Roland Sands builds a straight-line dragster out of the BMW R18

AMA 250GP national champion racer Roland Sands has been taking perfectly good motorcycles and engoodening them further for 20-odd years. Now, he’s turned his attentions to BMW’s giant boxer cruiser, giving the R18 a hardtail dragster treatment.

It turns out Papa Sands was a drag racer in his day, so young Roland has spent plenty of time around stripped-down straightliners. The moment he first saw the giant boxer twin BMW put together for the R18 cruiser, he started thinking about dragsters, and it didn’t take long for BMW to get him a bike to play with.

The objective for BMW, as with all these kinds of manufacturer-sponsored builds, is to have a big-name builder demonstrate the potential of this machine as a basis for customs. BMW hasn’t attempted a cruiser for a very long time – indeed the company’s last effort has become a bit of a punchline for gawky looks.

Cruisers, particularly retro-lookers like the R18, need to be versatile under the attentions of an angle grinder, and BMW has built this thing from the ground up to be as easy as possible to customize. Every painted part on the bike comes off easy, as does the entire removable rear subframe.

Despite the totally re-built frame, Sands kept the standard steering head angle
Despite the totally re-built frame, Sands kept the standard steering head angle


The motor here certainly provides an aesthetic challenge. This 1800cc monster is huge, and doesn’t have the nicely detailed fins and circular casings of a traditional V-twin to provide details and pretty angles from side-on. Instead, it’s got two enormous cylinder heads poking out the sides of a fairly flat and featureless grey lump in the middle.

Sands started out by stripping the whole thing down to its bare bones and building a custom hardtail frame out of tube steel. Keeping the stock head angle, he hit the engine with a blacked-out custom breastplate design milled from aluminum, and blacked out the cylinder heads and head covers as well. The stock exhaust went in the bin for a very shouty hand-fabbed stainless twin megaphone system.

He replaced the forks and brakes with a set of serious performance gear from the S1000RR superbike. He dropped the bars down low, drag-style, and re-did all the speedo housings, bar clamps, mirrors, levers and filler caps with his own designs, available now at your local Roland Sands store, of course.

The front end was taken from an S1000RR superbike, including savage performance brakes
The front end was taken from an S1000RR superbike, including savage performance brakes


Keeping all the original bodywork, he shortened the fenders a touch and gave it all a paint job. The wheels were replaced with custom jobs, again for sale in a range of sizes if you like them, and a set of drag racing tires were put on, including a fat, flat, slick rear. The seat, with its giant dragster backstop, was made from scratch. Oh, and Sands and his team plumbed in a nitrous system too, for a lark.

And there you have it. Does it work? Well, personally, from some angles I think it looks great. From others, well, the heart of a cruiser is a beautiful engine, and while this boxer looks powerful and barrel-chested, it almost seems like it’d fit better in the nose of an aircraft than in a beautiful cruiser. And if I’m going to be honest, I think the stock bike does a better job of packaging that big boxer for looks than this one. But that’s just the opinion of one goon, and other goons are most welcome to debate the point in the comments section below.

Before you do, though, jump into the gallery and check out a bunch of photos. You can see it in action in the video below.

#ABavarianSoulstory – Episode 10: The BMW R 18 Dragster by Roland Sands

Source: BMW/Roland Sands Design

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