Kingston Custom Turns Out Another German Rolling Sculpture.
Words Chris Hunter Images Ben Ott
BMW has wasted no time getting the new R 18 into the hands of customizers. Five months ago, before the Bavarian cruiser was even in showrooms, Roland Sands unveiled the low-slung Dragster concept. Then a couple of weeks later, Bernhard Naumann of Blechmann revealed an even wilder build.
Now it’s the turn of Dirk Oehlerking, who runs Kingston Custom. He’s based in Gelsenkirchen — a six-hour ride from the BMW factory in Berlin — and has built around 17 BMW customs over the past 35 years. This is arguably his best yet.
The swooping lines and quality of finish are next-level. But this is not a styling exercise endlessly refined in a CAD program on a computer; Dirk still works in a totally analog way.
The design process begins long before the first screws are turned. “I put a lot of thought into it beforehand,” he says. “I have a constant stream of images running past my mind’s eye when deciding what style to focus on.”
“Once I’ve made that choice, I start with a sketch in pencil and Tipp-Ex [correction fluid]. Then I keep going, until I know in my heart of hearts: that’s precisely ‘it.’”
The BMW R 18 has been designed with customization in mind, following the trail blazed by the R nineT. The showroom bike is something of a rolling homage, with visual (and technical) details echoing the R5 of the late 1930s. It also has a focus on modern, but no-frills, tech — such as the 1,802cc pushrod motor.
Oehlerking often takes a deep dive into the bikes that he customizes. But this time he’s mostly left the mechanical side alone, because it would be change for the sake of change.
“I left the technology as it is,” he says. “The frame is 100 percent original.” Clever original design touches, like the exposed drive shaft and rear wheel hub, are still present and correct.
The real action is happening on the outside — with the extraordinary fairing and rear wheel cover. It’s possible to trace a clear lineage here, starting with Dirk’s White Phantom R 80 RT of four years ago.
In 2018, his Black Phantom took it up a notch, using parts from multiple Airhead BMWs, and last year, we saw the Good Ghost R 100, a nearly impossible bike to top; the BMW head office obviously had other ideas.
The R 18 is the fourth bike in this informal sequence. Called Spirit of Passion, it retains the Art Deco vibe that Dirk has refined over the past few years. And although it looks like it belongs on the manicured lawns of Pebble Beach or the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este in Italy, it’s actually a fully functional, rideable motorcycle.
You just wouldn’t want to drop it.
Dirk carved the shape of the bodywork out of rigid foam to create molds, and the final shell is fiberglass. It bolts to the standard R 18 mounting points, and the matching rear wheel enclosure is attached to the swingarm — so that it follows the movement of the wheel. It sounds simple, but there was obviously a lot of precision design and measuring happening here.
When it came to designing the kidney grille, Dirk was inspired by the iconic BMW 328 — the four-wheeled contemporary of the R 5 motorcycle. The grille itself is crafted from aluminum slats, and the recessed oval above conceals an LED headlight from Highsider. Compact Kellermann indicators keep the machine street-legal.
The tiny windshield is custom-made using Makrolon polycarbonate, a lightweight glass substitute, but the leather seat is adapted from BMW’s own accessory catalog.
The bars are custom-made, and designed so that the turning circle is the same as the showroom bike. And with 150 millimeters of clearance between the road and the lower fairing, ground clearance is not an issue — unless you are lapping the Nürburgring.
The tank is the standard fitment, dressed with a vintage R 75 badge. Finished off with classic BMW black paint and subtle white pinstriping, the Kingston R 18 could almost pass for an expensively restored vintage machine — at home in a European museum or on the floor of a high-end auction house. Except this one will start the first time at the press of a button, and only needs servicing every 6,000 miles.
It’s a towering achievement from Oehlerking, surpassing even the White Phantom and Black Phantom, and he’s rightly proud of it. “This project is probably the most impressive of my entire career,” he says. “It means a lot to me.”
If you’re feeling the love as well, you’ll be glad to know that Dirk has a limited edition production run planned. Not many custom motorcycles become collectors’ pieces, but we suspect this will be one of them.