Mine is bigger. But small is better
Promoters are proud to say that EICMA in Milan is the biggest motorcycle fair in the world. I’m not sure about this but it’s certainly a place where you can gauge the state of the Euro motorcycle market. Here you can check the validity of market research, passionate forum talk and viral social network shares. Here you can find any new product or complete motorbike, but Overland Magazine went to discover news about the world of adventure bikes and to see which ones might make an appearance at Motorcycle Live in the UK later this month.
The market seems to be moving in two different directions: staying big and growing small. During the ‘80s, the golden pioneer years of the Paris-Dakar, a 600 cc was more than enough to discover the world, but in the last fifteen years the market (and marketing) persuaded us it was impossible to have a serious overland journey without a 1200 cc fully equipped machine. The audience has generally bought ideas of necessary power and the main brands are still going in this direction.
KTM and its Adventure series is proposing, in street and off road versions, two beasts with 125 and 160 hp, loaded up with electronic wizardry like ABS, traction control, stability control, clutch release control, and even a hill-start system… They are certainly nice dream bikes and you can see it here at EICMA in the void look of people sitting on them. The same faces lost in imagination can be seen on people sitting on their direct competitor, the BMW 1200GS, another big lump; more than 250 kgs and 125 hp. The Bavarian brand is introducing the rally version with flat seat, loads of crash protection and electronically controlled suspension.
This year Honda is also introducing a Rally version of the Africa Twin for those who want to ride it in extreme conditions, equipped with uprated suspension, LED lights and roadbook rack all in CRF450 style. These are very expensive bikes, but if you have the money and physique you can have a bunch of fun.
Honda confirms their bravery as a manufacturer by introducing the first adventure scooter. The X-Adv is a sort of hybrid between an urban commuting machine and an off-road bike. The base is the Integra from the ‘NC’ series with 750cc, 55hp and DCT clutch, but it’s been revisited with a strong inverted fork and a 17” spoked rim, while the rear wheel is reduced to 15” to gain suspension travel: maybe a useful arrangement considering the low height of this machine. Handlebar is naked, free from plastic and a screen is adjustable. There’s some doubt about the 250 kgs weight and about where to put your knees while riding standing on off-road tracks.
Ducati have decided to reduce the size of its Multistrada , introducing a 950cc version with only (!) 100 hp, but what’s really interesting, and stylish, is the Desert Sled version of its Scrambler. Taking a look at its reinforced suspension and height it could be the right bike for an essential style-gypsy trip, loads of 1970s retro dirt bike cues. Of course you’d need to find a way to put a frame on for bags.
Yamaha have introduced the T7 prototype whose final commercial version should be on the market in 2018, substituting the historical single-cylinder Ténéré. Perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited projects, this prototype has the 700cc engine of the MT-07 and aluminium tank and is presented at EICMA as the rally version, with big windshield, led lights and roadbook rack. There’re many jobs still to do before the final version but it’s certainly whetting appetites.
If you don’t have a big budget you may be interested in the Italian SWM 650 which offers, in full version, engine guard, frames and hard cases. But if, more importantly, your bike has to be something really robust, the new Royal Enfield is at last public. The Indian cult brand has finally made its first all-terrain bike – or even more all-terrain than the venerable Bullet. A simple, high motorbike with big luggage frame for luggage and jerrycans, there are no plastic parts you can break falling on stones. Its 411cc engine won’t be the most powerful in the world but it will be enough to go more or less anywhere, slowly and quietly as this brand’s philosophy requires.
Suzuki introduce a more off-road oriented version of its V-Strom 1000 with spokes rims at last but, as other main brands do, launches a preview of the 250cc version of the same bike. Kawasaki follows the same road with his Versys X-300 while BMW produces from the top-hat the G350GS, with a single-cyclinder 310 cc. They are all small versions of the bigger sisters, but with way too much plastic for their engine and maybe not all of them will be for the European market. They are tackling the increasing spread of light Chinese machines from makers like Zongshen, whose RX-4 with its 450cc and hard cases is becoming a more determined travel bike.
It’s a time of unrest for two-wheeled travel world. Producers understand that not everybody is ready to buy a motorbike which costs the equivalent of two years round the world, and not everybody has the physique to drive massive ‘adventure’ bikes. The real wait is to see the production Yamaha T7, which promises to a great all-terrain travel bike, but hurray for the Enfield Himalayan and its honest ignorance; it’s cheaper and can do the same things as others, but at its own pace.
Let’s see how many of these models appear at Motorcycle Live in a couple of weeks.
All images Copyright Antonio Femia