WHENEVER DIRK OEHLERKING builds another custom BMW boxer, it feels like his signature art deco style has reached its zenith. But then the next project rolls into the Kingston Custom workshop, and the German artisan flips the script again. Flitting between vintage boxers and the newer BMW R18, Dirk constantly pushes himself, and his imagination, to new and exciting heights.
Dirk hasn’t only worked on BMWs in his career, but he’s certainly become known as a boxer specialist. The Bavarian marque is close to his heart—so he built this custom BMW R18 to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Nicknamed ‘The Crown,’ it’s currently bending necks at the BMW Motorrad Days event in Berlin.
It’s a fascinating machine, laced with retro-futuristic, art deco, and aeronautical elements. Everything is inch-perfect—from the elegant hand-formed bodywork to the finishes. As usual, we’re scratching our heads trying to figure out how he built it.
In a world where digital design is ubiquitous, Dirk’s process is refreshingly traditional. He started by stripping the R18 down to its frame, then he used shaping foam and sheets of cardboard to figure out the design. His goal was to create a machine that represents speed and power, but in an unorthodox way—and he nailed it.
With the R18’s silhouette defined, Dirk started fabricating the custom fuselage out of 2 mm thick aluminum sheeting. And the more you examine it, the more impressive it becomes.
The lower half reaches forward to hug the front wheel, while the upper half ends in a shroud that wraps around the headlight. The body tapers gracefully from front to back, ending in a curved cutout that follows the rear wheel, and puts the R18’s looped swingarm and exposed shaft drive on full display. Incorporated into the design is an 8 liter [2.1 gal] fuel tank, accessible via a classic Monza-style gas cap just in front of the rider.
Most of the R18’s chassis has gone untouched, but the bike’s new body called for a redesign of the front end. To make sure the bike would still drive—and turn—Dirk engineered a front swingarm and a cable-operated steering system. It’s operated via a set of custom-made handlebars, and there’s a Wilbers shock to add some cushioning.
Dirk kept the R18’s original wheels, brakes, and rear shocks, and re-fitted its switches to the new handlebars. But the hydraulic brake and clutch controls are upgraded Magura parts.
Dirk’s fabrication skills are impressive, but so is his judgment. He’s re-purposed many of the R18’s stock parts, integrating them into his custom work in a way that elevates the overall design.
Out front, the BMW’s LED headlight gives the bike an almost robotic visage. On the sides, neat cutouts in the aluminum accommodate the R18’s gargantuan cylinder heads and intakes, and its foot controls. The left side even features the bike’s original chromed reverse gear lever and a power socket.
The stock chroming pops against the new bodywork, while a pair of slash-cut stainless steel exhausts offer a tighter fit than the original ‘fishtail’ units. The way they hug the bike and end perfectly in line with the bodywork is a testament to how much Dirk obsesses over his work.
Higher up, the top panel flows into a sculpted housing for the stock speedo. An aluminum seat pan forms the base for the luxurious suede seat, with a custom loop at the back to keep the rider from sliding off the back. It’s probably not particularly comfortable, but it does look spectacular.
The rear fender and its struts are some of the few off-the-shelf parts on this custom BMW R18. They’re from Wunderkind in Germany, and feature LED taillights discreetly embedded in the struts where they meet the fender. Teeny tiny Kellerman LED turn signals sit up front.
The bike looks bigger and heavier than a stock R18, but it’s not. It now weighs 305 kilos [672 lbs]—40 kg [88 lbs] less than before. It’s only 2 inches longer than before, and, with the mirrors off, it’s actually narrower.
Finishing things off is a sophisticated livery that once again proves how good Dirk’s taste is. Champagne and mother-of-pearl tones play off against raw aluminum and chromed parts masterfully. The pin-striped sections on the sides of the bike recall vintage BMW fuel tank designs—but they continue all the way to the rear, tracing a line that continues into the swingarm.
Subtle Kingston Custom and BMW logos, and tiny brass fasteners throughout the bodywork, add additional accents. And if you pay close attention to the stainless steel exhausts, you’ll notice how their natural discoloration ties together the various hues that adorn the R18.
At this point we’re not sure if these design decisions are intentional, or if Dirk’s instincts are so good that they just come to him naturally. We’re not sure how he’s going to level up from this build—but knowing him, he’ll find a way.