Hello, my name is Simon and I'm a motorcycle addict... I must be. I've been coming to Birmingham pretty much every year for the past 30 years to go to the bike show, now known as Motorcycle live. Even before I worked on Bike and RiDE I'd come to see what was new – I remember falling in love with the original Triumph Speed Triple on my first visit... even though I couldn't afford any of it. Well, I probably can't afford the latest and greatest things but I do still love to have a look. After wandering around and throwing my leg over as much as I could on the first day of the show, here are my top ten bikes from this year's crop.
1. BMW R1300GS
Obviously. Top of the list has to be the latest incarnation of the biggest-selling large-capacity bike in the world – the bike everyone (who doesn't own one) loves to hate. The new GS isn't just a big event for BMW but also for every manufacturer pitching a rival adventure bike against it. And it's a pretty big deal for everyone who owns an older model, because a new bike always disrupts used values too.
First things first, once I fought my way through the crowd to get a sit on the GS, I was surprised how much it didn't feel like a radical departure. Same relaxed, familiar riding position, same ergonomics, same long-winded process to reset the trip... Clearly, the changes will really come out when it's ridden, but there are some telling differences – I was struck by how much higher the cylinders are (the gearbox is now below the engine). The X-factor headlight is very different to the familiar squinty face but I have to say, it does look good. The whole bike does, all the way round – all the details looking polished. You can't really tell too much from sitting on a bike at a show, but the one thing I can tell: if you liked the old GS, you'll probably love this one. And if you didn't... well, it'd probably take more than a new headlight to change your mind anyway.
2 Suzuki GSX-S1000GX
Here's an intriguing thing: in essence it's the Suzuki GSX-S1000GT – the sports tourer based on the supernaked based the much-loved K6 GSX-R1000 sportsbike. But on stilts. Well, with platform shoes, anyway. So it's that satisfying power train jacked up with longer-travel suspension to move into the same space as things like the BMW S1000XR and the Kawasaki Versys – filling the gap in the market left by the now-discontinued Tiger 1050 Sport. It is more upright than the GT though actually I had expected it to be a bit loftier and a little roomier. Still, it seems comfortable, seems well-finished and the spec is good. It has semi-active suspension, smarter traction control, decent-sized luggage. Definitely one to consider.
3 KTM 890 SMT
I absolutely loved the old KTM 990 SMT. It was the bike I chose for an Iron Butt 1000-miles-in-a-day ride and it made it simple. This revived SMT uses the perky twin from the 890 Adventure but definitely has a real Supermoto feel – there’s attitude carved into every angular line of it. It looks like a proper weapon but it’s surprisingly roomy and comfortable. Will it make huge-mile riding as effortless and fun as the old SMT? Maybe not quite so easy (you’d want a bigger screen, at least) but I’m fairly sure it’d be a huge amount of fun.
4 Yamaha XSR900 GP
I’m not really afflicted with nostalgia – I’m quite happy to leave the past in the past. But. This retro-flavoured XSR adds heady race styling to the tried-and-tested triple from the MT-09 in a way that definitely works for me. It manages to look both crashed-and-rebuilt and classy all at once. I know it’s probably not the most practical bike in the world, but it really is lovely. But. It’s £12,500 (add another £600+ if you want a bottom fairing, but I like it as it is). Feels like a sunny-day toy rather than the kind of sensible all-rounders I usually focus on, but if the Lottery pays out, this would definitely have a space in the garage.
5. Honda Hornet 1000
I really like the way Honda makes big-capacity inline-four streetbikes. I always have. They’re just so… sensible. Which I know sounds like a criticism but actually it’s praise. They just work – I liked the Hornet 900, loved both the last versions of the CB1000… just great fun bikes you can still live with day-to-day. In a market full of frenzied unfaired animals, something with power and poise but also good manners has to be a great thing. This latest big Hornet feels comfortable and no-frills simple and decent value too.
6. Triumph Tiger 900 Aragon
I’ve always liked the smaller Triumph Tiger – the 800 and the 900 – but this updated version really does look the business. It’s a one-year-only limited edition in two flavours: GT (road focused) and Rally (spoked wheels, long-travel suspension). As well as the pretty paint job there’s also slightly enhanced spec over the base model. Normally I’d say I wouldn’t take the chain-drive over the fuss-free shaft (and extra grunt) of the 1200 Tiger, but if I had the money for the Aragon I might think again…
7. Ducati Multistrada V4S Grand Tour
Now this is a lovely thing. As it should be when the starting money is over £23k before options – but the Grand Tour version of the awesome Multistrada V4s comes with quite a lot of toys already plugged in. This is the luxury version of modern motorcycle touring: big power, big presence, big price-tag… so this is another one of those lottery-win dreams. All the details seem just right and it fits me like a glove. Dear Santa…
8 Benelli TRK 702
Not every bike that took my eye as I walked around the NEC costs megabucks. I really liked the look of the £6499 (plus OTR) Benelli TRK 702 – especially with a luggage offer adding £1200-worth of boxes to the package. Looking around the bike, there's lots to like: it's simple, seems fairly well put together and did I mention the bargain price? A friend had the 500 version that was great... apart from where the previous owner had bodged or neglected it. Surely you wouldn't do that... so it could be a good-value, lightweight, no-frills big-fun adventure bike.
9. Yamaha Tracer 9GT+
I had a gen-one Tracer as a long-term test bike and loved it. I rode the original GT at its launch and loved that too. This latest version is slicker and sweeter – and the GT+ version even get the latest tech, with radar-operated semi-active cruise control. The seats are plush, the luggage is a good size, the screen is huge and I even like the new (single screen) dash. In fact, I like everything about it... except... One of the things I loved about the original Tracer was that it was such great value. This new range-topping model's basically fifteen grand... Okay, it's a lot less than a Multistrada but... wow...
10. MV Agusta LXP Orioli
Okay, I didn't get to sit on this but I did spend a long time looking at it. I'd seen pictures of it and dismissed it as looking too much like an Africa Twin. In the metal... well, okay, it does still look a bit like an Africa Twin. But an Africa Twin in a dinner suit. It's so lovely, so well-detailed. Just a lovely, lovely looking motorbike. I have no idea what it'll be like to ride but the spec is impressive – from a fruity motor to full suite of top-end electronics. Frankly, I wouldn't want to take it off-road (not with my record...) but I'm happy just looking at it.
And the future...
There were lots of other great bikes at the show (Triumph's new 400s, the other Honda Hornets, the expanded Suzuki V-Strom range) but for me the most interesting – and potentially the most important – was the Kawasaki Ninja HEV. It just sat on its rostrom, rotating innocently, with nothing really shouting that this bike could be the shape of things to come – because it uses a hybrid electric powertrain. It combines its 451cc parallel twin with an electric motor for decent power, greater fuel efficiency and general green-ness. Hybrid cars are nothing new – and are seemingly being overshadowed by fully electric ones – but this is a first for motorcycling. I'm massively skeptical about electric bikes (how can the range ever work for touring?) but hybrids seem really encouraging to me. If this bike works – and works better than the EV versions – maybe we'll see more like this. Who knows? Maybe in a few years I'll be at this show talking about a new hybrid GS with its inevitably controversial headlight...