DEPARTED | Custom Works ZON BMW R18
Words Geoff Baldwin Photography Luke Ray
This article first appreared on returnofthecaferacers.com
The custom motorcycle world has been full of collaborations in the past few years. Manufacturers have recognised the influence custom builders have on the bike scene and have been inviting them to work their magic on their latest models. This particular collaboration was between BMW Motorrad and Japan’s Custom Works Zon, but it is something of an anomaly. Those well versed in the lineage of the Boxer twin will find it difficult to identify the engine powering this machine. That’s because this Boxer is the only one of its kind. This new project is the first time the Bavarians have invited a custom workshop to build a bike around a concept engine and the result is the Custom Works Zon BMW ‘Departed’ R18.
BMW Motorrad has been recruiting custom builders since the introduction of their Heritage range. Back in 2012, they worked with Roland Sands to develop the Concept 90, a custom build that hinted at the upcoming release of the R Nine T. They then worked with a group of Japanese builders during their R Nine T custom project and displayed those bikes at the venerable Mooneyes Hot Rod & Custom Show in Japan.
I’m currently at the 2018 instalment of Mooneyes Yokohama. Today was the setup day and was also where this bike and its top-secret power-plant made their first public appearance. With the help of Luke Ray from Fuel Tank, we were able to capture these exclusive photos and get the lowdown on the build from Yuichi Yoshizawa of Custom Works Zon.
The project kicked off when Yuichi and his colleague Yoshikazu Ueda received a surprise call from BMW headquarters. The pair were invited to Munich to visit the Motorrad factory and have the purpose of their visit explained. There was one condition though. Their visit had to remain a secret. Despite the curious request the pair accepted and headed to Europe under the premise they were attending to business in France. It all sounds a bit like a James Bond storyline, but this is how top secret this project had to be.
Upon arriving the pair signed non-disclosure agreements before entering into the factory where they were shown the engine and invited to build a custom bike around it. As you can imagine the decision to take up the offer was not a hard one to make.
In late July 2018, the engine arrived at Custom Works Zon in Japan. During the 4 months leading up to Mooneyes 2018, Yuichi and Yoshikazu built the entire rest of the bike from scratch. The initial concept was to place the engine in a cruiser styled chassis because of its sheer size. However, after more thought, the idea evolved into a machine that was more about the engines raw power. This translated to a design inspired by land speed racers.
The build began with the development of a custom truss-style frame designed to appear as though it was clasping the engine from above. The suspension followed with a girder styled front end and a Sachs mono-shock at the rear to support the bikes custom single-sided swingarm. Both of the huge, 22+ inch wheels were then milled by Satsuma Cycle Works from aluminium blanks using a design Yuichi drew up himself.
Stopping power is provided by Kustom Tech disc brakes and grip by Metzeler Marathon Ultra rubber. With the concept being based on a land speed racer the bike also needed a suitable riding position so a set of low, narrow handlebars and rear set footpegs position the rider appropriately.
Another important design element was to keep everything streamlined, aside from the mammoth engine. For this reason, most of the fuel tank sits within the rails of the frame with only the top third protruding above. The narrow tank flows back into a single saddle with a purposeful kick at the rear to secure the rider in place.
As for the engine, it arrived devoid of an intake or exhaust system so these also had to be designed and built from scratch. Although BMW had developed the engine with a fuel injection system it was not supplied due to more secrecy. So, in its place, Yuichi installed a pair of 40mm Dellorto carbs. The carbs are fed air via a custom-made airbox that sits on top of the engine. The airbox breathes through openings in the large aluminium front grill and a strategically positioned inlet beneath the fuel cell. The 2-into-2 exhaust is a full stainless system built from scratch, including the shapely mufflers.
During our interview, I did my best to extract information from Yuichi about the concept Boxer engine, but he wouldn’t budge. I did, however, make a few observations of my own. Judging by the ‘R18’ painted on the tail and by the engines sheer size it may well be a 1800cc design. This would make it the biggest engine in the BMW Motorrad lineup if it goes into production. I would also assume that because the engine has been utilised in a custom project it may be destined for a new model in the BMW Heritage range. Again, because of its size, it could be used in a cruiser styled model which the BMW Motorrad range currently lacks. These are only my personal guesses, but based on their past collaborations I’m sure it won’t be long before more details are revealed.