The bike maker that next year will be celebrating its 120th anniversary not only managed to survive the tough years of the Great Depression, but also released in the first years of the conflagration the WLA, a model that is still highly desirable even today in some circles.
This story has nothing to do with the American bike maker or its GI Joe-destined motorcycle, We chose to open with an intro about the two because that is exactly what this here BMW R 18, called Steelbody, reminds us of: the pre-cursor of the mighty WLA, the WL, wearing the coldness of bare metal exposed to the elements.
The bike is one of eight R 18s shown by German motorcycle maker BMW Motorrad at the beginning of December. Like the others, it was put together in the country the WLAs of old were sent to defeat during the war, by a BMW partner called Motorrad Guhs.
We’re told the idea behind the build was to come up with a style similar to other pre-war motorcycles, but one can’t deny how well this modern-day cruiser resembles the father of the Liberator, as the WLA came to be known.
The first thing that catches the eye is the size of the thing’s wheels, tiny at 16 inches in diameter. That's a very common size for most unpretentious cars out there, but almost sacrilege on a custom bike. Wrapping around the wheels are fat circles of rubber, they, in turn, shielded by large ducktail fenders that almost go halfway their diameter.
The big, original headlight mounted up front, right on the springer fork, is sure to illuminate the darkest of nights, while the solo swinging saddle looks uncomfortable enough to belong to a pre-war motorcycle.
What immediately catches the eye is however the bareness of the metal used on the fenders and fuel tank. With apparently no paint added, the bike looks raw and powerful but also unfinished, and that makes it even more spectacular.
The change of wheels and fitting of larger fenders were not the only upgrades made to the R 18. Other custom elements made their way onto the ride, including narrower side covers, handlebars, or running boards with gearshift paddles.
Elsewhere, the speedometer was mounted on top of the fuel tank, a bobber-style LED light was fitted at the rear, and a Dr. Jekill & Mr. Hyde sports exhaust in fishtail design was slapped onto the otherwise stock Big Boxer engine.
We’re told this one-off took about 200 hours to put together, and the message it sends to Harley-Davidson in the custom segment is clear: the Germans are coming, and the Steelbody is what they ride.