The BMW R 20 Concept Is a Love Letter to the Classic Big Boxer Engine

BMW Motorrad put the Big Boxer into a roadster that combines the new and old school.

byJosé Rodríguez Jr|
BMW News photo


There's something timeless about BMW motorcycles built around the Big Boxer engine. Indeed, the flat-twin design has endured for a century, and the Boxer has powered BMW Motorrad's most iconic bikes for much of that time. BMW is rightfully smitten with the engine, and it continues to build neat concepts in which to cradle the Big Boxer, such as this latest bike dubbed the BMW R 20 Concept.

The concept motorcycle was shown off at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, where it debuted alongside the BMW Concept Skytop. Despite the killer looks of the targa bimmer, it's the new beemer that would have stolen my attention were I to be in the presence of the two, because the R 20 Concept is a damn-near perfect machine. It's truly glorious!

And for those of you wondering how the colloquial distinction works: A "bimmer" is a car, a "beemer" is a bike.

The bike houses the latest iteration of the Big Boxer, which is air and oil-cooled and now boasts a displacement of 2,000 cc. BMW wanted to really show off the engine, and streamline its looks so that it could be better appreciated. Motorrad engineers developed new cylinder head covers, a new belt cover, and a new oil cooler as well to mount the oil pipes partially hidden, per BMW.

The result is a clean view of the engine from all angles, especially from the side profile where BMW says that onlookers can visually "follow the path of the air as it flows through the open intake funnels into the throttle bodies and cylinders." It's always been easy to imagine air flowing over the cylinder heads of the bike's beating heart as it rolls forward at speed, but the clean design of the 2.0-liter engine in the R 20 Concept makes it easy to visualize and appreciate. And I imagine it must sound just as pleasing as it is to stare at with its 2-in-2 exhaust system singing as the bike carves a backroad.

Of course, the rest of the bike is just as high-speed and full of refinement that improves on the century-old design of BMW's roadsters. The bike's suspension comprises an Öhlins Blackline system with fully adjustable components at the front and rear. Its massive brake discs are coupled with ISR brake calipers with six pistons at the front and four at the rear handle deceleration.

The Big Boxer has always had the advantage of lowering the center-of-gravity of its bikes, but the R 20 Concept's ride is nonetheless reportedly better-balanced thanks to BMW's stalwart paralever, which has been improved. Motorrad says it's been reworked as a "new two-arm variant, in which the swingarm is made of chrome-molybdenum steel and the Paralever strut is made of aluminum."

The concept bike borrows the exposed driveshaft of the BMW R 18, although it has been shortened to better fit the roadster design of the R 20 Concept versus the cruiser build of the R 18. Honestly, it works, and the thick spokes of the rear 17-inch wheel (the same size as the front) look well-matched to the overall vibe of the R 20 Concept, which integrates both traditional and avant-garde looks.

The '70s-derived "hotter than pink" paint of the gas tank is just the icing on the cake. It looks more like red to me, and very alike to BMW's Hellrot finish in the light of day. Whatever color it is, it looks bright and bold. I mentioned before the bike is nearly perfect ... my only gripe is that it feels incomplete as the design concludes with a tail tuck—the norm for most modern roadsters. BMW calls it a "compact rear," but I wish there was a deliberate resolution to the bike with a tail to balance it out and make it look less asymmetrical. Either way, the R 20 Concept generally looks incredible.

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