Milan and the NEC get the ball rolling: the former is the significant one in terms of launches.
Something borowed, something blue…
This year’s public unveilings, in no particular order, include three new Triumphs (a McQueen styled Bonnie special, the Speed Triple R, and a totally new 1200 based on the BMW GS template); an early but major revision of BMW’s SS1000; Ducati’s all new Panigale sportsbike; Suzuki’s latest incarnation of the GSXR 1000, plus updated incarnations of the Fireblade and R1. From a bg perspective, the Husqvarna Nuda 900 (R version below) looks interesting (we’ll be taking a closer look at one in the near future) – suffice to say its relative lack of tonnage, agile geometry, reasonable price, capable suspension, frugal motor and ballsy firing order tick a lot of boxes. Visitors can also expect to see the consolidation of KTM’s 690 range, although it remains to be seen whether rumours of an evolved 125 Duke (larger capacity, upgraded running gear, low weight) will be susbstantiated in Milan.
Does any of this matter? In a world where the latest must have apparently becomes irrelevant in less than nine months (the media’s about turn on the first cross plane R1 being a case in point); one where smaller capacity, older machines are perceived as increasingly practical and desirable, while we remain stranded in a tenaciously depressed economic environment – why should any of us care about an expo foucssing on revisions to a top of the range sportsbike and its competitors (a format that seems increasingly irrelevant, for reasons we’re only too well aware of)?
Three reasons. Firstly, sportsbike development does mattter, even to those who regard the species as one which has strayed up an evolutionary blind alley – because the best bits of new technology will be appropriated and utilised by less flash, more useful motorcycles. Without sportsbikes, bike ABS and related control systems would still be way off the pace. The same goes for high quality suspension components, power commanders and mapping, and tyre development. Secondly, courtesy of the current climate, Japanese sportsbikes de-value big time. That means that sooner or later, there will be a renaissance in the used sports market: some would say it’s already happening. Thus the technology and the bike get affordably passed down the used market within a relatively short time frame : to a point where the bang for bucks ratio becomes well nigh irresistable. Today’s new flagship becomes tomorrow’s used bargain sooner than you might think. Thirdly, although sportsbikes are dominant in the PR stakes right now – with three out of the big four Japanese having new conteneders in the frame along with the key European sector manufacturers – you could spend an interesting and informative day at EICMA (Milan) without considering any of them.
It pays to look away from the headline bikes and check out the B listers and independents. You are far more likely to end up chatting to a designer or engineer with responsibility for the object in front of you than would be the case on the Honda stand (to take one example). The specials market has flourished where the mainstream has largely slumped in recent years: low volume is very much of the moment, and expos represent a chance to see in the flesh a lot of interesting stuff that fails to make an impression in the bike media.
We’ll be covering at least one of the shows in the next month, and we reckon that anyone with a stake in motorcycling, from customer to brand owner, should take a selective look at what they have on offer, reservations not withstanding. The top shows represent the consumer’s best chance of direct dialogue with a broad spectrum of industry representatives, and these days they all know better than to simply ignore grass roots opinion. Because without it, they’d be out of a job.