This Awesome BMW Custom Motorcycle Is Inspired By Hot Rods 


  • Hot rods are iconic vehicles with an artistic dedication that makes them loud, brash, and unforgettable in the automotive community.
  • Paul Yaffe’s BMW R 18 bagger customization project exemplifies a shift in the custom motorcycle world towards hot rod inspiration.
  • Yaffe’s attention to detail in upgrading the frame, stance, and exhaust system creates a unique and stunning hot rod motorcycle aesthetic.

Hot rods are special custom vehicles that always steal your attention. These cars are loud, not just in their exhaust note but also in their design. With their low stance, exposed mechanical bits, and brutal stance, they have garnered a cult following for a few decades. Sure, they may not be as quick or practical as other customs, but they have a special place in the automotive community for what they express: a dedication to art.

Unfortunately, the custom motorcycle world does not get as many hot rod treatments. Look up Pinterest, and all you’ll see are blacked out Harley-Davidsons with ape hangers and bottomed-out suspension. That is slowly changing, though, as many custom bike builders experiment with the hot rod formula nowadays. The latest person to do that is Paul Yaffe, an American builder who is a true designer at heart. In his latest project, he took the BMW R 18 bagger and turned it into a hot rod-inspired beast. It’s awesome, it’s loud, it’s brash — exactly what you’d expect a hot rod motorcycle to be.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from BMW Motorrad and other authoritative sources, including Hagarty.

This Custom BMW R 18 Will Enchant You With Its Aircraft-Style Aesthetics

Built by VTR Customs, the R 18 has entirely custom bodywork all made from aluminum sheet metal to mimic the Ju 52 warplane

Yaffe Gets His Hands On The BMW R 18

Paul Yaffe is no stranger to customizing exquisite motorcycles. He established the American Legend Motorcycle Company, which later evolved into Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation. Since 1991, he’s carved a name for himself in the industry not just as a builder but as a designer. He even went on to win several accolades and awards for his custom motorcycles, which are nothing short of art.

Paul Yaffe’s Accolades

  • World’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle from Oakland Roadster Show
  • Two Builder of the Year and Trendsetter of the Year from Easyriders Magazine
  • Sturgis Hall of Fame inductee in 2015
  • Bikes featured in 300+ magazine articles around the world
  • Featured in several shows, including Discovery and History channels

Today, his products are distributed across six countries via partnerships, but this time around, he wanted to create something special for the MBE Show in Verona, Italy. His muse? The gorgeous BMW R 18. The German cruiser, powered by a beefy boxer twin engine, turned out to be the perfect canvas for his hot rod-inspired bagger.

According to BMW, Yaffe rode the bike 3,800 miles across the States and 2,600 miles to Sturgis and back before beginning the customization process. He got to know the bike well. His goal was simple on paper — to create a big wheel bagger that no one had ever seen before. Easier said than done, since he wanted to retain the original BMW components as much as possible, so the bike stayed authentic to the German heritage, too.

Underpinnings Upgraded For An Ultimate Hot Rod Stance

Paul Yaffe's BMW R 18 One Eight C Custom
BMW Motorrad

Usually, when you think of a custom motorcycle, thoughts generally go to engine upgrades, performance boosts, or shaving weight. But that’s not what Yaffe wanted with his custom R 18 One Eight C. So, he didn’t tamper much with the bike’s underpinnings, except for the chassis, suspension, and front wheel. These are the only changes that would essentially affect the way the bike performs or handles on the road. And these changes were made to complement the aesthetic he had in mind.

Sleeker, Longer Frame And Stance

He stretched and raked out the frame to make space for the massive front wheel. This gives the bike a more crouched stance that hot rods are known for. To ensure a wider rake wouldn’t affect handling so much, he even designed special triple trees to correct the trail measurement for optimized handling.

Paul Yaffe's BMW R 18 One Eight C Custom
BMW Motorrad

The frame is suspended on a sophisticated air suspension to bring the bike closer to the ground for exhibitions. This air suspension system, including the air storage tanks, compressor, controls, and valves, is neatly tucked behind the saddlebags for a clean look. Once the frame was set, he moved to the front wheel, and boy, what a gorgeous wheel it is! The 26” x 5.5” front wheel was fabricated from a 400-pound single block aluminum, and wrapped in a handmade 180 mm wide front tire.

A Bespoke Exhaust System For Boxer’s Growl

A final upgrade came in the form of a wider and louder exhaust system than the stock. Of course, the bike had to retain the classic Boxer head pipes and sound signature, so Yaffe’s team replaced the cat converters with a bespoke performance baffle system. This new system lets the engine breathe better but doesn’t compromise on back pressure; the result being optimal performance with a more pronounced sound signature. The exhaust is finished with a 3-step muffler and a wide megaphone.

This Beastly Custom Yamaha V-Max Makes American Cruisers Look Vanilla

Built by Shoogly Shod Motors, the cruiser has loads of trick components, including Yamaha R1-borrowed suspension

Cosmetics Take The Front Seat Here

Paul Yaffe's BMW R 18 One Eight C Custom
BMW Motorrad

Yaffe’s primary inspiration for this custom R 18 was the iconic ’50s Mercury Lead Sled, a sleek hot rod with exposed front wheels, sweeping lines, and beefy fenders. To bring the look on two wheels, the design team went a long way to fabricate various components for the bike. All this was done while using as many R 18 OEM components as possible. Remember, he wanted to retain the BMW charm, too! Honestly, it’s a long list of cosmetic upgrades, so just check them out below:

BMW R 18 One Eight C Cosmetic Upgrades

  • Steel front fender made from scratch
  • The rear fender extended with a second OEM fender for a seamless flyline
  • Original fairings cut and fabricated to correct headlight position and flow into the bigger front wheel
  • A unique chin spoiler to fill the gap between the fairing and fuel tank and hide the radiator
  • Exclusive Yaffe Monkey Bars crafted for this bike
  • A new set of skins rafted for the bags and give the bike a unique stretched profile
  • Handmade filler panels to house the rearranged original taillights
  • Stretched original side covers to help your eyes flow into the bags

After Harley-Davidson, BMW Recalls Its R 18 Cruiser

Official owner notifications are set to dispatch in February 2024

The story doesn’t end here. The final piece of this hot rod puzzle was the paint. Yaffe wanted to emphasize the bike’s stance without distracting (and tacky) graphics — it was all about simplicity. So he put his dedicated painter, Hector Martinez, to work. Martinez settled on a glass-like paint finish, and one can never go wrong with deep gloss black.

To complement the dark finish, Yaffe also added a classic blood-red interior, while Guys Upholstery’s contemporary saddle and dash console add further allure. Finally, Martinez mixed up a color to match the front calipers with the upholstery. The final product is the Yaffe’s BMW R 18 One Eight C hot rod motorcycle that looks unlike anything else. Suddenly, a hot rod bagger no longer needs a massive V-twin engine and sharp lines to look stunning, does it?

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