Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This year\’s bike show, Pt 2…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Last year I did a review of the Cycle World International Bike Show. Since I did a preview for this year’s expo back in November I guess I should finally get around to doing a review of the 2006 Cycle World show.

First, the good stuff:

My wife and I flew to Atlanta, GA for a friend’s wedding the same weekend as the Cycle World International Bike Show was in Denver but we scheduled our return flight for Sunday morning so we still had some time to take in the show. One of my stated goals for this year’s show was to find a couple of things my wife and I needed for the upcoming riding season. One of those was to get my wife some electrics to replace her old Widder vest that finally shorted out this Fall. Gerbing’s Heated Clothing had a booth at the show and were prepared to size and sale all their products at the show. Jonna picked up a heated jacket liner, thermostat, Powerlet wiring harness and a storage bag. She is happy and if the wife is happy, I’m happy.

The second reward from our visiting the show was my finding a great deal on the enduro jacket I’ve been price shopping all summer. A shop up in Ft. Collins called Beemers and More Motorcycle Works had a booth in the vendor area. They also had a sales rack which had most of the First Gear jackets including the Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket that I wanted for my upcoming Costa Rica trip. They didn’t have the size and color I wanted but agreed to order me one for the price listed on their sales rack. Good folks and a very good price for exactly the jacket I wanted.

MV Agusta F41000S Corse

Next up was having the opportunity to lust after the MV Agusta bikes in person. The highlight of their booth was the F41000S Corse bike but all of their product line are equally incredible. The Italians know how to build a beautiful bike and the folks at MV exemplify that. Even the routing of the brake lines is carefully planned out to run parallel to other lines of the bike so even the smallest details are visually cohesive. The F4 should be prescribed by doctors as a cure for ED…

Another cool bike to see in person was the historic 1980 Yamaha OW48 500cc Grand Prix bike once raced by Kenny Roberts Sr. This was on display next to Kenny Robert’s Jr’s 2000 Suzuki RGV 500cc GP bike which I’ve now seen three or four different times…Suzuki’s marketing department is sure getting their money’s worth out of that bike. Anyway, having the two bikes together made for a interesting compare and contrast moment, not to mention the thrill of seeing two historic Grand Prix bikes up close and personal.

Next up was getting to see the three new Ducati Sport Classic bikes on display. The marque bike of this line is the Paul Smart Replica and it is even cooler in person than in the photos. The green/silver paint job is a stroke of genius as it looks drop dead gorgeous. The big surprise for me was how much I liked the GT which had looked pretty ho-hum in the magazines. Finally, the Sport 1000 is really just a Smart replica without the big fairing but it is still a good looking bike. Any three of these would be a fun bike to own. I’m glad to see Ducati coming up with designs that aren’t following the styling trends of their recent bikes like the Multistrada, the 999 and the Supersport. I’m also glad to see another manufacturer coming up with modern retro-themed bikes to compete with the Triumph Bonneville series.

Finally, it was great to see some of the interesting new bikes for this year like the Kawasaki ZX-14R, the Aprilia SVX, the re-vamped Aprilia Tuomo, the Yamaha R1LE and the Moto Guzzi MGS/01. It also gave me another chance to sit on all the liter bikes from the major Japanese companies so I can continue my new bike shopping. The R1LE is the first Yamaha that pegs my meter in a long time but I’m still more likely to whip out my checkbook for the Kawi ZX-10R or the Suzuki GSXR. Surprisingly, the ZX-14R didn’t really excite me and the MGS/01 did. Perhaps it is because the Kawi was pretty much what I was expecting but the Moto Guzzi was so different from their other products. Finally, the SVX and Tuomo were seriously amazing to see in person. I knew I’d like the SVX but I’ve always hated the looks of the Tuomo so was shocked that I liked the 2006 model so much. Both are now on my list to be revisited when its time to put the new bike in the garage.

Synopsis: The show gave me a new jacket, a wife that is again excited about riding and a lot to think about in my quest for a new bike.

Now the negative things from the show…

First, KTM didn’t have a booth at the show. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog postings, I’d buy a KTM 990 Superduke tomorrow if they were available in the US. I was hoping for a chance to talk to a KTM rep in person to see if there were any plans to import the bike in 2007. With the dollar valued so low compared to the Euro surely the cost of a booth at the Cycle World show is about the same blow to their Marketing department as putting up a single poster for the Paris show. Whatever their motivation, not showing up is probably going to be their loss and some other company’s gain.

The second raspberry for the expo was that there was no Triumph booth at the show. One of the bikes I wanted to see the most was the new Triumph Scrambler which I think is dead sexy. For some bizarre reason Triumph decided not to include the Cycle World shows in their marketing budget this year. While I wanted to see the Scrambler for its sheer coolness factor I also wanted to check out the new Speed Triple as another bike that is on my shopping list. Oh well, at least Triumph has one up on KTM by actually having their bikes available for sale in this country…

Another disappointment was that BMW didn’t have their new 2006 models like the F800ST, K1200R, R1200GS Adventure and R1200S at the show. I’m not particularly interesting in buying any of these but it would be nice to see the new parallel twin motor, their boldest bike ever, the new and improved GS and BMW’s new boxer based sport bike. Basically, its another sign of how little importance the European bike makers place in the show that they aren’t putting for an effort to get their new bikes to the US in time to show them to customers at this time.

Another change for the worse was that so few of the booth had interesting race machines. In past years there have been Grand Prix bikes, factory superbikes, trick endurance racers, hand built supermoto bikes, desert racers and lots more on display. This year the pickings were slim and decidedly lacking in exotic hardware. For example, Kawasaki had Hayden’s Supersport bike, Yamaha had Disalvo’s Superstock bike and Honda had Duhamel’s FX bike. Yamaha also had Burkhart’s Supermoto Lite bike. In the off-road arena Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki all had their factory Motocross bikes on display (Windham, Reed and Stewart’s bikes respectively). Still, nearly all of these bikes are production based machines being raced in nearly stock form. In contrast, there were loads of crappy choppers all over the place which means there was probably more titanium on custom show bikes than on race bikes. A disgusting turn of events!

The final disappointment was that AMA racer Eric Bostrom was only at Racing 2 Save Lives booth on Saturday but not Sunday. Since I couldn’t get there until the final day I missed a chance to talk with him about his 2006 deal with Yamaha. Getting a few first hand comments would have bee a nice addition to the blog. Oh well…

Overall, I was happy with the show but I’m still disappointed that US market in general, and the western states market in particular, has such relatively minor importance to the marketing departments of the major manufacturers. I’d hoped that things would continue to grow as the Cycle World show entered its fifth year but it seems to have taken a step backwards this year. Hopefully 2006 will be a big enough year for the European manufacturers like Triumph and KTM that they will join the show next year. Hopefully, the interest in the US generated by the ‘05 USGP will raise the awareness of racing here in the US so that the Big Four (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki) will again use race bikes as their booth eye candy rather than mangled, nonfunctional cruisers. Hopefully, the US market will be important enough to all the bike makers that a greater emphasis will be put on getting new models to the States in time to put in the Cycle World show rather than just rolling out the 2005 models for us to see. There is still room for improvement!

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Champagne on a beer budget…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Lately I’ve been doing a write up for each of the major international motorcycle expos like Paris, Tokyo, Birmingham and Milan. All of these shows represent the pinnacle of motorcycle marketing. The major manufacturers, along with hundreds of aftermarket companies, spend significant portions of their annual budget to make a big splash at these shows. From the stand point of a fan I’ll admit that getting an opportunity to attend one of these shows would be an incredible experience. Unfortunately, the cost associated with jetting off to Europe for a couple of days just doesn’t match up with my current salary no matter how much I fantasize about being able to do so.

Sierra dreams big at the '02 Cycle Show

However, I do have the time and money to attend the much more mundane Cycle World International Motorcycle Show which has been occurring at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the past four years. An international show like the International Motorcycle Exhibition that is going on in Milan, Italy this week will be characterized by amazing concept bikes, surprise new bike announcements, hundreds of vendors, test ride courses, on-site race events, live music and more. Sadly, the smaller Cycle World Show is lacking much of this and is instead more like an uber dealership where one can ogle the latest bikes, try on some of the more popular bits of gear and see some popular accessories like tires and exhausts. The show in Denver will often have some kind of stunt show, either trails demo or a freestyle MX crew, that is pretty much the extent of the entertainment.

On the positive side, most of the major manufacturers have a presence at the Cycle World show and this year it looks like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Buell, Aprilia, Cagiva, Polaris/Victory, Star, Triumph and Ural will all have bikes on display. Sadly, the expo will once again lack participation from KTM…the fourth straight year that the Austrian company has stood up show goers.

Let me take a moment to pull out my soap box here. What the hell is KTM thinking? They are gaining market share in the US faster than any other motorcycle company. KTM has made a recent push to build a line of street bikes that they hope will be as popular as their off road models. The KTM Adventure has enjoyed strong sales in the US and they are launching new street bikes like the 950 Supermoto this year. KTM is competing directly with BMW, Triumph and Ducati for street bike sales in America. Surely only a small increase in bike sales would be all that is necessary to offset the relatively minor hit to their marketing budget that would be required to have a booth at the show. Then again, maybe its better they don’t show since then I’d have to bitch them out for not importing the 990 Super Duke.

Okay, back to the show. The bikes, gear and parts aren’t the only things going on at the show this weekend. They will again have the BOSS brothers and their Ball of Steel stunt show. Additionally, newly signed Yamaha racer Eric Bostrom will be at representing the Racing 2 Save Lives charity. There will also be a display of vintage bikes which is always a highlight of the show. Beyond that, though, the appeal drops off dramatically. The food court chow is both unappealing and expensive. Parking sucks. Oh, and there is a lot of stuff is packed into a relatively small display area so some of the walkways are more crowded than necessary.

So why am I going? Well, first of all my wife needs a new electric vest and I want to have her try on the electric jacket liner from Gerbing. Second, I want to pick up a Kilimanjaro Air Mesh jacket for my upcoming trip to Costa Rica. Third, I always enjoying seeing the new bikes in person and seeing them all in one place is more convenient that driving around to all the dealerships. Finally, well, $12 is much cheaper than a flight to Milan…

[image from my photo collection.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Italian style…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

A couple of weeks ago, I did a motorcycle show intro about the British NEC show. This was a follow-up to postings I’d done earlier about this Fall’s Paris and Tokyo motorcycle shows. Well, this coming week is the last and biggest of the major shows: The International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan, Italy. Since this is the final of this year’s major expos expect any manufacturer that hasn’t already blown its marketing wad to unveil new products and interesting concept bikes this coming week. Since the Milan show is the granddaddy of all bike shows, at least in terms for floor space set up for exhibitors, it is more of a spectacle than any of the other shows.

Historically the Milan show, like the Munich and Paris shows, has been a biennial event but it’s popularity has grown to the point that it is now going to be held annually. Lets throw out a few numbers to show just how popular this thing really is. First, over 1,500 exhibitors are scheduled to be at the Milan Show. Think about that for a second…that kind of turn-out highlights just how incredible the motorcycle market is in Italy. Next up, the exhibition area is nearly 700,000 sq ft in size indoors and over 600,000 sq ft outside. In addition to the traditional booths and displays that will be set up inside the Nuova Fiera Milano convention center there will be a large number of activities happening in the outside space including freestyle motocross demos, supermotard and supercross races, trials performances, riding classes, motorcycle and scooter test drives and live concerts. Wow.

You know, reading the descriptions of what all happens at the NEC and Milan shows really brings to light how the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show is incredibly lame. If, somehow, the Cycle World show in Denver could be combined with the CycleFest held annually at Copper Mountain (with demo rides, supermoto racing, organized rides, etc) then it would be getting close to the scope of one of these major international shows. One can always dream that the US motorcycle market will eventually grow to the point where an American expo will be considered equal to a Paris, a NEC, a Tokyo or a Milan show. ‘Course, given the current grown in the US motorcycle market such a show would probably be made up primarily choppers anyway. Sigh.

…but I digress. Now where was I? Oh yes, talking about the Milan show. Well, the excitement has built continually all Fall as each of these major shows has revealed an increasing number of new bike announcements and radical prototypes unveillings. Thus Milan is bound to have a few surprises in store. The current rumors are:

MV Agusta F4 Senna to be introduced at Milan

First, MV Agusta will announce the new F4 Senna which is their Ayrton Senna replica but using the 1000cc F4 1000S instead of the earlier 750cc version. Likewise, MV Agusta should also show off their 910R Brutale naked bike. It is hard to beat a MV when it comes to a lustworthy and exclusive bike, so expect their showing to be the biggest news coming out of Milan.

Benelli, freshly returned from the dead thanks to a last minute infusion of money, are rumored to be showing two versions of their three cylinder Tornado sport bike and an updated version of their TNT naked bike. The Benelli triple was an innovative bike when it was first made a decade ago but their lingering financial problems have prevented development and the bikes are pretty dated now. They need to find about 20 hp and do a redesign to get the bikes up to modern spec.

Aprilia, also saved from bankruptcy after being purchased by Piaggio last year, is starting to show some movement. Their big news at Milan should be the overhauled RSV Mille sport bike, as well as updates to their European bread-n-butter two stroke sport bikes like the RS-125 and RS-250. I think the RSV Mille Factory is one of the prettiest sport bikes available so hopefully their updates have been aimed at keeping it competitive in a market where performance is improving year to year. I’m looking forward to seeing one of the new Milles when they finally make it to the states.

Bimota, yes yet another Italian motorcycle company that was out of money just twelve months ago but is now back in business. In this case, a consortium of Italians raised the money to start making Bimota motorcycles again. All the new Bimotas will use Ducati engines but very little is known about the new model they are expected to announce other than that the name will be the Delirio.

Ducati has already shown its new bikes but the Monster S4RS which uses the S4R frame but with the water cooled three valve motor from the Multistrada should be officially announced. Otherwise, not much excited from Ducati at their home expo.

The last of the Italian motorcycle companies rumored to be showing new product next week is the small manufacturer Moto Morini. This company is…wait for it…back from a bankruptcy induced dormancy that has lasted for the past decade. They have designed their own 1200cc V-Twin and are creating a line of bikes around this motor. The first was the Corsaro sport bike and now their follow-up, the 9.5 naked bike, should be unwrapped in Milan.

Naturally, the main players in the Italian scooter market like Piaggio (aka Vespa), Cagiva, Gilera, Aprilia will be showing new step throughs, as will Peugeot. The Japanese all pulled the cover off their scooters at the Tokyo show so its up to the Europeans to answer with their own prototypes and concept scooters.

But the Italians aren’t the only ones popping off some surprises in Milan. BMW is expected to announce some new models as a follow-up to their NEC show unveilings. First is a sport-touring version their newly announced 800cc parallel twin which will be called the F800ST. Keeping with the sporting trend they will roll out the R1200S sport bike and a K1200GT.

Finally, KTM is also bringing the big guns to Italy with two versions of their Adventure using the 990cc motor, a factory built enduro using the 950cc motor and probably showing off their 990cc sport bike prototype again. In my opinion, KTM has now completely overtaken Ducati as the most innovative and rapidly reacting motorcycle company in the market. Now if they could just get that big 990cc certified in the US so they could import all these cool bikes…

Alright, so I’m again jealous of the motorcycle treasures which are cascaded upon the heads of the European motorcycles. As if our government wasn’t enough of a reason for me to head across the pond now these shows are adding even more temptation. With the race season over, the silly season nearly settled and now the bike shows finishing up, it is starting to look like a long winter is ahead…

[image from the Beaudry Motorsports web site.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cool bikes in the land of warm beer…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Over the past month I’ve made announcements about both the Paris Motorcycle Show and the Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Well, this weekend it is time for the annual NEC Bike Show to open open its’ doors to the motorcycling public.

As I mentioned previously I thought the Paris expo was a bit of a disappointment. It was the public’s first chance to see the new bikes from the major manufacturers but because all of those bikes had been announced previously there really weren’t any surprises. I really expected the companies, particularly those in Europe, to use the biennial motorcycle spectacle in France as a showcase for unexpected new bike announcements and a parade of forward thinking concept vehicles. Instead, it was a rather mundane presentation of next year’s production bikes.

The Tokyo show, in dramatic contrast, was a panorama of Japanese imagination and innovation for the two largest Japanese motorcycle manufacturers: Honda and Yamaha. Because most of the two wheeled vehicles sold in Asia and Europe are scooters it was in that form that both companies showed their visions of tomorrow. Yamaha had a wide variety of new technology prototype step-throughs including hybrid gas/electric models, all-electric models and hydrogen fuel cell models. Honda also flexed their design muscle with a few cross-genre specials which were part traditional motorcycle and part next generation scooter. Even Suzuki joined the concept game with an in-line six cylinder motorcycle. Alright, now that was more like it.

New BMW GSA premiering at NEC

So, this brings us to the NEC show… The doors open tomorrow and from what I can tell it looks like it will be an exciting week both for the visitors and to those of us looking for our first look at new models. While the bikes “shown” at the Paris show had been known about for at least a month there is one new bike that will be premiered in Birmingham in which photos were only leaked to the world this week: The BMW R1200GS Adventure. As with its predecessor, the R1150GSA, the new R1200GSA is a tweaking of the stock R1200GS to match the modifications most commonly done on the base model. The bike comes with aftermarket hard bags, a set of crash bars, a larger gas tank, longer suspension, improved lighting and a larger capacity alternator. All definite improvements over the base bike and accessories which 90% of GSes have installed after purchase. I was tempted to upgrade my R1150 to an R1200 and the announcement of the new Adventure model makes that temptation much stronger. This is a seriously nice bike.

I also expect Triumph to do something special at the NEC show since it is their home event. I believe the company has already announced all of their new models for 2006 but one can always hope they have been holding something in reserve to unveil to the English public. If they can’t premier a new bike they can at least provide more information on the fantastic looking Scrambler model which was announced a couple of months ago. That bike represents a very bold design statement by Triumph and I hope it pays off enough that they continue to look in new directions to provide exciting bikes that blend their modern technology with their unique motorcycling heritage.

Of the shows that have happened so far the NEC show seems to be the best organized. While all of these expos are designed primarily around generating a buzz for new bikes and building up customer loyalty for the manufacturers the organizers of the show in England have also realized the importance of turning this into a motorcycle extravaganza for the attendees. In addition to the normal booths where companies show their wares the UK exhibition center will also be providing activities including: A track designed for mini-motos. A class room where seminars on suspension, tires and bike maintenance will be presented three times a day. The usual demo area where custom, classic and show bikes will be on display. A track where riders can take classes on Supermoto bikes. An enduro track where riders can sample new model dirt bikes in their intended environment. An entire reproduction of the British Superbike Paddock including race bikes, team transporters and motorcycle racing celebrities. Finally, on the last day of the show, the final MotoGP race of the season will be shown live on a big screen and after the race the Eurosport announcers will do a special uplink to the NEC show to give their behind-the-scenes view of the season.

That is what a motorcycle show should be like! As if that isn’t enough, the NEC show is popular enough in England that various activities during the show are scheduled to be shown on BBC television and some of the presentations are being streamed live on the Internet. Wow, these people really know how to put on a bike show. Even if the number of new bike announcements ends up being confined to just the BMW Adventure the rest of the activities at the NEC already make it the best show of the season.

[image from the Adventure Rider web site.]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Show us what you\’ve got…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Last month I did a long posting announcing the start of the biennial Paris Motorcycle Show. Well, I’ll have to say that based on the press releases I read and the reports on various web sites I was pretty disappointed with the show. There are two things that I depend on to buoy my sagging spirits as the riding season draws to a snowy close and race series one by one crown their champions for the year.

The first is silly season. That crazy time of the year when riders, sponsors, team managers, lawyers and journalists all converge in a feeding frenzy of rumors, second guesses and wild hunches. For a few short months, before the cold of the Colorado mountains freezes my brain cells together, my imagination can run free with thoughts of dream teams and undiscovered young talent.

The second are the new bike announcements that at first trickle and then flood from the various manufacturers as each tires to upstage the next with innovative ideas, bold styling, technological breakthroughs and the continual game of performance oneupsmanship. Retro chic, futuristic concepts, cross genre blending and narrowly focus designs all shine as everyone tries to find the next big thing.

So I place a lot of expectations on the shoulders of the bike manufacturers to really surprise me each year and that holds doubly true for something as big as the Paris Motorcycle Show. I mean, they only bother to crank the thing up every other year so surely it isn’t unrealistic to expect something earth shaking when they open the doors. Well, this year the motorcycle makers apparently decided not to play along. Most of the major new bike announcements, like those for the Kawasaki ZX-14R, the Yamaha R1LE, the Aprilia SVX and the Triumph Scrambler, were shown to the public in early September a few weeks before the first show off the year. A few new bikes were announced, like the very interesting Yamaha MT series of roadsters and the awesome custom KTM 990 SuperDuke RR but on the whole there were disappointingly few surprises to be found at the Paris show. Even the bike declared “Best in show”, the BMW HP2, was a bike that was announced almost six months earlier. Its an interesting bike but it was old news by the time it hit the spotlight in France.

Suzuki Stratosphere concept bike

Well, ever the optimist, I’m now pinning my hopes of new bike excitement on this coming weekend’s Tokyo Motor Show. The Big Four have already announced most of their big production bikes but Honda and Yamaha always seem to pull something special out of their collective R&D hats when the Tokyo Motor Show rolls around. It is happening earlier this year than last and thus it gives the Japanese companies a chance to showcase their concept bikes on home soil rather than jumping the gun with a display at one of the European shows that historically have happened earlier in the year.

Scooters are huge in Japan and thus they will be the focus of most of the marketing buzz at the Tokyo show. Honda, intent on flipping that statement by putting a huge scooter in Japan is set to release the 900cc E4-01 scooter this weekend. Imagine putting a CBR motor into a scooter chassis! With the low center of gravity and long wheel base the thing could be a beast in acceleration. Yamaha has already leaked photos of a whole line of bizarre scooters including the hybrid powered bizarre Gen-Ryu that looks like something out of a 1950s sci-fi comic book. They also have a fuel cell scooter, an electric scooter and a two wheel drive scooter. See a trend here? But the pre-show news indicates that step-thrus won’t be the only cool bikes on display. Suzuki is supposedly going to show a production ready in-line six cylinder bike styled like an early 80s Katana. Talk about a bold statement!

Hopefully the news that comes out of Tokyo this weekend will entertain me in a way that the Paris show couldn’t quite manage. I’m all for controversial bikes…nothing gets the conversations going quite as fast as an ugly bike. It is a fascinating time of year and I love reading about it whether the bikes are making a fashion statement, a technology statement, a performance statement or just a strange statement. Viva la Tokyo!

[image from the Riding Sun web site.]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Form over function…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

I made a blog posting a few nights ago about how the biennial Paris Motorcycle Show was this weekend and that this is the time of the year when all the new models and wild concept bikes are announced. I’ve also posted a few times this summer about how I had planned to buy a new bike this year (though that project has, in both the interest of financial responsibility and the hope that KTM imports the 990 Super Duke in ‘06, been pushed until next year). With those thoughts still bouncing around in my head I thought I’d take a moment to mention some of the 2005 bikes that I think are exceptional but which, for one reason or another, aren’t actually on my list of potential purchases. Consider this a sort of “Coolest bikes of 2005” posting for motorcycles which are impractical to own but well worth drooling over.

First, any time I start talking about dream bikes the first thing I always mention is having a full on GP bike for the street. Well, Ducati said in 2004 that they would be making a street version of their MotoGP bike to be called the Desmosedici RR. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the bikes made it from concept to sellable product in 2005 but since rolling models have been displayed at least it has made the leap from drawing board to prototype. Assuming this bike ever becomes reality (and wishfully thinking I could afford the purchase price which will likely be over $50,000) it will be the closest I’ll ever get to riding a Grand Prix machine. I consider this the ultimate on my list of impractical but lust worthy motorcycles. (Now, if only Honda would release a Nicky Hayden replica RC211V in 2007…)

A bike that is much more real, though not much more attainable, is the new $45,000 wonder bike from MV Agusta: the F4 Tamburini. The standard F4 is stunningly beautiful and, unlike so many other salon bikes, brutally effective. With the Tamburini edition, MV has pushed to the absolute limits of what a company can achieve when they aim for a very select (and well heeled) sport bike audience. The bike has all the right modifications in that MV has focused on increasing horsepower, improving handling and removing weight. Perfect. The purchase price is the *only* reason the F4 Tamburini isn’t in my garage.

Confederate Motorcycles Wraith

The Confederate Wraith got a lot of press in 2005 and, unlike nearly every other V-twin powered custom bike, I think it actually deserves it. Both the engineering and visual design are incredible and yet the core philosophy has been to make a bike that not only looks unique but is thrilling to ride. In fact, it is even built to be ridden hard. The Wraith really seems innovative in its styling while distancing itself completely from the choppers that generally come to mind when I think of a v-twin powered custom. I don’t think I would ever drop $50,000 on one but if I had that kind of money laying around I’d at least give it a serious look.

As long as I’m talking about customs, I might as well give some props to the Honda Rune. When it comes to bikes which can be generally classified as cruisers I can only if I find out that it is something different from the norm can I muster even the smallest amount of interest. I don’t mean different in the way that chopper builder TV shows find new themes with which to bolt together crappy, unrideable bikes but different in the sense that someone looked at the basic concept of a cruiser with fresh eyes. That is what appeals to me about the Wraith and it also gives me a huge amount of appreciation for the Rune. The fact that Honda, a company that rarely takes styling risks, are the ones that made it gives me that much more admiration for the accomplishment. Taking the monster motor from the Gold Wing, giving it retro inspired design and then making the whole bike seemingly bigger than life just pegs my cool meter. The fact that it costs half what a Wraith goes for just means it is almost within reach of us mortals.

Another bike that goes in a surprising new direction for a company is the MGS/01 Corsa model that was first shown by Moto Guzzi in 2004. Like Honda building the Rune, having a company like Moto Guzzi which has reputation for building large, clunky engines with long, low profiles suddenly come out with a full on sport bike is shocking. The fact that the MGS still has some characteristic “Guzziness” to it just means that the designers were on their A Game when the penned the bike. The MGS is supposedly being marketed to Guzzi owners who want to go to the track…that has to be a very select group but hopefully this bold step (along with a big infusion of cash from new owner Piaggio) will shatter Guzzi’s previous image and help the company create a reputation for bold and exciting motorcycles and thus gain an entirely new market. As someone who loved the Sport models from afar this MGS comes close to winning me over.

If Moto Guzzi seems to be being metaphorically reborn then Norton has been through the real deal. The name Norton has been missing from the motorcycle market place for nearly thirty years as the brand was one of the many casualties of the wave of Japanese made motorcycles that appeared in the 50s and 60s. Now ex-Norton restorer Kenny Dreer has acquired the rights to the name and has built an entirely new bike which will wear the Norton name. The 952 Commando pays serious hommage to the famous Norton Commando by using a parellel twin engine derived from the original but is otherwise thoroughly modern with fancy Ohlins suspension, massive Brembo brakes, 17″ forged rims, a reasonably light 415 lb dry weight and at $20,000 it is almost reasonably priced. I think this bike is damned near perfect. Unique, beautifully styled, well engineered and the right blend of new mixed with old.

There are also a few honorable mentions I’d like to throw on here at the end:

First is the Aprilia SVX 4.5 supermoto bike. When I first read about the race only model that broke cover last year I put it very near the top of my dream bike list. However, now it is actually being released as a production bike so it isn’t quite so exotic as it seemed earlier this year. Still, while it is probably too specialized to make it onto the list of bikes that I will consider purchasing it is very, very close. A lightweight supermoto bike with 20% more power than the competition and with a 13,000 redline sounds like more fun that you should be allowed to have with your clothes on.

As I mentioned above when talking about the Rune and Commando I have a soft spot for nuevo-retro styling. Bikes which have a distinctly retro look but which have been updated to more modern specs. There are three bikes which definitely fall into that catagory for me and all three are either now available for purchase or will be in the next few months. They are the Triumph Bonneville Thruxton, the newly announced Triumph Scrambler and the Paul Smart 1000 bike from Ducati’s “Sport classic collection. When it comes time to get out the checkbook and lay down cold, hard cash I can’t justify any of these but if I lock that rational part of my brain away then all three just seem so *right*. Fantastic classic styling but with modern engines, modern suspension, modern brakes and modern wheels. They are an excellent balance of the form versus function design philosophy and are all the more tempting since they aren’t outrageously priced like most dream bikes.

When it comes down to buying a new bike, I don’t think any of these bikes would ever make the cut either because they focus too much on styling, focus too narrowly on their market or simply because they are out of focus with my financial reality. Nonetheless, any one of them is more deserving of a TV show than any of the so called “exotic” custom choppers that seem to find their way onto my boob tube. These are my dream bikes for ‘05.

[image from the Confederate Motorcycles web site.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fashion show season…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

Given my wardrobe of jeans and T-shirts, I’m about as un-savvy when it comes to clothes as someone can possibly be. However, it is my understanding that every year the eyes of the entire fashion industry turn towards a series of industry shows which will define the fads and trends for the following 365 days. It is at these fashion shows that all the movers and shakers of the apparel world show their stuff.

Well, this weekend marks the first of the motorcycle “fashion shows” as the major manufacturers show off their new models, brag about the improvements to their current products and divulge their concept bikes. Tomorrow the doors of the biennial Paris Motorcycle show will open giving all the major bike makers a chance to strut their stuff. In addition to the primary players in Japan and Europe, these motorcycle expos give smaller companies a chance to get industry eyes on their products as well. Up and coming bike makers from Korea and China will be trying to convince the market that their products have improved to the point they can compete with the big players. Specialty one-off makers will be showcasing their custom creations. Even the aftermarket firms will be using Paris as their first chance to stoke up the buzz about their new products. As a result, the Paris show should be all over the motorcycle news for the next month or so.

The Paris motorcycle show is big, perhaps even the biggest in the world since it only happens every other year but it is hardly the only place where new bike announcements will be made. The European companies like BMW, Triumph, Ducati, Aprilia and MV Agusta all like to unveil their marque bikes at European motorcycle shows. If they don’t reveal something new this week in Paris then they made do so in a few weeks at the Intermot show in Munich, Germany which will take place in mid-October. Obviously folks like BMW and KTM tend of focus their biggest marketing efforts at this show since it is in their home office. Likewise, Triumph often keeps at least one surprise in store for the NEC show in Birmingham, England coming up at the end of October. Likewise, all the Italian manufacturers (or at least all the ones that aren’t in the middle of bankruptcy each Fall) should have something to show in mid-November when the annual EICMA show show opens in Milan, Italy. Finally, the Japanese companies are the last to show their trump cards since the Tokyo Motorcycle show in Tokyo, Japan doesn’t happen until spring.

Even before the Fall’s bike expositions begin some of the new bike announcements have already started. So far here are some of my favorites:

Triumph has so far announced three new bikes but only one of them really strikes my fancy: The new 900 Scrambler. This is really just another repackaging of the Bonneville with the upgraded 900cc parallel twin engine put into a new chassis that looks like a 60’s era dual sport bike. The primary visual changes are longer suspension and a set of high mount mufflers. Technically, this bike probably falls into an adventure touring catagory but it will probably be marketed based on it’s retro look rather than it’s off road qualities. That doesn’t matter because, like the Thruxton version of the Bonneville, this new Scrambler just pegs my cool meter regardless of how well it performs on dirt roads or whether it has a usable bash plate. If I had a bigger garage and a more reasonable wife I’d already have one on order…

Another bike that was announced this month is the Aprilia - SVX 4.5. This is a new supermoto bike using the amazing 450cc v-twin engine that was first seen in the world Supermoto championship this past year. This tiny motor cranks out around 60 hp in a package only an inch or two larger than the current range of single cylinder motocross engines. It is the motor that has me so enamoured with the SVX but the styling is impressive as well. I wouldn’t keep my license for a month if I had one of these but, oh, would I love to try one out anyway.

The press release writers at Japan Inc have been busy too. Honda have been flooding the industry with info about the new air bag option on their Gold Wing but that really doesn’t do anything for me. What I did like in the press I saw coming out of Big Red was the new dual exhaust on the CRF250R dirt bike. All the four stroke motorcross bikes have been steadily increasing their power output and decreasing their weight which is what have allowed them to completely overwhelm the 125cc 2-stroke bikes in performance. Adding a second exhaust is increasing weight which normally wouldn’t impress me but the reason I like this is that is shows a concerted effort by Honda to decrease the noise coming from their production dirt bikes. That’s definitely a move in the right direction and I hope the other dirt bike makers take note and follow this trend even if the extra weight actually hampers the performance of the bikes a little.

Suzuki made some tantilizing announcements about their new GSXR 600 and 750 models but didn’t provide enough information to make this earth shattering news. Hopefully some info about their production B-King and the GSX1400 will be forthcoming since those look like interesting bikes. I’m also expecting a lot from the new GSXR600 so hopefully a lot more data on this bike will be available soon as well.

Unlike Suzuki, Kawasaki has already dropped two bombs: The dynamite news is the new 650R twin cylinder sport bike which is presumably slated to replace the venerable 500 Ninja. The bike looks like a reasonable entry level sport bike but the real excitement is that this new motor could end up in an adventure tourer to replace the ancient KLR. Now *that* announcement would shake up parts of the motorcycle world. If the new 650 was an explosion then the news of the new ZX-14 was an A-bomb detonation. This mega-GT bike replaces the ZZR-1200 but does so by super-sizing the engine to 1400cc. This bike will make a great sport touring bike but will make an even better platform for a serious drag racing machine. The Hayabusa riders may want to keep a close eye over their shoulder because the new ZX-14 is coming fast.

Finally, Yamaha made a bunch of new bike announcements to go along with their 50th anniversary celebration but the most exciting are their two top of the line sport bikes. First, the new R6 will bring more horsepower, less weight and better suspension to the 600cc bike party. This new middleweight rocket may be generating nearly 120hp at the rear wheel with a 17,500 rpm redline and a dry weight which could easily be under 350 lbs. It might even be worth giving up the sheer power of a liter bike just for the thrill of zinging a bike up to 17,000 rpm on every ride. Still, no matter how tempting the new R6 is, the new R1LE really does it for me. Fully adjustable Ohlins suspension, a slipper clutch and light weight Marchesini wheels mean this limited edition bike is a serious object of moto lust. Add in the yellow/black Kenny Roberts replica paint job and it is outright motorcycle porn. I didn’t even consider the R1 when looking at a new sport bike this past spring but the R1LE may be the best liter bike available in 2006. Wow.

Yamaha MT-03 concept bike

What all this means is that the next two or three months are the most exciting time to watch the motorcycle industry. The new bikes, those already announced and those that will be shown in the next few weeks, aren’t the only things to watch out for. The concept bikes which are shown each year are always interesting and they often give a glimpse into the future. Just in the past few years concept bikes like the Honda Rune, the Yamaha MT-03, the Suzuki B-King and the Moto Guzzi Griso have all made the leap from prototype to production. So don’t just ignore the hydrogen fuel cell powered, air suspended, hub steered, fully computer controlled robo-bikes that may look completely pointless because they be showing up in show rooms in just a few years.

Finally, I want to point out that a much less glitzy version of these premier motorcycle shows does happen here in the US. The Cycle World International Motorcycle Show doesn’t have the same level of prestige as the Paris or Tokyo shows but it is slowly gaining more importance among the manufacturers so it may yet reach a point where it becomes a showcase for new products. For the moment, its a place where most of the major manufacturers put all their current models on display. The series visits many of the major cities in the US and this year it will be in Denver the weekend of Nov 18-20. If nothing else, its always a good place to stock up on the latest trend in motorcycle T-shirts for next year…

[image from the Made in Tokyo web site.]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Karmic justice…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

In a past life I must have kicked puppies and stolen from children. Or kicked children and stolen from puppies. Clearly something bad is in my past.

Now I don’t normally believe in reincarnation but an experience today has caused me to question that stand on the concept of karma. You see, the local motorcycle shop where I have my BMW serviced is Foothills BMW. They are a good shop and, among other nice services, they offer loaner bikes so you can ride even while your bike is otherwise laid up. In my case, I brought my GS in for its 36,000 mile service today and got one of their loaner bikes to get me to/from work. Normally, their service pool is made up of F650GS and CS bikes but it appears they have recently added new bike…I was expecting a F650 but what I got was a R1200C Montauk. Oh the horror!

Anyone that has ready my blog for awhile will know that there is only one bike I have ever publicly criticized on the blog. It was a posting I did back in December of last year where I explain how glad I was that BMW was finally stopping production of the R1200C.

BMW Montauk

I said then that the R1200C is “the high water mark in BMW’s pool of aesthetic embarrassments”. I can safely say that my opinion of the bike now that I have viewed it from the seat hasn’t changed at all. Mechanically, there isn’t much to complain about with the Montauk. The engine is better than I expected, still gutless at the lowest end of the tach but having surprisingly good acceleration in the mid-range. Comfort wise, the thick handlebars just suck (why mimic one of the worst parts of Harley Davidson bikes when you build a cruiser?) and the bend on the bars was odd enough to hurt my wrists. As with all cruisers, the foot pegs are too far forward for my preference meaning I kept slamming my feet down into the pavement when I went to put my feet on the pegs only to find they weren’t where I expected them.

Ultimately, my complaint with the bike is still its looks. Too many things going in too many different directions all covered with too much chrome. It looks more like a mutant Hot Wheels toy than a real motorcycle. I’ll just have to hope no one recognizes me on the 15 mile ride back to the shop. In the meantime, I’m gonna be real nice to puppies and small children so this won’t happen to me again in my next lifetime.

[image from my photo collection.]

Monday, December 20, 2004

This year\’s bike show…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

The Cycle World International Motorcycle Show made its annual visit to Denver this past weekend…

Overall, it wasn’t a particularly exciting show this year, as only a few new bikes have been announced for ‘05. The highlight of the show was definitely having Rossi’s M1 MotoGP bike on display in the Yamaha display. They also had some of their AMA race bikes on display, specifically Gobert’s title winning Superstock bike and Hacking’s Supersport bike. Yamaha definitely wins the award for having the best eye candy.

Of the other manufacturers, there were only a couple of stand-outs. The booth-by-booth breakdown is:

Triumph Thruxton

I was pretty impressed with Triumph’s new Thruxton version of their Bonneville platform. They are now up to five different permutations of the Bonneville: The standard model, the T100, the America, the Speedmaster and the Thruxton. While the T100 is a nice looking bike, I think its the Thruxton that finally pegs the classic look meter. If I had a big enough garage, its a bike I’d be willing to pay hard earned cash to own. Sadly, the good looks of the Thruxton are offset by the horrid styling of the Speed Four. The Rocket III’s looks are growing on me, with only the radiator really spoiling the overall look.

Suzuki was same-old, same-old. Changing the names of their cruiser line doesn’t mean much as long as they are still peddling the same stuff. I like the new GSXR-1000, though the muffler didn’t look any better in person that in the photos. Still, the specs are just right and the exhaust is easy to replace. Its inching its way up the short list of bikes I may actually buy in ‘05. I was surprised to see how stock the Carmichael Supercross bike looked. I’m sure there are plenty of unobtanium in the forks and shock but no much that jumps out to the untrained eye. Mladin’s Superbike, on the other hand, looked much different from the stock GSXR. Nice!

The only thing in the Honda tent that raised my eye brows, other than the Duhamel Formula Extreme race bike and the Baja 1000 winning XR650, was the CRF450X enduro bike. Almost makes me wish I was a good enough dirt rider to do justice to that bike. Honda also had a Rune on display and I still think that’s a good bike, if only because it stands so far outside Honda’s normal boundaries.

Kawasaki had a particularly low key display. I guess they made their big splash last year with the ZX-10R and ZX-6RR. Even Tommy Hayden’s championship Supersport bike looks pretty mundane since so few modifications are allowed in that class. That said, the ZX-10 still looks evil, in just the right way, so I walked by it at least five different times throughout the day. One of those would look really nice in the garage…

BMW didn’t have the new K1200S, so they were a disappointment from the beginning. They had the new R1200GS but I’ve already spent enough time on one of those at the local dealer that my butt can automatically remember the seating position just from muscle-memory. On the plus side, they had my buddies Chris and Erin there talking about their around-the-world trip and Edelweiss had my pal Scott hawking their tours.

I breezed past the Harley booth so fast I didn’t really notice anything in particular. The new Buells always catch my eye and the fancy translucent false gas tank on the CityX Streetfighter looks particularly cool. I wouldn’t yet buy one since they use that massive sportie motor but their styling continues to stay fresh and interesting.

Another surprise was how much I liked the styling of the Victory cruisers. The massive 250mm rear tire on the Hammer is more form that function but I love the tank/engine/tail section design on the other bikes. The Vegas is really the first cruiser that I could see myself riding (if not buying). Sweet looking bikes and I’m glad to see Victory is doing so well.

The Urals always look good in a retro way but since they are still making the same bike as when they first introduced them in the US they need to do something new to be interesting. I mainly went by there to show Jonna what old Beemers looked like….

Just like last year, I’d have to say that nothing in the Ducati booth did anything for me. The entire line looks like its been beaten with an ugly stick. Doing a nose job on the 999R was a step in the right direction and I enjoyed seeing the cut-away motor but I still don’t find it as beautiful as the old 916. I just avoided looking directly at everything else because of how much I hate the looks. Between the Multistrada and S4, they’ve managed to completely ruin the reputation Ducati had developed for leading the revolution of making drop dead gorgeous bikes.

The Aprilia/Moto Guzzi booth was downright depressing since it had only a sub-set of their models and no real marketing material available. I hope its just that their 2004 marketing budget was scuttled when the company went bankrupt and that the Piaggio money will give them a stronger presence next year. I’ve always liked the look of the ‘04 Mille and the Moto Guzzi V11 LeMans and enjoyed seeing them again but would rather see something new like the Guzzi MGS-01.

Finally, KTM was glaringly noticeable in their absence. Dirt bikes are in a boom in the US, they have a seriously lust worthy line-up, KTM has surpassed BMW and Triumph in world wide sales but they don’t have the bucks to set up a booth? What’s with that? I’m particularly disappointed because all of their V-twin powered bikes peg my crave-o-meter and I was hoping to spend some time drooling on their Adventure (still hate the front fairing, though), the Duke (ooohh….ahhhhh) and their new Supermoto bike.

As always, I loved seeing the old vintage bikes on display and the Cycle World display with various bikes including Ward’s ‘04 championship winning Supermoto bike. Still, nothing can touch seeing Rossi’s MotoGP bike, so the highlight of the show was only ten foot inside the front door.

Maybe next year will offer more surprises.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

The pain is finally over…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike reviews

As someone who rides a BMW R1150GS, I know a thing or two about ugly bikes. I’m convinced that the GS is proof German engineers do psychedelic drugs. However, it was the just the start of BMW’s bizarre and downright f’ugly motorcycles.

BMW cruiser profile

Thankfully, BMW has finally announced the end of the R1200C line of BMW cruisers which I think are the high water mark in BMW’s pool of aesthetic embarrassments. (Just to show this isn’t another anti-cruiser rant, I’d have to say the F650CS and the Rockster are real, real close behind…) This is a design with so many shapes, colors and eye-sores that it is hard to know where to start the criticism. That big old round tank, the two cylinders jutting out either side, short stubby exhaust pipes, semi-ape hangers and all the gleaming badness that your typical staid BMW rider brings immediately to mind. As a final insult, its has the “soulful” sound of a muffled Braun coffee bean grinder. It was even available in white, the ultimate sign of a cruiser gone wrong.

BMW, knowing something needed to be done, didn’t euthanize the ‘C but instead came out with the R1200CL in 2003. The only advantage here, is that it made 2004’s Montauk only look semi-obscene. Now, eight years too late, BMW has finally pulled the plug on the R1200C line because they haven’t been able to figure out how to get 1800cc out of an engine designed to top out at 1200cc. Whew, the pain is finally over!

Now, if they’d re-examine the F650CS and the Rockster…

[image from BMW USA website]