(Photos courtesy BMW Motorrad)

Customizing BMW’s R 18 cruiser has been an integral part of its development since conceptual stages. First BMW gave Custom Works Zon out of Japan one of its new behemoth 1802cc Boxer Twins to build a bike around, then followed suit with the fellas at Revival Cycles in Austin. BMW then proceeded to build a couple customs in-house as well before the factory version of the BMW R 18 was finally revealed to the general public in April of 2020.

With the proverbial cat finally out of the bag, BMW wasted no time in enlisting the services of two master builders to put their spin on the BMW R 18. Roland Sands cut his teeth as a championship racer and has turned his design company into an empire, from custom parts and apparel to ground-up customs to event promotions. Bernhard Naumann, known throughout the industry by his nickname Blechmann, is a customizer who lives in a small village in Austria but has world class skills. His nickname appropriately translates to “tin man” as Blechmann is famous for his fabricating wizardry.

The two very different backgrounds definitely come into play in the design directions each took. Former AMA 250GP National Champion Sands tapped into his racing background to turn the BMW R 18 into a quarter-mile beast. Blechmann on the other hand created a streamlined cruiser with plenty of creative custom bodywork.

One thing both builders agreed on – the beautiful Boxer engine should be a focal point. It is, after all, the biggest Boxer engine BMW has produced touting power numbers of 116 lb-ft. of torque @ 3,000 rpm and 91 horsepower @ 4,750 rpm.

“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,” said Sands.

For the Roland Sands R 18 Dragster, the team retained the stock neck geometry of the R 18 but removed the back end, including suspension, and replaced it with a rigid drag racing set-up. RSD swapped out the stock fork for one from the sporty BMW RnineT and upgraded the front brakes with a superbike system from BMW’s S 1000 RR. The R 18 Dragster will undoubtedly belt out a burly note thanks to its hand-fabricated, stainless steel, twin megaphone exhaust. Saddlemen whipped up a custom seat for the project, one similar to its popular Step Up, which will lock and load a rider in place when they tap into the new nitrous bottle mounted under the seat. Clip-ons and rearset footpegs establish a proper lay-on-the-tank drag racing position.

““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!” explained Sands.

While Roland Sand’s R 18 Dragster is built for great straight-line fun, Blechmann’s R 18 is suited more for the street experience. In contrast to Sands, Blechmann changed little on the R 18’s stock frame and technology and even used the original mounting points.

“I draw my design directly on the object using the final material. This allows me to directly respond to the requirements and to keep an eye on the proportions at all times,” said the Austrian builder.

He nailed the proportions on this one as the Blechmann R 18 combines a regal front end with a svelte tail section. From the cut-outs to the custom headlight, the frame-mounted fairing looks so natural BMW should make it a factory option. The fairing’s symmetry is accentuated by the tank Blechmann thinned and cut-out, while the new seat and tail section further demonstrate both his eye for design and metal-shaping talents. The slimmer tank puts more of the engine on display as its impossible to miss the mammoth-sized horizontally opposed cylinders. A classic black paint job with white BMW Motorrad pinstripes ties everything together, the motorcycle nostalgic yet modern.

While the two custom BMW R 18 motorcycles come from different ends of the spectrum, it demonstrates the customizing potential of BMW’s new cruiser before it hits the market. Roland Sands even used the opportunity to develop a new line of parts for the R 18. That said, we're curious as to which build hits the mark more to you, Roland Sands R 18 Dragster or Blechmann’s R 18? Sound off in the comments section below.