ALL THAT GLITTERED AT THE NEC MOTORCYCLE LIVE
IN BIRMINGHAM LAST WEEK - ENJOY!
The booming strident intro chords of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love bounced off the walls and ceiling and just about everything around, grabbing attention, and steering me towards its source. It was the prelude to a performance by the drummers and acrobat dancers on the stage forming part of the very big display area that Honda were occupying in Hall 4 at this years Motorcycle Live.
The UK show is the third in a series of year end European exhibitions beginning in October in Cologne (Intermot), with the Milan (Eicma) show following in early November, and Motorcycle Live promoted by the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) taking place in the same month from the 22nd to 30th at the NEC.
The two shows on mainland Europe are huge, and the manufacturers concentrate on this market population to introduce their new models to the media and public. The UK market is far smaller, and we have to follow new bikes and products through the internet and magazines before seeing them gleaming under the stand lights in Birmingham.
More than 200,000 trade and public visitors went to through the doors in Cologne, while in Milan attendance was almost 15% higher then last year, with just under 630,000 visitors over the six days. That is very impressive and healthy for motorcycling, especially as the Italian economy is still bumping along the bottom of the post recessionary graph.
The attendance at this years Motorcycle Live was 117,018. Ten per cent higher than last year, and generally reflecting a more optimistic mood amongst motorcycle consumers which has transferred to higher bike sales and new registration figures.
Having retrieved my media pass and programme I intended to be more systematic than usual at these events, and follow the overview map of exhibitors around the three halls. The Honda stage extravaganza provided an early distraction, and I soon found myself wandering the stands haphazardly: consulting the programme only if I thought I might have missed something.
The first bike displays to catch my eyes and camera lens were the Indian and Victory cruisers. Both of these bikes are made by the USA Polaris company, and the big, gaudy, shiny and comfortable mile munchers are surely imported to appeal to older riders; and to capture a slice of the Harley market - this years month on month registration figures for cruiser style bikes, show sales to be consistent around the 850 to 900 mark.
The Indian stand traded on the history of this bike, and the modern bikes use the same model name as in years gone by; 'Scout'. The low rider style black version looks very stylish decked in black and chrome with a lovely brown leather retro seat. I'm not a cruiser fan, but if forced to choose a ride, the black Scout would be the one for me.
With the Honda stage having distracted me I thought I'd better bring some order to this review rather than impose my ill disciplined wanderings on people reading it. So I'll start with a round up of what I observed on the busy stands of the 'big boys' – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, BMW, Triumph and Harley. With Ducati and Piaggio (Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Vespa) nudging close as far as space and influence is concerned. Then it's onto the smaller and often more interesting displays.
Suzuki impressed me with a section of their exhibit devoted to a rebuild of the infamous TL1000. A V twin beast of a bike where the handling couldn't cope with the engines power in the early models. They had a technician carrying out a live rebuild of aTL as part of their strategy of providing genuine Suzuki parts for older bikes. Very impressive and a lot cleaner than my garage. When complete the bike was to be auctioned in aid of Riders for Health.
They were also capturing interest with two concept bikes. The Recursion, a 588cc paralell twin with a single sided swinging arm, lots of carbon fibre and an alloy tank topping it off. It first appeared at last years Tokyo show, and there is a You Tube video on line, but it's rather sterile and doesn't do the machine justice.
The other concept model was the Fat Mile. A design exercise using a Bandit 1250 engine and frame. Very handsome, but enquiries directed at the staff didn't reveal any plans for either of these to come into production. Why tempt us? On the mass production side of things, the two new GSXS 1000's rotating in splendid bright blue livery looked very good.
Yamaha and Kawasaki will compete for the outrageously fast sports bike customer with the new R1 and H2 respectively. Their showcase will surely be next year's British Superbike series, and those who want to 'ape the racers' will have more power at hand than is usable on most roads these days; even if they can handle it. They both bristle with the latest electronic technology, as do the super fast road and race bikes from BMW, Ducati, Honda and Suzuki. Where will the power struggle end?
Earlier this year I was having tyres fitted at a well known and busy company, when a bloke on a Ducati Panigale rolled in hoping to find new rubber. Unfortunately for him he was told that they were too specialist to be kept in stock, and that if they sold one pair a year for this model it would be as much. Instructive. Talking of Ducati, they devoted a shole separate space to the new Scrambler. A bike that will probably divide opinion as it's a radical departure for the company. I would imagine it will do rather better in countries like France where street trailies have been popular for years. With it's low seat height it will be a peach to sling around the urban streets of London, Paris, Barcelona etc.
Harley made an important centrepiece of the new electric bike; 'Livewire'. Some ribald commentary amongst the heavy metal afficionados looking on. It will take them a while to get used to the idea; if ever. Along with the other major manufacturers Harley provided a cafe area, and it was well frequented by the bus pass generation against a backdrop of Gibson guitars. Nice.
BMW and Triumph had lots of viewing and trying for size going on. In common with other manufacturers their marketing slogans have prominence: 'Make Life a Ride' for BMW and 'For The Ride' over at Triumph. Do they use the same advertsing agency?
BMW featured their new sports tourer the R1200RS, but amongst their range the new G650GS had a cluster of people around it commenting on the saddle height being shorter person friendly. While Triumph's major promo was the new 800cc Tigers the XR and XC, and amongst the other bikes in the programme, one described as 'the menacing Thunderbird Nightstorm'...it's a cruiser type with a big (1700cc) engine.
Big H; Honda, are to congratulated for their 'First Licence' arena for youngsters. Motorcycling needs all the young enthusiasm it can capture. Two of their staff carefully guided the kids through their first two wheel experience on a small road circuit. Over at their display the 2015 VFR800X was the feature bike. Superb machines of course, but a bit too much like the Ford Mondeo of motorcycling for me. I ogled the Vultus feet forward machine that I suppose is a crossover between a scooter and a motorcycle. It looked very comfortable, but at the moment this concept is so new we'll all need time to appreciate its looks and performance. Expensive at ten thousand pounds too.
And so to some of the more minor players in this theatre of biking. Norton brought some of their business like Commando engine based models that people enjoyed trying for size. But with prices starting around £16,500, how many will they shift in the UK? In the same sports bike vein, and including a racing tradition, Erik Buell Racing (EBR Motorcycles, made in Wisconsin USA) had a simple display on hand. They have around half dozen dealers set up in the UK, and Norton bikes can be seen at just three www.ericbuellracing.com
Another British bike revival was on display at the Ariel stand. This is a real stand out bike with an unmistakable trellis frame, and a big Honda V4 1237cc engine. Just a single seat on this display model, but everything on the Ariel is built to individual customer specification, and you'll have part with around twenty thousand pounds to own one of these. Very engineered and very special www.arielmotorcompany.co.uk
British sidecar manufacturer Watsonian Squire brought some of their 'chairs'. They used to be the importer and distributor for Royal Enfield, but I suspect they may have been seen as too 'conservative' for the new urban cool image RE are trying to promote. Watsonian may be devoting more time to sidecar development now. The one they had attached to a Harley was an outfit you could almost live in www.watsonian-squire.com
I had to mooch over to look at the Moto Guzzis; because I ride one. They've recruited that Ewan McGregor bloke to promote them. He was on a loop video looking moody and purposeful in a garage/workshop. His? Probably not. My Bike My Pride is the slogan he's promoting. They've re-styled the California tourer, and have a couple more towards cruiser type models named Eldorado and Audace, whatever that is.
Congratulations to Back Street Heroes for mounting a splendid display of bikes under the title 'Custom Xtreme Zone' without having to resort to half naked females to draw attention. In fact I noticed little in the way of this, except predictably for the Motor Cycle News (MCN) promotion. It would be nice to think this was due to to a more enlightened attitude abroad in motorcycling; but the cynic in me thinks it's more to do with cost.
Organised bike tours are becoming increasingly popular. Is this a way of gaining maximum road time or are we becoming too cossetted? These thoughts were prompted by a stand in the touing section called Bikeshuttle. They will transport your machine and riding gear to Geneva airport to save the ride through France. You fly from Luton or Heathrow. They'll even collect the bike from your home if required (additiona cost). It's £399 from May to September, plus the cost of the flight www.bikeshuttle.com The slogan on their literature is 'No more motorway miles'. There are other roads folks! Go find them.
No such 'luxuries' for Nathan Millward. He probably had the smallest stand in the show; where he was selling books of his mega mileage journeys across the world with his little Honda named 'Dorothy' that was stashed at the back. We had a brief chat, but he was doing good business, so rather than disturb this I bought a copy of his Sydney to London book, and will review it in the coming weeks.
I'm an impatient shopper and should have taken time out from the camera and observing the mid week crowd and the gleaming displays to sort out some new bargain price boots. There were a lot to choose from, and it's the elimination and price process followed by trying them all on that is a chore for me. But its churlish to decry all the consumer choices we benefit from: I'll see if the after Xmas sales tempt me.
Others were not so slow in coming forward, and the on the return bus to the car park happy bikers clutching large bags were much in evidence. Roll on Spring 2015.
John Newman for Wemoto News
Here are a few more photos for you to enjoy:
Did you go? Didi you enjoy it? Email us at email@example.com
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