As a moto-centric photographer and owner of the Woodstock Moto Co (RIP), I’ve ridden a lot of bikes and am a firm believer in the ‘Ride all the Motorcycles’ movement.

Still, I was quite intimidated by the R18 Transcontinental. A bike weighing in at 427kg, with an outrageous 1800cc boxer motor that shakes from side to side on start-up. 

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My daily ride is a mid-capacity Japanese duel that’s light, fuel efficient, dirt capable, cheap to maintain and quick enough. A practical choice for my needs, but not for touring the Western Cape on some of the finest roads in the world.  

I’d been invited to photograph the inaugural Cape 1000 – a classic and exotic car rally which pays tribute to the famed Italian Mille Miglia ­­­– and needed a vehicle to do so. Not only did the Transcontinental fit in with the other vehicles’ classic styling, I could shoot comfortably from the couch-like seat.


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By far the largest motorcycle I have ever ridden, after hefting it off the side stand, hitting the starter button and letting the bike rumble to life, I was quickly made aware of the 900cc pistons beating in opposite directions beneath me.

What quickly emerged was how balanced the bike is as soon as your feet are off the ground. Even at crawling pace, the R 18’s weight is easy to manage with a bit of clutch and throttle action and a healthy dose of confidence. And once I’d got through the traffic and onto the highway my anxiety faded and things started to make much more sense.

The Transcontinental may be retro styled but it has enough mod cons to make life on the open road a breeze. The adaptive cruise control makes munching miles easy, as do the heated grips, passenger and pillion seat, as well as my unexpected favourite – the six speaker Marshall sound system. 

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Not only do I now understand big cruisers, I also get why people ride with music blaring from their bikes. To cruise along Route 62 with ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones playing in near perfect surround sound? Words won’t do it justice.

Day one of the Cape 1000 would see the cars set off from the Silo District at the V&A Waterfront, cruise around the Cape Peninsula, out along Baden Powell and then follow the world famous Clarence Drive before backtracking up to the Elgin Railway Market and then dropping back down to the Arabella Hotel just outside of Hermanus.

After shooting the first location I had to catch up to the cars and reigned them in easily, the R18’s torque making overtaking effortless. Shooting from the comfort of the bike was a pleasure and I managed to get some great motion shots of the magnificent cars. 

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When I hit Clarence Drive, I quickly learnt that smoothness was the name of the game and had endless fun along the twisties. It’s a different type of riding and the meaty power delivery becomes addictive. I usually ride pretty aggressively on my 300 – come in hot, brake late, drop the bike into the corner, swoop through the apex and then hard on the gas as I exit. On the R 18 I had to rewire my brain – brake early, drop to the appropriate gear, get back on the gas smoothly, start gently leaning the bike while bringing the power back on and using it to steer the mass through the corner. Being the size of a small planet, the Transcontinental has its own gravitational field and it feels as if you are pulling the earth towards the bike using the wave of torque.

Day two saw us heading from Hermanus across the rolling hills of the Overberg region before the road flattened and straightened out and headed towards Swellendam. Setting cruise control at 140 km that distance was covered in comfort with the wind protection and the beating heart of the big boxer making for an enjoyable experience. What I would usually consider boring riding had become the freedom of the open road, especially when accompanied by my ‘Classics’ playlist. 

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Tradouw Pass is a dramatic road that cuts through the mountains and is perfectly suited to some of the super cars that were taking part in the rally. There is one particular hairpin bend that always tries to catch me out but by now I had a handle on the Transcontinental’s different dynamics and enjoyed rolling the bike over from side to side and applying smooth meaty torque through the corners. And only once, when I as having too much fun, did I scrape the pegs.

As the sun started its descent and the light turned golden, I joined the R62 and headed towards Montague. A special feeling came over me. I was on the open road, following a classic car rally on a bike that had opened my eyes to a new sort of riding. With the tunes flowing I chased a classic Bentley towards Franschhoek Pass.

While the rally would continue for two more days, I had to return home, and riding along Baden Powel Drive in the twilight will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The ocean was a rough turquoise, the sky had the most vivid colours painted across it and I had the most comfortable of cruisers underneath me. I could not stop grinning. 

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The BMW R 18 Transcontinental

R 18 Transcontinental


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