Photos: BMW

BMW has just taken the wraps off another custom machine based on its R18 cruiser, but this one has a bit of a twist. BMW sponsored other customs around this platform, but they were built for looks. This machine built with help from designer Roland Sands, has a lot of emphasis on looks, too—but it’s also built for speed. At least, speed in a straight line; BMW calls this the Dragster, and it certainly looks ready for the strip.

The R18 is powered by a massive air-cooled 1800cc flat twin, with lines from the glory days of European roadsters. BMW actually debuted the engine at a custom motorcycle show, with a one-off motorcycle from Custom Works Zon based around the engine. The next glimpse we had was a Revival Cycles custom built around the big flat twin. Now, the production version of the cruiser is ready for pre-order, but BMW has another custom teaser for us.

Roland Sands’ machines are always built with a go-fast ethos, as he’s a former 250GP roadracing champ and still likes speed. When he started this project,  he says his thoughts went straight to drag racing: “With an engine that’s so visibly the center piece, I immediately thought of muscle cars. 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.” It probably doesn’t hurt that it also looks an awful lot like the Pro Street-style factory customs that Harley-Davidson likes so much.

Sands’ bikes are never cookie-cutter builds, and this machine is no exception. Most impressively, he managed to work around the electronics to graft on a nitrous oxide boost system; the front steering geometry is the same, but there’s a set of BMW R nineT forks and S1000RR brakes. There are quite a few RSD off-the-shelf parts as well, and some one-offs. Maybe we’ll actually see this thing on drag strips down the road? Knowing Sands’ love for speed, that wouldn’t be a surprise. More details in the presser below:

BMW Motorrad presents the R 18 Dragster.

Long Beach, 5 August 2020. The renowned custom bike designer Roland Sands stripped down the BMW R 18 to create a straight line dragster featuring the iconic and massive boxer powerplant. The result: the R 18 Dragster. He and his team have created a unique masterpiece built around the impressive 2-cylinder Big Boxer, giving their creativity free reign in the process.

Roland Sands’ personal story served as a source of inspiration for his work on this bike. “With an engine that’s so visibly the center piece, I immediately thought of muscle cars. 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,” the designer explains.

The new BMW R 18: a cruiser rooted in history.

With the new R 18, BMW Motorrad presented the brand’s first series production bike for the cruiser segment in April 2020. Like no other BMW motorcycle before it, this model stands entirely in the tradition of historical BMW motorcycles – both technically and with regard to its design. It is based on illustrious models such as the BMW R 5 and shifts the focus back to the motorcycle essentials: purist, no-frills technology and the boxer engine as the center of riding pleasure. The “Big Boxer” continues the line of traditional air-cooled boxer engines that have offered inspiring riding since BMW Motorrad first began production in 1923.

The technical design process used by Roland Sands.

Roland Sands always starts by sketching his ideas on paper. This allows him to figure out the basics of the shape and what the stance and the geometry of the bike could look like. “In the end, the real magic happens when we bring the sketch to life”, Roland explains.

More than any other motorcycle, the new R 18 offers a highly customizable design. It features an easily removable rear frame and a simple-to-dismantle painted parts set. This gives the customer a high degree of freedom for easily converting the rear end of the new R 18 to suit personal preferences. In addition you can also change the paint finish to suit your personal taste. “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 dialed it in! The final product is impressive and characterised by a high level of craftsmanship, as can be expected from BMW Motorrad. Right from the beginning, I couldn’t wait to get customizing!” Roland points out.

For the the R 18 Dragster, the team around Roland Sands retained the stock neck geometry of the R 18, removed the bike’s rear end and turned it into a drag racer. Moreover, they chose to modify the front and rear fender to fit the modified frame. The whole customizing process took about three and a half months. The bike then headed to the workshop for final assembly and a day at a drag strip.

“Every bike needs different sources depending on the build, special materials or parts. Every new bike concept is a bit of a learning process even after having built over 200 bikes. We always want to understand the genre of the bike we are building in, it’s the key to keeping it authentic and functional,” explains Roland Sands.

Aside from the R 18 Dragster custom bike, Roland Sands also created two different design collections of milled aluminium parts for the launch of the R 18 Cruiser: “Machined” and “2-Tone-Black”. The “Machined” and “2-Tone-Black” ranges include front and rear wheels available in different dimensions than the standard sizes. In addition, the range of these exclusive milled parts includes speedometer housings, handlebar clamps, risers, handlebar grips, hand levers and mirrors as well as engine housing trim elements, filler caps, intake silencer covers and much more.

For the R 18 Dragster, Roland Sands used the milled parts design collection “2-Tone-Black” to customize levers, wheels, valve covers, breast plate, headlight and gauges. The front end was taken from the BMW R nineT. The seat as well as the exhaust were created from scratch.

The R 18 Dragster custom bike in detail
  • The frame has been modified completely removing the rear suspension for drag racing.
  • Front and rear fenders have been slightly modified utilizing the stock sheet metal parts in order to keep the classic R 18 silhouette.
  • The headlight has been taken from the original R 18 and is highlighted with the headlight bezel from the design collection of milled aluminium parts.
  • The standard exhaust has been replaced with a hand fabricated Stainless Steel twin megaphone system utilizing the exhaust tips from the milled aluminium parts.
  • The hydraulic front brake and clutch master cylinders are from Roland Sands Design.
  • The tank has been taken over from the original R 18.
  • The paint finish is a two tone metallic blue with classic white BMW pin-stripes by Roland’s long time painter Chris Wood.
  • The fork has been taken from the BMW R nineT.
  • The front braking system has been taken from the BMW S 1000 RR superbike.
  • The seat has been built from scratch and is a RSD custom seat by Saddlemen.
    Roland Sands: The man behind the designs

By his own account, Roland Sands basically grew up on a motorcycle and motorcycling is in his blood. His dad was a drag racer who built custom bikes and parts. As a result, Roland was brought up surrounded by cool bikes. It wasn’t long before he, too, was riding dirt bikes, taking them apart and rebuilding them. He had a racing career of his own that spanned ten years.

Today Roland is a world famous designer of custom bikes and motorcycle apparel with customers in all corners of the world.

The designer is best known for combining styles and creating new genres in the process. “Combining a racing aesthetic and function with a custom style – this is what we are probably best known for. We like to make stock machines perform better,” says Roland.

For Roland Sands, motorcycling is not simply a job. “It’s really hard to describe in a few sentences. Riding a motorcycle to me is like becoming one with the machine. My motorcycle is my life, it’s everything, it’s what I do.”

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