2012 Birmingham Bike Show

November 30, 2012
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The Moto Guzzi California - one of the most breathtaking production bikes ever.
With swooping, graceful lines and impeccable detailing the Moto Guzzi California is as stylish as it is powerful.

There are two ways of looking at this year’s Birmingham Bike Show. One is to bemoan the passing of what was one of the world’s great motorcycle exhibitions – at its peak a behemoth of an event which stretched forever through the National Exhibition Centre.

The other, the one I prefer, is to celebrate the fact that we Brits have got anything at all, in view of the plummeting show attendance, and enjoy what was on display. Okay, so it’s a bit like passing the last bottle of whiskey at the “Last Chance Saloon” – but at least there were a few shots left in the bottle.

So, what will be absent from this story are grumbles about the missing bikes and manufacturers – and there were many of them. Instead, let’s start with one of the most breath taking production bikes ever – the Moto Guzzi California.

The California comes from the incredibly gifted pen of Miguel Angel Galluzzi – and yes, he does draw things on sheets of paper. The great joy of the bike is that it is cutting edge 21st Century and still has all the anthropomorphic heart and soul of a motorcycle. The California looks and feels like a motorcycle and yet it is as modern as a stealth jet.

At the launch in Milan, Galluzzi said: “This is much more than a California. This is a symbol for world motorcycling. It’s totally new. We wanted a Guzzi with traditional character but with modern technology and features.”

America can be proud of the new bike too since Miguel heads up Piaggio’s (Moto Guzzi’s parent company) Advanced Design Centre in Pasadena, California.

The transverse 1380cc V-Twin puts out an incredible 88.6 lb-ft of torque at only 2750 rpm.
The transverse 1380cc V-Twin puts out an incredible claim of 88.6 lb-ft of torque at only 2750 rpm.

At the heart of the bike is Guzzi’s iconic – and never was this word used more accurately – transverse V-Twin but modernized into a 1380cc muscle rippling cruiser engine. You would never know that this motor’s great, great granddad was the powerplant for an Italian army light runabout.

The power might only be 98 hp but there is a mammoth 88.6 lb-ft of torque at only 2750 rpm. This is a bike which will tow a semi-trailer without breaking into a sweat.

The gearbox is now a six speeder and inevitably it has all the ecological bells and whistles in terms of fuel injectors and catalytic silencers. However, instead of the technology emasculating the motorcycle Galluzzi has turned it to his advantage. Quite simply, it is right for the bike.

The styling is stunning with swooping graceful lines and show winning paintwork. And the attention to detail is breath taking.

Galluzzi saved Ducati from extinction with his very first Monster and kept Cagiva alive through the beautiful Raptor but nothing he has done compares with the California.

To be honest, most of the time I would rather walk than be seen on a cruiser but the California is something completely different. Instead of aping, and failing, Harleys as do the Japanese metric cruisers, Galluzzi has produced a motorcycle with world beating originality. If you like cruisers, get saving up for this one – or maybe not.

Custom bikes featured heavily on the HD stand.
Custom bikes featured heavily on the HD stand.

Inevitably, the problem lies in the small print. In Europe, the sales sticker says around $25,000. Deep breath there. You also know, absolutely for certain, that by the time you have got the Guzzi home from the dealer you will have lost $7000 or $8000 – the $1000 depreciation difference depending whether your trip home was under or over 20 miles.

By contrast, you can be ripped off to an obscene degree by Harley-Davidson – but still not lose this sort of money.

Were the Guzzi the price of Metric Cruisers then real damage would have been done to H-D. But it isn’t, so the Milwaukee dinosaur will continue to amble along undamaged by the new herbivore in Jurassic Park.

As for Harley themselves, the offerings at Birmingham were, well, Harley. Personally, I cannot see the attraction of slow, heavy motorcycles which don’t handle, don’t stop and need a severe diet. However, if you had seen the near sexual ecstasy of drooling customers you would have a concluded that I am talking out of my bottom and know less about selling bikes than I do about giving birth to a first born son. For 101% certain, the Guzzi didn’t attract this sort of attention.

For me, the best part of the H-D stand was the custom bikes. It seems logical that if you have a dreadful motorcycle the best thing to do is hide it under a bizarre disguise. But, as I said, hats off to H-D for understanding their customers and all strength to their arm.

AT varient of the Honda CB500R is a lovely mid-range bike.
AT varient of the Honda CB500R is a lovely mid-range bike.
CB500R in sports version is gorgeous.
CB500R in sports version is gorgeous.

If the California was the bike to die for Honda deserve the award for producing the bikes to live for. But in this case, it is the bike industry which will be kept alive by Honda’s range of CB500R derivatives.

The all new Parallel Twins are aimed at the European legislation which restricts the second tier, A2, motorcycle license to bikes of less than 47 hp. This could have been another nail in the coffin of motorcycling but Honda has taken the regulations and produced three gorgeous mid-range bikes – any one of which I would be pleased, and proud, to ride.

Clearly, the accountants have been on the case but the CB500s don’t look as if they have been brutalized in the way that Suzuki does when it is chasing the last cent. On the contrary, the three bikes – a sports machine, naked town bike and trailie – all look well finished and worth polishing. This is a key factor. If we don’t get young riders lusting after their early bikes then we won’t get them buying a GS1200 or Panigale at top dollar when they are more experienced.

In Britain, the CB500s will retail at around $7500 and that’s a sensible price point. The only sad thing is that Honda tells me the accessory kit to get the trailie looking the part costs a further $3000. That’s just silly. The bike is aggressively priced so get these new riders all excited by selling them the accessories at a price they can’t refuse.

What’s certain is that anyone with a grain of brain can refuse the new generation of super scooters. Honda, Aprilia, Yamaha and Suzuki are offering scoots with price tags of over $10,000. The new Honda Integra super scooter is a thing of beauty but at over $11,000. You must be joking!

For this price, there is a plethora of virtually new cars available. I am looking out of my office window now and the rain is lashing down in biblical proportions and there is a howling gale. Tomorrow, we are promised temperatures hovering around freezing.

The Honda Integra scooter is impressive  but far too expensive.
The Honda Integra scooter is impressive, but costs as much as a lightly used car.

Hardcore bike nut that I am, would I rather commute 30 miles to work in these conditions on a scooter or in a car? The manufacturers have to forget about performance, and the latest technical gizmos, and get these big scooters out into the market place, and into the hands of commuters, at a price less than a car – and with car beating fuel consumption.

If bringing new riders into the sport/pastime/addiction – and motorcycling is all of these – seems to be low on the list of priorities for the bike industry chasing wealthy current motorcyclists who want the biggest, best, blingiest AT bike certainly isn’t. All the manufacturers have high ticket AT machines to tempt the 50 year old supermarket manager who is about to set off on a world tour – just after he has taken his two daughters to dance class; mowed the lawns; fixed the leak on the washing machine and done his out of hours stock check for work. This means that his AT bike has to be big, tough and loaded with accessories – even though a major trip will be a couple of hundred miles on a dry Sunday in summer.

There were joint honors in the AT beauty stakes between BMW and Aprilia. In terms of the bike I would buy to replace our beloved V-Strom thou – and yes, I am one of the AT owning dreamers just postponing the world trip for a little longer – it would have to be the new Aprilia Caponord. Again, Aprilia – the same company which owns Moto Guzzi – has hit the target dead center. With the 1197cc V-Twin engine from the Dorsoduro the Caponord will be both blisteringly fast, super smooth and loaded with state of the art electronics. But, it is the neatness of the package which most impresses. Although it will, for a certainty, be at the top of the AT performance league, the Caponord looks slim, elegant, practical and beautifully finished.

Gigi Dall’Igna, technical director of Aprilia Racing, was raving about the Caponord. He said: “The Caponord is very, very advanced in terms of its innovation.”

New BMW GS is a worthy successor to the GS tradition.
The new BMW GS is a worthy successor to the GS tradition.

Contrast this with the porcine offerings from Kawasaki and Yamaha where their top of the range AT machines look as they have been down to the, “All-you-can-stick-on-a-bike-without-much-thought” restaurants. Fat and dull are not good traits on an AT bike!

The news from Suzuki was just as bad. The all new Suzuki V-Strom 1000 looks incredibly ordinary and so old fashioned. Suzuki has two options with this bike. The first is to completely re-design it. The second, make the thou a couple of thousand dollars more expensive than the Wee Strom, and therefore vastly cheaper than the other big AT bikes, and there will be a mile long queue outside every Suzuki dealer in the country. However, try to sell it at Triumph/BMW prices and the V-Strom will achieve the same level of success that Yamaha has managed with the Super Tenere: none.

By contrast I was excited by Yamaha’s new three-cylinder, crossplane engine. It was displayed in a very modern art matrix intended to inculcate the idea of limitless potential. I quite liked the originality but I thought even more of the engine. It is a tiny unit and could be used on some really interesting designs – and not just bike either. It is so small that, hidden away in the depths of an urban car, the resultant vehicle could be spectacular.

McQueen Metisse is starkly simple  but all the more beautiful for that.
The iconic 650cc “McQueen” Metisse is starkly simple, but all the more beautiful for that.

Norton continued with variations on their 961 Commando but the good news for the customers who have patiently waited for their machines – sometimes for a considerable length of time – is that bikes are now steadily leaving the factory. Well done to Norton for scaling this mountain. The gossip is that a completely new model platform is on the way. Stay tuned to mcusa.com for an update.

Next to Norton was Metisse, another British manufacturer with a long history. One of their star attractions was the iconic 650cc “McQueen” Metisse and there is no argument that the bike is just as beautiful now as it was 46 years ago. It is slim, lithe, elegant and captures the very soul of motorcycling. No electronics, no sophistication just a two wheeled, thoroughbred horse ready for anything you throw at it. I spent ten minutes just admiring the Metisse as the art form that it is. For sure, Britain is no longer the world leader in motorcycles but there is no other country which can produced thin walled, bronze welded frames as good as are found in this island.

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