Another year, another Motorcycle Live – the final of the big three European winter bike shows, and the one most likely to attract TVAM members. After all, Birmingham is a far shorter drive than Cologne or Milan. For some, it’s simply a great day out, for others it’s an opportunity to decide which new metal is worthy of an early deposit at their local dealer. There were many new or updated models on display, but also some gaps. Many bikes were missing, discontinued due to falling sales or an inability to meet the looming Euro4 emissions and noise requirements. To that end, let’s go through the main manufacturers and see what was of particular interest this November.
Minor changes to many of their current models, a cool Africa-Twin concept for those determined to run the Dakar rally, and a pre-production prototype of the now-confrmed X-ADV scooter. Closely related to the existing NC750-based Integra, Honda have surprised everyone by confrming that they will be putting a chunky, lifted, spoked-wheeled and knobbly-tyred scooter into showrooms next year.
While the idea of off-road adventure riding seems to be very much in vogue (even if single-digit percentages of riders actually venture away from tarmac in the UK), I do believe this might be a step (through) too far. I wouldn’t mind seeing those four-pot twin radial Tokiko brake callipers on the rest of the NC750 range, however.
Honda also introduced a more comfortable, faired version of their popular CRF250L road-legal dirt bike. 2bhp more, a larger tank, a more comfortable seat, a reinforced subframe and the oddest looking headlights this side of an R1150GS should make for a truly practical round-the-world traveller. Anyone who buys a KTM 1290 Super Adventure and says they’ll be heading to Mongolia next year is kidding themselves. Serious travellers take something small, simple, and lightweight into the wilderness, not something approaching 300kg with an iPad for a dashboard. The big news, in theory, was of course the new Fireblade. The CBR1000RR now comes in three different favours depending on your credit rating, with even the base model featuring a 15kg weight loss and small power bump, along with the sadly prerequisite riding modes and lean-sensitive brakes and traction control.
For those of us left slightly depressed by the contradictory manner in which the whole industry is adding electronic restriction as an antidote to their excessively powerful engines, Honda was one of the last holdouts, the last bastion of a bygone age. If riders can’t handle 200bhp, then why not simply make smaller, lighter, less powerful, and ultimately cheaper motorcycles?
Apparently it’s our own fault, because the CBR600RR’s poor sales are such that it’s no longer worth Honda re-engineering the bike to pass next-generation emissions regulations. Commuters and couriers are buying NC750s in droves, and well-heeled hobbyists are focking to big power Africa Twins and Fireblades, but PCP has apparently made the middle ground unattractive. Why get a 600 when for just £30 a month more you could have a 1000?
Suzuki surprised and annoyed me by doing the complete opposite of what I was hoping for with the V-Strom range. The rumoured changes to the 650cc version can be summed up by taking the current 1000, complete with beak and upgraded traction control, then replacing the engine and stickers to make it a 650.
There’s lots to like – the larger bike’s subframe allows for ftment of some excellent tucked-in hard luggage, the low-mount exhaust is a welcome dose of realism in a world otherwise convinced that full- size adventure motorcycles are somehow going rockclimbing, and the fully-featured dash means that home-brew voltmeters and 12v sockets will no longer be required.
Unfortunately, they’ve also copied the 1000’s inferior stacked headlights, narrower fairing and screen, and irritatingly fashionable beak. And while they were at it, they completely failed to upgrade the brakes or suspension, the two biggest weak spots in the otherwise sensible, practical and effcient 650.
At least there’s now something for beginners. The Inazuma 250 has donated its engine to the GSX250R and V-Strom 250, both of which are reskinned to match their larger-boned and larger-engined cousins. It’ll be nice for new riders to have something that could be mistaken for their friend’s adventure or sports bikes, but low-rent running gear will mean that experienced riders searching for a lightweight commuter should probably look elsewhere.
Conversely, Suzuki have taken the competition a little more seriously with the GSX-R 125, giving the UK’s 17-year-olds something to lust after alongside the ubiquitous Yamaha YZF-R125, KTM RC125 and Aprilia RS125. Top speeds and overtaking ability will be too limited for older riders, and more practical machinery such as Honda’s CBR125 will be of more interest to penny-pinching commuters.
Same goes for the GSX-R 1000, joining the rest of the 200bhp, electrically-assisted superbike world, and bringing variable valve timing along for the ride. Based on their centrifugally-driven MotoGP-based system, Suzuki claim it will give them the beefy midrange to match the stratospheric high-rev power, but I hardly think the likes of BMW’s S1000RR are lacking in that department. Price may be key here, as it always is with Suzuki, but all those electronics surely can’t come cheap.
The sole victim for 2017 seems to be the GSX-R 750. Already the last man standing from the days when everyone had a sports 750, the Suzuki has long soldiered on as an example of restraint. Without the additional 50bhp that require electronic safety nets in its larger cousins, yet with enough mid-range to improve noticeably on the day-to-day drivability of the smaller 600, it could be argued that the 750cc inline-four was the perfect goldilocks sportsbike. Not too big, not too small. I almost bought one once, but then didn’t. I guess neither did anyone else.
Completing the far-eastern triumvirate, Yamaha had one of the largest stands of the three, yet had the least new metal to show. Part of this was because they already had the most up-to-date range of all the Japanese manufacturers, and part was because they seem to sell a dozen different versions of each bike. In fact, it’s become easy to guess which model Yamaha will announce next, given the now obvious gaps in their formula. My money’s on a retro-styled version of the MT-10.
What was new was the R6; mechanically very similar to the previous model, but gaining more advanced electronics and an R1-esque restyle. Clearly here’s one manufacturer who believes that there is still life in the 600cc sports bike market. Power and torque numbers haven’t moved noticeably despite Euro4 certifcation, which could be more of an indication that we’ve hit a plateau on what can be done with four 150cc pistons, even at almost 17,000 RPM.
What was missing? Just the 660 Teneré. What, you forgot they still made a 47bhp, single-cylinder adventure bike? Yep, so did everyone else. Fortunately, the obvious replacement is already being shown off as a concept, with the brilliant MT-07 engine as a base. Before long you’ll be able to walk into a Yamaha dealer, pick your engine from 2, 3 or 4-cylinders, then choose a modern naked, retro, sports-tourer or adventure version of each bike!
BMW were, of course, the original platform-sharing pioneers. Ignoring the single-cylinder G650 (everyone else does) you could choose between the 1200cc water-cooled boxer, the now ten-year- old 800cc 360-degree parallel twin or the searing 1000cc inline-four and then select naked, sports or adventure for each. At the top end we’ve got the 1.6-litre inline six K1600 in all its Goldwing-destroying glory, and off to one side, all alone, the hilariously overpriced C650 scooters.
Well, last year some parts of the world got the G310 reverse-mounted single-cylinder naked bike, although for some reason it’s still not made it over here from the factory in India. By the time it arrives it should be joined by its new R1200GS-inspired twin brother, a sort of higher-spec, higher-priced competitor to the V-Strom 250. Again, if you’re a 17-year-old who wants a bike just like Mum or Dad, then maybe it’ll be of interest. If it’ll attract the attention of the hardcore around-the-world crowd remains to be seen.
Beyond that it’s mostly Euro4 tweaks for the existing engines, including ride-by-wire for the 800’s and a light restyle for the GS. BMW engineers figured out how to remove the high-frequency vibrations from the S1000XR and shuffled colours around on some other models. Most owners won’t notice or care. They’ll just wait until their dealer phones them up to remind them to renew their PCP subscription and collect the latest version of whatever they already ride.
KTM’s range is either exactly the same or completely overhauled, depending on how closely you pay attention to the details. Their corporate styling and insistence on painting everything orange makes it diffcult to spot what is actually a fairly comprehensive overhaul of their entire adventure range, with signifcant changes to their naked bikes as well.
The 1290 Super-Adventure has been visually slimmed down, given an iPad in place of a dashboard and picked up the meanest-looking headlights I’ve ever seen on any vehicle. With LED lighting finally powerful, light and compact enough to replace ancient incandescent bulbs on increasingly cheaper motorcycles, manufacturers are free to experiment with non-traditional lighting arrangements. And no-one has taken that more to heart than KTM. Blimey.
Other than that, it’s the usual silliness. A 1300 cc v-twin making an excessive 160bhp, all kept in check by an unnecessary number of traction control computers, and suspended by an undesirably complex electronic suspension. I’d love to tell you how much it weighs, but the latest trend in all these large, expensive motorcycles is that they’ll only tell us the dry weight, which here is 217kg. Add fuel, water, oil
and the rest and I suspect you’ll be lucky to see less than 250kg on the scales. And that’s before you cover it in another 100kg of brushed aluminium accessories…
The entire 1190 Adventure range has been cut, proving once again that there’s no-one willing to sign a PCP plan for a £15k motorcycle who can’t be persuaded to sign up to an £18k motorcycle. Instead, we see a replacement of the perplexingly stunted 1050 Adventure and its meagre restrictor-friendly 94bhp with the much more potent 123bhp of the new 1090 Adventure. With less power, fewer gadgets, a simpler dash and more basic lights, the new mid-range KTM Adventure costs signifcantly less than its big brother, and is an altogether more interesting proposition.
The 390 Duke joins its 690cc bigger brother in gaining the fashionable full-colour TFT display. It seems nobody remembers when car dashboards tried to go fully-digital in the 80’s and everyone very quickly demanded analogue dials back. The prototype Duke 800 shows off KTM’s new parallel twin, a first in the company’s street bikes, and likely slotting in between the featherweight single-cylinder 690 and the frankly scary 1290 Superduke.
KTM didn’t need to lose anything else for Euro4, although the hi-tech wonder that is KTM’s MotoGP bike does rather rub our noses in the fact that we’ll likely never see an RC8 successor.
It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Triumph only makes two motorcycles, but will configure them for you in a practically infinite number of ways. The 1200cc and 800cc Tigers each come in eight different factory-provided specifications, and are visually impossible to tell apart. The new 900cc and 1200cc retro-styled twin-cylinder engines are slowly being bolted into every possible combination of cafe-racer, scrambler, bobber and cruiser, with further options available off-the-shelf at dealers for exhausts etc.
In reality we’ve now got a Bonneville with less power and worse brakes in the new T100, a 54bhp Street Cup cafe racer created by bolting the Thruxton’s clip-ons and seat to the Street Twin, and an interesting, concealed mono-shock linkage giving us the pretend-hardtail Bobber. I’m hoping that if I wait long enough I’ll get the option to buy a bike with the brakes, suspension and engine from the Thruxton R, but with an upright riding position and cast wheels to make it actually usable for more than trundling to the pub and back for two weekends a year.
If you weren’t looking for them, the sheer volume of brushed aluminium and smell of beard oil might have distracted you from the fact that nothing featuring Triumph’s legendary 675cc triple has survived the Euro4 cull. If Honda is right, then no-one is buying 600-class sports bikes anymore, but I know for a fact that the Street Triple was a hot seller.
It’s an open secret that there’s a new 800cc version in the works, complete with half-faired touring variants and dripping with unnecessary riding modes and traction control. It’s just a surprise that Triumph didn’t have it ready in time, leaving a conspicuous gap in the lineup. Joining the 675s in enforced obscurity is a bike at the other end of Triumph’s scale, the 2.3-litre three-cylinder Rocket. Never a huge seller, but always a crowd-pleaser, I can only guess that fully modernising the gigantic engine couldn’t be justified in an era where riders seem more interested in plaid shirts than unending torque.
Ah, Ducati. The manufacturer whose engineers literally cannot separate motorcycle from sportsbike. Ask them to build you a cruiser, they build you a low, stretched sportsbike. Ask them to build you an adventure bike, they build you a tall, pannier-equipped sportsbike. Speaking as someone who repeatedly tries to turn cheap Suzuki all-rounders into sportsbikes, I can completely relate to these people.
Obviously there’s a swathe of Euro4 tweaks for existing models, although the rumour is that the 1299 Panigale has only survived due to low-production rules granting a stay of execution. The swan song, then, is the new Superleggera, a feather-weight opus in orange and white, a world-frst production bike with a carbon fbre frame, swing-arm and wheels, weighing less than my Street Triple, yet making almost 220bhp. Staggering.
The Scrambler persists in a variety of flavours, now including a Café Racer and Desert Sled, which at least has the decency to feature some suspension and frame upgrades to justify its off-road styling. It also lends its engine to the new/old Monster 797, which is presumably for people who wanted a classic 75bhp air-cooled Ducati twin but still wanted modern wheel sizes and brakes. Pricing will be critical, especially given that you can buy the exact same thing in the classifieds from a few years ago.
An apparently growing theme amongst the European manufacturers is to realise that not everyone wants or needs the power, weight and complexity that come with their top-tier adventure models, yet still want high-quality running gear. And just like KTM, Ducati will now be offering a tantalising new mid- range model in the Multistrada 950, featuring all the stuff you want (cast wheels, monobloc brembos) with none of the stuff you don’t (electronic suspension, iPads for dashboards). Colour me interested.
Harley-Davidson either have 50 new models or none, depending on how you defIne new model. They do have a new big-twin engine, which looks a bit nicer, runs a bit cleaner, vibrates a little less and has a tiny bit more power. Just like BMW, if you’re a Harley fan, you’ll buy one regardless of the spec, so don’t worry too much about it.
Husqvarna stole the show for me with their Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401’s, both beautifully-envisaged future-retro concept bikes that somehow made it to full production practically unchanged. Company owners KTM donate the engines from the 390 and 690 Dukes, the former going into these smaller bikes, the latter already used in the you-know-you-want-one 701 Supermoto.
Vespa and Peugeot paraded their usual ranges of modern and retro-styled CVT-equipped scooters. The various 125s and their tiny, unstable wheels are best kept inside city limits where a bicycle would already be a cheaper option, and the 300s add enough power to get out onto the motorways, where you can really scare yourself. The larger-wheeled maxiscooters make more sense, and I’ve met people who swear by those for touring or bad-weather commuting, but the riding position makes for questionable handling and the massive weight makes for poor fuel economy.
Aprilia seem to be shedding models left and right, the poor sales from their otherwise excellent motorcycles not enough to pay for the necessary Euro4 upgrades. The Shiver will return as a 900, as will the Dorsoduro, the Caponord 1200 persisting only in Rally form, and likely only because they sell few enough to squeeze through the regulations for one more year. A shame.
CCM were present and correct, showing off the clever bonded-aluminium frame and BMW-sourced 450cc single they use in their lightweight adventure bike. Recent price rises at the high end of the segment now mean that the CCM looks better than ever for people with genuine long-distance off- road ambitions. Light, economical, yet capable of lugging all your luggage across the Sahara without requiring a mechanic to fy in for emergency repairs half-way through. Buy one, ride it through a muddy quarry, then park it at your local Starbucks to make all the local GS’s look really silly.
Curiously, although having dominated the world of badly-maintained 125s throughout UK cities, the Chinese manufacturers were conspicuously absent this year, despite starting to finally field semi- convincing larger capacity models at previous shows. Perhaps getting hauled away for egregious copyright infringement at one EICMA after another is finally making them realise that stealing everyone else’s designs isn’t fooling western consumers. Perhaps buying or investing heavily in existing
manufacturers (Benelli, I’m looking at you) will prove a safer strategy for breaking into this particular market.
But the company that sticks in my mind the most, is definitely the boutique Italian Energica. Based in the famous motor valley in Italy, this relatively young frm is determined to be the world’s two-wheeled Tesla. More mainstream competition Zero seem happy to incrementally advance electric motorcycles an inch at a time, a strategy chosen by many car manufacturers to produce sadly similarly forgettable vehicles. But both Energica’s Ego sports bike and its matching Eva super naked are something else.
Capable of delivering more torque from a dead stop than a 1299 Panigale can at peak and artificially limited to 150mph, both bikes will run away from literally anything.
With quality workmanship and detailing, top-drawer suspension and brake components and an electric drivetrain that proves once and for all that the eventual switch from hydrocarbons to electrons needn’t be a downgrade, the only questions remaining are range and price. Before government subsidies you’ll be putting down £28,000 for the privilege of riding your Ego home, and that’s assuming you live within100 miles of your dealer.
But give it another 5-10 years and we could be looking at a genuine choice. In the same way that you can walk into a Peugeot dealership and pick petrol or diesel with minimal differences between the two, your 2025 BMW R1200GS will likely be offered in both petrol and electric versions. I can’t wait!
Regardless of what you ride and what you’d spend your lottery money on, Motorcycle Live! proves once again that biking in 2016 is still one of the most varied and exciting ways of propelling yourself across the face of the earth. With just a few short weeks until it’s smaller cousin, the London Motorcycle Show (February 17th-19th) will be a perfect opportunity for anyone who missed it to go along, and tell me that I’m completely wrong about their favourite brand. I’ll see you there!