to plough on with their trademark boxer configuration, and that its almost 100-year heritage is hugely important to their future direction. The new engine reverts to push-rods, finned heads, massive domed crankcases that look to house a huge flywheel, and distinctly 1920s/30s styling cues.

It won’t be a relic of the past though, and will have to boast impressive technology to enable it to pass the Euro5 regulations that will be in force before any production bike will be ready to launch.

This concept’s exhaust could clearly never pass noise regulations, and nor could the use of pleasingly old-school carburettors – the production bikes will obviously be fuel injected – while much of the rest of the engine’s packaging looks well resolved already.

BMW have clearly learnt from the custom scene, too – with cleverly concealed components hidden where the air box would reside on an old R-series boxer, from which the coil pack’s leads snake elegantly down behind the carbs and into the back of the cam covers.

Interestingly, it also retains the firm’s trademark shaft drive, ensuring no messy chains or unsightly belts and sprockets will ruin the cleanliness of the back-end.

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