MOTORCYCLE LIVE - PART TWO
On weekdays, the show doesn't open its doors to the public until 10.00am. A sizeable queue formed at the entrance turnstiles well before then; others thronged the various coffee outlets in the foyer. Once inside, the weekday morning crowd dispersed across the halls and stands and my plan to arrive early and take as many pictures as possible - without legs appearing beneath bikes and enthusiastic bodies crossing the lens - paid off.
Motorcycle Live follows the huge EICMA show in Milan, so those motorcyclists who follow the various media will have been aware of most of the new models being introduced, and were sure to be keen to sling a leg over their favourite bike.
It's always standard comment to refer to 'the big four' in terms of manufacturing and sales: Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. This still holds true in terms of worldwide sales, but as far as the UK and Europe are concerned, they have now been joined by Triumph and BMW, whose displays drew increasing numbers of people through the day.
BMW and Triumph
They are almost mirroring each other in offering new, and existing, riders packages that are intended to capture them for the brand: tours, off-road training and events, and personal plans for a new bike every couple of years. BMW's New Rider programme caught my attention, forming a significant section of its display.
We know how the new licence regulations/restrictions makes it difficult for young people to become motorcyclists, and there's little that can be done about this. BMW, however, is appealing to age relevant riders with a New Rider Package that delivers an F800R, complete clothing, and - perhaps more importantly - a direct access course, for a decent price. BMW's representatives told me it had put twelve riders through the South Wales based course and four through the Stoke course that only opened very recently. Could this be the way forward for other companies?
Kawasaki very helpfully grouped its models so that, standing back from the display, you could easily identify where your biking priority might be: commuter, sports tourer etc, etc. It had a row of good looking 125cc scooters for the commuter market - why don't we buy more scooters in the UK? I know our climate is not that friendly for parts of the year, but it's no different from Paris, where scooters zip around the boulevards by the thousand.
My potential purchase eye fell onto Kawasaki's Z800e. I'm looking to replace my Motoguzzi Breva 1100, but do I want an(other) in line four after the lumpy vee twin character and open road joy of the Guzzi? Perhaps a test ride will be in order, and perhaps I can do a deal in the depths of winter when bikes are harder to shift...
Suzuki was highlighting 30 years of the GSXR models, one of the irrepressible road burners, and repeating the novel idea introduced at last year's show: that of rebuilding a bike from the ground up. This time it's the GSXR750, and part of this idea is to promote the spares service ('Suzuki Vintage Parts...keeping the passion alive'). A good marketing ploy this, recognising that a lot of older enthusiasts are restoring the bikes of their earlier years.
At last year's event, Honda built a massive stage with drummers, dancers and lots of dry ice, next to a coffee cafe. This year, the big theme area was dedicated to the Africa Twin and 'adventure motorcycling' - still the proposition that most are promoting, along with the more recent scrambler theme.
The Africa was getting a lot of attention, with folk clambering on and off the beast (this not a bike for the vertically challenged). A big screen backdrop showed two riders on board the Africa being ridden down a scary rocky hill scape: terrain that would make - about ninety-five percent of those attending the show - to immediately think bones, breaks, pain, helicopter off the mountain, hospital and recovery physio.
Similar attention was being garnered on Yamaha's new R1. Hardly surprising, given this bike's domination of the 2015 BSB series in the hands of Josh Brookes. The racing theme continued with a reminder of Yamaha's sixty years of racing, with a resplendent retro yellow and black two-stroke Grand Prix racer on display. Yamaha continued this theme, displaying a number of its successful 2015 race bikes and a line up of RDLC ProAm bikes, which were raced in the support class at the British Round of Moto GP at Silverstone, in the hands of just about every 'old geezer' racer you could think of.
I had a mooch around its MT models, covered by the marketing slogan 'the Dark Side'. This must have appeal as 101 MT-09s were registered in October (Yamaha ran a close second to Honda in overall sales figures across the UK). It also put up a collection of models based on its 'Yard Built' theme, where a number of bikes are handed over to customizers, who are encouraged to transform them to retro, bobber, flat tracker and other styles, with kits being made available for motorcyclists to transform their own bikes. Mass produced individualism, anyone?
New(ish) on the scene
A number of small - and for them, hopefully up and coming - bike brands showed their wares. Everyone is big on marketing these days, and a newish Cambridge out of China bike called 'Herald' is no exception. It's selling 125 and 250cc models that wouldn't really rate a second glance, but read its website and you might think it was the second coming of motorcycling: 'Herald has grown from a small side project of ours to a cult motorcycle brand with big ambitions... the importance of staying true to our passions and staying away from the mundane'. Steady on folks, these are run-of-the-mill Chinese bikes. Competitive prices, sure - but 'cult brand'?
Another lightweight/commuter range manufactured somewhere in SE Asia was represented by Zontes, and when I spotted a sign that said 'Motorini', I was reading 'Moto Morini' and made a line for the stand thinking I may have missed a re-launch of a famous name. But it was another range of lightweight bikes and scooters; admittedly out of Italy.
The less ordinary came in the form of the Quadro, a four-wheel vehicle that is classed by Euro law as a three-wheeler, in the same vane as the Piaggio MP3 models. This means you can ride it on a car licence if a test was passed before 2013. The importers displayed a no bodywork version with the label 'I am not a scooter', but it is. It's powered by a 346cc single cylinder engine and weighs in at a hefty 254kgs.
It's difficult to suss out the market for this. A nice comfortable commuter, for sure, and free of the London congestion charge. It's said by road testers to be narrow enough to filter heavily congested traffic, and, like the MP3, it has a hydraulic tilting system. But, at a shade over eight grand, it's a lot of money for riding to work and storage capacity is limited, so it's not a good shopper either. You can check it out on YouTube.
Indian, Victory, Harley and MV
'Big n beefy' was represented - as ever - by Indian, Victory and Harley, with Harley mounting a very fetching version of the new Street 750 in factory racer mode; more striking black and yellow livery. MV, as befits its aesthetics and sharp design, was showing a full range of bikes, including the Turismo Veloce 800 that was receiving more attention than the sports models when I visited the stand. There were no prices on the bikes, but like all 'luxury' goods, it's vulgar to ask.
Talking of prices, Norton's were displayed and they always cause me a sharp intake of breath, despite its bikes' undoubted desirability. The cheapest model, the Commando, is priced at a fiver under fifteen grand and the Dominator just fifty quid short of twenty grand. Nortons sell all around the world now, and the company received a boost earlier this year with an award of £4 million government/EU funding to engage and train more engineering apprentices, build a new manufacturing facility, and research a new clean technology engine.
At the travel marketplace, you could sign up for tours right across the planet, including Colombia: a beautiful country which has stabilised following years of turmoil. There was a surfeit of US-based tours on display, and they all were predictably using Harleys. Motorcycling journeys and experiences have never offered wider choices.
Honda had constructed a jungle themed "First Honda Adventure" for youngsters, using carefully supervised powered bikes, and KiddiMoto laid on an inflatable arena for the even smaller ones to leg around.
As ever, the 'usual suspects' (J&S, Hunter Class, Infinity, City of Leather, Helmet City and Oxford) brought piles of clothing, helmets, gloves, boots, leathers and other riding accoutrements. If motorcycle shopping was your aim, it would have been easy to spend a good chunk of show time gazing, choosing, comparing and trying on.
I thought the show was smaller this year, but I've no objective measure for this, except that there were some notable absences: Touratech, who usually occupy a big floor area; and the national member organisations MAG and BMF, who usually try and recruit from the crowds who flock to the NEC.
If you're not too skint after the Xmas period, and you want to shorten the winter with more show activity try these:
- 9th/10th January: Carole Nash/Classic Bike Guide Winter Classic @ Newark Show Ground
- 6th/7th February: Carole Nash Bristol Classic Show @Shepton Mallet
- 12th/14th February: MCN London Show @ Excel Docklands
- 12th/13th March: MCN Scottish Show @ Edinburgh
Did you go to Motorcycle Live? If so, what did you like/ not like about the event? Did anything stand out to you? Share your experience with us at email@example.com.
Others from the Motorcycle Live photo gallery:
08/12/15 Collection of bikes with plenty space to walk round (midweek) what more do you want?
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